Is it an offence to waste police time?

Wasting police time

Under s 5(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (CLA 1967), it is an offence to cause a wasteful employment of the police by knowingly making a false report – either orally or in writing – to the police or anyone else that:

  • an offence has been committed;
  • there is a real threat to the safety of any persons or property; or
  • they have relevant information concerning some police enquiry.

Proceedings for this offence can be brought only by (or with the consent of) the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is a summary only offence and proceedings must be started within the six-month summary time limit. This is from the date on which the complaint was made, not from when the falseness of the allegation was suspected or uncovered.


If you are caught wasting police time you could be jailed for up to six months and/or fined. Instead of taking you to court, the police might issue you with a fixed penalty notice under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (CJPA 2001). This means you will have to pay a £90 fine but you won’t get a criminal conviction (the details will still go on the police computer though).

Related offences

Perverting the course of justice

If a false report you made has particularly serious consequences, the police could charge you with perverting the course of justice instead, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Police are more likely to charge you with this more serious offence, rather than wasting police time if:

    the false report was motivated by malice; you continued to stick to your false story, even when there were ample opportunities to retract; you falsely accused someone of a crime and they were charged and remanded in custody or tried, convicted and / or sentenced; the person you falsely accused suffered major damage to their reputation; you have a history and/or previous convictions of making false reports.

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