Traditionally, when someone was accused of a crime, the Police would invariably arrest them, take them into custody and interview them whilst under arrest.
The law has now changed and the police should only arrest if it is considered necessary, so that people who are suspected of committing (in particular) a low level crime are often approached and asked to voluntarily attend to a Police Station for an interview under caution.
Most people when contacted in such circumstances will cooperate with the Police, arrange a date and time and then attend. The alternative is far less attractive; arrest without further notice at any time of day or night.
Notwithstanding this threat, some choose to ‘run the gauntlet’ and risk arrest on the basis that either they’re innocent (and therefore why should they cooperate with a Police enquiry based on false premises) or because they put their head in the sand and hope the issue will go away.
In this scenario, the Police as a general rule don’t give up, but rather double their efforts to locate and arrest the individual (the “necessity to arrest” criteria easily being satisfied when there is a history of non-cooperation/deliberate evasion).
But it’s important to remember that Police powers to enter premises for the purpose of arresting a “wanted” person are specifically restricted to indictable offences only (per Section 17(1)(b) of PACE.)
An indictable offence is an offence that can be tried in the Crown Court (rather than only in the Magistrates Court), such offences are therefore generally more serious.
Thus a potential trap is set for the particular brand of hapless Police Officer who doesn’t give due consideration to the extent of his powers when seeking to arrest an individual wanted for summary only offences who has failed to cooperate with a request to voluntarily attend the Police Station.
A perfect example is a case I’ve just settled against Essex Police.
Stephen and Tom had a fractious relationship with their neighbours Mr and Mrs G that culminated in an incident that occurred one Friday night in May 2018, when Mrs G returned home having walked her dog. Stephen was outside his house gardening. Mrs G alleges that when she walked past Stephen, he told her to ‘piss off’. When challenged as to his behaviour, Stephen allegedly clenched his fists and bared his teeth (causing Mrs G to be frightened and intimidated) and shouted abuse at her. Upon returning home Mrs G told her husband, who immediately went to confront Stephen. By this time, Tom came out. Upon approach, Stephen allegedly lunged towards Mr G swinging his arms, trying to hit him. Tom then restrained Stephen and Mr G walked away.
Mr and Mrs G then contacted the Police and gave the above account. Stephen maintains that Mrs G’s allegations as to his behaviour were false.
Officers made concerted efforts to contact Stephen via phone, email and personal visits to his home address over a 2 month period. Each contact became more and more threatening, the final note suggesting that his vehicle details would be circulated and “Full stop checks required.”
Stephen was adamant that he’d done nothing wrong and refused to be intimidated by what he considered to be Police harassment. Yet further, he did a little homework and established when and where he could potentially be arrested.
Eventually, one Saturday morning in July 2018, PC Adams and PC Zahir attended Stephen’s home address when he and Tom were home. To gain entry, the Officers jumped over a locked gate and then knocked on the front door. Tom answered and immediately advised that the Officers were not welcome, that they should leave and that they were trespassing. PC Adams explained that he wouldn’t leave until the matter was resolved and asked Tom if he was Stephen.
Tom questioned the lawful authority of the Officers to be on his premises and PC Adams specified that this was by virtue of Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 – to arrest for an offence.
Despite Tom making it very clear that he was not prepared to engage with the Officers and that they should leave, PC Adams insisted that they would not leave until the matter was resolved.
By virtue of Tom’s refusal to confirm that he was not Stephen, PC Adams then stated that he was under arrest, as he could not be certain that Tom was not Stephen. Tom was arrested and handcuffed to the front. At this stage Stephen appeared and it became obvious to the Officers that they’d arrested the wrong man.
Tom was immediately de-arrested and the handcuffs were removed.
As this took place, Stephen retreated to an upstairs bathroom, where he locked himself in.
PC Adams followed and threatened that should Stephen not open the door, he would force entry.
Stephen stated to PC Adams on more than one occasion that the offences he was accused of were summary only offences, (only capable of being tried in the Magistrate’s not Crown Court) hence that Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 did not apply and that he (PC Adams) was a trespasser.
PC Adams rejected Stephen’s representations, maintaining that his presence was perfectly lawful and with that, promptly proceeded to kick the bathroom door open, before affecting Stephen’s arrest and applying handcuffs.
Following his arrest, Stephen continued to insist that Officers were acting unlawfully as trespassers, but PC Adams proceeded regardless.
Stephen was then transported to and detained at his local Police Station.
The arrest details endorsed on the Custody Record clearly demonstrated that both offences under investigation were summary only, specifically harassment and common assault.
The offences of harassment and common assault are always summary only offences. There was therefore no power for the Officers to enter the premises under section 17 of PACE which is only engaged where the arrest is for an indictable offence.
In the circumstances, I brought a claim for both Stephen and Tom against the Police for trespass, false imprisonment and assault and battery and after negotiation, agreed settlements of £5,000 for Stephen and £2,500 for Tom.
This is yet another example of Police Offices breaking the law by either failing to understand, or flagrantly disregarding the limits of their extensive powers. As far as summary only offences are concerned, an Englishman’s home remains his castle.