Webb v Chief Constable of Merseyside Police: CA 26 Nov 1999

The Police had confiscated money suspected to be the proceeds of drug trafficking, but no offence was proved. The magistrates had refused to return the money under the 1897 Act. The claimants now sought to reciver it under civil proceedings.
Held: The judge was wrong to have found public policy grounds for refusing to order what he had found to be such proceeds. There was no statutory power to hold the money and it must be returned: ‘There is no statutory power to confiscate the proceeds of drug dealing within the United Kingdom where the person entitled to possession of the money is not convicted of a drug trafficking offence. I recognise that there may be circumstances where for a variety of reasons a prosecution may not take place. But that does not, in my view, justify expropriation by means of a defence to a civil claim for return of money which has been seized from persons who are not convicted.’
The position was essentially the same whether proceedings were taken against the police directly or whether proceedings were taken pursuant to 1897 Act. In each of the cases, the police initially lawfully seized the money, but the statutory power to retain it was exhausted. ‘the court should not, in my view, countenance expropriation by a public authority of money or property belonging to an individual for which there is no statutory authority’ and ‘if goods are in the possession of a person, on the face of it he has the right to that possession. His right to possession may be suspended or temporarily divested if the goods are seized by the police under lawful authority. If the police right to retain the goods comes to an end, the right to possession of the person from whom they are seized revives. In the absence of any evidence that anybody else is the true owner, once the police right of retention comes to an end, the person from whom they were compulsorily taken is entitled to possession.’


May, Pill, Hale, LJJ


Gazette 08-Dec-1999, [2000] QB 427, [1999] EWCA Civ 3041, [2000] 2 WLR 546, [2000] 1 All ER 209




Police (Property) Act 1897 1(1)


England and Wales


AppliedTinsley v Milligan HL 28-Jun-1993
Two women parties used funds generated by a joint business venture to buy a house in which they lived together. It was vested in the sole name of the plaintiff but on the understanding that they were joint beneficial owners. The purpose of the . .

Cited by:

CitedMorgan, Regina (on the Application of) v Justices of Dyfed Powys Magistrates’ Court Admn 18-Jun-2003
Money had been taken by the Police, but after the applicants had been acquitted, they sought it to be returned. Their action was struck out after long delays. They applied to the Magistrates who turned down the application.
Held: The money . .
FollowedRegina (on the application of Carter) v Ipswich Magistrates’ Court Admn 2002
Mrs Carter had paid a man to murder someone. The man was an undercover police agent. In time Mrs Carter was convicted of soliciting to commit murder, but Mr Carter was acquitted. She disclaimed all interest in the money she had paid in favour of her . .
FollowedCostello v Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary CA 22-Mar-2001
The police seized a car from Mr Costello, believing that it was stolen. The seizure was lawful at the time, by virtue of section 19 of PACE. The police never brought any criminal proceedings against Mr Costello, but they refused to return the car to . .
CitedGough and Another v The Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police CA 2-Mar-2004
The claimants sought return of vehicle parts from the police. The police replied that the goods had been tampered with in such a way as to suggest they may have been stolen, and that they were therefore kept, even after the finish of the court . .
CitedMerseyside Police v Hickman and Another Admn 1-Mar-2006
Cash had been seized by the police under the 1984 Act. It was later seized also under the 2003 Act. The respondent said this was unlawful.
Held: The forfeited money could be seized again under the 2003 Act. The 2002 Act allowed appropriate . .
CitedScopelight Ltd and Others v Chief of Police for Northumbria CA 5-Nov-2009
The claimant sought return of items removed by the defendants under the 1984 Act. A decision had been made against a prosecution by the police. The police wished to hold onto the items to allow a decision from the second defendant.
Held: The . .
CitedO’Leary International Ltd v North Wales Police Admn 31-May-2012
The company employed drivers to cross the UK. They were stopped and did not have the requisite drivers records. Instead they produced certificates as to having had rest days. These proved false, and the drivers said that the had been produced for . .
CitedMerseyside Police v Owens Admn 31-May-2012
The police had refused to returns items seized from Mr Owens on the basis that to do so would indirectly encourage and assist him in suspected criminal activity. CCTV footage had been removed from him to attempt identify an arsonist of a house.The . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Torts – Other, Police

Updated: 20 May 2022; Ref: scu.90348