Aim of this information
This information sets out the general procedure for getting property back from the Police. For more detailed information of the process of a specific Police Force, you should contact either the Police Headquarters for that area or the station where you were arrested.
Why is this important
There are many people who have their property taken away from them when they are arrested by the Police. People often think that they will never be able to get that property back and this information looks at how they may be able to.
How property is retained by the Police
When arrested and/or subject to a police investigation, you may have property confiscated from you which is then held by the police on your behalf.
When the Police investigate criminal offences, they are give wide ranging powers to seize property they believe is relevant to the investigation. This is principally done under s.19 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE 84).
General power of seizure etc.
(1)The powers conferred by subsections (2), (3) and (4) below are exercisable by a constable who is lawfully on any premises.
(2)The constable may seize anything which is on the premises if he has reasonable grounds for believing—
(a)that it has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence; and
(b)that it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent it being concealed, lost, damaged, altered or destroyed.
(3)The constable may seize anything which is on the premises if he has reasonable grounds for believing—
(a)that it is evidence in relation to an offence which he is investigating or any other offence; and
(b)that it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent the evidence being concealed, lost, altered or destroyed.
In simple terms, if the Officer believes that something is relevant to the investigation then he will no doubt seize it. If you are charged with an offence a decision will then be made as to whether that item becomes a ‘Used’ exhibit or an ‘unused’ exhibit. If it is ‘used’ then it means the Prosecution will rely on it at trial in your case. If ‘unused’ then the Prosecution are not relying on it as evidence in the case.
Basically, if the officer thinks that something is relevant to the investigation, then he will seize it.
Getting this property back, either whilst you are in custody or once the proceedings that relate to why the property was confiscated have taken place, can be difficult.
If your property is confiscated it is usually held at the holding/arresting police station until the matter has been dealt with. Once the officer in charge of the case feels that your property is no longer needed, an officer should inform you that your property is ready for collection.
There are two types of property that may be taken from you when you are arrested
- The property in your possession when arrested (e.g. coins, watch, lighter, wallet) – any property which is not believed to be of evidential value (and is not an illegal item or substance). This should be returned to you when you leave custody.
- Property you own which is of interest to the investigation (e.g. a computer, a large sum of cash, trainers or kitchen knives). This will be retained until the investigation/process is complete.
Getting your property back
If you have had property seized by the police (other than money or cash) then there naturally becomes a point when that property is no longer required under PACE 1984. You won’t necessarily be able to recover all your property (e.g. drugs, knives, guns etc) – some will be forfeited and destroyed.
If you had money or cash seized, the rules and regulations are incredibly complicated, and you are probably best speaking to a solicitor about what to do.
Although the policy of returning property may vary depending on the police force, there is a general process that the Police will use. This usually involves you being notified by them, often in writing, stating that your property can be collected and where you need to go for it.
However, there are some points that you need to know before getting your property back:-
- The property cannot be returned to you until the officer in charge of the case has authorised it for release.
- The police can keep relevant property until a case has been resolved and in some cases they can keep it after conviction (in case of a hearing relating to the confiscation of any illegal assets, or a possible appeal in some circumstances).
- The police will hold your property until all relevant matters have been dealt with. Once the letter of authorisation has been sent to you the general procedure is for them to wait 28 days for you to collect your property or for a response either by telephone or in writing.
If you want to make some enquiries as to whether you can collect your property, you will need to speak to the officer in charge of the case.
If you have been notified to collect your property and fail to do so then after a certain amount of time (often 28 days, but may vary from force to force), the property will be disposed of, either destroyed or sold at auction.
If the Police are disputing your ownership of the property in question, then you may have to prove it is yours. Whilst this can easily be done if you have receipts, if you haven’t got these then you have have to think more creatively – perhaps you have photographs of you with the property.
If the Police still will not return your belongings then you may need to contact a Solicitor or a Barrister. They should be able to give you initial advice as to whether or not you can, in law, recover your property and what steps you will need to take. You may need to bring an action under the Police Property Act 1897 to ask the Magistrates’ Court to compel the Police to return your belongings.
If you are not charged
If you are not charged but the police are still investigating the case, property is dealt with in the same was as if you were charged and released, when the officer in charge authorises it.
If you are not charged, but you have a Co-defendant/s and some of your property is needed for their case it will continue to be held until the case is closed and the officer in charge authorises it for release.
After you are convicted/sentenced
After you have been convicted/ sentenced, once the case has been closed with no outstanding issues you should be given all items which were on your person at the station at the court or be told to attend the station to collect your property.
If you are in prison
If while in custody your property is no longer needed by the Police you should be sent a letter of notification listing what property is being released. This letter can either be sent to the prison or your address at the time of arrest.
When you are sentenced, the Home Office should be told of the outcome and if detained which prison you have been sent to.
This property should be forwarded onto the prison where you are currently being held. The Home Office will usually cover the postage costs.
For items that are too large to post (e.g. car, computer, house), the item/s will remain at the station or holding centre until your released. This is so long as you make contact with the police force in charge and there is no other option for collection. You should try to make it clear when you will be in a position to collect your property.
In custody, you will not be able to collect your property from the station yourself. With this in mind, the police should allow you to use alternative options.
- You can write a letter to the station addressed to the officer in charge stating who you are giving permission to collect your property. You must also write a letter to the person collecting the property, giving them permission, and they must bring this letter and some form of ID with them when they go to collect your property.
- You can have the property posted to an address different to the prison so long as you inform them of this within a set time frame (usually 28 days). This may vary from force to force.
Some police forces will hold the property in the arresting station until it is claimed. However, it is worth noting that they will likely have a process of disposal after a certain amount of time. Most police stations in London will hold property for around 6 months, after which it will be moved to a main property holding centre within the arresting borough. Addresses for the holding centres are only available directly from local stations.
Contact numbers and addresses for each Police force are available from their website. You can get details of the various forces from the here.
Do not know the officer in charge of your case?
If you do not know the details of the officer in charge you will need to provide the relevant Police force with as much information as possible about your case.
The following information would be useful:-
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Date arrested
- Reason for arrest/charges
- Station detained in