Police Stop and Search UK

Why do the police stop and search you?

The police assert that it is their duty to stop and talk to the community and they may stop to talk to you for any number of reasons. They may just be looking for a general chat during their daily patrols or for more specific information about an incident or local issue.

Unfortunately, sometimes a chat can lead to more formal questioning, which can lead to a search of you and your vehicle and even an arrest. Whist all officers should treat you fairly and most will professionally, this is sadly not alwfeviays the case in our experience.

If you or someone you know has been arrested following a police stop and search, you can contact us 24-hours a day, seven days a week for immediate legal advice and representation.

Can I video record a police search?

Providing the recording is not for terrorism purposes you can do so. The public do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop you filming or photographing incidents or police.

You must be careful not be insulting or abusive as you could commit offences at that time or by posting anything online which can be a malicious communication or harassment. You should avoid recording and posting highly distressing images as this could lead to criminal charges.

If you are recording you or another being searched then that should be lawful providing you do not obstruct the police by crossing a police line, pushing past officers or getting in the way of what the police are attempting to do. In the worst-case, your phone can be taken as evidence if you record something crucial.

Do you have to give your name and address when stopped by the police?

If you were suspected of committing an offence and you refused to give your details, then an officer could be depending on the circumstances, arrest you.

Can the police use force to search me?

A search does not require your permission. Failure to cooperate can lead to the use of reasonable force to conduct the search.

If the officer has a body-worn video camera, they can also record the stop and search.

We know how confusing, scary and frustrating it can be to deal with a police stop and search, especially if you arrested as a result. As a local community-based firm, we can offer you clear legal advice and representation, as well as the sympathetic personal support you need to deal with this difficult situation.

We can help you

Our criminal defence solicitors have a strong track record of securing acquittals in cases where allegations are made by the police following unlawful stops and searches. We can also help if you believe the police acted unlawfully during a stop and search. Our team have won many cases over the years for clients who have been subjected to illegal stops and searches and where lawful stops and searches have gone wrong for a variety of reasons.

At the police station, we will advise you on the correct strategy for dealing with your police interview. We can take your statement and interview witnesses to support your side of the story, as well as looking at all of the evidence the police have to present. We can then prepare your case effectively to give you the best chance of a positive outcome.

Wherever possible, we will help you to avoid charges or secure a resolution before court proceedings. Where a trial cannot be avoided, we will use the best specialist criminal defence solicitors and barristers to fight your case and secure the best possible outcome for you. We will argue your case fearlessly and put forward all relevant legal arguments. We have acted in many cases where stops and searches have gone wrong and arrests and charges have followed.

With over 40 years of experience, our expert criminal defence team can ensure your case is handled the right way from the start.

If you have been arrested following a stop and search or are unhappy with the way you have been dealt with during a stop and search, our criminal defence solicitors can help.

You can contact our dedicated criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham or Manchester or email

Or you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you quickly.

Know your rights and how to behave during a police stop and search

Knowing your rights and how to behave during a police stop and search can help to protect you legally, including reducing the likelihood of you being arrested.

Key things to remember when stopped by police

  • The police have the power to stop and talk to you or question you at any time
  • You don’t have to stop or answer any questions. If you don’t and there’s no other reason to suspect you, then this alone can’t be used as a reason to search or arrest you.
  • The police can normally only stop and search you if they have ‘reasonable grounds. If you run away or don’t stop when directed to stop, you commit an offence of obstructing police and you may be arrested.

If you are stopped and/or searched, you should:

  • Stay calm at all times even if you are provoked
  • Be polite and avoid being disrespectful even if you are angry or frustrated
  • Not attempt to resist being searched

Even if you feel a search is unlawful, you should still comply as attempting to resist a search could see you arrested and potentially charged with a criminal offence such as obstructing police or assault on police. It is always better to do as the police ask, then contact us for legal support as soon as possible if you feel you have been treated unlawfully by the police.

Above all, remember that you should never answer police questions without a lawyer present and that you have the right to free legal representation if you are arrested following a stop and search.

What is a police stop and search?

A police stop and search is where a police officer stops you and carries out a search of you, your clothes and anything you are carrying, such as a backpack or wallet. You can be stopped when driving or as a pedestrian.

Stop and search does not cover searching the contents of your phone, laptop or other electronic devices.

While both police officers and police community support officers (PCSO) have the right to stop and question you, only a police officer can carry out a stop and search. A police officer does not need to be in uniform to carry out a stop and search, but they do need to identify themselves as a police officer and show you their warrant card.

When can police stop and search you?

A police officer can stop and question you at any time, however, they can only stop and search you under specific circumstances.

Under normal circumstances, a police officer can only stop and search you if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you of carrying one of the following:

  • Illegal drugs
  • A weapon
  • Stolen property
  • Something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar

You can be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds if this has been approved by a senior police officer. This can occur if police suspect:

  • Serious violence could take place
  • You’re carrying a weapon or have used one
  • You’re in a specific location or area where random stop and searches have been authorised

What can the police do during a stop and search?

During a stop and search, a police officer can as standard:

  • Ask you to take off your coat, jacket or gloves
  • Put their hands inside your shoes, socks or headgear
  • Ask you to turn out your pockets
  • Use ‘reasonable force’ if you attempt to resist being searched

They may also ask you to do the following if they have a specific reason for doing so:

  • Ask you to remove additional items of clothing (only if the officer is the same sex as you)
  • Ask you to remove religious items of clothing (e.g. a veil or turban)

These types of more thorough searches must be conducted out of public view e.g. in the back of a police van. You must be informed of the reason why this type of search is required, which cannot simply be that they have not found anything so far.

If the police wish to carry out a strip search, this can only take place in a police station or other designated area, such as a police tent. If you are under the age of 17, the search can only take place if an appropriate adult (such as a parent or guardian) is present.

What are your rights during a stop and search?

If a police officer or PCSO attempts to stop and question you, you do not have to stop or answer their questions. Failure to do so does not give them the right to stop and search you or arrest you.

Before you can be searched, the police officer must tell you:

  • Their name and police station
  • What they expect to find during the search
  • The reason for the search
  • The legal basis for the search
  • Your right to a written record of the search

If you are stopped and searched by a police offer, you should remember your rights, including:

  • You do not have to give your name and address
  • You do not have to answer any questions
  • You have the right to film the stop and search, except where the police have a legitimate reason to believe the video could be used for the purposes of terrorism

During a stop and search, the police will fill out a form recording the following details:

  • The time, date and place of the stop and search
  • The reason for the stop and search
  • What the police officer was searching for
  • The name and/or collar number of the police officer who carried out the stop and search
  • Your ethnic background (as described by you)

The officer is required to give you a copy of this form, which can be essential if you wish to make a complaint.

When can police carry out a strip search?

If the police want to carry out a more thorough search that involves removing anything more than your outer clothing, this is commonly referred to as a ‘strip search’. Police can only conduct a strip search if they believe you have on your person an illegal item that you are hiding under your clothes or inside your body.

A strip search must be conducted out of public view (e.g. in a police station or police tent). It will need to be authorised by a custody sergeant and must normally be carried out by someone of the same gender as you. The police should respect what you consider to be your gender identity, rather than making judgements about this themselves.

The police can only carry out a strip search of someone under the age of 17 if an appropriate adult (such as a parent or guardian) is present.

Can you refuse to be strip-searched?

If the police have lawful grounds for the search, you do not have the right to refuse. If you try to refuse a lawful strip search, officers can use force where necessary to carry out the search. You could potentially be arrested if you attempt to run away from or physically resist a strip search.

Where force is used during a strip search, officers must use only such force as is reasonably necessary to carry out the search. If you believe excessive force was used by police during a strip search, this may be grounds for a complaint and potential civil proceedings for compensation.

What is a Section 60 search?

While police normally need ‘reasonable grounds’ for a search, under certain circumstances police can carry out searches of anyone within a specified area under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Section 60 searches can only take place with the authorisation of a police officer of Inspector rank or higher and must only take place within a specified area for a maximum of 24 hours.

In order for Section 60 searches to be authorised, the authorising officer must reasonably believe one or more of the following applies:

  • An incident or incidents of serious violence may take place in the area and searches are required to prevent this
  • An incident or incidents of serious violence have taken place in the area and searches are needed to find the articles used in the offence
  • A person or people in the area are carrying weapons or other dangerous items

What is Terrorism Act 2000 stop and search?

Under Section 47A of the Terrorism Act 2000, the police can carry out searches of any vehicle, driver, passenger or pedestrian in a specified area with the authorisation of a senior police officer.

These powers have been used increasingly by police in recent years, but can only be used where there is reason to suspect an act or terrorism may take place in a certain area. Any searches carried out must only be for the purposes of discovering evidence of any items that may be used in an act of terrorism or that the subject of the search is a terrorist.

Can I be arrested following a stop and search?

  • You can be detained for a strip search see above.
  • You can If anything illegal is found such as drugs, weapons or stolen items.
  • You can If you obstruct the search or assault or threaten officers.
  • You can If you are wanted for other offences.

What can you do if you believe you have been stopped and searched unlawfully?

If you believe you have been unlawfully targeted for a stop and search or you are unhappy about the way the stop and search has been carried out, you have the right to make a complaint.

You should allow the stop and search to happen, even if you believe it is unlawful, as refusing to comply can give the police grounds to arrest you.

There are two main reasons that a stop and search might be considered unlawful:

  1. There were no reasonable grounds for stopping and searching you.
  2. The police exceeded the proper execution of their duty in the way the search was carried out.

Clients that we speak to feel that the stop chat is used as an excuse by the police to gain grounds for a search. Often people are stopped on suspicion of fitting the description of a suspect for an offence. You might also be stopped because you look out of place as it is late at night or a quiet street and it is said that you are loitering or looking or acting suspiciously.

We are frequently contacted by clients who are stopped and searched where it is also alleged by the police that the client has obstructed the search by not cooperating or by running away. Sometimes allegations of assault are made by the police or of threatening behaviour towards the police or others. These offences can lead to a criminal conviction and imprisonment depending on the severity of the facts, so getting expert legal advice is essential.

We can also help if you believe the police exceeded the execution of their duty during a stop and search, for example, where officers used too much force on you during a search and you acted in self-defence by resisting the force or pushing the officer away.

If you believe your stop and search was unlawful, you have the right to make a complaint and it can be grounds for any criminal charges against you to be dropped. You may also have grounds for a civil suit against the police for compensation, depending on the circumstances.

Make sure you receive a copy of the search form and you can then make a complaint by telephone, in writing or in person at your local police station.

Our criminal defence lawyers will be happy to advise you on making a stop and search complaint. We can help to make sure your complaint is taken seriously and that you have the best chance of achieving a positive outcome.

Contact our criminal defence lawyers today

For a free initial consultation, urgent specialist advice, immediate representation or to speak to us confidentially about an arrest following a police stop and search, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our dedicated criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham or Manchester by telephone on:

  • Brent & Camden London Office: 020 7624 7771
  • Manchester Office: 0161 835 1638
  • Birmingham Office: 0121 614 3333
  • City of London: 0207 624 7771 (our senior Solicitors and Partners can meet by appointment in the City)

Or email:

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.


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