I spoke to someone recently who had had his freshly collected new injecting equipment taken off him during a stop and search by police, he wasn’t charged with anything, and he wasn’t given any paperwork. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this happening and it’s not what’s supposed to happen.
For most people who inject, especially if they commit acquisitive crime, a police stop and search is a normal part of the daily routine. Totally understandable really, some of the folk we work with are likely to have stolen goods on them and if they have committed theft they risk arrest. But in no way is this a reason for the removal of sterile injecting equipment if there is no other evidence of a crime.
There is no UK law (that I’m aware of) preventing possession of unused kit…. well ok technically you could cite the Knives Act but that would be really pushing it to the limit. It’s just not in the public interest to prevent drug users from accessing sterile needles.
If the needles are used they can of course be counted as evidence, although this would be extremely unlikely unless there is other supporting evidence of an offence, again this is because it would not be in the public interest to stop someone who injects returning used needles to an syringe programme. In fact the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has specific guidance around this:
It is well known that blood borne viruses including HIV and hepatitis C can be transmitted between drug users who use the same injecting equipment. A number of schemes have been established to provide counselling and exchange facilities where sterile equipment can be obtained…
These schemes need police and CPS co-operation because those who run and use them will necessarily commit offences under the Act. It is therefore not normally in the public interest to prosecute:
- a drug user retaining used needles
- a drug user possessing sterile needles
- bona fide operators of schemes
Any Stop and Search has to be for a good legal reason and the person being searched should be given the reason. The police are also supposed to give you a form detailing the reason for the search, this would also include outcomes – in this case that needles have been confiscated (this didn’t happen to the person I spoke to). Make sure you ask for this and make sure that you get the officer’s ID number. This can form the basis of any legal action you may wish to take if you think you are being harassed or illegally searched. You should let the needle programme you pick up equipment from know the details so they can follow it up.
As DEFRA say in the Tackling Drug Related Litter guidance it’s important to:
…establish an agreement or protocol between the Police and local agencies regarding the possession of used needles and drug paraphernalia.
Part of this should be the relationship with the programme manager and the local police. I’ve been involved in previous services that invite all new police recruits to visit the service and learn why we do the work we do. This can help police see the wider picture of harm reduction and greatly improve partnership working.
However if your NSP visitors are reporting sterile needles being removed this should be taken higher up the police management structure as the police involved may not be aware of the wide community harm reduction issues.
If you (as a person who uses drugs OR as any other member of the public) feel that you are being subjected to Stop and Search maliciously or for unlawful reasons I would encourage you to use the Bust Card from Release, or the Stop and Search card made by Mark Thomas.
Nigel Brunsdon is the owner of Injecting Advice. He’s been working in harm reduction since the 1990’s, previously a frontline needle programme worker he now splits his time between photography and developing online resources for drugs workers and users.