Witnessing a stop and search

Last reviewed: 23/02/2024

If the police were to stop and search someone in front of / near you:

Stop and search is only supposed to be used in the prevention of a 'crime' or to investigate a 'crime' that has already happened. In practice, stop and search is used as a racial profiling tactic and is a very discriminatory practice. Below are some things you can do to help in the situation of a fellow activist being stopped and searched. 

If you are being threatened with arrest for Obstructing a Police Officer, then take a step back and say "I am taking a step back officer. I am just here to watch and make sure my friend is doing alright".

  1. If you are comfortable doing so, let the person being stopped and searched know that you are there for them and that you are there to support them
  2. The police will most likely be asking the person questions. Tell them that they do not have to answer and should answer all questions with "No Comment". No one is legally obliged to answer police questions during a stop and search. However, in practice, due to the racist nature of stop and search, it may be more comfortable for the person to answer the questions as this may diffuse the situation, even though no one is legally obliged to do so. We recommend telling the person that they do not have to give the information but to do what makes them feel safest in the moment.
  3. Check to see if the police have provided the following information before the search (if they haven't, don't point it out but do make a note of it and pass this info on to the Back Office):
    1. Who they are? - Check ID number & badge or warrant card
    2. Why they are stopping the person? - Note down the legislation they say they are using
    3. What they are looking for? - Object they are searching for - in most cases, police should be looking for something specific they think you are carrying
    4. Where they are from? - Note down the station they are based at
  4. The police also frequently use stop and search to gather personal details by going through people's wallets / places where people keep ID. If the officers are searching for spray paint (for example) and they start going through someone's wallet, then you could step in and say something along the lines of: "the object is spray paint, officer. I don't think you will find a can of spray paint in their wallet."
  5. Be aware of new powers of suspicionless stop and search under s 11 Public Order Act 2023 . It is an offence to  intentionally obstruct an officer during a suspicion-less, protest-related stop and search. If convicted, you are punishable with up to one months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to £1000, or both.
  6. Try and get some contact details (name, email address and phone number) for any other witnesses to the stop and search and pass this information on to the Legal Back Office too. If (for whatever reason, such as a police office is listening in) another witness doesn't want to give you their details, then that is fine. Try and give them a bust card and get them to call the Legal Back Office, who will be able to explain why the information is asked for and how it gets stored etc.
  7. Call the Legal Back Office that has been set up for your action.
    1. For actions (other than XR), call the Green and Black Cross Protest Support Line on 07946 541511.
    2. For XR actions, the Back Office number can be found on your bustcard. But, if for some reason this is an issue, call the central XR Back Office on 07749 335574.