Whilst helping those who use our ‘Action Against Police Service’ we often hear stories of how the police have demanded entry or forced their way into an occupancy without a warrant.
The police have very limited powers to enter people’s homes and mere suspicion that a crime has been committed within is not enough. However, the police tend to believe it is their automatic right to go wherever they wish and will often bully or trick their way in. Then, if a complaint is made, they will lie and collude with each other to state that the occupant ‘invited them in’.
For those who have suffered the unlawful intrusion of the police into their homes it is possible to obtain compensation without having to go to court. Sometimes it is even possible to sue the police for trespass when the occupant has made the mistake of inviting the police in!
This article explains how…
What is trespass?
Trespass is when another person or thing enters your land or property without lawful authority and against your wishes.
You don’t have to own the land or property. You could be a tenant or renting a holiday home. You don’t have to be there at the time of the trespass but you must be able to prove that you had an exclusive right to enjoy that property and that the trespass took place.
Property could be a house, flat, room, bedsit, shop, office, boat, caravan, car. It could even be a tent.
Trespass and the law
Contrary to popular belief, trespass is not a criminal offence. You can’t prosecute someone for trespassing on your land and bring criminal charges against them or have them arrested. But you can sue somebody in county court for trespass if they were in breach of their lawful authority; the result of which will often mean the trespasser having to pay you a reasonable sum in damages.
Often judgements made against others for trespass – such as neighbours or members of the public – can be derisory. Some judges have been known to award no more than £1 against what they regard as frivolous or trivial claims. However, claims made against the authorities for trespass – such as the police – are usually regarded with seriousness and awards typically begin at about £150.
This amount could be awarded for something as simple as the police remaining on your doorstep for no good reason when you have told them to leave!
Better still, trespass is actionable per se. This means that you don’t have to prove that you suffered any actual damages: such as muddy carpets or a broken door. Nor do you have to show that you suffered any actual harm: such as being barged out of the way or emotional distress.
As long as you can prove that the trespass occurred and that the police are liable then damages will often follow. This means that if you have a strong claim against the police for trespass just one carefully worded letter to the chief constable can commonly result in a payout without ever having to go to court.
Claims for trespass can be brought up to 6 years after the event occurred.
When the police have a right to enter
Before you start firing off those demands to the police however, you need to understand when they have a lawful right to enter your property against your wishes.
Much of the law surrounding police powers of entry are governed by Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. This act effectively gives the police powers to enter land and property under any of the following circumstances:
- To arrest someone for an indictable offence (an indictable offence is one that could be tried at a crown court such as robbery, assault, burglary etc.)
- To save life or limb
- To prevent serious damage to property
- To capture someone who the police have been chasing
- To recapture somebody who is unlawfully at large (such as a defendant who has skipped bail)
- To execute an arrest warrant (a copy of which they must show)
- To execute a warrant of commitment: Authority to commit or detain an individual, such as a mental health patient or a child that has been taken into care of the state
The police also have additional legislative powers of entry under the following provisions:
- Failing to stop in a vehicle when required to do so by a constable in uniform (Road Traffic Act 1988)
- Causing others fear or provocation of violence (Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986)
- Causing serious harm to animals (Sections 4, 5, 6(1) and (2), 7 and 8(1) and (2) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006)
- Squatters or trespassers entering a property that has been subject to a possession order (section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994)
- Powers to enter a bus, train, boat or other public transportation system where the driver is suspected to be under the influence (section 27 of the Transport and Works Act 1992)
The police can’t just cherry pick these powers as an excuse to trick their way in however. Nor can they use them as a later excuse for unlawful entry. Not only must the police have a reasonable suspicion before they act they must make it clear what lawful authority they are acting upon before they attempt entry. They cannot demand you let them in before they will tell you what it is you are letting them in for! A common trick deployed by police officers to gain quick access into people’s homes by insisting the occupant let them in because they ‘need to have a word’.
It’s worth pointing out that the police also have limited common law powers to enter a property or land to prevent a breach of the peace. A right of entry that we all have, not just the police. However, this power can only be used if the breach of the peace is imminent and could result in serious harm.
When the police are trespassing
These are the most common abuses of powers that the police use to demand access into people’s homes:
- They claim that they want to talk to you about something, such as a complaint or allegations that have been made
- They want to check that you are okay
- A neighbour has complained that you have been arguing, shouting or being rowdy
- They believe you are smoking cannabis in the property
- You have been offensive and abusive to the officers at your door or they don’t like your manner
- You are ‘acting suspicious’ and they want to find out what you are doing
- You might be harbouring a known criminal because you are a relative of that person
- You have been arrested not too far from your home and they want to search your property without a warrant
- Bailiffs want to come in and seize your goods and the police are assisting them
- They won’t tell you why they are at your door and threaten you with arrest (such as for obstruction) if you don’t allow them in
- They demand to be let in with no warrant and no reasonable suspicion that an indictable crime is, has or will be taking place
- A breach of the peace has been reported but has stopped by the time the police have arrived
- You have committed a summary only offence such as: harassment (without putting people in fear of violence), common assault, disorderly behaviour (causing harassment, alarm and distress), being drunk and disorderly, minor shoplifting, most motoring offences, anti social behaviour, school non-attendance, watching TV without a licence, low value criminal damage (up to £5000), taking a vehicle without consent, obstructing a police officer, assaulting a police officer, making off when stopped by a PCSO, littering.
A full list of summary only offences can be found within the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines. Offences listed as ‘triable either way’ are regarded as indictable.
If the police come to your door with the intention to arrest you for a summary offence (such as those listed in the final bullet point above) then you do NOT have to let them in. For the police to access your property to arrest you for such an offence they must obtain a warrant. Something the police can rarely be bothered to do and is often denied by a Justice of the Peace anyway.
If the police have entered your property unlawfully by any of the means listed within this section and in the last 6 years, then you can make a claim against them for damages.
Inviting the police into your home
We have written much about allowing the police to cross the threshold of your doorstep and the general rule is NEVER EVER ALLOW THE POLICE INTO YOUR HOME! In fact, we would go as far as to say that unless the police have a warrant or can demonstrate their lawful authority to enter your home you should not even open the door to them.
Nor should you engage in any chit chat with them behind your closed door except to tell them to leave. If they do not leave within a reasonable time after you have told them to then they are trespassing and you can bring a claim against them.
Talking to the police – especially when they are on a fishing expedition for suspects – benefits nobody except the police. In fact we are so militant in our belief that you should never talk to the police we have written a short Ebook (‘Right to Remain Silent’) on the subject that explains in depth how to protect and preserve both your freedom and your rights with silence. Please do purchase it if you haven’t already, it may prove vital to your safekeeping one day.
The bottom line is that by inviting the police into your home you cannot claim that they have trespassed. If anything they have become guests.
However, if at any point of your foolish invitation you decide that you want them to leave then the police must comply. Even if they are searching your property under invitation they must stop the search immediately and leave.
Failure to do so would automatically mean you have an actionable claim of trespass against them.