Police executing search warrants on claimants' premises during period immediately prior to Royal Wedding – Warrants obtained based on information regarding stolen goods at premises

R (on the application of Pearce and another) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and another: Court of Appeal, Civil Division: 18 July 2013

The Royal Wedding was due to take place in London on 29 April 2011. Part of the background to the policing of the event was the violent aftermath of earlier student demonstrations and the TUC 'Day of Action'. There were two linked police investigations into the criminal events that had arisen which revealed a number of outstanding criminal suspects (the suspects). There was concern, but no direct evidence, that anarchist groups intent on creating similar disorder to that previously seen would attempt to cause disruption on the day of the Royal Wedding with acts of criminality and serious disorder.

There was a perceived need to accelerate the identification and arrest of the suspects. The teams from the investigations liaised with those preparing for the Royal Wedding to consider preventative action and enquiries which could be taken and made. During the previous disorders, squats had been used as convergence centres for the organised disorder. One of those previously arrested was known to be associated with squats in Camberwell Road. Intelligence suggested that some of the suspects might be living at those squats. Further, there was concern that individuals might be gathering at those squats to disrupt the wedding. A covert surveillance operation of the squats did not reveal evidence of the suspects but did reveal a pattern of behaviour indicating that the squats were being used as an exchange or dealing point for stolen goods.

On 27 April 2011, the defendant police were granted four search warrants authorising them to enter the premises to search for listed categories of stolen property. It was decided to execute the warrants on the morning of 28 April based on the suspected criminal activity at the squats and the fact that the premises were being used by people likely to be planning or involved in criminal activity on the day of the wedding. In evidence, the police clarified that the timing of the execution of the warrants had been planned to ensure that, so far as possible, any individuals arrested could be lawfully detained during the time of the wedding. When the warrant was executed, a large number of people were seen to run to another nearby premises, of which the police had previously been unaware. An emergency search warrant was obtained, the premises were raided and some equipment believed to be stolen was seized along with several toothbrushes. A large number of anti-monarchy flyers promoting disruption to the wedding were found and samples seized.

The police noted that they had not uncovered evidence of a conspiracy. The claimants were taken to a police station, arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance, and subsequently bailed on condition that they did not enter the Westminster area. The Crown Prosecution Service decided that there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution and the claimants’ bail was cancelled. The claimants issued judicial review proceedings contending that the execution of the search warrants had been unlawful. The Divisional Court dismissed the application. The claimants appealed.

They submitted that the circumstances of the instant case led inexorably to the conclusion that the dominant purpose behind the execution of the warrants had been to effect preventative action in relation to the apprehended disruption of the Royal Wedding and not to advance a criminal investigation into the theft or handling of property. The appeals would be dismissed.

Whilst there had been a relationship in the instant case between: (i) the suspects; (ii) Royal Wedding preventative action; (iii) criminality observed or reasonably suspected during surveillance; (iv) the obtaining of the search warrants; and (v) their execution, that did not compel a conclusiocrimn that Royal Wedding preventative action had been the dominant motive at all stages. The lawfully obtained search warrants had been executed for the purpose for which they had been obtained, namely the recovery of the specified stolen goods which, as a result of the surveillance, the officers had had every reason to believe were in the premises.

That the searches had been carried out in accordance with the authorisations was incontrovertible. The timing of the execution of the warrants had been the result of an operational decision which had been conditioned by a desire to maximise Royal Wedding security gains but which had not meant that the dominant purpose of the search itself had been anything other than that which had been authorised by the lawfully obtained warrants. It would have been different if the searching officers had taken no interest in the listed stolen items but had concentrated on a search for wedding disruption evidence. If police officers were not permitted to decide upon the timing for the execution of a lawfully obtained warrant with an eye on a collateral advantage, their operational freedom of manoeuvre would be unjustifiably inhibited. (see [31], [32], [35], [39], [40] of the judgment). Decision of the Divisional Court [2012] All ER (D) 232 (Jul) affirmed.

Alex Bailin QC and Ruth Brander (instructed by Bindmans LLP) For the claimants; Sam Grodzinski QC and Mark Summers (instructed by the Director of Legal Services of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis) for the police.