Per these news article in the Daily Mail and Daily Express, Special Constable Penny Lancaster arrived at the scene of a crime, to whit, a gentleman urinating inside a public sculpture. She then...

"...marched him to the nearest Boots, where she made him buy a bottle of water and return to wash down the sculpture."

Can an English police officer compel a private citizen to purchase something (presumably in this case to avoid a formal charge)? What is their latitude in arresting/fining someone if they refuse to comply?

  • 6
    Note that the Daily Mail is so unreliable that even true things written in it become false. Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 10:09
  • @Studoku - Hence the multiple links, albeit they both seem to be referencing the same wire service story.
    – Richard
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 10:30
  • 3
    @Studoku while that is true, Ive seen this on multiple TV reality cop shows from the UK - you get caught urinating in a shop door, on a monument etc then you might get given a choice: clean it up yourself, or get arrested, charged with a public order offence and a record. Most people choose the former, with the embarrassment that goes with it.
    – user28517
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 10:50

2 Answers 2


RockApe's answer is correct but I think it would be better to explain what did happen:

  1. the officer is not compelling the suspect to buy the water, she is offering him the opportunity of avoiding arrest, thus
  2. if the suspect refuses to clean his mess, he will be arrested, but the charge will not be "he refused to buy water" but "they urinated where he was supposed not to" (however that translates into the English legal code). That arrest would not be a punishment for not buying the water, but for the urination.
  3. In this case, buying the water seems to have been the most immediate way of getting the water required to clean. If there was some other water source (for example a public fountain) the police officer could have allowed the suspect to get the water from there.
  4. Even if there was some public fountain and the police officer insisted in the accused buying the water, the situation would revert to 2 --> the suspect can simply refuse and he will not be punished for refusing.

For those unaware, urinating in public is usually an offence of breaching of a local by-law, and potentially an offence under s.5 of the Public Order Act 1986 (if it is disorderly behaviour etc). Both can be dealt with by a Penalty Notice for Disorder or, if the circumstances are such, by arresting the offender if the officer believes it necessary to do so.

Can an English police officer compel a private citizen to purchase something?

No. The police have no statutory power to compel someone to purchase water to clean up their mess.

What is their latitude in arresting/fining someone if they refuse to comply?

Officers may, not must, issue a PND or arrest , per 2.4 of PACE Code G

The power of arrest is only exercisable if the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that it is necessary to arrest the person .... and it remains an operational decision at the discretion of the constable to decide ... to issue a penalty notice or take any other action that is open to the officer.

Other such action can include trying sort it matter out by encouraging the offender to see the error of their ways thus avoiding a fine/being arrested.

  • Other than the words "they do have discretion", the rest of this answer is entirely irrelevant to the question asked, and you've not said what discretion applies or on what legal basis it's applied.
    – Richard
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 9:51
  • Note that the article clearly states that she did compel the offender to purchase a bottle of water.
    – Richard
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 9:53
  • 1
    @Richard I was setting the scene for those not familiar with E&W law, and note that the articles are from the main stream media, and so may not be entirely accurate reporting
    – user35069
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 10:02
  • I felt that this was closer to a comment than an answer to my question asked
    – Richard
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 10:29
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    @Richard the police can compel someone with the only power they have - the discretion as to whether or not to pursue official action against something. That is the discretion mentioned. Do X, or Y happens. If X is unethical, then the IPCC will take a dim view of the officers actions, but in the example given, X is not unethical - the choice is clean up the mess or get a police record.
    – user28517
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 10:57

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