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richardhenry's avatar

In the UK, can a police officer request my name and information if they do not suspect a crime is being committed?

Asked by richardhenry (12623 points ) October 10th, 2007

Me and my girlfriend were waiting outside a bus-stop in a rural area quite late at night (minding our own business, sat down and listening to my iPod through some headphones), when I noticed an old lady staring out of her window at us.

I didn’t think much of it, until a few moments later, a police car arrived and two officers got out. They seemed surprised, but then informed me that a homeowner had made a report of ‘youths loitering around the houses’.

Rather odd as we’ve just been sat here I responded and we haven’t seen anyone. The stated that they had no reason to suspect a crime was in progress and that we were no under arrest (they went on to say that we seemed like ‘perfectly decent people’), and then gave their names. They then went on to ask us for our names and details ‘just as standard procedure.’

We obliged, and provided the information, and they apologised for the trouble and left. We caught our bus a few minutes later, and I didn’t really think much else of it, except that I felt quite sorry for the woman who was obviously scared that teenagers were going to vandalise her front garden or something.

But it got me thinking—the police stated that they didn’t suspect a crime was in progress, so why did they ask for our information? Is that legal? Could I have refused, and if I did, what would have happened?

This is in regards to the UK (in specific, England), but if you know the answer for elsewhere in the world, why not share it anyway—it’s interesting to compare.

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4 Answers

richardhenry's avatar

P.S. Sorry for the occasional poor spelling—I’m sat here with a coffee half asleep and thought I’d “ask the collective”! I guess I should have run that through a grammar checker.

that we were no under arrest -> that we were not under arrest

…and many more! I think Fluther needs the ability to edit a question after posting it.

Rich

sjg102379's avatar

I believe that England is similar to America in this respect (although the legal terms may be different). There are three ways that a police officer can interact with a citizen. 1. Mere encounter 2. Investigatory Detention 3. Custodial detention. A police officer always has the right to do a mere encounter—walk up to someone, ask for their name and ID—whether or not they suspect any crime and the person always has the right to decline to answer those questions and must then be allowed to walk on. For investigatory detention—basically to stop and investigate someone—there must be reasonable suspicion that a crime has occured and cannot last longer than the reasonable amount of time it takes to verify that information. Custodial detention—to hold someone indefinitely—requires probable cause and that is the highest standard. It sounds to me like you had #1, a mere encounter. They asked your names, you gave it, they moved on. But it could be argued that even if this was #2, an investigative detention, there was reasonable suspicion—loitering is a crime, as is obstruction of the sidewalks, and someone called in a report of that crime, and you were the people they targeted as the crime-doers. The police “detained” you until they could sort out that no crime was occuring. So whether or not this was a mere encounter or an investigative detention, definitely in America this would have been legal, and from what I know of British law, this would have been legal as well.

sambo's avatar

they can try, but if you are tooled up you dont need to answer anyhow.

TaoSan's avatar

gawd how beautifully benign the Brits are, lol. In the US you would have stared down gun barrels rofl.

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