Police officers who entered a student house during a party last Saturday have been accused of acting unlawfully by a leading expert on drugs law.
A team of eight officers was patrolling in Cowley at around midnight when their drugs sniffer dog indicated that it could smell a substance in the house.
The officers then entered the house searching for drugs and formally searched one student. No drugs were found on guests or in any of the rooms.
The sergeant in charge of the team said on Tuesday that “the team were given permission to enter the house along with the drugs dog.”
However, the host of the party, a second-year student at St Hilda’s, said that she told the officers that they were not welcome to come in. She also said that she felt “victimized.”
“He asked if he had permission to enter the house and I said no,” she said, “that’s pretty clear.”
She says that police entered despite being asked not to.
“I said no, but they came forward anyway,” she added.
By law, police officers can only enter a home without a search warrant in very specific cases, such as if the property is controlled by an arrested person, or if somebody they wish to arrest is inside.
In all other cases, the police are bound by Code B of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984, which requires consent to be gained in writing from the occupier of a residence “if practicable.”
The student who held the party claims that she was not asked to provide any kind of written consent.
She also says that she was not informed of the proposed extent of the search or warned that anything seized may be produced in evidence. These are both requirements under PACE Code B.
The sergeant leading the search said that the dog indicated one of the party guests “was either carrying or had recently been carrying drugs”. However, when he was searched, nothing was found.
The guest, an English student, denied that he had been near any substances.
“I wasn’t carrying any drugs and I hadn’t been in contact with any that night or for a long time. I’m not quite sure why the dog made that suggestion,” he said.
An expert on drug detection with dogs said that the search “appears to have been unlawful.”
Amber Marks, a lecturer in law at King’s College London and expert in olfactory surveillance, said, “The fact that no cannabis was found shows how unreasonable it is for the police to rely on canine intelligence.”
She continued, “The matter should be investigated and it sounds as if the occupier of the premises should make a formal complaint against the police. It is important to ensure that the police keep within the limits imposed upon them by the law.
“This is one of the worst cases I’ve heard of.”
The party’s host also questioned the efficacy of the drugs dog.
“The dog jumped on [the guest who was searched] and he doesn’t even smoke at all. The dog clearly doesn’t have a clue,” she said.
She also accused the police of heavy-handedness.
“There were four to six of them. The ones at the back were trooping in but didn’t seem to know what they were doing.
“It was ridiculous. One of the female officers said that they had so many people because they had to protect themselves. Do we look like junkies? They didn’t apologise for coming in.”
The sergeant who led the search said he was satisfied that the premises were entered “lawfully and with consent.”
A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said that “Police officers do have powers to further search and detain once in a property if they have reason to believe drugs are on the premises. In this case they did as the drugs dog made an indication that a person was, or had recently, been in possession of drugs.
“We do take complaints about our service seriously and do have a proper process for dealing with them. If anyone was not satisfied with the police action on this evening they should contact Thames Valley Police Quality of Service Unit.”
House searches: Your rights
The rights of police to enter a private residence are governed by Code B of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
Police can enter your house:
– If they have a search warrant
– If they wish to make an arrest
– If you or another occupier has been arrested
Otherwise, police may only enter with your consent. In this case, officers should, if practicable:
– Inform you that you are not obliged to consent
– Specify the proposed purpose and extent of the search, such as which parts of your house they intend to enter
– Warn you that anything seized may be produced in evidence
– Obtain your consent in writing
Police are excepted from these rules in certain circumstances. If in doubt, you should comply with police and register a complaint at a later stage.