An interesting story popped up in the news yesterday revealing that at some point last year a group of ‘urban explorers’ had visited the newly constructed Shard skyscraper in London.
This is all well and good you might think. Thing is, they’d visited it at night and without permission, they’d evaded security patrols and clambered all the way to the peak where they then scaled the crane at the building’s crown and took a few photos as proof of their reaching of the summit.
First of all as this is a police blog I’ve got to say that I wouldn’t recommend anyone try anything similar. As I’ll discuss below, such trespassing is against the law and not only this, can be pretty dangerous too. A fall from a construction site is unlikely to have worked out particularly well for the visitors and in the Shard’s case, the building has previously been occupied by foxes meaning they risked a mauling too.
The risks of being gobbled up by (presumably) hungry foxes aside, what does the law have to say about trespassing and is it something that you could get arrested for?
When it comes to entering another person’s land as a trespasser, the law you may be breaking is predominately a civil law. Us police officers deal with criminal law – the sort that can end you up in jail – and as such, we rarely are involved with civil matters other that to provide advice.
As walking onto another person’s property without permission, to give an example, is a civil concern, it is up to the owner of the land to take up a complaint in the civil courts if he or she seeks legal remedy. I’m not able to take my handcuffs out to deal with a trespasser as I don’t have the power to do so.
This said, it certainly isn’t the case that trespassing is exclusively a civil matter and there are several pieces of legislation that make trespassing a criminal offence under certain conditions.
The most obvious one is burglary which by definition is entering a building as a trespasser with the intention of stealing. This means that if you don a stripey top and clamber into someone’s property with the intention of filling your swag bag, you can expect a trip to the cells.
Under Section 63 of the Sexual Offences Act it is an offence to trespass on premises with the intention of committing a sexual offence whilst on the premises. Section 20 of the Firearms Act makes it a criminal offence to trespass on land whilst in possession of a firearm and Section 61 of the Criminal Justice Act gives the police the power to deal with trespassers on land who have entered with the common purpose of residing there.
Perhaps the best source of criminal law in relation to trespassing though comes from Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act of 1824 relating to ‘persons committing certain offences to be deemed rogues and vagabonds’. We now refer to the offence created under this section as being ‘found on enclosed premises’ and means that it is against the law to be found on an enclosed premises (which would include climbing on a building) for an unlawful purpose.
Sticking with the Vagrancy Act for a moment, it also includes provisions to define ‘who shall be deemed incorrigible rogues’ and makes provisions granting to courts ‘power of sessions to detain and keep to hard labour, and punish by whipping rogues and vagabonds and incorrigible rogues’. I imagine these parts have since been repealed but probably best not risk it…
Urban exploration is an area of interest to myself and there are some excellent websites knocking around the internet showing the exploits of those who are keen to document abandoned buildings around the world.
If you’re interested, I’d recommend taking a peek at Subterranea Britannica and also at Abandoned Britain – both which have some great photos from sites that will likely be lost to history over the next few years.
When it comes to urban exploring, ‘building hacking’ or however you dress it, the most important consideration is that it is done lawfully and safely. I can appreciate that this strips the fun out of dodging the sweep of the security guard’s flashlight however it is a fair point – the law is clear on trespass and from the sounds of it, the Vagrancy Act is not one you’d want to cross!