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.

False or hoax fire alarms

The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 makes it an offence to falsely give alarm of fire to any person who works for a fire and rescue authority. If you commit this offence you can face on summary conviction a fine of up to £2,500, imprisonment of up to 51 weeks or both. Alternatively, you could be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £90 under CJPA 2001.

Bomb hoaxes

The Criminal Law Act 1977, s 51 criminalises the making of bomb hoaxes. It is an offence to intentionally induce someone to believe that some article is a bomb which will explode and cause personal injury or damage. This offence applies to articles being placed somewhere or articles sent in the post or by some other means.

A person is guilty of this offence if they also communicate misleading information to another to induce them to believe the article will explode but, in fact, it is not a bomb. It is not necessary to induce a particular person; the intention to induce is the important element. For instance a statement like ‘there is a bomb’ will suffice.

Penalty on summary conviction is imprisonment for not more than six months or a fine and on conviction on indictment imprisonment for up to seven years.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.