Life after Adult Grooming: Police Information Notices (PINs)

Your Questions Answered by Arrest The PIN, a group campaigning for the abolition of the Police Information Notice. Anyone wanting more information, can contact us via @ArrestThePIN on Twitter.

Should you take any notice of the Police Information Notice aka Harassment Warning and is it a warning at all?

Common scenarios arising are harassers/stalkers making false accusations against victims that becomes ‘harassment or stalking by proxy’, or campaigners against authorities being subjected to either false allegations or true allegations, that are not harassment in law, to try to silence legitimate protest.

In this Q and A, we give official and practical answers to the same questions 1 -13 to show the difference between what should happen and what does happen which brings out the controversies associated with the notice/warning.

Firstly, The Official View

Q1 What is it?

A It is a document issued by police to a person designed to show in possible future legal proceedings that the person was aware that their behaviour would count as harassment.

Q2 Why is it needed?

A The offence of harassment occurs where there has been a course of conduct (not just a single event) and the perpetrator knows or ought to know that their conduct amounts to harassment. So the document is intended as evidence that the perpetrator did know.

Q3 Is it issued throughout the UK?

A No. It has never been used in Scotland. It has been used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Q4 Do all police areas in these nations issue them?

A No. It has been the decision of local police forces whether to use the process or not.

Q5 How does the process of issuing the document work for the alleged victim?

A Police receive a report of alleged harassment. If the report involves a single incident, police can consider issuing the document. Police consult the alleged victim and explain the process. If the alleged victim wishes the document to be issued, he/she is given a copy of the document. If the alleged victim does not wish the document to be issued, this should be noted. The police officer checks with a supervisor, a Sergeant or Inspector, who decides whether or not the document should be issued with a copy going to the alleged victim if it is issued.

Q6 How does the process of issuing the document work for the alleged suspect?

A Police will intend to issue the document to the alleged suspect face to face. An explanation of the document will be given by police. The alleged suspect’s account should be sought. If the account either denies the allegation made or means the alleged suspect could have a legal defence to harassment even if the alleged conduct was repeated, police should reconsider whether to issue the document or not. Otherwise, police should issue the document to the alleged suspect while stating it does not imply guilt and invite the alleged suspect to sign the document.

Q7 What happens after the document is issued?

A The issuing of the document forms part of the local information recorded by the issuing police area. The document can be used in any subsequent prosecution if the alleged harassment continues after issuing it. The record of it can be retained by police for a period up to forever.

Q8 Is there any way to for an alleged suspect to challenge the issue of the document?

A A formal complaint can be made to police or a judicial review of the decision by police to issue it can be sought. But there is no official appeal process as such because the document does not entail any admission or determination of wrongdoing.

Q9 Does the issuing of the document show up on a DBS check?

A It can show up on an enhanced DBS check not a standard one at the discretion of the chief police officer, that is Chief Constable or Commissioner. The discretion is exercised on the basis of relevance in relation to why an enhanced DBS check is being obtained. It should be recorded in the form of the allegation(s) and the disposal if disclosed by police.

Q10 Does the document have a legal status?

A Of itself, No. There is no statutory basis for it.

Q11 Is the document known by other descriptions?

A Yes. Other descriptions are First Instance Presentation of Harassment, Prevention of Harassment Letter, Harassment Information Notice or Early Harassment Notice.

Q12 Does an alleged suspect have to sign the document?

A No.

Q13 If an alleged suspect does sign it, is that any admission of wrongdoing?

A No, signing it merely acknowledges receipt of the document not acceptance of any of the contents of it.

Secondly, The Practical View

Q1 What is it?

A It can act as a type of informal restraining order without due process. It potentially criminalises alleged conduct which has neither been proven nor admitted.

Q2 Why is it needed?

A It often serves as a convenient way for police to dispose of a report of harassment in terms of cost-benefit assessment and box-ticking. It is commonly used even where there is evidence of a course of conduct because it uses less resources than an investigation.

Q3 Is it issued throughout the UK?

A No and this means that a national police area in Scotland has been able to deal with harassment allegations without using it.

Q4 Do all police areas in these nations issue them?

A No and this has led to ‘postcode policing’ which is inconsistent and ultimately unfair.

Q5 How does the process of issuing the document work for the alleged victim?

The alleged victim makes a report of harassment which may be true or false. Police sometimes do not consult the victim about whether or not it is issued to the alleged suspect.

Q6 How does the process of issuing the document work for the alleged suspect?

A Sometimes police issue it verbally or by post/email. Frequently police ignore any account by the alleged suspect that could call into question the issuing of it. Police sometimes fail to explain that it does not imply wrongdoing.

Q7 What happens after the document is issued?

A Apart from being stored as local information, it might be recorded on the Police National Computer due to the way some police areas treated the issuing of the document and is very probably on the Police National Database which holds data from all UK police areas. The period of retention for the data is a grey area based on a supposed minimum of 6 years then afterwards based on necessity, in addition the copy of the document and the record of the report of alleged harassment can be dealt with differently. There is a paradox here because for a course of conduct to be made out, alleged harassment would have to take place on at least 2 occasions within a shorter space of time and a lot less than 6 years. Thus the data pertaining to the issuing of the document is pretty much redundant after 6-12 months.

Q8 Is there any way to for an alleged suspect to challenge the issue of the document?

A If an alleged suspect makes a subject access request under data protection legislation for all information held on the alleged suspect, this can trigger a review of the information held including the issue of the document and whether or not it ought to have been issued.  The police can annul the document where a formal complaint is upheld, a judicial review finds against the police or in response to a subject access request.

Q9 Does the issuing of the document show up on a DBS check?

A Sometimes police overlook the criterion of relevance which should be applied to any decision about whether or not to disclose it on an enhanced DBS check. Also any allegations regarding any criminal acts not just those that led to issuing the document can be disclosed. The area of disclosing unproven allegations generally is controversial because the underlying allegations that led to the issuing of the document might be regarded as evidence of bad character depending on the circumstances.

Q10 Does the document have a legal status?

A The police’s approach to the document can be misleading for the alleged victim and alleged suspect. The description ‘harassment warning’ gives the wrong impression that it is similar to an official caution/warning which involves an admission of guilt. This has commonly resulted in the alleged victim having a false sense of security and the alleged suspect wrongly believing that it is an adjudication that wrongdoing has occurred.

Q11 Is the document known by other descriptions?

A As there was no formal legal framework for the document, it is unknown just how many different titles there are for the document.

Q12 Does an alleged suspect have to sign the document?

A In a face to face meeting, police present the document to the alleged suspect for signature. There is no protocol as to whether or not police should advise that signing is optional. In effect, police rely on implicit authority that if something is handed over to be signed, it must be signed. It is left to the alleged suspect with knowledge and/or boldness to refuse to sign.

Q13 If an alleged suspect does sign it, is that any admission of wrongdoing?

A An alleged suspect who does not sign it has been perceived as someone protesting that the document should not have been issued. It does serve as a knockback for police in the area of evidence that the alleged suspect is seen as rejecting outright the document and its contents.

PIN appeal letters: sample here

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