Stop and search

To stop and search you the police officer must have reasonable grounds to suspect you are in unlawful possession of something (i.e. you have got something you shouldn't have), or you have unlawfully obtained (got) something (i.e you've stolen something), or you are a terrorist, or they can search you in order to stop an act of terrorism.

Just because an officer knows you have got previous convictions is not enough reason for 'reasonable suspicion'. They must have some specific information or intelligence and it can't just be because of your colour, age, race or sex.

What do the police have to do?

If you are stopped by the police and asked to explain where you've been or what you've been doing, there are a number of things that they have to do.

  • First, they must let you know what their name is and what police station they work at. They also have to tell you why you've been stopped and what they are looking for. Finally, they must record all the details of the stop and search on a form which they will give to you.
  • If they want to search you, they must do it in a public place. You may be asked to empty your pockets, open your bag or take off your coat so they can make sure you're not hiding any weapons or stolen goods.
  • The police can only search you further if they have strong evidence that you may be connected with terrorism or if they think you're using your clothes to hide your identity. If this is the case, you have to be searched in a private place, and the officer who performs the search must be the same sex as you.

What if I refuse to be searched by the police?

The police should get your permission but a forcible search can be made if you are unwilling to co-operate or if you resist. Reasonable force may be used as a last resort if they need to carry out a search or detain you or your vehicle for the purposes of a search.

Can I complain if I am stopped and searched?

If you think that you've been treated unfairly or you've only been stopped because of your colour, race, religion or clothes you have the right to make a complaint about discrimination.

When you are stopped and searched you will be given a form with all the details of the police officer that stopped you so you can complain direct to the station they work at.

If you are not happy with the reply you get, or if you want further advice before making a complaint, contact Citizens Advice

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