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Over zealous police activity?

Link to update

Is the very act of driving a car out of a pub car park sufficient grounds for a policeman to stop you on the basic that he suspects you might be drinking and driving? Apparently, the policemen of Wiltshire think it is.

The other day, I left the West End (Pub) after a lunch with customers. Not one of us had any alcohol at all - after all, the course was continuing through. That particular pub offers a good meal at its heavily advertised and used restaurant, and serves soft drinks as much as alcohol.

As we left the car park, we noticed a police car doing a wide "U" turn in a T junction opposite and wondered what he was up to, and he followed us back to our place, actually turning into our drive and onto our private property behind us, blocking my car in.

I walked back to the police car.

Graham "Can I help you?"

Police Officer: "We having a drink drive campaign and I couldn't help noticing you leaving the West End. Do you mind telling me how much alcohol you've had to drink? "

Graham "None at all. None of us has. We've an afternoon's work to do"

Police Office "May I smell your breath ..."

I was unsure, and suggested that it might not be especially pleasant, but the officer reassured me that he wasn't worried about that, and that he could tell straight off if I was indeed alcohol free from the test. Test due-ly done, "Thank you" he says, and he and his colleague who hasn't left their car or said anything leave.

I'm very much against driving under the influence of alcohol but I wonder:
a) Does a police officer have the right to follow and stop me just because he saw me driving out of a restaurant / pub car park?
b) Does he have the right to follow me onto private property and block me in this circumstance?
c) What's the basis for the "breath test" he undertook - should he have asked for that?

I felt unjustifiably accused in front of my business contacts. There was no suggestion what so ever that I had been behaving in any way to raise his suspicions - indeed, he specifically gave "leaving the West End car park" as his reason for following me, blocking me on my own driveway, and questioning and breath testing me in front of my clients.

[[UPDATE added 28th June 2006]]The following provided by the local police inspector ... many, many thanks to him for the time and trouble he has gone to research and provide answers:

The police are empowered to stop any motor vehicle on the road. We are not required to suspect that an offence has been committed. One assumes that this is to allow the police to be able to pro-actively deal with motorists and not have to suspect that an offence has taken place before they have the power to stop.

Random breath testing is not legal in this country. The police either have to suspect alcohol before requiring a breath test or a moving road traffic offence has to be committed. To my knowledge, neither applied in your case and that is why the officer asked you to breathe on him. Had he suspected alcohol then, he may have asked for you to provide a specimen of breath, but obviously he had no suspicion

[[Comment by Graham]] In other words he had no right to ask for a breath test as he had no suspicion, but never the less he in effect DID do a test by asking to smell my breath. Hmm.

[[I then wrote]]There is no reason why they cannot follow a motorist onto his private property, and there ask for an informal (as happened in my case) or formal test. The motorist asked for such a test does have a right to ask the officers to leave and they would do so. However, the officers are NOT obliged to tell the motorist of this right, and as I understand it for a motorist to invoke the right could imply a knowledge of the law and a lack of co-operation which would in itself raise further suspicion and probably lead them to make further enquiries.

[[Inspector's reply continues]] This is a more grey area. To my knowledge, and I have also taken advice in this respect, there is nothing to preclude officers from following the course of action that they did, however if the property owner were to request them to leave because they were on private property then they would become trespassers and potentially not be acting in the execution of their duty. However some Sections of the Road Traffic Act do allow officers the power to enter premises in they suspect impairment through drink or drugs. No they are not obliged to tell the public.

[snip]

It is clear from our correspondence and also the conversation that I had with your wife, that this incident has caused you some embarrassment in front of one of your clients and for that I apologise. In summary though, I believe that the officers acted reasonably from the description of the events, their motives were true and they acted proportionately in their dealings with you. Road Safety is one of the key objectives of the police service and given that excess alcohol is one of the major causes of all fatal and serious injury road traffic collisions, we do endeavour to deal with it pro-actively and robustly.

If I was embarrassed, I wouldn't be blogging this, would I ;-)

I do completely appreciate the need to act robustly in response to drink-driving. I also believe that the motives of the officers were true. However, I differ from the Inspector in my view of what is reasonable. To follow someone who has not raised any suspisions onto private land seems, to me, like one step beyond reasonable, To then block that person in seems a second step beyond reasonable. To sidestep the law about random breath tests by asking for an informal test, and not giving me full details of my rights as regards this, perhaps a third step. I could go on with other aspects, but I think three's enough.

I suspect that the police officers involved spend much of there time dealing with people who have broken the law or who are in danger of doing so. The Inspector wrote I have personally stopped vehicles as they have pulled away from the forecourts of licensed premises and immediately explained that the reason I am doing so is to ensure that they are not driving with excess alcohol in their bodies. Unsurprisingly I would hope, I have detected many offences by doing so.. Ah, yes indeed Inspector. But you're not saying that you've followed them all the way back to their places, nor than you've blockaded them, nor that you've failed to tell them their rights in questioning.

P.S. There's also a disagreement whether doing a U turn in a turning opposite the restaurant, pausing on that turn until a vehicle comes out of the pub, the following it could be regarded as "waiting ouside the restaurant". In any case, the indication is that such action IS within the policy of the police which is what I was asking.

Enough of this subject ... I offered to follow up, have done so, and will now let matters rest.
(written 2006-06-09, updated 2006-06-27)

Commentatorsays ...
Leah:I would be interesting in knowing what the law is on that myself, on all those questions.
(comment added 2006-06-09 17:17:48)
graham:I've sent a link to this blog post to the local police and invited them to comment / answer. If they follow up here, great. If they get in touch some other way, I'll post an update.
(comment added 2006-06-10 02:52:42)
Graham:An update ... the local police inspector has dropped me a note asking for an exact date and time. Good to see a response at least, though I think perhaps my point has been missed; I would much rather have general (policy) answers that specific ones, and I'm not interested in the individual officer if the actions he took are sanctioned from above.
(comment added 2006-06-13 06:05:02)
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