This is a guide to try and answer some of the common questions about accessing abandoned and derelict buildings. This guide is specific to England and Wales, laws in Scotland vary slightly and in Ireland trespass is a criminal offence.
Abandoned or derelict buildings almost always have some kind of access point that does not involve having to force your way in. It may be a broken window, an open door or something similar. It may involve some element of climbing / clambering and often isn't particularly obvious. A good walk of the perimeter of the building keeping an eagle eye out will reveal a way in more often than not.
If you cannot find a way in that does not involve breaking something, undoing screws, flipping locks etc then the building is not accessible.
There are two main reasons for this, one is that breaking things contributes to the decay of the place, it's no better than the vandalism that we so often see in these places and only encourages others to do the same. As explorers we use the maxim 'Take only photos, leave only footprints'. The other is the position of the law when it comes to such things.
There are a number of elements of the law relating to exploring abandoned and derelict buildings.
Exploring abandoned and derelict buildings without permission of the land owner constitutes an act of trespass and this is the most important law to consider when visiting abandoned and derelict buildings.
Any person can enter a place if the landowners permit it. However, this does not necessarily make a permanent right of access, and unless they have dedicated a bit of land to be permanently open it is within the power of the landowner or their agent/representative to ask any person to leave, assuming that person does not have some other lawful reason to be there.
The landowner or their agent/representative does not have to give a reason. If the person does not go immediately, by the shortest practical route, then they are trespassing. Despite the well known sign ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’, trespass is not a criminal offence and trespassers cannot usually be prosecuted. They can, however, be sued in a civil court. To be successful in court the landowner must prove a significant financial loss as a result of the trespass and thus it's extremely unlikely that this would ever happen.
Bottom line is if you are asked to leave then do so, via the easiest route.
There are things that can turn trespass into a criminal activity, namely causing criminal damage, taking items away from a site, and threatening behaviour towards staff/security (this can be verbal as well as physical).
Criminal Trespass is a new law introduced in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and makes any trespass on Crown land a criminal offence. The law was introduced primarily to stop protestors disrupting military actions or invading places like Buckingham Palace & The Houses of Parliament. However the law applies to any piece of land owned by the Crown (including MoD sites). The penalty for criminal trespass is up to 6 months in prison with up to a £5000 fine.
Full details of the sites covered under the act can be found on the Home Office website.
In addition to the above, National Rail land is also covered by criminal trespass laws and being caught in the act of trespassing on National Rail land can lead to a large fine (£1000). If you are deemed to be endangering safety or causing damage then punishment can include a prison sentence.
Taken from the CPS Website:
This means that if you cause damage, accidentally or otherwise you could potentially be charged with criminal damage, you could also be prosecuted if you are caught in the act of trespass with tools on you that could be used to cause damage. You also greatly increase the risk of being charged with theft (see below).Meaning of 'damage'
Damage is not defined by the Act. The courts have construed the term liberally. Damage is not limited to permanent damage, so smearing mud on the walls of a police cell may be criminal damage. What constitutes damage is a matter of fact and degree and it is for the court, using its common sense, to decide whether what occurred is damage <Archbold 23-6>.
The damage need not be visible or tangible if it affects the value or performance of the property.
Possessing anything with intent to force entry or destroy or damage property
A charge under Section 3 of the Act will often be appropriate where the evidence falls short of an attempt to destroy or damage provided the necessary intent can be established; for example, when a defendant is stopped with petrol and matches before he or she has had a change to set fire to anything.
Section 3(a) is confined to damaging property belonging to another. Section 3(b), which is the offence in aggravated form, relates to the defendant's own property or the property of the user.
Taking items away:
Taken from the Crown Prosecution Service website:
The implication of this is that it's always best to make sure the building you want to enter is definitely abandoned. If it is still being used for storage, no matter how mundane the contents, then if you are caught you could potentially be charged with attempted burglary. Even if the building is abandoned and you are caught removing items from it you could potentially be charged with theft.Burglary, contrary to section 9 Theft Act 1968
Section 9 of the 1968 Act creates two offences:
*Entry as a trespasser in any building or part of building with the intention of stealing, inflicting GBH or unlawful damage therein (section 9(1)(a) of the 1968 Act (Archbold 21-109))
*Having entered as a trespasser any building or part of a building stealing, attempting to steal or inflicting or attempting to inflict GBH on any person therein (section 9(1)(b) of the 1968 Act (Archbold 21-110))
The appropriation may be complete even if the criminal's purpose is not fulfilled e.g. thief puts shopping into his bag dishonestly intending not to pay, but is caught before leaving the shop. Charge theft, not attempt theft.
The Prosecution does not have to prove that there is in existence property capable of being stolen. For example:
The would-be pickpocket who put a hand into someone else's empty pocket searching for something to steal will be guilty of attempted an attempt theft. In this example, the charge should be drafted as an attempt to steal property belonging to the victim.
If you cannot charge attempt because there is no act which is more than merely preparatory, consider section 25 Theft Act - going equipped to steal, cheat or burgle (Archbold, 21-324).
Taken from the Crown Prosecution Service website:
Basically if you get caught, play nice. Security guards aren't known for their politeness, but don't antagonise them or give them reason to consider your behaviour to be threatening (this includes wielding maglites or throwing stones). They are just doing their job after all.Affray
(Archbold 2004 29-18 to 29-24)
An offence under section 3 is triable either way. The maximum penalty on conviction on indictment is three years' imprisonment and/or a fine of unlimited amount. On summary conviction the maximum penalty is six months' imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding level 5.
Under section 3 of the Act, it must be proved that a person has used or threatened:
* unlawful violence
* towards another
* and his conduct is such as would cause
* a person of reasonable firmness
* present at the scene
* to fear for his personal safety.
The seriousness of the offence lies in the effect that the behaviour of the accused has on members of the public who may have been put in fear. There must be some conduct, beyond the use of words, which is threatening and directed towards a person or persons. Mere words are not enough. Violent conduct towards property alone is not sufficient for the purposes of an offence under section 3. For a definition of 'violence' in affray - section 8 of the Act (Archbold 2004 29-38).
The offence may be committed in a public or private place.
The notional bystander test is explained in the case of (R v Sanchez  Crim. L.R. 572CA), and asserts that the hypothetical bystander, rather than the victim, must be put in fear for his or her personal safety. Apart from the hypothetical bystander, there must be present a "victim" against whom the violence is to be directed (I & Others v DPP (2002) 1 AC 285 HL).
The level of conduct appropriate for charges under Section 3 will often fall comfortably within the ambit of that anticipated within S4 POA. Affray should be considered in circumstances of serious and indiscriminate violence. Examples of the type of conduct appropriate for a Section 3 offence include:
* A fight between two or more people in a place where members of the general public are present (for example in a public house, discotheque, restaurant or street) with a level of violence such as would put them in substantial fear (as opposed to passing concern) for their safety (even though the fighting is not directed towards them);
* Indiscriminate throwing of objects directed towards a group of people in circumstances where serious injury is or is likely to be caused;
* The wielding of a weapon of a type or in a manner likely to cause people substantial fear for their safety or a person armed with a weapon who, when approached by police officers, brandishes the weapon and threatens to use it against them;
* Incidents within a dwelling should not be charged as affray merely because a lesser public order charge is not available. Offences of assault are likely to be more appropriate. Affray should be considered in circumstances analogous to those listed above where serious violence is used or threatened, and with due regard to the principles set out in R v Sanchez.
The accused must have intended to use or threaten violence; or have been aware that his conduct may be violent or may threaten violence.
The crown court is likely to be the more appropriate venue if a charge of affray is preferred.
In simple terms you can avoid problems by following a few simple steps:
- Use only existing entry points to get into and out of a property
- Don't cause any damage or take items away from a property
- If caught leave when requested and be nice to the person asking you to leave
- Don't take anything with you that could be construed as a 'tool' for the purposes or breaking and entering or causing criminal damage.