A 10 Point Guide to House Searches by the Police

May 25, 2010

in Activism, Personal

As some of you may be aware, my flatmate went off and got herself arrested at Manchester Airport yesterday protesting about climate change. And as some of you may be aware, the police have a habit of searching the houses of people who go locking themselves to aeroplanes. :)

I had a vague hunch that it was possible that we might be getting a visit from the boys in blue, so I had cleaned the house beforehand (student pits never being empty of vast quantities of crap); my other two flatmates were away for the weekend.

But anyway. Having spent some time looking up what to do in the event of the police turning up with a warrant to search your house, for whatever reason, I came up somewhat short. So here is my guide to what to do, and people are most welcome to leave additional advice in the comments section.

1) Make sure someone is in! The police have authority to force entry to unoccupied premises, and if there’s no reason to have your door broken down, don’t put yourself in the situation of trying to explain to your landlord the ethics of environmental direct action and why he shouldn’t take your deposit out of solidarity…

2) Look up the police search powers for the situation you are in. There are numerous bits of legislation regarding what the police can or cannot do depending on why they are searching your house: here is a briefing on police powers to search premises.

3) Write everything relevant down for you in a notebook you can carry around when the police turn up. That way you can refer to your notes if they start doing interesting things like demanding information you don’t have to give. Even if you don’t need it, it can boost your confidence and keep the police to their legal powers if they realise that you’re prepared. Note down what they look through and if they take anything or do something suspicious.

4) If you have any idea that a raid on your house is likely, clean your house out of all incriminating evidence of anything at all. Remove drugs, warning letters from the TV licencing authority, proof that you’ve broken the law, illegal downloading, pirate DVDs, etc. You never know. Also clean it out of all embarrassing things – it’s not going to get you into trouble but it will certainly raise some eyebrows when they find all your dirty washing up in the yard, a bowl of human hair in the kitchen and several thousand condoms in the living room. I have learned from this experience. :P

5) If you live with or are an activist who may or may not find themselves in a police cell at some point and you live in a HMO, a House of Multiple Occupancy, you may want to put signs on all your doors indicating who lives there. The police only have the authority to search the room of the person they’ve arrested and communal areas. It is also a good idea to lock the rooms of everyone else to stop wandering policemen.

6) When the police turn up, they need to show you police identification. When they leave, they need to leave you a record of the search. You are also entitled to a Notice of Powers and Rights – they didn’t actually give me one, but it didn’t matter greatly because I also had everything written down in my notebook. :)

7) Don’t say anything. The police get trained to elicit information by pretending to be friendly and “just doing the job”. They asked me what my degree was “because it’s interesting to know what kind of degree you could be doing and living here”, what I wanted to do when I graduated (and one of them asked “a full-time anarchist, perhaps?”), where my flatmates were and what they were doing. They also (falsely) claimed to have found a kebab in Jess’ room in what was an apparent attempt to get me to tell them Jess’ dietary requirements. The police lie, collude, and scheme. Don’t forget that.

8) Try to have someone else there. It is wildly unlikely, but not inconceivable that the police could decide to arrest you on some pretext to get you out of the way so they can be naughty. I had a friend round stay the night before to keep me company but sadly they had to leave before the police actually turned up – so I dealt with the police alone, because my flatmates didn’t come back…

9) For the same reason, as with all encounters with the police, make sure you have legal numbers on your person just in case you do get arrested (where they can’t see it – no point causing undue questions…). The chances that you will ever need them is very small, but hey, I never thought I was going to get kettled for seven hours demonstrating peacefully outside the Carbon Exchange in London – these things happen. :)

10) Don’t worry. I realise this is a futile point for people who have been arrested or searched before or have years of activist experience behind them, but I’d never had my house raided by the police before and it was a mildly nerve-wracking experience waiting around for them, but it turned out to be less getting my door smashed in and having cops in riot gear rushing through my house shouting “clear!” with laser sights on their automatic weapons, and more some very boring looking plain clothes policemen irritated at being shifted off solving murders to search the home of some activist for evidence that wasn’t there.

I hope that is useful for everyone. If you’ve cleaned your house, researched police powers and generally give off the impression that you know what you’re doing, they shouldn’t try anything – but I’m sure every activist can think of times when it all went horribly wrong. Be prepared. Now go forth and protest. :P



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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

G May 25, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Small clarification: If they know its a HMO, they may well try to get a warrant that specifically says they can search the parts of the house where other people reside. This does happen, but not very often. So if they think they can search other rooms, be clear as to what the warrant actually says.


sarah May 25, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Ah, useful. I shall update the article shortly. :)


Chris S May 25, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Rather unfair attack on [redacted] and [redacted] who no doubt would have helped if they were in Manchester. Last time I checked being away whilst your house in searched is not scabbing, or was the police search a decided action by your house against an employer….


sarah May 26, 2010 at 12:10 am

I can’t go into the details for security reasons, but suffice to say, they weren’t in Manchester for a reason.

And I would say that ensuring you are (deliberately) absent while your working class flatmate is left alone with the enforcers of the state violence is pretty scabby.


Chris S May 26, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Well if they were away doing something naughty then why have you named them on a public website?

It is not scabbing, at most it is letting a friend down. I think your going over the top by calling them scabs, they would never scab as both are solid class fighters.


Game of life July 24, 2011 at 8:09 am

Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my myspace group? There’s a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Cheers


sarah July 24, 2011 at 8:05 pm

If you would like to do so, please feel free, but include my website address. :)


Kathy July 19, 2015 at 11:50 pm

I wanted to know if it’s legal for police to watch a basketball game even over time before arresting you do to a raid


Jules December 5, 2015 at 2:58 pm

I wish i had read this before but I had no idea police would raid our house. Basically, my brother rented a small barn on our land out to some guy who the police ended up investigating (dunno if he had actually done anything or not). They got a warrant and searched all our house. I had nothing to do with any crime or knew anything about what they were looking for (I barely knew this man) but they searched all through my things. I felt so violated and like a criminal! Also frisked me when i had just woken up. It was a really awful experience, my elderly father was terminally ill at the time and police spent most of the time more interested in him still having a gun licence than whatever they were there to look for. Are you saying you didn’t get your actual room searched just communal areas? We had all our house searched which i don’t understand because I had nothing to do with a crime (in fact no one living in our house was suspected of a crime) and I feel so violated and treated like dirt.


Steve August 25, 2022 at 11:22 pm

Interesting guide. Did a fair number of searches. Usually (I can think of 2 that were not) very low key. The ones I remember most were a lady who started off calling us racists and by the end was asking our help to get divan mattress drawers open. And various where the children pestered the life out of us with questions about the kit we had


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