By Kirsty Walker

Police have used anti-terrorism powers to stop and search almost 180,000 suspects, it emerged yesterday.

Yet only 255 of the individuals they targeted were subsequently detained for terrorist- related offences.

The figures suggest that police may be misusing powers granted to them under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 supposedly for use only in extreme circumstances.

The Home Office statistics, which were released to the Daily Mail under Freedom of Information laws, show a ten-fold use in the power since its introduction.

In 2000-01, just 3,583 people were stopped under Section 44. Of these, only one was arrested for terrorism offences.

But in 2006-07, a staggering 37,197 were stopped and searched by officers.

Only 28 were subsequently arrested for terrorist-related offences.

Each search can take up to 20 minutes and individuals are asked a series of personal questions by police - including their ethnicity, height and eye colour.

Opposition MPs expressed concern about the use of Section 44.

Chris Grayling, Tory Shadow Home Secretary, said: 'My concern is that the Government has taken powers to combat terrorism, but those powers are increasingly being used for other purposes.

'We do need tough laws for dealing with the terror threat - but there should be no doubt that those laws are not for general use across society.'

Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: 'These startling figures suggest the main effect of random stop and search, as opposed to searches targeted at suspects by intelligence, is to annoy law-abiding citizens.

'Rarely have so many police officers wasted so much police time to achieve so little.'

The legislation gives police the power to search, on anti-terror grounds, any individual in any area designated by the Home Secretary.

Officers do not need to show they have reasonable grounds to suspect a crime is about to take place.

The powers have been used against trainspotters who were taking photographs of railway carriages.

Police have also employed them to suppress protests against the Government.

In 2005, Section 44 was used against 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang when he made an anti-war protest during the Labour Party conference.

A spokesman for Liberty said: ' Liberty's concern is that these powers are used far too widely and inappropriately. Police should be mindful of the extent to which use of these powers upsets and intimidates innocent people.'

In a statement, the Home Office said: 'The effectiveness of Section 44 powers cannot be measured simply in terms of the numbers of arrests resulting from stop and searches.

'It is an important tool in the fight against terrorism. As part of structured counter-terrorism strategy, the powers help to deter terrorist activity by creating a hostile environment for would-be terrorists to operate in.'