Power of Police Authority to Retain Unclaimed Property

Part of Orders of the Day — Police (Property) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 7 February 1997.

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Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office) 12:33, 7 February 1997

Perhaps it would be helpful if I speak now to indicate the view of the Government in case my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) is tempted to accede to the amendment. I am afraid that I hope to persuade him otherwise.

The effect of this amendment would be to require property to remain in the possession of the police for 18 months before it could be retained on the decision of the police authority for use by the police. Section 2(3) of the Police (Property) Act 1897 provides that property which has come into the possession of the police in connection with their investigation of a suspected offence may be disposed of after it has remained in the possession of the police for a year. This is to allow time for a person claiming to be the owner of the property to apply to the court for an order for the delivery of the property, as provided for under section I of the Police (Property) Act 1897.

If property can be disposed of after 12 months, I see no reason why a decision to retain an item should not be taken after it has remained in the possession of the police for 12 months. The property could be sold after 12 months and completely disappear from view. It would not be possible to trace it. So it does not make sense to allow a longer period of time for a claim to be made in respect of property which is to be retained in the ownership of the police authority for use by the police force.

After a suitable period of time to allow the owner to make a claim, it is right that a decision should be made about the future ownership of the property. If no period were set, the property would have to be kept by the police indefinitely, and this would lead to considerable expense in terms of storage and maintenance. This is a matter of judgment, and I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), but I believe that 12 months is the right period of time. It is neither too long nor too short. If property had to be retained by the police for 18 months before it could be retained or otherwise disposed of, it would place an additional burden on the police with no real benefit to anyone.