Harassment under UK Law is a criminal offence.
Harassment is both subjective and objective. What is meant by this is that, the subject (person being harassed) has to be ‘harassed, alarmed or distressed‘ by the conduct of the harasser. It also has to be seen objectively, (i.e. in the eyes of a ‘reasonable person‘) that the conduct was harassing.
The Legislation is here https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1997/40/section/1
Some pertinent points from sub-section (1), (2) and (3) taken from the above legislation that will be referred to in this article.
(1) A person must not pursue a course of conduct—
(a)which amounts to harassment of another, and
(b)which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.
(2) For the purposes of this section, the person whose course of conduct is in question ought to know that it amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment of the other.
(3) Subsection (1) does not apply to a course of conduct if the person who pursued it shows—
(a)that it was pursued for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime,
(b)that it was pursued under any enactment or rule of law or to comply with any condition or requirement imposed by any person under any enactment, or
(c)that in the particular circumstances the pursuit of the course of conduct was reasonable.
Lets create a scenario, this being the real incident, place yourself as the subject.
Lets say that the Police, called you and told you that they wanted to speak to you regarding an allegation of harassment whereby you were the alleged offender! You have no idea what this is about.
Would you feel harassed, alarmed or distressed?
You will see that subsection (3) of the Harassment Act stipulates that the Harassment Act does not apply for the purposes of preventing or detecting a crime. So, while this is harassing to you, the law stipulates clearly that this is ‘exempt’. But it is fair to say, you still feel harassed, alarmed and distressed.
So, not knowing what the allegation is related to, you call your solicitor. The solicitor advises you that you should speak to the police as they could arrest you if you refuse to speak to them voluntarily. Your solicitor advises you that he is away for a number of weeks but said he will attend the police station with you after his return.
You call the police officer back and explain this to them, but the police officer, behind your back, contacts your solicitor explaining the ‘serious nature of the allegation‘.
The solicitor calls you back, and due to the unsolicited call from the police officer, makes special arrangements with you to speak to the police before he goes on holiday.
Would you feel harassed, alarmed or distressed via this 2nd form of conduct?
Still, subsection (3) of the Harassment Act stipulates that the Harassment Act does not apply for the purposes of preventing or detecting a crime. So, while this is harassing to you, the law allows the course of conduct.
You attend the police station with your solicitor. You are given a police caution and then interviewed. The incident the police allege you did was nothing to do with you, yet the police show how they were authorised to access your personal details to investigate. So you are sitting in a police station, being interviewed by a police officer, telling you they the believe you committed a crime rooting through your personal details they acquired with authority from a senior officer!
Would you feel harassed, alarmed or distressed via this 3rd form of conduct?
Still, subsection (3) of the Harassment Act allows the police officer to keep up her harassing course of conduct as, being a professional police officer and under guidance of her experienced Sergeant and Inspector, is investigating a crime, right?
Notwithstanding you have no involvement in the alleged crime which is harassment. After the police interview, you leave the police station after police tell you they will review the meeting and ‘get back to you‘. Outside the police station, your solicitor says to you, (with a surprised expression), they are trying to frame you for (1) a crime you did not commit, and most importantly, (2) the alleged crime is not a crime, as more than 6 months has passed and any perceived crime is non-existent. Your solicitor explains how shocked he is that police put you through all this for nothing and also mucked up your solicitors holiday plans!
Would you feel harassed, alarmed or distressed via this conduct?
Well, now subsection (3) of the Harassment Act goes out of the window as there is no crime. The alleged crime not only no longer exists, but did not exist at the time you were first called about it.
Your solicitor tells you to simply wait for the police to make contact and appologise for their error. So you wait, and wait. All the time, wondering what the delay is and why they are doing nothing. A few weeks later, on a weekend, when you have friends visiting, you get a knock at your front door. You open the door and are face with two police officers, one was the officer who conducted the interview. Your first reaction is, they have come to appologise, but then you are read your rights and told that the police have decided to charge you with a criminal offence of harassment. They tell you that your summons will arrive by post within 6 weeks!
Would you feel harassed, alarmed or distressed via this 4th course of conduct?
The police cannot rely on subsection (3). This is now a clear case of harassment. Do the police have any other defence to this, well, the only defence is that the police didn’t know and that they needn’t ‘ought to have known’. This is the opposite of the requirement that they knew, or ought to know the conduct was causing harassment.
So, it is pretty clear that this is ‘subjectively’ causing you harassment, alarm and distress, so, we then take an objective look at this. Would a reasonable person, with all the available information see this as harassing (I believe so). The only other argument that could be presented is, would the police know, or ought to know, with all the information that this was harassment?
The question is, should the police ‘ought to know’ that Harassment is a summary only offence that has a stature of limitation of 6 months.
Obviously, this is a YES.
A complaint was made to the police regarding this, stating that the farce of an investigation was a course of conduct of harassment. The complaint was NOT UPHELD.
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