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How to Complain about the police

This information was last updated: 17 April 2015

When can I complain?

The police do not always get things right and you can complain if you have been personally affected by the police’s actions. You might have been the victim of the police’s actions or witnessed the police doing something wrong. You might have been caught up in a police operation that had nothing to do with you.

Some of the things you might complain about include: –

  1. Physical or verbal abuse
  2. Excessive force
  3. Delay in or failure to properly investigate a crime
  4. Harassment

How do I complain?

You need to complain to the police force concerned and this can be done in a variety of ways: in person at a station, by phone, email or in writing. It is best though to put your complaint in writing so you have the chance to make sure you have said everything you want.

You will find out which methods you can use on the website of each force but for the Metropolitan Police this is their address for complaints: –

DPS Complaints Support Team
22nd Floor
Empress State Building
Lillie Road

You can have someone make a complaint on your behalf provided you provide them with written authorisation. If your complaint is serious or complex you may want to ask a solicitor to help you.

How long do I have to complain?

You need to make sure that the police receive your complaint within 12 months of the incident taking place. If they receive it after the police may refuse to record and investigate the complaint. If you have good reason for being late or if the complaint is serious you should still make it. If the police will not look into it then you should seek legal advice as this can sometimes be challenged.

What should I put in my complaint?

You need to identify as best you can the officer or officers involved. You should set out briefly what happened and how it affected you. You should include copies of any evidence you have. Make sure you keep the originals for yourself.

What happens after I have complained?

The police will acknowledge the complaint and then decide how to deal with it. If they think it is not serious it will be dealt with by the force itself but if it is serious the police must refer the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) Serious complaints include: –

  • incidents where someone has died or been seriously injured following some form of direct or indirect contact with the police
  • serious assault by a member of the police service
  • serious sexual assault by a member of the police service
  • serious corruption
  • criminal offences, or any behaviour that could be a disciplinary offence, that is aggravated by discriminatory behaviour

Do the Police have to investigate?

The Police can ask the IPCC not to have to investigate any complaint in certain circumstances. This can include if it was made after 12 months of the incident, if it is a repeat complaint or if they think it is vexatious. If this happens you can appeal and it’s a good idea to seek legal advice.

What can I do if I am not happy with the outcome?

Many complaints are sadly not upheld. You will be able to appeal to the IPCC. The police letter giving you their decision will explain how to complain but the IPCC’s contact details are:

Independent Police Complaints Commission
PO Box 473
M33 0BW
Tel : 0300 020 0096

You must make sure that the IPCC receive any appeal within 28 days of the date of the police decision letter. It often seems these letters take a several days to arrive so do check the date carefully as you might not have long. It is a good idea to seek legal advice before lodging the appeal if you have not done so already.

Can I get compensation?

The IPCC specifically say that they cannot assist with financial compensation. In many cases disciplinary action, a change in police practice or even an apology is all you need. If it is not it may be possible sue the police. This would include: –

  • Assault and battery or the use of excessive force in arrest or detention.
  • False imprisonment. This is restricting your liberty unlawfully – for example, detaining you without justification or for too long without charge, preventing you from leaving a demonstration
  • Entering or searching your home or property without proper authority.
  • Malicious prosecution. This is bringing a prosecution without any good reasons which then fails.
  • Negligence. This could include failing to protect someone who the police knew was at risk of being the victim of a crime.

In such circumstances you should seek legal advice. A lawyer will be able to advise you about the prospects of success and also whether you should and how you should make a complaint.


The information provided in this How To: is general advice and information and Wilsons Solicitors LLP accepts no liability for its applicability to the facts of your individual circumstances.

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