Several years ago I was stopped in public by the police. Someone had 'identified' me as abusing them in terms of their gender two years before that. Had that happened, I suppose it would have been classified as a hate crime. In fact, it was a case of mistaken identity and a senior police officer phoned me the next morning to say so and apologise.

My concern was that, although the previous day I had fully co-operated with the police, one of them said, "We will not arrest you yet, but you will have to come in for an interview". There was no interview because the case was dropped the following morning. There was certainly no arrest or any further proceedings of any kind.

However I was quite shocked with the idea that I could perhaps have been arrested on the grounds of an allegation, merely because someone else made the accusation without any evidence other than their own word.


Is it the case in the UK that someone could call the police and have someone arrested merely on the basis of an accusation of a verbal hate crime, even though there is no evidence whatsoever apart from the word of the accuser?


The accusation was something like, "Two years ago this person said hateful things to me about my being transgender". That's all I ever found out. The accuser didn't name me because they didn't know the name of the person who said it. Apparently it was a chance encounter in the street but I don't know the details and the police wouldn't tell me. The accuser had spotted me walking in the street and called the police based on that.

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    To arrest without a warrant in the UK, the police needs reasonable grounds to suspect the guilt of the suspect, or e.g. that it is unlikely that the the suspect would voluntarily appear for an interview at a police station. Witness testimony is evidence, the police must make a professional decision if they consider it credible evidence. The headline of your question and the last line differ -- are you asking about accusation without evidence or accusation without evidence other than witness testimony?
    – o.m.
    Mar 2, 2021 at 17:36
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    It seems insane to me that they would even consider following up on allegations like "Two years ago a stranger insulted me once and I think it was this person I just saw today." The bobbies don't have anything better to do with their time?
    – Ryan_L
    Mar 2, 2021 at 18:05
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    @Ryan_L, do you want a beat cop to dismiss charges out of hand? They should take the name of the accuser, the name of the accused, and write things down. Which seems to have happened.
    – o.m.
    Mar 2, 2021 at 19:12
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    Testimony is evidence. Lots of people don't get this but it is legally the case. "I might have ended up in a cell just on someone else's say so." This is correct and has been for pretty much of entire history of Western criminal law.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 2, 2021 at 21:54
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    @chasly-supportsMonica Scary or not, it is the law and always has been. There are punishments for intentionally falsely accusing someone and there are legal methods by which one can obtain pre-trial release pending trial, and in practice, making misstatements that result in wrongful arrests isn't terribly common so the parade of horribles isn't likely. But a large share (maybe 25%-65% of arrests, there aren't good statistics) are based solely on testimony and often solely on testimony of an accuser.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 2, 2021 at 23:46

2 Answers 2


Is mere accusation without evidence other than testimony of the accuser, grounds for arrest in the UK?

It depends on the circumstances, especially when dealing with non-recent allegations where independent and corroborative evidence may be difficult to locate and/or recover, but in my experience it is very rarely an option to arrest soley on the say-so of one complainant unless there is a compelling reason to do so. It's also fraught with potential risks - Operation Midland being a prime example of when it can go horribly wrong.

Also, no-one can "call the police and have someone arrested" in the - the police are under a duty to carry out a "proportionate investigation" in to allegations of crime and then make their own minds up on how to proceed based on the available intelligence and evidence.

Focussing on , the most commonly used power of arrest* is at s.24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which, along with PACE Code G, requires an officer to:

  1. Reasonably suspect that an offence is being, has been or will be committed.
  • On a scale of 0 to 10 - with 10 being total knowledge and 0 being no opinion at all - suspicion may be as low as 2 or 3 whereas belief starts at 7 or 8.
  1. And reasonably believe an arrest is necessary.
  • One commonly used mnemonic for the Necessity Test under s.24 is:


Investigation - prompt and effective investigation of offence or conduct

Disappearance - prevent prosecution being hindered by disappearance of a person

Child / Vulnerable person - protection of

Obstruction of highway

Physical injury to themselves or someone else

Public (in)decency

Loss or damage to property

Address not know

Name not known

I cannot say why the officer did not make an arrest in the OP's case. I surmise that he did not deem it necessary based on the above mandatory criteria but rather considered that a voluntary attendance interview would be the most appropriate course of action given the circumstances and information available to him at the time.

*There are other statutory and common-law powers of arrest, but they all follow the same procedures as above

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    If Address and Nname are reliably known, the need for an arrest drops sharply.
    – o.m.
    Mar 3, 2021 at 6:45

Witness statements are a form of evidence. It depends on what the statement was, for example "Chasly committed a verbal hate crime" is not sufficient evidence for an arrest. Sworn testimony that Chasly performed specific act constituting a crime could be sufficient evidence, e.g. "I saw Chasly bludgeon that person to death". The officer has to have reasonable grounds for arresting a person, and that could be witness testimony.

  • The accusation was something like, "Two years ago this person said hateful things to me about my being transgender". That's all I ever found out. They didn't name me because they didn't know the name of the person who said it. Apparently it was a chance encounter in the street but I don't know the details and the police wouldn't tell me. Mar 2, 2021 at 17:48
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    @chasly The police naturally won't give you more details, because it might let you identify the person and/or where they live. Protecting a victim's safety is a priority, so they were exactly right there.
    – Graham
    Mar 3, 2021 at 9:07
  • pedantically, "witness statement is evidence" is true. But this type of statement has lately been used to justify much broader assertions (even suggesting that any accusation is factual evidence of a crime). I think when a person asks about accusations "without evidence", it is safe to assume that they mean without material evidence or a 3rd party eyewitness testimony. It's not common for people to phrase their question this carefully when speaking colloquially though.
    – grovkin
    Mar 6, 2021 at 6:06
  • @Graham alleged victim.
    – grovkin
    Mar 6, 2021 at 6:08
  • @grovkin Sure, if you like. It doesn't change the fact that protecting their safety should be a priority. That means the allegation has to be assumed true until proven otherwise.
    – Graham
    Mar 6, 2021 at 7:27

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