When your possessions are in the hands of others, the least you can expect is to have them returned in a good condition.
The Police are allowed to seize any item from you, where they believe it could be or has been used in criminal activity. When the Police investigate criminal offences, they are given wide-ranging powers to seize property they believe is relevant to the investigation. This power goes back to 1897 and is now governed principally under section 19 of 'Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984'. Fair dues! There is a recording process of items seized in place, but the act is not specific to what state the Police return the property, does not make it clear what level of wanton damage the Police can do to any item of your property during the investigation nor does it specify a reasonable time for its return when it is no longer required or part of the evidence.
You are of course welcome to 'sue' the Police for any damage to your property through a lengthy court process, at your own expense!
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is widely regarded as one of the best pieces of legislation (by the Police) created to tackle organised crime and strip assets from criminals. The act itself was to curtail and simplify money laundering offences. A confiscation order can be made using the Act by the Crown Court to deprive criminals of the benefit from their crimes. If it is proven that a criminal has committed an acquisitive crime (eg theft, drug trafficking) and they have benefited from that crime, even if the assets are legally held. If the application for a confiscation order is successful, criminals have a specified number of days, weeks or months to pay the full amount or be subject to a prison sentence.A cash forfeiture order can also be made against a person at Magistrates Court using the Proceeds of Crime Act. This is only made against cash, to a minimum value of £1,000, which is believed to be the proceeds of crime or intended for use in crime. An order can be made even if someone has not been charged or convicted of a criminal offence.
There are countless recorded incidents of the Police affecting entry to a property, mainly using their 'Dynamic Entry Gear' (to you and I - a battering ram!) demolishing expensive locks and the supporting structures. But ‘needs be’ for them to make a quick and effective entry. As early as 1990 the figures record just over £500,000 paid out (in one year alone by the Metropolitan Police) in damages and this figure has reached millions. It does demonstrate that community policing includes high levels of aggression and adrenaline pumping, having true disregard for property.
Most solicitors, I have spoken with, raise their eyebrows when discussing police searches and property seizures. When you dig deeper at their disparaging remarks, they will describe how poorly these are done. They illuded to property, which is confiscated, being left unrecorded and having no relationship to any crime. One said: "Often items are returned in a much worse for wear condition than when it was taken, having been abandoned in evidence storage it is not uncommon for items to go missing." Considering the storage for the Police is at a premium, any rational person would think they are eager to reduce their holding when the seized items are no longer required after investigations are closed. Why does it take so long to return items?
Setting aside the 'Criminal Damage' to my HTC mobile telephone (for the moment); as time has gone on, the more frustrated I get with the condition of my electronic equipment which was returned after it was held for over 11 months with North Yorkshire Police and 8 months with Devon and Cornwall Police.
The New 'Medion' laptop, which I purchased the day before my arrest and returned 11 months later, never did work on the battery (alone) and always needed the power supply connected. The cost of replacement was £73 for the battery. The manufacturers' instructions were clear (as they are with most electronic items which have rechargeable batteries). 'Always charge for a lengthy period before the first use'. I can not comment on whether the Police followed this accepted procedure. My local computer shop commented: “the reason for my laptop having had an intermittent fault of not starting up immediately, is because the battery management system checks the battery has a ‘minimum charge’, before it starts up." I can only surmise that when the Police had my equipment they did not follow the manufacturers' procedures. Any reading the advisory on electronic equipment will also tell you to take out the battery when left for long periods. My laptop was returned with the battery connected. My understanding is that all batteries discharge over time (some corrode) and with rechargeable batteries they can discharge to a level where they do not accept any charge.
It was only after the daming investigation of a complaint against North Yorkshire Police actions, being on the front foot, I wrote to Chief Constable David Jones. My property was returned, with great expediency. After receiving the complaints report. 2 days later my property was bundled into 4 large size boxes, without an inventory, and was delivered through Overnight UPS 'high priority' service to my house in Devon. There were no signs of evidence bags. Interestingly, we had gone from a position of me being expected to collect my property from North Yorkshire, before the complaints investigation and the decision to uphold my complaints, to going completely 'over the top' in Police helpfulness after the release of the report. ‘Methinks’ they had some guilt about their actions, then?