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SIO Corner: Seizing Evidence Powers And Crime Scene Searches

This week we look at the legal powers required to seize evidence and introduce the subject of crime scene searches

In this series we look at various aspects of life as an SIO. This includes the necessary skill sets for the successful SIO, the management of serious crime investigation and specific elements of investigative practice from initial response through crime scene examination and investigative strategies to dealing with suspects and the media. The articles are excerpts from the 2nd edition of Blackstone's, the 'Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook', written by two highly experienced SIOs (see 'About the Authors' at the end of the article).

Legal Powers to Seize Evidence

Generally speaking, when not under the power of a magistrate’s search warrant (s 8 of PACE which allows anything to be seized and retained for which the search is authorized) then s 19 of PACE is relied upon for a power to seize evidential items which are on premises.

This power states that a constable or civilian is designated an investigating officer (under the Police Reform Act 2002, s 38, Sch 4, Pt 2, para 19(a)) provided:
(a) they are on premises lawfully; and

(b) there are reasonable grounds for believing:

(i) that the item seized is either:

(1) a thing which has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence (s 19(2): eg stolen items or the proceeds of crime); or

(2) that it is evidence in relation to an offence under investigation or any other offence (s 19(3)); and

(ii) that it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent it being concealed, lost, damaged, altered, or destroyed (s.19(2)(b) and (3)(b)); and

(c) the item is not one for which there are reasonable grounds for believing it to be subject to legal privilege (as defined in s 10 (s 19(6)).

The term ‘premises’ for the purposes of this power under the PACE is one that may be open to legal interpretation. However, the case of Ghani v Jones (1969) provides a ruling on the justification for taking articles where no one has been arrested or charged and is not restricted to being on ‘premises’.

This power should also extend to civilian investigating officers under Sch 4 to the Police Reform Act 2002. In sum, the ruling states there must be reasonable grounds for believing:

(a) that a serious crime has been committed;

(b) that the article was either the fruit of the crime or the instrument by which it was committed or was material evidence to prove its commission;

(c) that the person in possession of the article had committed the crime or was implicated in it; and

(d) the police must not keep the article or prevent its removal for any longer than is reasonably necessary to complete the investigation or preserve it for evidence; and

(e) the lawfulness of the conduct of the police must be judged at the time and not by what happens afterwards.

There may be occasions when this case ruling may be useful, for example when dealing with persons who are potential ‘scenes’ but not under arrest or on premises and items are required from them for examination such as clothing or personal effects or mobile phones.

Crime Scene Searches

As part of the crime scene forensic examination strategy the SIO must also consider a search strategy. Such searches aim to locate evidential material or items that can then be recovered and examined by CSI personnel. Crime scene searches can take the form of searches of buildings, open areas, water, vehicles, and vessels. Usually these types of search are managed and supervised by a PolSA (police search advisor) using a trained police search team (PST).

There may be conflicting objectives in using search strategies. For example, with a primary crime scene there is always the requirement to conduct a forensic examination and also a physical search of the same area for weapons, discarded clothing, stolen property, etc.

The latter may compromise the former and therefore a careful decision will have to be taken by the SIO, almost certainly in consultation with a crime scene investigator/manager and/or forensic scientists. Usually the forensic search takes priority, however in some circumstances a physical search may take primacy, for instance where an immediate search is required for a suspect.


1. The role of a search is to locate any items sought, the aim of the CSI is to examine and recover any evidential items found. The ideal model is to move proportionately from non-invasive searching to forensic recovery. A balance should be struck between searching an area to a high level of assurance without negatively impacting on any forensic retrieval of evidential finds.
2. All searches should be intelligence-led and based on facts that enable a hypothesis to be generated.
3. An SOP should be developed for each search.

Any briefing of search teams should be carefully recorded for future reference because failure to communicate important information will impede the effectiveness of the search. This safeguards the integrity of the process by recording the details of what was provided for the benefit of the teams and what they have been tasked to do.

There must be no doubt whatsoever what the objectives of the search(es) are, what information was available at the time to base these decisions on, and what information and briefing was provided to the search teams.

Crime-related scene searches can be classified as follows:


Outdoor searches provide added benefits other than what they are primarily intended for, ie finding evidence. They can provide a visible reassurance for the community and show the victim’s family and relatives that work is in progress as they can see it in progress.

These images also usually featured on TV news bulletins showing officers conducting fingertip searches, house-to-house calls, the deployment of an underwater search unit, or any other resources that may have an impressive array of specialist vehicles and technical equipment on display. This is a point worth considering for inclusion in a community impact assessment.

However, this must also be balanced with the intrusive and distracting nature of media personnel recording search activity and the potential for them to broadcast evidential finds live on TV.

About the Authors:

Detective Superintendent Tony Cook was a CID officer with Greater Manchester Police for over 31 years until his retirement in 2009. During his time as an SIO, he led a number of high profile investigations including operations into gangland violence at Moss Side, the Bolton murder of a teenage girl in 2002, and the Denton strangling case. He was a trained assessor for promotion and a qualified Authorising Officer under RIPA. Tony received 14 commendations and a first-class BSc Honours degree in social sciences and a Diploma in Social Policy & Criminology from the Open University.

Andy Tattersall, formerly Detective Superintendent in Greater Manchester Police on the Force Major Incident Team, retired in 2007 after 33 years service and became the first ever Support Staff SIO in charge of a new Homicide Support Unit. With over 29 years in CID at all ranks Andy received the Homicide Working Group National Award for his Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Homicide in November 2006.

To see more details about the Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook, or to purchase a copy, click here

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