How can I legally deal with British police officers if they suspect the following:

  1. I am carrying a weapon
  2. I match the profile of someone they're looking for.

I understand that if I'm not carrying a weapon, nor have I done anything wrong then I should comply with their requests. However, the insecurity and anxiety of a power stopping you under suspicion doesn't sound right to me.

What rights do I have to investigate the reasoning of a police officer under the claim that I've been stopped under discrimination, or unlawful methods?

  • 1
    Is you weapon legal in the U.K. which has extraordinarily tight limitations on carrying weapons in public, especially when you aren't in a security or law enforcement or military uniform or aren't hunting? I imagine that a switchblade would receive a different response than a sword (we have two or three crazy guy carrying real swords and doing scary stuff cases every year here in Denver).
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 15, 2022 at 19:45
  • @ohwilleke by my reading, the question isn't about any weapon that may or may not be possessed by the subject of the search, but rather may be restated thus: "when someone is stopped and/or searched by the police, what right does that person have to know the legal justification for the search?" For example, if the police claim that the search was based on a suspect description that I match, can I demand to know the substance of the description or to see evidence that some witness actually gave such a description?
    – phoog
    Mar 16, 2022 at 9:14
  • @phoog Thank you, you have the correct interpretation. I know that officers require to provide a reason for stopping a person under their suspicions. It's like you said in the comments, there's minimal that I can do besides comply with their request to prevent any escalations. The best alternative seems to be a complaint after the event occurs as mentioned by Rick. Mar 16, 2022 at 20:20

2 Answers 2


Initially, one should comply with the officer's instructions as he has the power under statutory Stop & Search powers to detain someone for the purpose of the search (discussed here).  Failure to do so may be an offence.

If, subsequently, one considers the search and detention was unlawful, the first port of call is to lodge a complaint with the relevant police force who - depending on the circumstances - may escalate the complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct IOPC.

You can complain directly to the police/other organisation (see ‘Who can I complain about?’ below for a list of the other organisations) or via the IOPC. If you complain via the IOPC, your complaint will be sent direct to the organisation involved. They will assess your complaint and contact you about how it will be handled. The IOPC will not be involved with this initial assessment of your complaint.

If the complaint is found to be valid, then any offence committed by not complying with the office would (in all probability) be overturned on appeal. As well as any compensation awarded by the court, the Chief Constable may consider making an ex gratia payment (mentioned here).

Note that there is no obligation to do anything if the interaction falls within the Stop & Account provisions.


You can complain, obviously.

This being the UK, if they suspect that you are carrying a gun in public, an armed response unit will come down on you HARD. They figured out that the best chances of everyone surviving that situation unharmed is to come in with overwhelming power. Nobody will kneel on your neck for ten minutes, it will be over in seconds and you will be unharmed. Best way to avoid this is to not carry anything that looks like a gun.

You can complain if you think there should have been no reasonable suspicion. If you think you were stopped because of illegal discrimination, and you are right, you have a good chance to succeed. (For example being a black Olympic medal winner getting arrested for entering her own BMW on her own driveway means your chances are very good).

  • 1
    That's an overwhelming circumstance that you mention. Besides the politics around George Floyds death, what are the simpler measures on my individual rights as a UK citizen against police under claims to investigate their procedure to handle me on their suspicion? Where do I file these complaints to and what reason - grounds of confirmation must I have to forward the complaint with effect and reduce bias? Mar 15, 2022 at 17:54
  • 1
    You said "if I'm under suspicion of carrying a weapon" - if that weapon is a gun, I told you what happened. You will be safe unless you actually carry a gun (highly illegal) AND behave very stupid. If that suspicion was justified (even if incorrect), nothing you can do. What makes you think anything like this could happen to you?
    – gnasher729
    Mar 15, 2022 at 23:10
  • 1
    I'm more concerned of the idea 'suspicion', likely not as severe as a gun but a knife, screw-driver or a tool to be considered a weapon. My understanding was to learn how to respond if a fake stop & search occurred without evidence but based on a fake conspirator call. i.e. video of first-amendment journos at gun-pointa based on a fake conspiracy call that they had a weapon, but were carrying cameras. From what I've read my rights are pretty slim here in the UK to not be compliant with the officers request. Mar 16, 2022 at 3:08
  • 2
    @dollarbill When the police accost you, you have no way of knowing whether their suspicion is reasonable. You can't make them change their behavior during the incident, nor should you try. You may be able to hold them to account subsequently.
    – phoog
    Mar 16, 2022 at 9:05
  • 3
    @dollarbill in particular, a false tip that you have an illegal weapon is reasonable grounds to stop and search you as long as the police have no reason to think that it's false. You have to keep in mind that the reasonableness of police actions has to be judged by the information available to the police. During the stop you have no access to that information, and even if you did there's no judge available to rule that the police lack reasonable grounds. All you can do is try to persuade them, but they don't have to listen to you and probably won't. The same is true in the US.
    – phoog
    Mar 16, 2022 at 17:03

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