By Joseph Hook, data reporter

SUSPECTS stopped and searched by Hampshire Constabulary were found to be carrying nothing of interest in more than half of cases last year, according to new figures.

The finding comes as the use of stop and search has decreased, with 4% fewer cases reported last year.

The policy has been in the spotlight with growing concern over knife and drug offences.

Home Office figures show that stop and search powers were used 8,715 times by the force last year, a drop of 4% on 2016. Just 23% of searches led to an arrest or a summons to court, and in 59% of cases suspects were found to be carrying nothing of interest.

In the majority of incidents, 54%, people were searched on suspicion of drug possession. Of those suspects, 22% were arrested or summonsed to court and 11% were given drugs possession warnings.

Suspicion of carrying offensive weapons, such as knives, accounted for 618 searches in 2017, with 23% leading to an arrest or court summons. A further 61 suspects were searched for firearms, with 16 arrested or charged.

Other potential outcomes from stop and search include the suspect being given a police warning, the issue being resolved on the spot, or, most often, no further action being taken.

Earlier this month, the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, pictured, told the BBC that stop and search had been ineffective in combatting violent crime.

She said: “The truth is, when stop and search was at full throttle, the main thing they found were small quantities of drugs.“Evidence-based stop and search will always be an important weapon against all types of crime. But random stop and search has poisoned relationships between the police and the community, and in the end we need the cooperation of the community to deal with the issues.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We have been clear that stop and search is a vital policing tool, and officers will always have the government’s full support to use these powers properly.”

All 38 forces reported details of their stop and search incidents for the whole of 2016 and 2017.

Among them, there were 17% fewer stop and searches in 2017.

The figures also showed the extent to which black people are disproportionately likely to be the subject of stop and searches. Officers identified suspects as black in one in four cases, despite black people making up just 3% of the population in England and Wales in the 2011 Census.