The event in this scenario takes place in England and is based on an experience from a number of years ago.

The time is 2300.

4 Males (ages between 18 and 21) in two cars

  1. decide to drive out to a remote industrial estate which is usually empty at night,
  2. are all out of their cars smoking tobacco and talking. The vehicles are locked.
  3. know their being in a 'high crime area'.

A lone Police officer pulls up in his vehicle and starts to question what the males are doing in the area.

My question is what powers does the officer have to question or search the males, and the cars?


1 Answer 1


The Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (section 1, sub-paras 2 & 3), provides police with the power to stop and search.

In summary:


'he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that he will find stolen or prohibited articles'

'a constable may search any person or vehicle for stolen or prohibited articles'

The Home Office has a code of practice for stop and search.

In the scenario described my assumption is that the police are there to prevent or detect the crime, ergo they had relevant intelligence related to the timings and location of the crimes. Therefore paragraphs 2.4 and 2.4A of the code would be applicable.

In summary the code has the following in 2.4/2.4A (edited for the context of the scenario):

Reasonable grounds for suspicion should normally be linked to accurate and current intelligence or information...this would include reports from members of the public or other officers describing...crimes committed, for example, property stolen in a theft or burglary.

...Targeting searches in a particular area at specified crime problems not only increases their effectiveness but also minimises inconvenience to law-abiding members of the public. It also helps in justifying the use of searches both to those who are searched and to the public...

There may well be further justifications in such a scenario depending on answers to initial questions, behaviour, body language etc.

  • But can being in a public road give reasonable grounds to suspect? The males aren't doing anything other than speak, laugh, and smoke.
    – Terry
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 11:57
  • @Terry: A roadway is generally thought of as the path of travel. If they are indeed on a public road, outside of they're cars, then they are blocking the public roadway, and illegally parked. If they are in a parking lot, then they are on private property, one would reasonably assume without permission, and are tresspassing. So either way, they've been observed committing an offense and yes, that is reasonable grounds to suspect, especially in a high crime area. (Also note that both of those things have necessity as a defense, so if that was the case, the officer could offer aid).
    – sharur
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 17:57

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