Copyright © David Thomason 2013
Police Information Notices

Right, here's the thing, I see so much utter nonsense, misinformation, Freedom of Information Requests, conspiracy theories, questions of legality and outright inaccuracies about this issue, not only on the internet but in my professional capacity also, that I thought it about time I set out, explicitly, once and for all some facts!

What is a Police Information Notice?

A Police Information notice is a LETTER from a the police to an individual who is subject to an allegation by another person that there has been one single incident which has caused them to feel alarmed and / or distressed but that the alleged behaviour has not yet formed a pattern of behaviour or a course of conduct as would be necessary to prove an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
An example would be, a boyfriend and girlfriend split up and the boyfriend sends a single text message the next day, "I F*****G HATE YOU B***H, I'M GONNA MAKE YOUR LIFE HELL". The female decides not to do anything about this for a few days because she is scared but nothing else happens. Her friend says she should report it to the police, "JUST IN CASE".
Yes - I am aware there may be other offences (Malicious Communications etc.) but I'm trying to make the point about the Protection from Harassment Act here%u2026
In the above scenario, there is no course of conduct so there is NO offence of harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act, however the context of the text message suggests there may be more to come.
Therefore, it might be prudent for the police to write a letter to the alleged sender of the message to address this issue. Remember, the police have a DUTY to prevent crime and disorder as well as investigate and respond to emergencies.
The Police Information Notice is a LETTER, which is sent in the spirit of crime prevention, informing the alleged sender of the text message that an allegation has been made about them. The letter points out that the police are not passing any comment on the truth or otherwise of the allegation at this time (remember - no offence has yet been committed) but that IF the alleged type of behaviour were to continue - then there may be a criminal investigation because there might be a course of conduct.
It really is nothing more than that. The alleged sender is not admitting to anything nor are they being convicted, officially warned nor subject of any official prohibitions / orders etc%u2026

IT IS JUST A LETTER.

Of course, the benefits in this particular scenario are multi-fold: if the alleged behaviour were to continue, then the police would be able to demonstrate that the alleged sender is well aware that the type of behaviour described is indeed harassing behaviour - thereby countering the, "I DIDN'T REALISE I WAS HARASSING HER" defence%u2026
The letter itself, may even be enough, in this circumstance, to 'nip' the alleged behaviour in the bud, especially if the alleged suspect is genuinely unaware of the consequences of their behaviour.

What a Police Information Notice isn't

It is not a court order. It is not a "warning". It should not include lists of prohibitions e.g. "You must not do X, Y, Z or you will be arrested".

It should also not be used to dispose of substantive crimes i.e. where there is evidence / reports of an actual course of conduct. This means conduct on at least 2 occasions. If this is the case, a Police Information Notice will not normally be appropriate. In this scenario, there ought to be an investigation as per ACPO guidance on Investigating Stalking and Harassment and the Core Investigative Doctrine etc.

Issues

The issue I see most often for recipients of such letters is that they feel very aggrieved that the police appear to be taking sides or that there will be a 'record' of them being a 'criminal' should they apply for a new job and it is disclosed to a prospective employer.

Also, recipients often complain that the police are effectively saying they are guilty and not giving them the opportunity to 'have my say'.

Again - the letter should explicitly state that the police are not commenting on the truth of the allegation and imply that they are not 'taking sides'. ACPO guidance also indicates that the notice should be delivered personally, not least so that the investigating officer can confirm that the notice has actually been delivered, but also to give the recipient the opportunity to 'have their say' and for the officer to record these details.
The issue about notices being disclosed to prospective employers?

I really wouldn't worry about this. It's not something that would routinely be disclosed and even then it is at the discretion of the ACPO officer reviewing the information. I would expect any ACPO officer worth their salt to make a balances, proportionate decision as to whether it would be appropriate to disclose this information to an employer, and even then I would hope there would be some context too.

When Police Information Notices shouldn't be used

Where there is a report of or evidence of a course of conduct.
A situation where an officer decides to give a letter to both parties (believe me - this happens). This happens especially in neighbour disputes. Police Officers reading this - PLEASE STOP DOING THIS - it will NOT solve the problem and more often than not, will exacerbate the issue, most likely land you with a complaint and undermines the actual purpose and intention the letters were intended for.

Essentially, there are only a very limited number of circumstances where Police Information Notices ought to be used.

I forgot to mention - I've seen some shocking examples of Police Information Notices; some threatening the recipient with arrest / prosecution if they don't abide by conditions in the letter, others clearly citing a list of alleged behaviours / course of conduct and then the template letter going on to say there is no course of conduct at this stage!

And the dreaded phrase I've seen on several force's incident logs, "SUSPECT OFFICIALLY WARNED UNDER THE PROTECTION FROM HARASSMENT ACT" - This sentiment is wholly inaccurate, misleading and officers stating this are entering very dangerous territory by indicating to victims and suspects that the law covers such letters etc. We should not be misleading the public simply to make our own jobs easier. I dread to think how many actual stalking victims have been duped by the police telling them, "DON'T WORRY, WE'LL GIVE HIM AN OFFICIAL WARNING UNDER THE PROTECTION FROM HARASSMENT ACT, YOU DON'T NEED TO GO TO COURT OR ANYTHING AND IF HE BREACHES IT, WE'LL ARREST HIM". With the incident log updated, "NO FORMAL COMPLAINT, VICTIM JUST WANTS HIM WARNING". Usually when the victim states, "I DON'T WANT TO GO TO COURT, I JUST WANT IT TO STOP"

I know this happens because we regularly have victims telling us, "I'VE GOT AN HARASSMENT ORDER AGAINST HIM".

! All stalking victims just want it to stop! And - there aren't many people who want to go to court NEWSFLASH! This doesn't mean we should be dishing out letters to dispose of substantive crimes with little / no investigation!

We don't issue "assault warnings" or "burglary warnings" do we?!?!

Personally, I believe we should do away with them completely. Why? I think their effectiveness has been diluted by their misuse since the late 1990s and I am not confident, despite our best efforts, that police officers will issue them appropriately.
I am aware that a recent stated case has determined that police use of such notices is lawful. So keep this in mind if your fellow conspiracy theorist friends are encouraging you to embark on seeking a judicial review!

Ultimately, regardless of local / national policies, the decision to issue such a letter rests with the individual officer concerned. All I would say to any police officers reading this is, think really carefully about what you're doing; will sending this letter make things better? What are the risks? Is there a course of conduct? You should be able to answer these questions confidently and comprehensively before sending such a letter out.
Stalking Investigations