Bungled police raids last year cost taxpayer £500,000

Police pay out £500,000 for damage in bungled house raids: Poor information leads to the wrong houses being entered, often next door to the actual target

Police in Britain paid out more than half a million pounds last year to repair doors, ceilings and even mantelpiece ornaments smashed in raids that were based on wrong information.

Bungles included a string of heavy-handed operations at properties next door to the real targets, leaving householders terrified and facing months of negotiation for payments.

The Metropolitan police accounted for more than half the national total, with £283,829 paid overall and the highest individual bill, for £6,932. The Police Service of Northern Ireland came second, with £45,072, followed by Lothian and the Borders, with £43,880.

The level of error was criticised by the Taxpayers' Alliance, whose political director, Susie Squire, called the amount "much too high". She said: "It is very important that police are able to fight crime effectively, but this indicates that, in many cases, they are acting in a destructive and careless manner and without enough evidence.

"If they are more careful in future, then this money could be put towards better frontline policing."
The payments, revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, involved 3,607 cases which were overwhelmingly the result of errors in compiling evidence or administration prior to raids. Case after case lists "incorrect address" or "entering the wrong property" as the reason for agreeing to compensation.

Durham police replaced 35 doors that were battered down and Northamptonshire police replaced eight, including one in Wellingborough belonging to Carly Payne, a 24-year-old nursery nurse, who was breastfeeding her five-day-old daughter Bella when police with a battering ram stormed in.

They arrested her partner, stepfather and a friend before realising that the drugs raid warrant was for next door. Payne, whose door was replaced three months later, said: "Northants police told me these mistakes were rare but it looks like the police screw things up all over the country. I can't believe there have been so many mistakes. The police need to do their homework much better in the future."

Other successful claims included damage for a pet cage and a tent ripped open. Half the payments, which were also relatively high in Kent (£26,523) and Thames Valley (£25,725), were for doors, with lock repairs, replastering and redecoration also at the top of the list.

The Home Office said that compensation policy was decided at force level but most police authorities draw tight legal lines round repayments. A spokesman for the Gwent force said: "The critical factor is simply whether forced entry is legal, proportionate and reasonable given the circumstances."

Tayside police said: "Compensation is only paid for damage deemed to be caused accidentally, maliciously or with gross recklessness." The Metropolitan police said that claims had to have evidence of police negligence to succeed.

Compensation for damage to the homes of people subsequently convicted was described by the top-paying forces as "very unlikely".

The Guardian (28 December 2009)