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Saturday, 29 November 2014

TV Licensing: Alarming New Search Warrant Tactics

We are aware of an alarming new tactic being employed by TV Licensing in the aftermath of search warrant executions. 

It appears that even when TV Licensing wrongly searches a property the occupier could face unexpected search warrant obstruction charges months down the line.

Before going any further, let us stress that TV Licensing search warrants are exceptionally rare. Anyone who legitimately doesn't need a TV licence, should not be overly concerned about the threat of a search warrant. Further information can be found in our earlier post.

Steve, who was the victim of a TV Licensing search warrant despite being legally-licence-free, wrote a forum post explaining how the new underhand tactics had been used against him.

Posting on the TV Licence Resistance forums, he said: "I cancelled my Sky in December 2012 and made my last payment in January 2013 after both my Sky boxes stopped working. 

"I wasn't able to watch TV and therefore cancelled my TV licence on the 1st May 2013 and removed (TV Licensing's) right of access to my property."

Steve goes on to explain how TV Licensing - no doubt on the back of highly questionable evidence - successfully obtained a warrant to search his property, which it did back in May 2014.

The two TV Licensing goons executing the warrant were unable to get a TV programme on Steve's broken equipment and were satisfied that there was no evidence of unlicensed TV reception. They duly annotated the TVL178 Record of Interview form with a comment to that effect.

Scroll forward to October 2014 and Steve awoke one morning to find a rather nasty surprise in the post - a summons for obstructing TV Licensing's earlier warrant.

According to the completed Statement of Facts (the irony!) TV Licensing has now decided to bring charges on the basis that Steve failed to answer the door for two minutes after they first arrived at the property.

That's just TV Licensing's opinion, which is probably not borne out by any evidence at all. Steve's supposed delay in answering the door certainly wasn't mentioned to him at the time, nor did he notice the goons standing with a stopwatch when he first clapped eyes on them. 

The Statement of Facts continued that Steve and his wife, according to TV Licensing's interpretation of events, exploited those two minutes by running around the house and frantically hiding non-existent evidence of TV licence evasion they weren't committing.

We are extremely concerned by TV Licensing's willingness to offer such conjecture as "fact" when laying information to the court. The goons stood on the doorstep have no way of knowing what was happening in the property before the door was answered. They can't even be sure that their presence was heard.

In reality there are a myriad of legitimate reasons why it might take someone two minutes to answer the door. They may have been mid telephone call; they may have been in the bathroom; they may have been listening to music; they may have been in the back garden; they may have been plagued by God botherers or chuggers; Steve may have simply been waiting for his wife to answer the door or vice versa.

All of these are entirely plausible explanations for any short delay in answering the door. For TV Licensing to offer a more sinister and unsubstantiated opinion is breathtaking arrogance.

How can Steve be guilty of obstructing the warrant, when he probably wasn't even aware of who was at the door until he opened it? It's not as if he was expecting TV Licensing to call. Or is he meant to drop everything and hurl him self at the front door every time the doorbell goes?

In our opinion Steve's story is further evidence of TV Licensing's face-saving strategy of pursuing (trumped up) obstruction charges whenever a search warrant visit draws a blank.

It is again noted that TV Licensing has waited in excess of five months to bring this prosecution. We believe TV Licensing unscrupulously delays prosecution until the last minute, because it puts the defendant on the back foot. With the passage of time, the defendant is far less likely to remember the details of what they considered to be an uneventful TV Licensing visit. Of course the BBC don't admit to using that strategy, but last minute prosecutions happen too frequently to be coincidental.

TV Licensing visited Steve's home, found nothing to pin on him, so rather than face the embarrassment of leaving empty-handed decided to go for the consolation prize. He'd already told TV Licensing not to visit, so it probably had him pegged as a troublemaker anyway. 

It's a case of TV Licensing sour grapes, pure and simple.

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Edit (6/7/16): We have now written a more recent post, where we give the official number of TV Licensing search warrant applications in 2014-15. You can read it here.


Anonymous said...

They really have crossed the line this time with these tactics.

Being prosecuted for not answering the door quickly enough is something I’d expect to see in an authoritarian state like North Korea, not England.

But this would not stand up in court as far as I can see.

The burden of proof would rest upon TVL to prove that the householder had “intentionally obstructed” the warrant.

The only valid evidence to support that would be the TVL officers and/or the accompanying police officers witnessing clearly through the window the householder ripping out the TV aerial or carrying away a TV set top box.

Taking two minutes to answer the door would not constitute obstruction as there is no way of proving the householder knew a warrant was being issued in order to be able to intentionally obstruct it.

Chris said...

I can't see how this would stand up in court and I hope he challenges it and claims costs and damages when he wins.

Until he answers the door he has no idea that a warrant has been served and cannot possibly be obstructing it. If he delayed AFTER learning about the warrant (by either answering the door, speaking with them on an intercom, leaning out of the window, whatever), that's a different matter. Keeping them waiting for two minutes BEFORE they serve the warrant because he was having a shit isn't obstruction.

When are we going to see some formal investigation into Capita's ropey interpretation of the law as it applies to them regarding perjury for warrant application, lies as in this example and harassement of law abiding individuals via the post and visits. I'm sick to death of them sticking up their middle finger to the law in the pursuit of revenue.

Anonymous said...

Surely you can't obstruct a warrant until you know of existence? They wouldn't have known about any warrant until after the door was opened. I don't think it would be legally possible to obstruct something before you are aware of it.

admin said...

We agree: If he didn't know they had a warrant, how can they claim he obstructed them?

We'll be very interested to see how this one goes to.

Allegations of TV Licensing foul play are an everyday occurrence.