Getting property back from the police

Individual Police forces often have specific policies on their website which might go further than what is described below so you should also check them out. At the time of writing Cheshire Constabulary appears not to but Merseyside does. 

Seized property

When property is  taken from you by the Police it is important to remember that you have rights. Here we describe how you might be able to get your property returned to you. 

The police powers 

Whilst investigating an alleged crime the police have wide ranging powers to take property if they believe it is relevant to the investigation. The main power is derived from s.19 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE 84). Retention is lawful only if it is necessary for a legitimate purpose. Normally that will be the purpose for which it was originally seized under sections 19 or 20 of PACE.

Section  22(1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). provides a general power to retain property only for as long as necessary in all the circumstances.

Section 22(2) states that anything seized for the purposes of criminal investigation may be retained for use at a trial for an offence or for forensic examination.

But: 

  • if a photograph or copy could be made then the property cannot be retained; and
  • if the original must be retained rather than merely a copy, there is still a duty under section 21 to return a copy of, or allow access to, the item to the person who was in possession of it when it was seized.

Getting your property back: Police (Property) Act 1897

This provides a way of possibly getting the return of property. However this law also  allows for disposal of unclaimed property, provided the Police (Property) Regulations 1997 are followed.

Section 1 states: 

Where any property has come into the possession of the police in connection with their investigation of a suspected offence a court of summary jurisdiction may, on application, either by an officer of police or by a claimant of the property make an order for the delivery of the property to the person appearing to the magistrate or court to be the owner thereof, or if the owner, cannot be ascertained, make such order with respect to the property as to the magistrate or court may seem meet.

Will I always get my property back?

No. You will not have an absolute right to get all of your property back in every case. Things such as drugs, and knives  will be forfeited and destroyed.

You should usually be notified by the police , this ideally should be in writing telling you where and how you can collect your property. But bear in mind the following before you try and get it back: 

  • It will not be returned until the officer in charge has authorised it for release.
  • It can be kept until a case has been resolved. Sometimes it can be kept after you are convicted for example if there are ongoing proceedings in relation to the confiscation of any illegal assets, or there is the possibility of an  appeal in some circumstances.
  • It will be kept until all relevant matters have been dealt with. 

You will need to speak to the officer in charge of the case if you make enquiries regarding your property.

Notification: 

If you receive a notification  to collect your property and do not  to do so it means that after a certain amount of time, usually  28 days, the property will be got rid of, by being destroyed or sold at auction.

Sometimes the police may not believe that you own the property and so you may have to prove it is yours. 

What can I do if they refuse to give me my property back?

You would need to bring an action under the Police Property Act 1897. This would involve you asking the Magistrates’ Court to compel the Police to return your belongings.

I ended up serving a prison sentence so how can I get my property back? 

You should have been  sent a letter of notification listing what property is being released at the time that the police decide that they no longer need to keep hold of your property and if in their view you are eligible to have it returned.  

The  letter can either be sent to the prison or to your last known  address at the time of your arrest.

You should write a letter to the police station and address it for the attention of the  officer in charge. In this letter you can also say that you you are giving permission for someone else to collect your property if you can get someone to do this. You will also have to give written permission for the person to collect the property.

Rose & Dunn are specialist criminal defence and motoring law solicitors and higher courts advocates. We can be contacted at any time of day or night. If you need emergency police station assistance contact us using any of the methods below and we will get back to you as soon as possible.