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  • Namita Pawa

How do I get my property back from the police?

How do I get my property back from the police? How long will the police keep my phone? These are questions we are often asked by clients and fairly so, because there is no consistent guidance on the return of property from the police or other law enforcement agency.

Seizing Property

Following an arrest the individual can be released on bail to return on a later date, or released under investigation. For the difference between the two, please see our article here. It is commonplace for the Police to seize items of property that they believe may contain information or evidence relevant to the investigation. These days we all have mobile phones in our possession, and many people have more than one. The chances of the devices being seized is high but the act of that happening can be very disruptive. Other items of property may be seized, including other devices, clothing and documents.

If the police have entered premises with a warrant, they will complete a search book (which has an official name that varies by police force – for example, Book 101 for the Metropolitan Police). This will identify the details of the officers present, the date, time, location, what was seized, where it was seized from and note any details of comments made by anyone present as to ownership. A carbon copy of the search book should be left at the premises.

Property that is in your physical possession will be booked in with your property in the custody suite. If there are any items that the police wish to seize and interrogate they will do so and note the custody record to reflect this.

Following Bail or RUI

Once you are then released on either bail or under investigation, you then have a wait ahead of you while the investigation continues.

The general rule of thumb is that property will be retained by the police until the conclusion of the investigation. That being said, it is often good practice to either speak to the officer at the point of being released from the police station regarding how long they will need to retain your property for. If that is not possible or they are unable to give you an answer then contact should be made with the officer soon after release, to make the same enquiry. For details on contacting the police, please read here.


Mobile devices, laptops and other electronic equipment are usually sent to a lab to be formally downloaded. If this is happening to your device, then the process can take many weeks and sometimes months. This can delay the return of your property and also delay a decision being made in your case whether you are going to be charged with an offence, no further action being taken or some other outcome. For the possible outcomes following arrest, please see here.

Once a device has been downloaded, the police now have an imaged copy, and therefore the device ought to be returned. However, it is common practice by police forces to retain such devices in the event that a problem arises with the imaged copy. The imaged copy will be interrogated and considered for any further evidence that relates to the investigation.

A further example of property being retained by the police is items of clothing or other physical possession that have been sent to the lab to be forensically examined. Whether this is for fingerprints, DNA or blood.

Follow Up

Once a decision has been made whether to charge, it is usually a good opportunity to contact the officer again regarding the return. If no further action has been taken by the police, then the items of property ought to be returned in full. If however, a decision has been made to charge, the likelihood is that the item will remain with the police.

Electronic devices, often contain important, personal material, including phone numbers, and other contact information relating to personal matters or business affairs. If the information is not backed up to a cloud, then it is possible to ask the police to provide this information so as to be as least disruptive as possible.

Top Tips

  • Keep a note of all items you believe have been seized and are therefore missing from your property;

  • Keep a copy of the Police search book that was left behind for reference later;

  • Make sure you know your custody number, the date of your arrest, the officer in your case and the location at which the property was seized;

  • Contact the officer, or instruct a solicitor to do so on your behalf, to make enquiries about having your items returned;

  • If the property is not being returned, ask the officer to keep this decision under review;

  • Makes specific representations for particular items to be returned and set out the detailed reasons why they should be;

  • If any property that has been seized, does not belong to you, then the third-party can contact the officer directly to request a return of their items.

Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.


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