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.



Trespass:

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:

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.

Criminal Damage:

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.



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.



Threatening behaviour:

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.



In simple terms you can avoid problems by following a few simple steps:

  1. Use only existing entry points to get into a property
  2. Don't cause damage or take items away from a property
  3. If caught leave when requested and be nice to the person asking you to leave
  4. Don't take anything with you that could be construed as a 'tool' for the purposes or breaking and entering or causing criminal damage.