A HUMAN rights lawyer has warned that the use of Metropolitan Police stop and search forms by Newham parks constables may cause the public to mistake them for police officers.

Legal director James Welch, of the human rights campaign group Liberty, said: "Parks police have police powers in limited areas and must not exceed them.

"Using police forms blurs this distinction and may confuse the public."

The council-run parks constabulary has powers of arrest in parks and open spaces but only the same powers as members of the public in the streets.

Last month, Newham police said it was agreed "some time ago" that uniformed agencies such as the parks constabulary should be able to use Met police stop forms.

Cllr Alan Craig of the Christian Peoples' Alliance expressed concern about the agreement.

He said: "I think there should be a clear separation between the police and parks constables' functions.

"If they are not distinguished from each other they will get themselves into all sorts of difficulties."

"Using Met police paperwork causes many more problems than it solves. It could lead to people being arrested by those who do not have the appropriate authority."

Former councillor Mike Law echoed these concerns. He said: "Who will be responsible if a member of the public is unlawfully stopped by a parks officer, the council or the Met?"

Newham Council previously said that the use of the paperwork does not change the fact that the council is responsible for the parks constabulary.

A council spokesman said that Met police forms are used by "many other parks constabularies".

But of the eight other authorities in London that have parks police forces, only Redbridge said its parks constables use the forms. Kensington and Chelsea, Barking and Dagenham, Haringey, Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Fulham and Sutton councils do not use Met stop forms, while Hillingdon's parks police use them only when on joint operations with police.

A Newham Council spokesman said: "Parks constables patrol parks and open spaces where they have powers to enforce by-laws, reassure and advise the public and liaise with police and emergency services.

"Outside parks they may undertake uniformed patrols to reassure the public or assist the police to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour."

The spokesman said that parks constables are clearly distinguishable from police officers.

He said: "They wear dark blue shirts compared with the Met's white shirts and they have Newham parks constabulary written on the back and front of their uniform in big letters.

"The encounter forms used by the parks constabulary when a member of the public is asked to account for themselves is in accordance with the law and with best practice. They make the transfer of information from parks constables to the police more manageable, recordable and transparent."