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Before looking at the main part of this page, you may care to glance at the notes below. These explain why the page was written, what you might get from it and how to use it.
Printing out pages - By default, the small line of text in the blue drop-down menu will appear at the top of each printed page (see your browser's File > Print Preview).
However, you can easily hide it as follows :
I'd really welcome comments, suggestions, criticisms etc regarding this page - for example if you too have experienced forced entry or you spot any errors (including my interpretation of the law). And can you think of ways of improving the wording, headings, order of topics, etc? If so, please contact me Think of it as a sort of Wiki. I can add an acknowledgement to you if you want.
It's not related to the main content of the website. (See the 'Unrelated web pages' page for an explanation.) However, you might find it useful :
If you glance through the information below and learn from it, it may save you £1,000, distress, inconvenience and many hours unnecessary work.
If you're a professional involved in these issues (eg a police officer, doctor or social worker), you may find it useful too (although you may not agree with everything that's said).
It came about because of an unfortunate incident experienced by one of us (in CharityBags) recently. I was away from home. A person (who I didn't know) tried to contact me at my home. Over a 3-week period, she phoned my number twice and sent a letter (not by recorded delivery) and got no response. Inexplicably :
Then she phoned the police and asked them to do a "welfare check" (I've now got a recording of this phone call). The police listed (described) the incident in their log as a "concern for welfare". The police visited my house immediately. They knocked but got no answer. They did a couple of checks and decided to force entry. They searched the house and discovered there was no one in the house. They soon found a list of phone numbers of my friends. They rang one of the numbers - and discovered that I was away from home (fit and well). You could call this a "false alarm".
I was expected to pay the boarding-up bill sent to me by the police's contractors - and I had to pay for a new front door, locks and frame.
I was not a happy bunny. To sort out the mess (eg whether you're entitled to compensation), I needed detailed information on the issues. However, it became clear that very little has been written (or published) about this subject - and there wasn't much case law either. So I had to do my own research from scratch (in just the same way that we'd researched the issues of bogus clothing collections for CharityBags). This meant contacting many organisations and individuals. I decided to write this web page to share the information with others.
Collapsing and expanding the 'hide/show' boxes
Opinions - I've tried to take a dispassionate, even-handed and constructive approach on this page. It's not 'pro' or 'anti' the police, and there's no 'hidden agenda'.
However, the page gives personal views - not the views of CharityBags.
Problems are indicated by a coloured line in the right-hand margin thus : ------>
Solutions are indicated by a coloured line in the right-hand margin thus : ------>
- eg suggestions, recommendations - the idea is to improve the way things are done.
'Web page under construction' - This page was started only recently. I'm continuing to develop it - so there may be some errors. If so, my apologies.
By the way, all the material on the CharityBags website, including this page, is produced by volunteers, unpaid and unbiased.
Law - Much of the page deals with law. However, I'm not a qualified lawyer - so beware. If you're pursuing a case, don't rely 100% on what I say below - supplement it by having a look at the sources I've referred to - and make your own mind up.
By the way, most of the law described below applies only to England and Wales.
References to 'Syed' mean Syed v DPP  - a court case (details below).
The police - It can be very difficult for the police to decide whether to force entry - they're "damned if they do, damned if they don't" - to quote Mr Justice Collins in the 'Syed v DPP' court case (see below). In many, many cases, the police have saved lives as a result of forced entry - and they deserve praise for this. See the second "Examples" section below.
Victoria Stevens (and her door)
Examples of forced entry: "false alarms" - If you want to get a vivid flavour of the problems of (well-intentioned) forced entry when it turns out to be a "false alarm", have a look first at these two key sources :
There's more on both these cases below (in the first "Examples" section).
I'm grateful to the people and organisations who've helped me - by supplying information and patiently discussing the issues - including over a dozen police forces, the IPCC, council social services, the NHS, solicitors (gratis), a barrister (pro bono), CABs, locksmiths, door/window companies and people who've experienced forced entry.
From time to time, police officers force entry into private homes for the purpose of "saving life or limb". Typically this happens because someone (the "informant") has contacted them to say they're concerned about an occupant of a domestic property (a house or flat). This information may come from a member of the public (such as a neighbour, friend or relative), or a professional (eg a doctor or social worker). Often, the occupant is an elderly person, or someone who's disabled or sick. It may involve physical or mental health. It may be as a result of illness, an accident or self-harm.
This is a summary of what happens :
Usually, there's no crime involved - the police are acting as good Samaritans - in a similar way to the actions of the fire service or ambulance service.
So far, so good - so, what's the problem? Well, quite often, the police discover that it was a false alarm - in other words (having entered the property) they find that no one needs help. There are two possibilities here :
At this point, if you're the householder (tenant or owner) you're not a happy bunny :
'Scales of justice'
A legal anomaly (no fault - but no compensation): You might think that the police 'ought' to pay these costs (listed above) - because you could say they made a "mistake" - in other words, they thought someone needed help but they were proved wrong. However, it doesn't work that way. Instead, the police usually maintain that they had reasonable grounds for thinking that someone might have needed help. And so they acted in good faith, their entry was lawful and they did nothing wrong.
This means it's a very unusual situation in law - one party (the police) causes damage to your property but they maintain that they did nothing 'wrong'. Yet they also accept that you (the householder) did nothing wrong either. So, no one's to blame/at fault ... but you end up having to foot the bill for the damage which they caused (and you don't feel you've obtained any tangible benefit from the experience).
On the face of it, this goes against the usual principles of English civil law - 'tort', negligence and the like - where there's a wrongdoer and a victim (ie the defendant and the plaintiff).
A common police response to this is to point out that you would have been grateful to the police if you had been in your home at the time and had needed assistance - it might have saved your life or prevented further harm.*
There are exceptions. One police force (Lincolnshire) has a commendable policy of paying 50% of the costs regarding damage caused by their forced entry.
Also, one NHS mental health trust told me they pay all the costs - if they called out the police.
A legal anomaly (a binding contract made in your absence): The boarding-up bill is also an interesting (but disturbing) legal anomaly. The boarding up is done without the householder's prior knowledge or agreement (fair enough). You don't have a conventional contract with the boarding-up company - however, they consider you are obliged to pay the bill. One police website explains this by saying that the police act as an "agent of necessity" in law. Apparently this means the following: It's necessary for the boarding up to be done (to secure the property) and the police are on the spot (but you're not). So they instruct the company to do it on your behalf - ie acting as your agent. Basically the police set up a binding legal contract between you and the company in your absence!
If you don't pay the boarding-up bill, the company can take you to court. However, the boarding-up cost has to be reasonable - and the work has to be only the minimum necessary. On one police website they refer to minimising boarding-up costs and they describe a court case where the bill-payer got the bill reduced because the specification was more than the minimum needed.
(Note: This peculiar case involved a mobile crane hired to shift a lorry jammed under a bridge. The police had ordered the crane using the agent-of-necessity principle. Afterwards, the owner of the lorry was sent the bill. He was unhappy because he felt the crane which attended had been unnecessarily large (and expensive). So he contested it in court - and he got the bill reduced. See: White (JD) v Troups Transport, 6 Oct 1976, Stockton-On-Tees County Court.)
Bodiam Castle, Sussex (National Trust)
A legal anomaly ('An Englishman's home is his castle'): There's a widely held view that your home (and what you do in it) is sacrosanct in law - and you have the final word on who's allowed to enter it (so long as no crime is involved). However, some of the rights of entry of the police (and over 200 other agencies - see section below) are at odds with this view.
Statistics on forced entry can be hard to come by. The website of one police force (Tayside, Scotland) says they received a 'Freedom of information' (FoI) request about "securing of doors after forced entries". They responded (Dec 2011) by saying they didn't have any figures available. See www.tayside.police.uk
Occasionally, the police force entry into the wrong premises. In such cases, normally they pay for repairing the damage. There are two scenarios :
See the following article by the Daily Mail for more on this :
This article (dated 28 Dec 2009) is headed:
"Police paid out £560,000 in compensation for raiding the wrong properties"
It gives the results of a 'freedom of information' (FoI) request. There are some nice anecdotes.
Below is a rough-and-ready (imperfect) classification :
Forced entry :
- by unauthorised people - such as thieves, burglars, squatters, drunks
- by authorised people
- by the police
- regarding criminality
- powers: search warrant (issued by a magistrate)
- powers: no warrant
- powers: PACE 1984 s17(1)(a) to (d)
- powers: "breach of the peace"
- using powers in PACE 1984 s17(1)(e) - for the purpose of:
- "saving life or limb" and/or
- "preventing serious damage to property"
- by agencies other than the police
(see the section below on other agencies with powers of entry)
- the fire service, environmental health etc
- private sector
- landlords, bailiffs etc
The focus of this web page is on the item above called "saving life or limb".
Note: Some issues arise regarding entry even if no force is used.
For example, this appears to have been the position in the Syed v DPP court case.
The police had knocked on the front door - the occupants opened the door - and the police entered soon after.
There is also the issue of whether a search is conducted by the police officers who enter (and the admissibility of any evidence which results from this).
For instance, one court case concerned illegal drugs discovered when police entered using their "saving life or limb" powers. Could the police prosecute?`
There's an off-beat discussion on one web forum about whether "saving life or limb"
There are four possible outcomes :
The four items above group into 2 plus 2 items. This pattern is often presented as a table of two rows and two columns (called a '2x2 matrix') as follows :
|Force entry :||1. Occupant needed help||3. No help was needed
= false alarm
(and damage to property)
|Don't force entry :||2. No help was needed
= false alarm
(but no damage to property)
|4. Occupant needed help|
The two 'failure' items above (3 and 4) are the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" options for the police. I'm using the term 'failure' loosely - it's a moot point. You can argue that (so long as the police acted conscientiously) they haven't failed at all.
Item 3 above is the main concern of this page - it's what happened to me - the "false alarm" situation. The crucial issue is whether the police did act conscientiously at every stage - did they take (more or less) every reasonable step to avoid breaking in?
Item 4 above is the only one which results in unnecessary (avoidable) physical injury or death. This is the category which (understandably) 'frightens' police officers.
The tricky balancing act (which I'm advocating) is to reduce the number of false alarms (item 3) without materially increasing the occurrences of injury and death (item 4).
There are parallels with the well-known problem of police vehicle accidents (PVAs or PolAccs) whilst in pursuit or responding to emergency calls - which lead to injury or death of innocent members of the public. The officers have to achieve the correct balance between the two risks. For example, see: the government's research report on PVAs (1997, 51pp)
Covent Garden police station
In relation to "saving life or limb", "concern for the occupants" and the like, normally, the police rely on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), section 17, subsection (1), sub-subsection (e). It's commonly abbreviated to:
This states: "section 17(1) ... a constable may enter and search any premises for the purpose ... (e) of saving life or limb or preventing serious damage to property".
On this page, in general, we're not concerned with the second half of this clause - namely "... preventing serious damage to property".
Also, in general, we're not concerned with the earlier subsections of section 17(1) - in other words (a) to (d). They only deal with police powers where there's a crime involved. However, information on this can still be helpful - as some issues regarding forced entry are the same (or similar) - irrespective of the purpose of gaining entry.
See the section above on the types of forced entry.
The police have a common law power of entry if there is a disturbance that may amount to a breach of the peace (BoP) in that it entails harm (or the threat of harm) to a person or, in their presence, to their property. See the Court of Appeal decision in R v Howell (1982) 146 JP 13;  QB 416.
However, this power of entry can't be used for "saving life or limb" in isolation.
For details, see Neil Parpworth's 2009 article below.
The Human Rights Act is based on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Convention and Act restrict the powers of organisations such as the police.
Article 8 ("Right to Respect for Private and Family Life") restricts the police's powers of entry. (By the way, the European Convention is not related to the European Union (EU).)
For more information, see:
The 'Your Rights' website is produced by Liberty (formerly called NCCL).
Acts of Parliament and Regulations (=statute law) provide the framework of law - see the Acts and Regulations page.
Case law consists of the decisions of judges in court cases. It puts the meat on the bones - by giving interpretations on specific matters. The judges' rulings remain current (in force) until they're superseded by either :
(a) further case law (especially in a higher court), or
(b) new statute law.
In this case, regarding section 17(1)(e) of the 1984 Act (PACE), the judges decided that Parliament had intended that the word "serious" in the phrase "preventing serious damage to property" should also apply to the adjoining phrase "saving life or limb". They gave examples of serious matters - eg apprehended knife injuries and gunshot injuries. By the way, one of the two judges in this case was also a judge in the 'Syed v DPP' case below.
Cautionary note: I'm not a lawyer.
Google lists dozens of hits regarding this Syed court case.
Some give the full case, some give just a summary, some also have comments and analysis. Examples :
Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ)
The case was handled by Reeds Solicitors - of Oxford (solicitor: Lucy Tapper).
The case was heard in the High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division, Divisional Court, Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ), London on 13 Jan 2010.
The judges were Mr Justice Collins and Mr Justice Silber.
On 24 January 2009 police visited the house of Mr Shaheed Syed in Cowley, Oxford, following a report from a neighbour of a heated argument at the address.
The police knocked, spoke to Mr Syed and decided to enter his house, saying that they had "concern for the welfare" of the occupants. They told Mr Syed they were entitled to enter and search using powers in PACE 1984 section 17(1)(e) (="saving life or limb..." - see above).
Mr Syed attempted to stop them entering and it was alleged that he assaulted the police officers at this point.
(By the way, the police's search later revealed that no occupants of the house had been injured.)
Mr Syed was charged with two counts of assault (under the Police Act 1996 s89(1)) and successfully prosecuted in Oxford Magistrates' Court. Mr Syed appealed against these convictions, arguing that the officers' "concern for welfare" was not a serious enough matter to come within the scope of PACE section 17(1)(e). The Magistrates felt that the legal issues were beyond their remit and so they referred the issue to experts - judges in the High Court in London - asking the judges to decide on the correct interpretation of section 17(1)(e).
The two judges first considered what had been the intention of Parliament in 1984 when the PACE Act had been approved - in respect of section 17(1)(e). The judges decided that "concern for welfare" is not serious enough to be included in the term "saving life or limb" in the Act (PACE) . In other words, if the police say they're entering on the grounds of "concern for welfare" (or some similar phrase), it's unlawful - because it's not covered by the "saving life or limb" section of PACE. My understanding is that this ruling applies to all police forces in England and Wales. It's a universal interpretation of section 17(1)(e) - in other words it's not restricted to the circumstances of Mr Syed's case. For example, it applies whether or not any assault was alleged.
Then the judges applied this general verdict to the specific circumstances of the appellant (Mr Syed). They decided he was correct in asserting that the police had entered his house unlawfully (=ultra vires).
This was crucial for Mr Syed, because this ruling resulted in the quashing of his two convictions in Oxford Magistrates' Court (9 months before) for assaulting two police officers attempting to carry out the welfare check. The reason why the convictions were quashed is as follows. He had been convicted under the Police Act 1996 - section 89(1). With this Act, the police have to prove not only :
(a) that the assault took place, but also
(b) that the officer who was assaulted must have been lawfully executing his duties at the time
(Note: This second test '(b)' above (lawful duties) is not required if the police decide to prosecute for common assault instead.)
Extract from Judge Collins' verdict (concerning whether forced entry by the police was lawful), bold added by me :
"The test applied by the officers, and accepted by the justices [magistrates] in this case, was a concern for the welfare of someone within the premises. Concern for welfare is not sufficient to justify an entry within the terms of section 17(1)(e). It is altogether too low a test. I appreciate and have some sympathy with the problems that face police officers in a situation such as was faced by these officers. In a sense they are damned if they do and damned if they do not, because if in fact something serious had happened, or was about to happen, and they did not do anything about it because they took the view that they had no right of entry, no doubt there would have been a degree of ex post facto criticism. But it is important to bear in mind that Parliament set the threshold at the height indicated by section 17(1)(e) because it is a serious matter for a citizen to have his house entered against his will and by force by police officers. Parliament having set that level, it is important that it be met in any particular case."
At first glance, the two Syed cases may seem confusing and complicated. They involve two interwoven strands of unrelated areas of law, namely :
So, I've tried to clarify matters by compiling a rough-and-ready table below - which compares the two Syed cases :
|Court case||Crown v Syed *||Syed v Director of Public Prosecutions  WLR (D) 1|
|Date of hearing||21 April 2009||13 Jan 2010|
|Court||Magistrates' Court||High Court
Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division (QBD)
Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ)
|Adjudicators||Local magistrates (justices)||Judges Collins and Silber|
|Case brought by||Thames Valley Police / CPS / DPP||Mr Shaheed Syed|
|Defendant||Mr Shaheed Syed||Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)|
|Type of case||Criminal prosecution||Appeal on a point of law|
|Charge/allegation||Assaults by Mr Syed
Offence: Two counts of assaulting a police officer in the course of execution of his duty
|Unlawful entry by the police
The entry by police into Mr Syed's home (on the grounds of 'concern for the welfare' of the occupants) was unlawful. [They had not been acting in execution of their duty.]
|Law used||Police Act 1996
Section 89(1): Assault on a Constable in the execution of his/her duty
|Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984
Section 17(1)(e): Forced entry without a warrant for the purpose of "saving life or limb or preventing serious damage to property"
|Verdict||1. Successful convictions
2. Convictions later overturned - see Syed v DPP (right)
|Entry by the police was unlawful (so the convictions for assault were overturned)|
* Notes: I'm assuming the assault case above was called 'Crown v Syed' (or similar).
However, there are no details of the case on the Internet (as far as I know).
In relation to the 'Syed v DPP' court case, my understanding is that (in essence) the judges were dealing only with the issue of PACE section 17(1)(e) =the police's powers of entry.
The judges were NOT dealing with the issue of the alleged assaults by Mr Syed.
The sequence of events had been :
So, in terms of 'cause and effect' :
In simple terms, I view the Syed saga in the courts as having three stages :
The "concern for welfare" ruling in the 'Syed v DPP' case is significant. It narrows (restricts) police powers considerably - regarding their rights of entry under the 'saving life or limb' section of PACE 1984. It adjusts the balance in favour of householders, in respect of property rights and human rights. One implication is that (before deciding to force entry) the police have to carry out more checks and follow more leads (unless the situation is clearly serious and urgent).
If (like me) you're only interested in the 'powers of entry' issue (=section 17(1)(e) of PACE 1984), you can more-or-less ignore all the details concerning the alleged assault by Mr Syed (=the 'Crown v Syed' case). They're a separate matter - a 'red herring'.
Unfortunately, a few police forces haven't realised this - they maintain (incorrectly) that the judgement in the 'Syed v DPP' case on 'powers of entry' in section 17(1)(e) only applies in similar circumstances to Syed (eg only when there's an assault). If you encounter this problem, you may have to resort to overruling them via the IPCC or by taking them to court.
On the face of it, no one could justify assaulting police officers as was alleged to have happened with Mr Syed. Instead, I feel he should have done the following :
If he had taken action via the courts, presumably the case would have been called 'Syed v Thames Valley Police' (or similar). No assault would have been involved - it would have dealt only with the issue of powers of entry under PACE section 17(1)(e).
The police chose to prosecute Mr Syed using the Police Act 1996 (section 89(1)). However (instead) they could have charged him with common assault. If he had been convicted, the issue of whether the officers were lawfully executing their duties at the time would have been irrelevant. Nevertheless, he could have asked the Magistrates Court to take this into account when sentencing (in mitigation). To do this, it may have been necessary for him to prove that the police weren't acting lawfully when they entered - by bringing a court action against the police (=the hypothetical case above).
Syed is one of several cases where the police have used the Police Act to pursue assault (for example see Baker v CPS). So I assume there are advantages to using the Police Act in preference to common assault.
There are a few other cases - see the references to some of them in the articles dealing with the two cases above.
With cases of "saving life or limb", sometimes it's the police who spot a situation that causes potential concern. However, usually it's a third party - and then they contact the police. The third party is known as the informant.
The informant who alerts the police can be :
The informant may (or may not) know the occupant of the property personally.
Sometimes the informant's concern doesn't result from seeing the property. For instance, it may result from failing to get a response to a letter, phone call or email - or because the person didn't turn up for an appointment.
It can be easy for the informant to decide whether there's a problem - if you have tangible evidence of a person needing help - such as screaming or shouting, or seeing an incapacitated person through a window or letterbox. In a few cases, the person needing help has phoned the police themselves.
However, all too often, the evidence is speculative and unclear - such as a doorstep with bottles of milk or a parcel.
Do you assume that (a) all is well (the person's away or still in bed say), or (b) help is needed? It can be a tough decision - because if you do take the plunge and contact the police, many police officers feel obliged to follow it through and force entry. There's no going back.
So, when you consider ringing the police - bear in mind that the stakes are high :
There's nothing to stop you doing your own investigation first, so long as you do it responsibly - promptly and competently. For ideas, see the section below on checks made by the police. But remember, you may have to answer for your actions (or inaction).
If you're tempted to do things like looking in rubbish bins or inspecting the back of a house, you should first speak to one or two neighbours of the property concerned - and explain what you intend to do - and show them that you're bona fide. Otherwise, they may report you to the police for acting suspiciously.
It helps if you get someone else involved - then you can do the checks quicker and you can bounce ideas off each other.
The table below shows you the dilemma for the informant. There are four possibilities :
|The informant alerts the police :||1. Occupant needed help
|3. No help was needed
= false alarm
(and there's damage to the property if entry is forced)
|The informant doesn't alert the police :||2. No help was needed
= false alarm
(no damage to the property)
|4. Occupant needed help
(but no help was provided)
This issue of deciding whether something is concerning (or not) is just the same as when you spot something going on which you think might be a crime. It's about observation, perception and deduction. But things aren't always what they seem . . .
Example 1- Victim or criminal?: Recently I drove through a town centre late at night and I had to swerve to avoid a teenage girl, apparently being assaulted by two young men in the middle of the road. I stopped to help her - but then I saw a police van parked at an angle in the middle of the road a few yards further on. So, instantly one realised that it was the "other way around" - it was a criminal (the girl) being apprehended by two plain-clothes police officers.
Example 2 - "Friendly fire": In warfare, combatants can target their own side by mistake. For instance in World War 2, British aircraft attacked HMS Norfolk in 1941 (they mistook her for the German battleship Bismarck).
Example 3 - Unattended bags/luggage: Is it innocent or a bomb?
Each and every such item might be a bomb. However, in the UK, less than 0.1% of such situations result in the items being treated as a bomb (ie necessitating precautionary evacuation and the involvement of a bomb disposal team).
Typically, it seems the minimum that's done is as follows :
Other possible steps taken by the police include :
Potential constraints on doing checks include :
In theory, the law requires the police to cause minimum damage. The force used must be "reasonable, proportionate and necessary to effect entry".
A praiseworthy example - minor damage (anecdote) - I spoke to an NHS social worker who'd experienced forced entry (around 2002) as a result of a young hoax caller. She rang (anonymously) from a public phone, asking for an ambulance to be sent to his address (while he was out at a restaurant). The ambulance staff couldn't get an answer at his door, so they called the police. In those days, the police had more discretion (fewer health and safety [H&S] rules) - so they used their initiative and carefully minimised damage (in the best tradition of 'Dixon of Dock Green' or 'Heartbeat'). They broke a small glass pane in his rear kitchen door - then put their hand through to turn a key (or handle) to open the door. They discovered that no one was in the house. Afterwards, the householder was able to replace the glass pane himself as a DIY job - at a cost of just £5 or so - and a few hours work. He told me he was happy with the way the police dealt with the matter.
MOEs and use of enforcer rams - Nowadays many forces are very concerned about risks to their officers (health and safety). So a typical rule is to insist that entry is made only by an MOE officer - that is, someone who has been trained in method-of-entry (MOE). It's common for them to use an enforcer - which is a specially-designed heavy, strong steel battering ram - and they may be trained/told only to use it on the front door (see the Metropolitan Police manual on this - including elaborate requirements to use safety gloves, goggles, body armour and safety footwear). In this situation, you'll probably need a new front door, locks and frame - with a total bill approaching £1,000.
A few police forces get a skilled joiner/carpenter (a commercial contractor) to attend instead - usually he's able to gain entry with less damage than above. [I feel this should be done more often.]
Lock on old church door
Apparently, a few police forces call out a locksmith. A good locksmith can pick many types of lock (usually with no damage). You may recall Inspector Jack Frost and his skeleton keys in the ITV drama "Touch of Frost". If this fails, a locksmith can do things like drilling out the lock cylinder with cordless power tools. This causes only localised damage. (BBC TV 'Watchdog' featured this recently.) Locksmiths charge £40-£200 for a callout.*
After forcing entry, the police have a legal obligation to ensure the property is secure - so that unauthorised people aren't able to get into it (such as thieves or squatters). Police forces have longstanding arrangements (partnerships) with specialist securing firms that will attend promptly when requested - typically within an hour or two (analogous to the AA or RAC breakdown services). Until the contractor arrives, police officers remain at the scene to ensure that no one enters the unsecured property.
The contractors and the tasks: A number of firms specialise in securing premises - offering a prompt 24/7 service. See Thomsons and Yellow Pages directories for advertisements. A well-known example is Boing Rapid Secure Ltd (of Norfolk). These firms also handle the securing of commercial premises - the familiar sight of a boarded-up shop in a high street after a break-in or vandalism. The work needed may include :
A clutch-head one-way
security screw (courtesy of
Normally, the police and the contractors each leave a document in your premises explaining what happened and how to contact them.
Ironically, when you first return to your premises after this, you may find it's so 'secure' that you can't gain entry unless you use force.
The law and financial arrangements: See the 'Introduction' section above for more on this. In summary, it's an odd situation - the police act as "agents of necessity", acting on your behalf (as your agent) by asking the securers to carry out the work (typically boarding up). The company sends the bill to you (not to the police) and you're responsible for paying it. Typically, it's £200 or so for securing a front door. Some home insurers will pay the bill for you (but subject to excess and no-claims discount) - see the 'Insurers' section below.
When you look at an individual case of a householder who feels unhappy with forced entry, it's useful to differentiate between the various issues - especially the following :
All forces have a complaints procedure. Complaints about the police are considered to be of two types :
Your complaints can fall into the first or second category, or both. At the start, the police notify you of their decision on this. Then you have 28 days to appeal to the IPCC about this "recording" decision.*
Appealing - In England and Wales, if you follow the police's complaints procedure, then get a verdict from the force and you're still dissatisfied, you can complain (appeal) to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (the IPCC).
In Scotland you can complain to the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland (the PCCS).
Sometimes the police pay out compensation. For example, see :
This 10-page PDF image document was the result of a 'freedom of information' (FoI) request to Suffolk Constabulary requesting details of all payments of compensation made between April 2008 and April 2011 (£97,000 in total). In some cases they admitted liability, in others they were ex-gratia payments (in other words they wouldn't admit they were obliged to pay out). It provides a fascinating insight into policing.
There are a number of payments in respect of forced entry, some for welfare checks.
Below is an extract (my thanks to Suffolk Police) :
Flag of Scotland
This 7-page PDF document is a report of an investigation by the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland (PCCS). The PCCS is the equivalent of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) which covers England and Wales.
It's headed: "Report of a Complaint Handling Review in relation to Strathclyde Police" and it's dated April 2011.
It's a sad tale of an elderly (but healthy) man who was away from home, staying with friends. Neighbours and passers-by contacted the police with concerns. The issues included a parcel left on his doorstep, his cat and a lady who helped him. In the end, the police forced entry - unaware that he was away. The man complained that the police had broken into his flat without first doing adequate checks. The PCCS felt that some of his complaints were justified. In essence, there were two elements to his complaint about the police:
(a) the decision to force entry, and
(b) the way the police handled their investigation of his initial complaint about the forced entry.
Although this report relates to Scotland (not England and Wales), the rules regarding policing, forced entry and complaints are very similar.*
On this page, I've described briefly the forced entry that happened to me when I was away from home. Below are some more examples.
With thanks to
the Bournemouth Echo
Dated 4 February 2010.
The article is headed: "Who pays £1,000 repair bill after police smash down door?"
It includes a photo of the 'victim' (Victoria Stevens) and her door. Ironically, she's a former police special constable.
The force in question was Dorset Police.
The 35 or so posted comments below the article are also well worth looking at.
There's a wide variety of opinion on various related issues. The article was controversial.
For details, see the section above on complaints about the police.
See the "Methods of entry" section above for more on his experience of forced entry (following a hoax call).
A person emailed me recently - describing his sorry saga and asking for advice ASAP. I've anonymised his name and address. I'll refer to him as Tom. The details below are tentative - I haven't yet checked them with Tom. He and his family were away camping. On Saturday, they received an urgent phone call from a neighbour saying the police had just broken into his house (destroying the 100-year-old front door).
A young girl nearby had phoned the police (presumably using 999) - asking for help, saying that her mother was in a back room (a bathroom) and was bleeding heavily. The address the girl gave was slightly (but crucially) incorrect. She said (say) "43 Church Road" - whereas she should have said "43 Wisteria Gardens, [off] Church Road". So, initially the police went to the wrong address (Tom's house) - it was the correct house number but the wrong street. (This was crucial to the plot of one episode of "Foyles War" by the way.) The police spoke to Tom's neighbours - who explained that he (and his family) were away and there must be an error. However, the police decided to disregard this and break in (without further checks). They searched Tom's house and found no one at home. Eventually they worked out the girl's correct address, attended her address and rescued her mother (about 40 minutes later).
The police arranged for Tom's front door to be boarded up and made secure. So far, it appears they won't be billing him for the boarding up. However he's finding it difficult to get answers out of the police - especially whether they will reimburse him for a new front door (estimated to be £1,000), how long this would take and what the procedure is for claiming. He's being passed from one department to another. He's notified his insurers of the incident and is awaiting a response from them. So far, he's tempted to pay the bill himself - rather than claim it off his insurer.
See the section near the top of the page entitled: "Entry into the wrong premises".
In Tom's case, it appears the police correctly attended the address given to them - the error was due to the (well-meaning) child. Nevertheless, I understand that police forces normally always pay for the damage in these circumstances (and they don't attempt to claim off the informant who made the error).
The good news is that the police responded quickly - and (crucially) they were able to rescue the girl's mother. However, (on the face of it) there are questions to be answered regarding Tom's predicament :
PC David Rathband (blinded by Raoul Moat in July 2010) - Northumberland
Extract: "The 44-year-old was found hanged after officers forced entry to his semi-detached home in Bebside, Blyth, Northumberland, on Wednesday night. His death is being treated as a suspected suicide, police said."
Stranraer pensioner saved from flat blaze [by policeman] - Scotland
Extract: "[Fire crews] were met by police officers, one of whom had forced entry to the heavily smoke-logged ground floor flat and rescued its 76-year-old occupant."
"Elderly women sent to hospital after police use battering ram to check on her welfare"
Middlewich, Cheshire - 15 Feb 2012
One recent survey showed that over 200 types of agencies in the UK have the right to enter your property. Examples include the fire service, gas suppliers, environmental health and bailiffs (pursuing debts).
This has been a political hot potato. Politicians (including Lord Selsdon) are trying to simplify the law on this - and to reduce the number of organisations which have powers of entry. To some extent it's seen as a civil liberties/human rights issue. For example, see the website of Liberty (formerly known as NCCL). Interestingly, the issue has united radical (left-wing) and establishment (right-wing) groups.
Headed: "Bid to scrap right of entry laws"
It describes a Bill in Parliament promoted by Lord Selsdon.
One ongoing controversy concerns the TV Licensing Agency (TVLA) and their powers.
Ensure that the people you know well (neighbours, relatives, friends and work colleagues) have adequate information about you, your lifestyle and movements (with contact details). Then, if the police do contact them, the officers can get reliable information about you quickly and easily - and so avoid unnecessary forced entry.
Make sure that several people have this information - because, when the police try to contact them, some of the people will be uncontactable (at work, out shopping, on holiday etc).
However, beware - only give this information to trusted people - don't put details in the public domain (eg websites). See:
"How posting holiday details on Facebook could push up your home insurance premiums" Daily Mail - 22 March 2010
Should you display notices with your emergency contact details? :
There are precedents and analogies :
A notice - suggested example (possibly fictitious) :
No 41 Village Green - IN CASE OF EMERGENCY - PLEASE CONTACT :
Neighbours: Eddie at No 39, Christine at No 43, Pat and David at No 46
Hayley (Ambridge BO11 4RT): tel 01799 4848335 and 0771 493 48325
Shula Hebden: tel 020 7439 23545 (=work, Mon-Fri 9-5) and 0776 568 23445
Keyholders: Leave spare house keys with people - then the police can gain entry to your home without damage.
Purchase a police-approved key safe - see details below.
Ask the police to add details to their computer system regarding you/your address - of several people they can contact in an emergency (whether keyholders or not). Keep a note of what you told them, and keep it up-to-date.
When you go away :
If you do experience a forced entry and it's a false alarm (you were away) :
When you're away, you're trying to send out two conflicting 'messages' (but perhaps you can't have your cake and eat it) :
So alas (ironically) some commendable crime prevention recommendations actually make the situation worse in respect of forced entry by the police (as I discovered) :
Some policies include cover for forced entry by the police (etc) for saving life or limb - but (alas) some don't. It's worth giving some importance to this when you choose a policy - check the small-print. Better policies will also pay the boarding-up cost. Normally these matters come under your buildings cover (not the contents cover).
If your policy does cover these things - beware: if you claim :
In some circumstances, it may even be better not to claim (ie you pay all the costs yourself). However, you should still tell your insurer about the incident. *
A variety of contractors (national or local) will do the work for you - such as double glazing companies (like Anglian or Everest) and builders.
If possible, pay at least part of the bill by credit card (not debit card). That way you've got free extra protection via section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 - in case the work is unsatisfactory or the company goes bust. The credit card company is "jointly liable".
If you claim on your home insurance, often the insurer will get the work done for you. They have arrangements with companies - eg supplying and fitting double glazed windows, doors and locks. A well-known company specialising in this is Evander Glazing and Locks based in Norwich, Norfolk. Firms like this have numerous local depots and operate a 24/7 service.
If you choose a door that's a lot better than your original one, your insurer may charge you "betterment" - in other words the difference between the cost of a like-for-like door and the door you choose. This still may be a good deal.
Note - See also the sources referred to in the sections above - eg the section on case law (including Syed v DPP).
Police powers: Powers of entry
= A section on the 'Adviceguide' website ("online help from Citizens Advice" =CABs ).
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE)
"PACE Code B"
Produced by the Home Office. A 24-page PDF file.
Most of this document relates to entry and search in connection with criminal matters (rather than "saving life or limb").
"Damage to property by police forcing entry"
= A 'Standard Note' (SN) compiled by the House of Commons Library.
It's a short, 3-page PDF document - produced to brief MPs.
"Police paid out £560,000 in compensation for raiding the wrong properties"
= Article in Daily Mail - dated 28 Dec 2009
It gives the results of a 'freedom of information' (FoI) request.
There are some nice anecdotes.
Police Specials forum - 2008
Police Specials forum - 2010
"Neil Parpworth looks at the powers of entry for police officers"
= Article on the 'Criminal Law and Justice Weekly' (CL&J) website - 2009
"Police forced entry, HELP"
MoneySavingExpert Forum (MSE) - April 2011. Over 60 postings.
"My 82 year old mother went to stay with family for 24 hours. On returning home, her back door had been smashed beyond recognition, as neighbours had concerns because they had not seen her."
"Police raid/forced entry - damage - what recourse for landlord?"
'Landlord Zone' forum thread - 2008 and 2009
Eg a search for a suspected criminal.
Problems faced by landlords - 2010
Police Oracle forum - 2010. Especially on the implications of the 'Syed v DPP' case.
"Compensation paid by Avon and Somerset Constabulary"
Avon and Somerset Police. Forced entry, damage to doors etc.
8-page PDF (table).
"Forced and rapid entry policy"
- City of London Police (COLP) - Oct 2008 - 13-page PDF
"Forced entry to property: Standard operating procedures" (SOP)
- Fife Constabulary (Scotland) - Oct 2006 - 7-page PDF
"D9510 Procedure - Unarmed Forced Building Entry"
Hampshire Police. 6 pages. Includes a list of relevant Acts of Parliament.
"Forced entry made into premises by the police"
- Lincolnshire Police - March 2011 - 6-page PDF - produced by Force Solicitor
One of 5 related downloadable documents, including Appendices A, B and C.
Extract (from page 4) - Lincolnshire Police : [bold added by me]
"2. Forced Entry By Police – ‘Concern’ Cases
Police assistance is frequently requested to gain entry to premises by a concerned relative, neighbour or professional body such as ambulance, social services etc.
Where a deceased person is found on the premises, the invoicing for securing the property is normally forwarded to the Next Of Kin or Solicitor for settlement from the estate monies. However, there are a number of instances when the occupier is merely on holiday, in hospital or away from home for other reasons. On these occasions, the owner/occupier of the property will be asked to make a 50% contribution towards the cost of the invoice.
The officer attending any such incident will make a judgement as to whether to force entry into premises on the basis of the level of concern, rather than the financial outcome."
"Emergency boarding up"
Metropolitan Police (MPS, =London). Explanatory notes - including who pays.
"Keeping illegal drugs out of rental properties"
Brief YouTube video by North Wales Police - uploaded March 2008.
Shows the police forcing entry using an enforcer ram.
"Police Raid[s] Requiring Forced Entry to Domestic Dwellings"
Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) - 2011.
Response to a Freedom of Information request.
A table with three columns: Damage caused, How and Amount [cost].
"Report of a Complaint Handling Review in relation to Strathclyde Police"
Report by the PCCS - Sept 2011.
A review of how Strathclyde Police (Glasgow, Scotland) dealt with two complaints regarding officers forcing entry to a person's home.
This is an excellent searchable information resource, run by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (the IPCC). Introduction from the site's homepage :
"Working in partnership ACPO, NPIA, IPCC, HMIC, the Home Office, the Police Federation and the Police Superintendent's Association of England and Wales produce a regular bulletin to help the police service learn lessons from investigations and other operations of the police complaints and conduct system.
Police forces facing similar situations to those described can use the experience of other forces to improve their policies and practices. The bulletin challenges forces to ask "Could it happen here?" and includes learning on a range of themes."
There are several items on "concern for welfare" and related matters.
Brigade Order: "Gaining access / forcible entry"
Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service. An 8-page PDF.
It includes a section entitled: "Requesting a boarding up company".
"Statutory powers to enter a property"
On the rights of social workers to enter a property (regarding children).
Forum discussion - April 2010.
"Forced entry to listed buildings"
= An IHBC Law & Practice Guidance Note.
Produced by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC).
An authoritative web page. It includes a description of the powers available (town and country planning Acts), use of warrants, effect of the Human Rights Act (Articles 8 and 6).
Mainly aimed at staff in the planning departments of local councils (LPAs).
"Bailiffs attempted forced entry + caused damage, police refuse to act"
Consumer Action Group (CAG) - consumer forum thread - October 2007.
Concerns an unpaid civil parking fine. Well written contributions.
A commercial service offering to sort out your problems with bailiffs - for a flat fee.
The website has useful information on your rights.
"Police response to anonymous emergency calls"
Legal Digest. From the 'FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin' - 1st May 2003.
A detailed, high-quality article on the law in the United States - eg on 911 calls, "warrantless entry" and corroboration. 72 references.
www.thefreelibrary.com/Police+response+to+ anonymous+emergency+calls .+%28Legal+Digest%29.-a0102658846
"Police-approved" secure, weatherproof storage for a spare key outside a property.
You open the container using a combination code (equivalent to a PIN number).
You can give the code to trusted people.
Also, in an emergency, you can supply this code to a person at the property from a distance - eg by phone, email or fax.
I'm continuing to develop this page.
. . . I'd welcome your comments, suggestions etc - contact me