Police Search Warrant – Unlawful Entry Part 3

So far, I have explored circumstances where the Police have obtained a Search Warrant following application to a Magistrate and the Police have then either attended the wrong house (Part 1) or alternatively, have raided the right house but on the basis of faulty intelligence (Part 2).

What about situations where the Police have obtained a Warrant on the basis of up-to-date  and accurate intelligence and then raided the address identified in the Warrant but where they have then failed to execute  the Warrant correctly (and in accordance with Section 16 of PACE)?

Section 16 of PACE states as follows;

(1)    Execution of warrants.

A warrant to enter and search premises may be executed by any constable.

(3)    Entry and search under a warrant must be within three months from the date of its issue.

(3a) If the warrant is an all premises warrant, no premises which are not specified in it may be entered or searched unless a police officer of at least the rank of inspector has in writing authorised them to be entered.

(3b)No premises may be entered or searched for the second or any subsequent time under a warrant which authorises multiple entries unless a police officer of at least the rank of inspector has in writing authorised that entry to those premises

(4)    Entry and search under a warrant must be at a reasonable hour unless it appears to the constable executing it that the purpose of a search may be frustrated on an entry at a reasonable hour.

(5)   Where the occupier of premises which are to be entered and searched is present at the time when a constable seeks to execute a warrant to enter and search them, the constable—

(a)shall identify himself to the occupier and, if not in uniform, shall produce to him documentary evidence that he is a constable;

(b)shall produce the warrant to him; and

(c)shall supply him with a copy of it.

(6)   Where—

(a)the occupier of such premises is not present at the time when a constable seeks to execute such a warrant; but

(b)some other person who appears to the constable to be in charge of the premises is present,

subsection (5) above shall have effect as if any reference to the occupier were a reference to that other person.

(7)   If there is no person who appears to the constable to be in charge of the premises, he shall leave a copy of the warrant in a prominent place on the premises.

(8)   A search under a warrant may only be a search to the extent required for the purpose for which the warrant was issued.

Where the Police have executed a warrant, it is therefore necessary to check very carefully whether there has been compliance with the criteria.  In R v CC of Lancashire ex P Parker  the Court of Appeal decided  that the wording of S15(1) was such, that any non-compliance  would render the whole search unlawful.

In 2007, I successfully concluded a claim on behalf of my client David Khan against West Yorkshire Police.  I helped establish that he had been the victim of an unlawful arrest and assault by police officers employed by the force and he recovered £15,000 in compensation as well as a full apology.

Several years earlier, David contacted me again. In the early hours of the morning on 6 January 2012, David had been at home preparing  to shower whilst his two children were asleep in bed.  As he closed the bedroom curtains, he saw a bright light from outside shining directly into his bedroom.

David peeped through the curtains and saw what he thought were police officers armed with machine guns approaching the side of his home which is situated in a cul-de-sac.

He started to feel anxious and worried that he was about to be subjected to another wrongful arrest and assault.  He therefore went out onto the hallway and stood at the top of the stairs. From outside David heard a voice shout words to the effect of “Resident of number 24, come outside”.  David  made his way downstairs, unlocked and opened the door.  He could see a number of police officers pointing guns at him but did  not know why they were there.

Given that the police were armed, David did not want there to be any suggestion that he was in possession of a weapon and therefore placed his mobile phone on the floor and then stepped outside and stood in the front yard with his arms held up above his head.

Once outside, David also realised that a police helicopter was above the house.

David could see that there were two armoured police vehicles parked in front of the gates to his driveway and that the road was blockaded in both directions. He could also see that there was an armed officer leaning on the wooden fence of the adjacent premises. There was a third officer stood by the pillar to the gates who was also pointing a firearm towards him.

David was asked if he was ‘Richard Kimble’.  In response David said that he was not and that his name was David Khan and gave his date of birth.

Richard Kimble was his ex partner’s brother.  Richard had never lived at the premises and to the best of David’s knowledge had never used the address for any reason.

The officer asked David who had been looking out of the bedroom window.  David told the officer that it had been himself. The officer repeated his question and he repeated his reply.

The officer  then asked him if there was a child in the house and it then occurred to David  that he was referring to his younger son who was upstairs and who had obviously been awoken by the commotion.  As a result David told the officer that it was his son who was at the bedroom window.

The officer told David  to shout up to his son and tell him to come downstairs.  David did as he was asked and his son made his way downstairs and outside.

David then told the officer that his daughter was also upstairs in bed and he was told to go into the house slowly and call her downstairs.

During this discussion with the officer David noticed that the officer had a photograph of  Richard Kimble and that he appeared to realise David was not the person he was looking for.

David returned  into the house and went upstairs to his daughter’s bedroom. Fortunately, at that time she was asleep and had not witnessed events outside. He woke his daughter.  She was understandably dazed and disorientated and did not realise what was going on.  He told her that the police were outside wanting to speak to him and that they were armed with guns.

David’s daughter  became instantly upset and started to cry. She thought that David would be beaten up by police again as during the incident which led to David’s previous civil claim against the same police force.  David told her that everything would be alright but that she needed to come downstairs with him.  He took his daughter downstairs and both went outside and joined his son.

David was then searched by an armed police officer at the rear of one of the police vehicles  that was parked near his driveway and was then told to make his way towards a police vehicle parked a few metres away and to take his son and daughter with him.

The situation was extremely frightening and embarrassing.  Neighbours who had  become aware of the presence of the police had come outside to see what was going on.  It seemed as though the whole street was outside.

David and his two children sat inside the police van, still in shock and in the dark as to why the police were even at the premises.

There was no police officer in the vehicle with David and the children and the door was kept slightly open. David felt shock, apprehension and concern for his children’s welfare whilst his daughter sat on his lap, crying. They were kept in the van for about 30 minutes.

During this time, firearms officers performed a preliminary search of the house to ensure no one else was in the house and that it was safe for other officers to conduct a full search.

Eventually, the van door opened, David and the children were told they could go back inside if they wished.

By this time, the armoured police vehicles had left the scene, as had most of the police officers.

As they went back into the house, the only police officers remaining were two CID officers in plain clothes.

The officers told David that they would be carrying out a search of the premises.  They explained that they would be starting the search in the children’s bedroom so that the children could go back to bed once the search was finished.

One of the two police officers remained with David and the children in the lounge while the other carried out a search upstairs.

As and when the officer had finished searching the children’s bedrooms, the children were allowed back upstairs and went back to bed. The search lasted for about an hour. At this point, the officer said to David “This is a copy of the search warrant”.

Prior to the officer saying this there had been no mention that the police officers were in possession of a search warrant. Further, no copy of the warrant was shown to David prior to this moment.

The officer produced a document and requested that David sign it to confirm that nothing had been seized by the police.  David signed this document and a copy of the search warrant was then given to him.

The police officers then left the premises.

It transpired that two serious armed robberies had been committed at 02:21 hrs and 04.39 hrs on 4 January 2012.  In each case a gun was used and discharged.  Enquiries showed that the robber had used a particular motor car. At or about 5pm on 5 January 2012 a police officer identified Richard Kimble as a man shown on CCTV getting into that same motor car on 3 January 2012.

Officers applied for and secured  an ‘out of hours’ search warrant to search Mr Kimble’s last known address, namely David’s home address for firearms/ammunition.  This had been falsely given to the police by Richard as his home address when he was stopped in October 2011 and without David’s knowledge or permission.

David was at first concerned that the police raid was some form of ‘pay back’ because he had previously brought a successful civil claim against the force but in truth, the police decision to obtain and execute an armed search warrant was entirely legitimate.

So

  • Police were at the right address as detailed in the warrant.
  • Police intelligence clearly linked the offence to the house (even though David and his children were entirely innocent).

BUT, on close inspection, the police had failed to comply with the terms of Section 16; on David’s account, the officers had entered his home address without producing any search warrant to them and without supplying a copy rendering their entry unlawful since contrary to Section 16(5) of PACE.

It was on this discreet point that West Yorkshire Police subsequently admitted liability and my clients went on to recover substantial compensation for trespass, false imprisonment and assault.

As Parts 1, 2 and 3 show, it is imperative that for the police to establish a lawful entry/search of premises, they must

  • Get the right house.
  • Ensure the intelligence upon which they secured the warrant is up to date and as reasonably accurate as can be, and
  • Comply with the provisions of Section 16 of PACE.

“An Englishman’s Home is his Castle ?”

Reflecting on this case, I am very happy that I was able to secure compensation for David and his family after this highly distressing incident – but also I am conscious that some might think the award of compensation was only due to a ‘technicality’ i.e the family’s entitlement to damages did not arise in this case because of wrongdoing on the part of the West Yorkshire Police but purely because the officers involved failed to give David the search warrant at the start of the process, rather than the end. Had they given it to him at the beginning, the search would have been entirely lawful and no right to compensation would have arisen for David or his children.

Nevertheless, I think it is quite correct that David brought this claim, and it is absolutely right to hold the Police to account to the strictest ‘letter of the law’ when they are claiming entitlement to enter and search a private home, going through all of a family’s personal possessions and  in the process – effectively – holding the family (including children) captives and shattering the sense of peace and security that we are all surely entitled to feel in our homes – particularly children.

I wrote in my last blog on this subject about the importance of the Human Rights Act, enshrining the right to Privacy and Family Life, but of course the concept that a person’s home is their private space and is not to be infringed lightly by the forces of the State is far older than the Human Rights Act or the European Convention on Human Rights – it is one of the fundamental tenets of ‘British Liberty’  long upheld by the Common Law of England & Wales before the HRA was even dreamt of, and summed up by the famous expression “An Englishman’s home is his castle.” That is why it is quite correct that the modern law governing search warrants, as set out in PACE, sets strict guidelines with which the Police must comply before any entry into a private home can be deemed legal. To allow the Police to ‘get away’ with these strict guidelines, such as in this case a failure to produce the warrant for the person whose home was being ‘invaded’ by them, would be to remove an important safeguard  upon the power of Police officers as agents of the State, upsetting the balance between the rights of individuals and the power of government. We must not allow our fundamental liberties to be chipped away in this manner, and if the Police wish to exercise an extraordinary right – to come armed into your family home, and turn it upside down (often both emotionally and physically !), go through your private belongings – well then, they must be held to an extraordinarily high standard of behaviour, including the fair transparency required by the production of the warrant to the homeowner as an absolute condition before a legal search can go ahead.

As a former Prime Minister of this country, William Pitt the Elder, said in 1760 –

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it. The rain may enter. The storms may enter. But the King of the England may not enter. All his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.”

Long may the law continue to uphold these admirable sentiments, in their modern context, and I am sure Mr Pitt would be the first to cheer the safeguards and protections to all of our ‘cottages and castles’ built into the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

(All names in this blog have been changed apart from the name of an Eighteenth Century Prime Minster)

 

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.