If you are arrested or if the police have a search warrant, then your house could get raided. The police do not need a warrant when you have been arrested. While raids are supposed to be about looking for evidence of crime, some of the raids Bristol Defendant Solidarity has seen look a lot like harassment policing – where police use the law as an excuse to intimidate people. The Network for Police Monitoring has produced a briefing on the law around police raids – What are your rights if police raid your home? Since raids can be difficult emotionally, even traumatic, you might also want to see our advice on trauma and emotional support.
If police come to your door, we suggest you:
- Ask if they have a warrant – do not open the door unless they have a warrant or if someone who lives in your house has been arrested
- Open the door IF they clearly have a right to force entry. It is normally better to open the door rather than waiting for them to break it down, as they won’t pay for the damage. Tell them you are there and about to open it, so they don’t injure you trying to ram the door with you behind it.
- Keep watch on the police searching your house – note down anything they do which you think is excessive or illegal, along with the badge numbers of the police doing the search (see also our leaflet on dealing with the police)
- Call a lawyer – this lets the police know that you know your rights and won’t be pushed around (see also the NetPol solicitor list)
If you are in a shared house and police are searching because of an arrest, they can only search the rooms that the arrested person had access to. That means communal areas and the room of the arrested person. Other housemates may need to stand guard over their rooms to deter cops from trying to get in.
If there’s a chance you’ll be arrested, make sure your housemates know their rights. Don’t leave important things like laptops, hard-drives or protest plans in communal areas of your house. Consider putting name badges on the bedroom doors of anyone who lives there, so that it’s clear the cops don’t have a right to enter those rooms. Having a camera on hand to film any search may help enforce this.
Getting Your Stuff Back
Police can seize anything they find which they decide is “evidence” – this includes laptops, disk drives, cameras, phones, etc. So long as whatever they take isn’t illegal, you should be able to get it back eventually (though sometimes things come back broken). Police tend to make this difficult – so you need to be persistent and keep hassling them.
Ask them for the ‘property reference number’ of whatever they took. Once you have this it is harder for them to deny that your property exists or that it belongs to you. For each conversation you have with the police, make sure you note down the station and badge number of the cop you talk to. This makes it harder for them to screw you around later. Sometimes they’ll try to make you prove whatever it was that got confiscated belongs to you.
Police will sometimes demand your details before giving anything back. They justify this by saying that they need to be sure they are giving it to the real owner, and that they need a name in case anyone else claims the property later. If you live in a shared house that had communal property taken, it might be best just sending one person to get it all back, being clear to the police that it is shared property. That way, they only get one person’s details rather than everybody’s.
DISCLAIMER: while some of this text is based on advice from legal professionals, some of it is based solely on personal experience and research. While it is correct so far as we know, it should be taken as guidance only