Writing in the British Dental Journal Tina Lakhani, a Senior Associate with Irwin Mitchell, explains the process and what actions to take.

Although it is highly unlikely that you will be stopped by the police in the course of a year, or even a lifetime, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. As a registered dentist, the potential implications are significant given the impact an arrest, caution and or criminal conviction can have on your GDC registration.

In my 15 year career as a criminal solicitor, I have supported and represented a number of medical professionals who were stopped by the Police and on occasions arrested. I have also represented these professionals at the police station day and night. In addition to support from your indemnity provider you will definitely require a criminal lawyer to represent you if you are detained by the Police.

The police officer may simply want you to answer a few questions without any need to take things further. So at an early stage you will need you need to establish whether you have been stopped because the officer wants you to give an account of yourself or whether they want to search you and potentially detain you. The main legislation that covers the use of stop and search is the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The following notes will help you better understand what to expect if it happens to you.

Stop and Account

  • A ‘stop’ occurs when a police officer or a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) stops you and asks questions. This is known as a ‘stop and account’, and is not a stop and search. You are free to leave at any time.
  • To decide if you have been stopped and are about to be searched or if it is a ‘stop and account’ procedure, you can ask the officer: ‘Am I being detained?’ A police officer can only detain you when carrying out a ‘stop and search’, so if the answer is ‘no, you are not being detained,’ it is a ‘stop and account’ and you are free to leave. You do not have to give your name and address.

Stop and Search

  • If a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that you have been involved in a crime or that you are in possession of a prohibited item they can search you. Only a police officer can do this and they can only search your outer clothing. If the officer is not in uniform they should show you their identity card. You do not have to give your name and address at this time.
  • You shouldn't be stopped and searched because of your race, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion or faith, the way you dress, the language you speak, or because you have committed a crime in the past.
  • The police can use ‘reasonable force’ if you try to stop them from searching your outer clothing, which could lead to you being arrested.

Before searching you, the police officer should tell you:

  • Their name, the name of their police station, what they are looking for; and that you are entitled to have a copy of the search record.
  • If the police have reasonable grounds to think that you are in possession of a controlled drug then the officer must tell under what law they are going to search you and give the reasons for the search. Note; the smell of cannabis alone is not a reasonable ground.
  • Searches under ‘non-reasonable suspicion’ powers, which can be used where a police officer holding the rank of at least superintendent has issued an authority for stop and searches to take place without reasonable suspicion, due to a belief that serious violence will occur in an area or that people are carrying offensive weapons. These searches are known as ‘section 60 searches’ under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

What can an officer search?

  • The officer can only require a person to remove outer clothing in public e.g. a coat, jacket, gloves or another item concealing your identity. They can put their hand inside your shoes, socks or headgear if they believe something is hidden. They will ask you to turn your pockets inside out, or they will pat-down these items.
  • If they want you to remove any other items of clothing, this is either called a ‘more thorough search’ (e.g. removing a jumper or t-shirt) or a ‘strip search’, which involves the removal of all clothing. A more thorough search can take place in the back of a police van or somewhere else that is out of public view. A strip search can only take place in a police station or a designated area such as a police tent. A strip search must be done out of public view and by an officer of the same sex, without any officer of the opposite sex able to see. If you are 17 years old or under a strip search can only take place in the presence of an appropriate adult.
  • The officer must provide a reason for needing to search further. Note; “not having found anything yet” is not an acceptable reason.
  • Removal of any religious items must be treated in the same way as a more thorough search.
  • Stop and search should not be a humiliating experience. If you are uncomfortable, ask for more privacy. If they fail to provide that, ask them to note this in their records.

Your right to a copy of the search form

  • The police should be professional, polite and respectful when searching you. The officer must fill out a form giving the reasons for stopping and searching you and give you a copy of this unless it is not possible to (many forces have digitised this process and will give you a reference number allowing you to retrieve a copy of the form from the police station). You can ask for a copy of the form anytime within three months of the search.

How to respond if you are arrested and taken to a police Station for questioning

  • If you are arrested, you will be given a caution which informs you of your rights and entitlements. Request a solicitor immediately, no matter how trivial you think the allegation is and that you are innocent and a mistake has been made.
  • Do not be manipulated by officers who may suggest that you don’t need a solicitor/ you are causing delays/ it will make the situation worse – it will not. You need a solicitor and you should wait for one.
  • Having a solicitor will not make the situation worse; it will be advantageous for you to be represented in an official capacity.
  • Don’t panic and don’t talk to the Police – you can of course be co-operative and polite, but do not talk about the allegations, even if you believe you are innocent and have done nothing wrong.
  • Do not respond to the caution in any way, other than requesting a solicitor.
  • Do not talk about the alleged offence or give your account. There are many reasons why people can be arrested (drink driving, assaults, theft, drug offences etc) and often these matters can be resolved quickly with no further action being taken by the police.
  • Do not sign any notebooks.
  • You may feel shocked/ overwhelmed/ angry/ upset/ emotional. This is to be expected but do not, as a result of your emotions, speak to the officers about the alleged offence or try to talk your way out of the arrest. You will be unsuccessful and potentially incriminate yourself further.
  • You will be taken to the police station for an interview under caution. This can take time as you will be processed and booked into custody and you may have to wait in a police cell.
  • You are entitled to a phone call and to inform someone of your whereabouts.
  • The solicitor will come and see you at the police station and/or speak to you on the phone to advise you on how to handle the interview under caution and explain the options you have during the interview.
  • You can be held in a police station for a maximum of 24 hours. An inspector’s authorisation is required for you to be held any longer.
  • You will naturally be concerned about your registration and career. It often happens, that once a solicitor is involved and can challenge the evidence and advise you on how to manage the interview under caution, the case could be discontinued.
  • Criminal matters can be explained to the GDC via a solicitor and if there are grounds to illustrate that you are not culpable, then your registration should not be impacted. Check with your indemnity provider that these costs would be covered.

The offer or promise of a caution

  • If a police officer says they can deal with the alleged offence by way of a caution, do not accept the offer until you have spoken to a solicitor - cautions are not guaranteed.
  • To be eligible for a caution you are required to admit the allegations on a taped interview.
  • Once you have made admissions, you could be charged with those offences and be required to attend court which could subsequently result in a criminal conviction.
  • The police do not always keep their “promise” when offering cautions.
  • The strength of the police evidence may be very weak and the officer may be offering you a caution to extract a confession from you. A caution will be recorded on your criminal record, not as a conviction, but as a caution for a criminal offence and could have serious implications on your career and registration with the GDC.
  • Moreover, there is always a possibility that the case may be discontinued in its totality with no further action being taken; thus maintaining a clear criminal record.

This article first appeared in the British Dental Journal in February 2021.

Irwin Mitchell is on the panel of law firms supporting dentists with BDA Indemnity.

For more information about Irwin Mitchell's Business Crime services, visit the dedicated section of our website here.