From the “Your Journey to Justice” section of the website of Wiltshire Police, as of March 2015:
Harassment Information Notice
This is a written notice showing who the offender has been harassing and how. The piece of paper with the information on has to be signed by the accused person to say they have been harassing someone.
It is explained to them that continued harassment will lead to a criminal investigation.
If someone does not follow the harassment information notice, a statement would be taken from you and the police would investigate, which may result in an arrest.
This rather alarmingly oppressive and ignorant notice has now been removed, following a complaint by me to the Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police. Here is what I wrote:
I write to draw your attention to a serious misrepresentation of the law on the Wiltshire police website, concerning the “Harassment Information Notice” (also known as “Police Information Notices” [PINs]). If your officers have been using this information as the basis for operational decisions, I believe they have been acting unlawfully.
> This is a written notice showing who the offender has been harassing and how.
No it isn’t. It’s a record of a complaint. Also, given that at this stage no investigation has occurred, let alone a conviction, it is inappropriate to refer to “the offender”.
>The piece of paper with the information on has to be signed by the accused person to say they have been harassing someone.
No it doesn’t. A person who receives a notice may choose to sign it to indicate that they understand its contents. If your officers have been telling people that it “has to be signed”, then they have been engaging in oppressive conduct. And if signatures are being used as confessions, your officers are taking evidence without reading suspects their rights. This is a very serious matter.
>It is explained to them that continued harassment will lead to a criminal investigation.
This shows that police are undertaking investigations on the presumption of guilt, which is again inappropriate.
Wiltshire Police’s approach is open to gross abuse by vexatious complainants. It is also inconsistent with the approach of other forces. In particular, I draw your attention to recent comments from the Metropolitan Police after a journalist was issued with a “harassment warning” on behalf of a fraudster:
The link leads to a news report about a PIN that was given to Gareth Davies, chief reporter at the Croydon Advertiser. The report ended with the following quote:
Scotland Yard said: “When a harassment warning letter is issued, there is also no implication that the alleged harassment has taken place.”
That quote was met with some surprise; many people are under the impression that such “warnings” at the very least reflect the considered opinion of professional law-enforcement officers that criminal conduct has occurred, and at worst that they amount to the same thing as a police caution, in which an offence is admitted. But this is a complete misunderstanding: PINs are issued on the basis of complaints received rather than of evidence obtained, and they have no legal force.
This is a subject of some interest to me; this is an investigative blog, and as such I occasionally get attempts to intimidate me from writing about various subjects (as I discussed just yesterday). One such attempt occurred last September via a vexatious complaint to police which led to me receiving a PIN; I discuss the background to this incident here, including the false claim made by the complainant (and promoted in bad faith by his associate, the bullying and dishonest Nadine Dorries MP) that its delivery amounted to evidence of criminal conduct on my part.
A reply to my email to the Chief Constable came the next day:
Dear Mr Bartholomew,
I reply to your email on behalf of Chief Constable Pat Geenty. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. I can confirm that the pages of information you refer to in your email below have now been unpublished from the force website and have been deleted.
PA to Chief Constable Patrick Geenty
So there. But one wonders whether the advice on the webpage reflects bad practice that may have had real-world consequences for individuals who have been falsely accused.
(H/T- the webpage first came to my attention via a Twitter feed called @ArrestThePIN)
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