Wasting Police Time- s5(2) Criminal Law Act 1967
The offence of “Wasting Police Time” most commonly occurs when a person wastes police time and resources by either reporting a fictional offence committed by a fictional person or by giving false information to the police during the court of an existing investigation.
This offence can often be confused with the offence of “Perverting the Course of Justice”. The former is related to wasting police time and resources, whereas the later focusses on the exposure of individuals to a risk of arrest, imprisonment, trial and possible wrongful conviction and punishment. I have written a separate article on Perverting the Course of Justice that can be found here.
The use of this offence caused controversy in 2019 when Shana Grice, a murdered 19-year-old, was charged and fined for wasting police time when she reported her subsequent murderer, Michael Lane, to the police five times in six months for harassment. Officer’s basis for this included that Ms Grice had initially failed to disclose her relationship with Michael Lane.
This offence will often be pursued by the prosecution because there is a public interest to discourage it. As a result, if you are accused of wasting police time it is important to seek experienced legal counsel.
What is the offence of Wasting Police Time?
The offence of Wasting Police Time is contained within Section 5(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 which states:
Where a person causes any wasteful employment of the police by knowingly making to any person a false report tending to show that an offence has been committed, or to give rise to apprehension for the safety of any persons or property, or tending to show that he has information material to any police inquiry, he shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for not more than six months or to a fine.
The offence is committed when a person causes any wasteful employment of the police by knowingly making to any person a false report, orally or in writing, tending to:
• show that an offence has been committed; or,
• give rise to apprehension for the safety of any persons or property; or,
• show that he has information material to any police inquiry.
The offence is commonly committed by giving false reports of a crime which causes the police to open an investigation or by giving false information to the police during the court of an existing investigation.
I have seen many instances where a person has mistakenly given false information to the police. For example, where a witness has not had a good view of an incident or when a person is intoxicated or genuinely mistaken of the identity of people involved. This is not a breach of the legislation, which requires the false information is given “knowingly”. -
How will the offence of Wasting Police Time be approached by the Prosecution?
The prosecution will pursue the case if there are specific public interest circumstances. These include:
• police resources have been diverted for a significant period;
• a substantial cost is incurred;
• when the false report is particularly grave or malicious;
• considerable distress is caused to a person by the report;
• the person making the report knew, or ought to have known, that police resources were under particular strain or diverted from a particularly serious inquiry;
• there is significant premeditation in the making of the report; and
• the report is persisted in, particularly in the face of challenge.
What will happen if the wasting of police time overlaps with another offence?
The offence of Wasting Police Time can often overlap with other offences. It will depend on the evidence and factors of the case as to which offence will be pursued by the Prosecution.
In general terms, if the wasting of police time results in serious consequences then it will not be charged as wasting police time but as a more serious offence. For example:
• perverting the court of justice;
• obstructing a police officer;
• perpetrating a bomb hoax - s.51(2) Criminal Law Act 1977;
• false alarms of fire - s.49 Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004; and
• fraudulent insurance claims based on false reports of crime - deception.
Factors that will be considered when determining which offence to pursue will also include whether the false report:
• was spontaneous and unplanned or deliberate and elaborately planned;
• was momentary and irresolute or prolonged and determined;
• was motivated by misplaced loyalty to a relative/friend or was part of a concerted effort to avoid, pervert, or defeat justice;
• whether the activities of the defendant drew in others;
• was intended to result in trivial or 'serious harm' to the administration of justice; and
• actually resulted in trivial or 'serious harm' to the administration of justice.
What is the sentence for Wasting Police Time?
Wasting Police Time is a summary only offence. This means that it is heard at the Magistrates Court. If found guilty at court the maximum sentence is imprisonment of up to six months and/or a fine.
Section 5(3) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 identifies that prosecution for this offence can only be instituted by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Instead of court proceedings, the police may issue a fixed penalty notice in accordance with the Penalties for Disorderly Behaviour (Amount of Penalty) Order 2002 (SI 2002 No. 1837). For an offence of Wasting Police Time the amount payable is £90. In my experience the issuing of fixed penalties for more minor breaches of the legislation are far more common than prosecutions.
This offence can be committed in many circumstances and in instances where it can be difficult to prove to the contrary. It is important that if you are facing this offence that you seek specialist representation.
Quentin Hunt is an award-winning Criminal Barrister who has over 22 years’ experience in dealing with Criminal cases. He accepts instructions either through solicitors or directly from members of the public. If you find yourself facing an offence of this sort you may contact Quentin for a free, no obligation conversation about your case.