Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, 2002, the standard assumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is reversed – the police may confiscate your property and it is up to you to prove that it was obtained legally before it is returned. It is a law which I fervently disagree with in principle, but what is truly astounding is that the police claim not to be using it to engage in ‘fishing expeditions’ when, even with the reversed burden of proof, a recently reported raid resulted in 80% of the seized property being returned (at great inconvenience and expense to the legitimate owners) and a conviction rate of less than 1%.
Think about those numbers. Of just under 3500 secure storage boxes searched by the police, only 30 people were found to have committed any crime; about 2800 people had to spend months dealing with the police, who were working on the legal assumption that they were criminals, to retrieve their own, legally obtained property; the remaining 650 or so people have not been convicted of any crime, yet have been deprived of cash, jewellery, and so forth. At best, the police were right, and those in the latter group really were criminals – if that’s the case, then I would question what kind of intelligence they were working on that led to the mistaken confiscation of property from the other 2800, and how they possibly think it’s justified to root through the private possessions of that vast majority in an effort to root out a few who broke the law. This is the best possible case, and that vast majority suffered great inconvenience and, quite probably, a significant financial loss. In the worst case, the 80% majority still suffered the same, but the 19% who never got their property returned were truly innocent, and have lost thousands for no good reason.
At the very least, an apology wouldn’t kill them.