The police often seize a wide range of property during searches of houses, businesses, vehicles and from individuals who are arrested and taken into custody. This can often cause people distress or be disruptive to business or a person’s livelihood. Here we explain why the police seize property, what type of property they seize, whether they are entitled to seize it and how to get it back.
Why do the Police Seize Property?
The police seize property for a number of reasons. Usually, it is because they suspect that the items are stolen, prohibited or the item is or could be evidence in relation to an offence. They could also be seized as assets in accordance with the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).
What Property Do The Police Seize?
The types of property seized by are extremely varied. If the property is suspected of being stolen then it could be anything such as personal items like a wallet, phone or they could be high value goods such as vehicles or yachts. Different rules apply for vehicles seized under the Road Traffic Act – See below.
Examples of prohibited items include drugs, weapons, ammunition, or counterfeit currency. Evidence also comes in numerous forms. Police often seize personal items from detainees at police stations such as clothing for forensic examinations to try to link an individual to a crime scene or property which they believe has been used in the commission of an offence.
One of the most popular items for the police to seize in recent years is a suspect’s mobile phone. Modern smart phones contain massive amounts of personal information which can be used as evidence in various ways including:
- Call and messaging app data to confirm contact with a victim or other criminals.
- GPS, Cell Site or Wi-Fi data to track movements which might place an individual at the scene of a crime.
Police can often gain access to the data in the device even if the owner is not willing to supply the phone password or PIN code.
Property taken by police from searches of houses or businesses might include cash, documents, computers, or servers (or the data stored within them) all of which might be used by the police to link a person or persons to a crime.
Can I Get My Property Back From The Police?
In short in many cases yes you can. Once the police have determined that the item is not stolen or of any evidential use, the police officer in charge of the investigation will often release the item. This means that the items can be collected from the police property store. Don’t expect them to deliver the item back to where it was taken from. Police officers often don’t tell the individual that the property is available for collection.
Prohibited items such as drugs, weapons, firearms and ammunition are unlikely to be returned. Courts are likely to order that those items are forfeited and destroyed. Cash which has been seized is often the subject of separate proceeding under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
When will I get my property back From The Police?
Police seize literally tonnes of items each year and most of it is eventually returned. But it isn’t always quick or straightforward. Investigations can often take months to complete, meaning that the police may retain material in order to determine if it is stolen or of evidential use. Computers and mobile phones are usually the subject of a digital forensic examination and this can also take significant time to complete.
My Vehicle Has Been Seized By The Police – Can I Get It Back?
In addition to police powers to seize property believed to be stolen or important to a police investigation. Police have particular powers to seize vehicles if they are uninsured or used by a driver who was not qualified to drive it. In most cases the driver, or registered keeper of the vehicle will receive a notice explaining how to get the vehicle back and what conditions apply, these usually include, the person collecting the vehicle;
- Paying a fee for vehicle recovery and storage.
- Proving that they are licenced and insured to drive the vehicle.
- Providing a vehicle registration document or evidence of ownership
It is important to note that the police can dispose of the vehicle 14 days after it was seized. This means that the vehicle could be sold or crushed so it is important that you act quickly.
How Do I Get My Property Back From The Police?
- Ensure that you keep any paperwork given to you by the police. This will often include property reference numbers, custody numbers, lists of the property taken, police officers contact details etc. This will assist when making enquires with the police about whether the property can be returned.
- Contact the police and ask them. The property is usually kept at the property store at the police station but will not be released until the officer in the case authorises the release, so it is often better to contact the police officer first.
Can a Solicitor Help Getting My Property Back?
Yes a solicitor can help in getting property returned. The seizure of personal items can often cause worry and distress. Other property seized such as computers or business records can have a serious impact on your business. There are various ways that solicitors can assist you in retrieving the property from police. Legal Aid is not usually available for work conducted in relation to the recovery of property, but please contact us and we will try to assist wherever we can.
How can a Solicitor Retrieve Property From Police?
First it depends under what powers the police seized the property. This is something that the solicitor will establish from the police. The solicitor will also determine whether it is necessary for the police to retain the items, and if so, whether they are doing so lawfully. It is often the case that when a solicitor becomes involved property is returned.
If necessary an application can be made under the Police (Property) Act to a Magistrates Court to order the return of the property. Alternatively, a solicitor may successfully argue that business records, computers or servers could be returned to the owner even whilst an investigation is continuing. This is because the Police & Criminal Evidence Act allows for a photo or copy of the items to be retained by the Police. Also, the Attorney General Guidelines on Disclosure provides that digital material can be copied whilst on site so that it does not need to be taken at all.
Need More Help?
Burton Copeland have over 35 years of experience in dealing with criminal law and police powers. If you need any assistance, we are here to help, please contact one of our experienced lawyers who will do their best to help.