HC Deb 10 February 1998 vol 306 cc109-10W
Mrs. May

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he will review the powers of the courts to retrieve stolen property where it has inadvertently been returned to the offender and not to the owners; [27996]

(2) how many incidents there have been in the past year where the police have returned stolen property to the offender and not to the owner of the property; and what action has been taken to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future. [27995]

Mr. Michael

The Police (Property) Act 1897 provides that any person claiming ownership of property seized and retained by the police may make an application to a magistrates' court for ownership to be determined and for delivery of that property to the person appearing to the court to be the owner. The Act maintains the right of any person to seek an order for recovery of property within six months after the date of the legal proceedings but any such right will cease at the expiry of that period of time. It is also open to the police to make application under the Act to determine ownership.

Property seized and retained by the police and subsequently used as evidence in connection with a person's conviction is not returned to the offender but is disposed of in accordance with the Act. Property retained by the police and unclaimed after a period of 12 months, or, in the case of forfeited property, six months, may be sold at auction and the proceeds of sale placed in the Police Property Act Fund. Moneys from the Fund are, among other things, donated to local good causes and victim support groups.

I am satisfied that these arrangements are fair and that they generally work well. Information is not held centrally on the number of occasions the police have mistakenly returned property to the wrong person and the relevant time for correcting the mistake has passed. Where this happens, the police would be expected to pay compensation to the rightful owners.