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Police carry out searches of properties and individuals daily. Such searches are carried out with different degrees of care by the officers involved. Frequently, damage to property is an inevitable result of the search. A door may have to be broken to secure entry, or property may be damaged on the way. Sometimes damage is unfortunately caused unnecessarily.

Such searches are distressing in any event, and any damage caused merely operates to add aggravation to humiliation. The question often asked is whether any sort of cost can be recovered for the resulting damage.

Was the search lawful? The range of circumstances in which such a search can be undertaken is wide, but there must be some clear authority for the search. A search warrant is not always required, but the search will usually be carried out under a warrant. Clearly where a search is carried out without authority or consent, damages can be recovered.

Secondly, a search may be unlawful because the way in which it is carried out goes outside the scope of the authority given. A search warrant granted to search for one category of goods, may be carried out unlawfully if, for example, the search is clearly extended to a property of a nature which could not be related to the items or evidence being sought. A search warrant is not, contrary to what some officers perhaps image, a simple blank cheque to the officer to snoop as and where he wishes, and without regard to any legal control or duty.

It can however be very difficult to establish that the search was unlawful in its extent.

The search may be lawful, but for example it may be a search of property but where the owner of the property is not themselves suspected of any offence, and where the search proves unsuccessful.

There is an acknowledgement that such searches cause damage which ought to be compensated. The acknowledgement is not however statutory as such and no obligation in law arises on the Police.

Nevertheless, police forces usually have an arrangement in place for making ex gratia payments. An ex gratia payment is a payment made by choice by the police force involved, and not out of any obligation. There is no rule to say how much any payment should be or to specify the quantity of such payments.

Where property has been damaged, and where the owner of the property can reasonably argue that they did nothing to cause the search, an application to the local police force for compensation should properly be made, and persisted with.

Important: Please note that our law-bytes are retained for archival purposes only. The law changes, and these notes are often, now, out of date. You must take direct advice on your own personal situation and the law as it currently stands.
All information on this site is in general and summary form only. The content of any page on this site may be out of date and or incomplete, and you should not not rely directly upon it. Take direct professional legal advice which reflects your own particular situation.
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Copyright and Database Rights: David Swarbrick 2012
18 October 2013 229 18 October 2013