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Jo C.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
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Experience:  Over 5 years in practice
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Police have seized property (air gun) following a search of

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Police have seized property (air gun) following a search of my home. The grounds for seizure were that I had threatened to shoot my own cat - completely unfounded. I am not being investigated for any offence. The police validated their power to seize from the prevention of cruelty to animals act. I have challenged the legality of their action. I allowed the team of 7 officers (including a firearms unit) into the house so they were lawfully on the premises. I immediately showed them an air weapon which was locked securely away - the dust on it demonstrated that it had clearly not been used for some time. My late husband had used it for rodent control. I do not have any pellets. I permitted a search under duress - I was told I would be arrested on suspicion of offences under the Firearms Act if I did not consent; they had received information that I had an unlicensed gun - this threat was made after I had shown them the air weapon. I am angry that I permitted them entry - on the basis of the information they had they would not have secured a warrant. I am pursuing a complaint about the police behaviour - that they can do this to an elderly, chronically sick widow on the basis of a telephone call that someone thought I might shoot my cat seems utterly ridiculous, disproportionate and simply wrong. However I accept they need to investigate any allegation particularly where firearms are involved, I do not believe they had ANY power to seize property in these circumstances. I am right to challenge the legality of their actions or is there a power of seizure under cruelty to animals legislation?
Submitted: 6 months ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Jo C. replied 6 months ago.

Why did they believe you threatened to shoot your cat?

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
I do not know - the only information they would disclose is that they had received a telephone call alleging that I was in possession of a firearm or unlicensed gun and that it was my intention to shoot my cat. I own two cats - I am completely besotted by them - I recently discharged myself from hospital (heart attack) because I was so worried about how they were to be looked after - they are everything to me and the idea that I would harm them is ludicrous. I am a volunteer with Cat Protection and quite simply am cat mad - which makes the thing all the more bizarre. I am stunned that such a heavy handed response to "rumour" based information could be undertaken. I am in the process of making a complaint but really need clarification of whether their actions were lawful. I believe the information given to them was probably malicious; perhaps my cats have defecated in someone's garden and this was some bizarre way of seeking revenge. Whatever the reason the police response was disproportionate and simply over the top - I would have hoped that before taking any action they would seek to validate the information in some way. regards Fiona
Expert:  Jo C. replied 6 months ago.

I presume this is a firearm that you do not need a licence to own?

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
Sorry I would prefer to continue online. The police confirmed that the weapon did not require a licence - that it was an air-weapon and the only legislation covering it related to age and possession in a public place - neither of which were relevant in the circumstances.
Expert:  Jo C. replied 6 months ago.

On the face of it, I’m not sure they do have power to seize then.

They can seize anything that they reasonably suspect will be used in the commission of crime. They do need some of evidence of that and I’m not sure they can really prove this.

However, the fact remains that they are refusing to return it. If you went to court then probably you would succeed against them but it is the time of thing that might be more expensive than it is worth.

They cannot deal with it by revoking your firearms licence because you do not need one.

You could sue at the small claims court for the actual value of the item. That would be cheaper.

If you are intent then your only option is to lay a complaint under the police property act.

Can I clarify anything for you?

Jo

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
Thank you for your response - when I challenged them on the grounds of seizure - I was told it was because a threat had been made to kill a cat and they were using powers under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. I have read through this legislation and can find nothing which relates to threats to commit an offence. In general terms would this be covered by the power to seize anything they reasonably suspect to be used in the commission of a crime and where is that encompassing power defined - is it something conferred within common law?
Customer: replied 6 months ago.
Sorry I had a senior moment(!) I assume you were referring to powers to seize under Section 19 PACE1984. To clarify what I was trying to say I understand the police have a wide reaching power to seize anything they have reasonable grounds for suspecting is evidence of an offence they are investigating or any other offence. As they are not investigating any offence then the seizure falls into the any offence category - I simply wish to know if there is a specific offence of threatening to injure or kill a cat or even any other animal - excluding of course specifically protected species
Expert:  Jo C. replied 6 months ago.

Yes, as I said, they can seize if they have reasonable grounds to suspect an item will be used to commit an offence.

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
Sorry I think we are cross purposes - I understand the power of seizure if they think it will be used to commit offence - the question is - Is it an offence to threaten to commit cruelty to an animal? Sorry to be such a pedant but the basis of my complaint against police is that they had no lawful authority to seize - Section 19 PACE 1984 gives a power to seize but only if they suspect an offence - is it an offence or not?
Expert:  Jo C. replied 6 months ago.

Yes, it could be a public order offence.

But that won't be the issue.

The issue will be that they will be saying you may have used it to actually harm the car and that would be an offence.

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
Thank you - your view that it could be a public order offence is something I had not considered. There is no investigation of any offence by the police. I have not been interviewed or questioned (under caution or otherwise) and there are no plans to do so. There is no pending prosecution. The police are satisfied that no cruelty has been caused to my cats They have confirmed the weapon is an air gun and does not require any form of licence. They plan to contact my GP to ascertain if I am `safe' to own the seized weapon with the ultimate objective of destroying the gun - using what due process is a complete mystery!. I have spoken to my GP who is astonished by the police action - he will not provide any information to them unless I consent and then he will only provide a statement to the effect that I am a fit and proper person to hold a firearm and/or shotgun- he will not and is not compelled to provide any detailed medical or personal information; he says this whole process is completely unnecessary as the weapon concerned does not require any licence and there is no restriction on anyone (age appropriate) having possession of it. He believes the police have made a error in identification and they simply have the wrong address and wrong person. I am challenging the legality of this action to access my medical records and destroy the gun.- it would be perfectly reasonable and lawful if they were seeking a revocation of a firearms or shotgun licence but this does not apply.The only following action from the weapon seizure is by me. I have made a complaint against the police; aside from issues about the police behaviour, damage caused and injuries which I received the main thrust of my complaint is that the seizure of my air gun was unlawful. The grounds given for seizure were that I had threatened to shoot my cats and therefore I had committed the offence of threats to commit cruelty. There is no allegation of actual cruelty or attempted cruelty nor is there any evidence that I have in fact made any threats to do anything. Initially they gave the grounds to justify seizure as threats to commit criminal damage until I pointed out to them that the Criminal Damage Act requires the property to belong to another person and as such I cannot commit damage or threaten to damage to my own property - it was at this point that they changed their minds and gave the explanation of their grounds to seize as threats to commit cruelty to animals.I do not have details of the exact wording of the allegation but as an illustrative example if I were to say "I will shoot that cat if it does not stop scratching the furniture" Would that really amount to a criminal offence? If the answer is yes then potentially the courts could be clogged with cruelty prosecutions and the law would truly be an ass - if the answer is no that would not constitute any offence then it must surely follow that the seizure was unlawful. Additionally if seizure was section 19 PACE then there was no necessity to seize to prevent the gun being concealed, lost, altered or destroyed. I also challenge that there was any reasonable suspicion in the first place as there appears to have been no attempt to confirm the veracity of the information initially given to them. I have no doubt that I will regain possession of my gun but it looks as if it will be time consuming and potentially costly. I think the police have made a serious error and are trying anything to now justify their actions. Since I first contacted you I have now confirmed that the police received a telephone call alleging that I had an unlicensed firearm and planned to use it to kill my cats. The person making this call did not know me nor had they directly heard any threats but someone else had told them about it. That person remains anonymous he/she also suggested I was mentally unstable. So the police took the decision to act. I am still astonished that they could do so on such flimsy uncorroborated information. They may well have the wrong person and it is simply coincidental that I have both a cat and a weapon albeit only an air weapon. Whilst I am seriously ill there is no evidence of mental instability which my GP will confirm. It seems such a trivial matter but if you had experienced the distress of having your home invaded in the heavy handed manner that it was and subjected to a search which left me feeling sullied and extremely distressed then you would understand why I intend to pursue this matter. Had I not personally experienced the event I would not have believed it possible - it seems so fantastic. I am determined that the police should not be allowed to carry out such an abuse of power unchallenged. It would strengthen my complaint if I received confirmation that a threat to do an act with no preparatory action or supporting evidence dies not constitute an offence. Sorry about the length of this conversation..
Expert:  Jo C. replied 6 months ago.

I'm very sorry but I am not able to confirm that there is no potential offence here.

Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 69514
Experience: Over 5 years in practice
Jo C. and 4 other Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 6 months ago.
Thank you. You have been extremely patient. I am still no further forward and my question remains unanswered but your input regarding a public order offence was interesting. I do not think there is anything to be gained from continuing this conversation. I have obtained copies of the relevant legislation in relation to cruelty to animals/animal welfare and after a `good' read (!) my personal view is that there is no offence and I will proceed against the police on that premise. Regards
Customer: replied 6 months ago.
This is not a further question I just thought you might be interested in the outcome - especially as my question may have seemed a little odd and the circumstances rather bizarre. Following my police complaint I will be receiving the immediate return of the seized weapon. I will also be receiving written confirmation that the police action was unlawful together with an apology.. Compensation for damage caused during the search will hopefully reach a successful conclusion but that is not important. I simply wanted recognition that the police had acted unlawfully and I now have that. I also have confirmation that there is no such offence of threatening to commit cruelty to an animal - although as you correctly suggested - in differing circumstances to mine a public order offence could possibly be considered. Many Thanks.

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