Last summer, I drove past RAF Spadeadam in the north of England. I passed the following rather foreboding sign:

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Ministry of Defence

This is a prohibited place within the meaning of the Official Secrets Act. Unauthorised persons entering this area may be arrested and prosecuted

There were no fences or other barrier stopping people from entering the area, and indeed several were doing so in order to swim in a nearby waterfall.

Is - as the sign implies - the mere act of entering the area enough to be arrested and charged with a crime, or do you have to be undertaking some sort of illicit activity within the area?

2 Answers 2


There are several Official Secrets Acts that are in force in the U.K. The one relevant for your question is the Official Secrets Act 1911. See Section 3:

For the purposes of this Act, the expression “prohibited place” means ... any work of defence, arsenal, naval or air force establishment or station, factory, dockyard, mine, minefield, camp, ship, or aircraft belonging to or occupied by or on behalf of His Majesty ... [and there are other things that can be prohibited places, including places declared by order]

To be in violation of the Act, it is not enough to merely be in the area. See Section 1:

If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State... approaches, inspects, passes over or is in the neighbourhood of, or enters any prohibited place within the meaning of this Act... he shall be guilty of felony

There is a bill before Parliament that would redefine prohibited place (but still capturing the base you have photographed) and create additional offences in relation to prohibited places. See this factsheet and the current text of the bill. Importantly, Section 5 would create a new offence of "unauthorized entry etc to a prohibited place," which would make it an offence to access a prohibited place without authorization while knowing (or while one reasonably should have known) that the access was unauthorized. No purpose prejudicial to the U.K. would be required. However, given the lesser severity of the wrong, the maximum punishment would be six months in prison or a fine.

  • 1
    Very interesting, especially the bill before Parliament. Thanks!
    – CDJB
    Dec 17, 2022 at 18:42

Just because others do something that is prohibited doesn't mean it is allowed.

You should read it as it is written.

A judge will assume that the average person, of sound mind, understands the meaning of prohibited.

  • Reason for downvote: this doesn't answer the question of what the meaning of "prohibited place" is under the Official Secrets Act or what the conditions are for triggering an offence in such a place.
    – JBentley
    Dec 17, 2022 at 18:42

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