Man’s conviction for electricity theft overturned as police entered property without warrant

A man found guilty of stealing electricity has seen his conviction overturned because police officers failed to secure a warrant before searching his home.

Charles McKenzie, 57 from Dundee, was arrested in September 2013 after police discovered he had illegitimately provided electricity to his 14th floor flat by linking a cable from the common stairway’s lighting system to his fuse box.

Police were called to the flat after SSE officers looked through Mr McKenzie’s letterbox and saw a cable connected to the light in his vestibule, which is connected to the communal stair lighting system, and leading into his flat.

However, Lady Paton, Lord Bracadale and Sheriff Principal Mhairi M Stephen QC at the High Court in Edinburgh yesterday ruled the subsequent police search of his home was illegal as officers had failed to secure a warrant.

Prosecution lawyers argued police and SSE employees legally entered the flat without a warrant as they were concerned about the imminent danger of a serious fire.

In a written judgment, Lady Paton said there was “no evidence, in our opinion, to suggest a situation of urgency or a possible danger to the premises or to the lives of those living in the premises”.

She added that the “general reference” to tenants’ safety was “too inspecific”, and therefore did not “entitle police officers to dismantle a door lock and enter private premises without a warrant”.

Evidence collected during the illegal search was critical in securing the conviction last year.

Lady Paton continued: “The evidence obtained on entering and inspecting the flat was, in our opinion, inadmissible, and the defence objection to that evidence was well‑founded.

“It is our view that what was seen through the letterbox was insufficient on its own to justify a conviction of theft of electricity.

“Accordingly, we allow the appeal.”

Police Scotland has said it will review the incident to see “if there are any lessons to be learned”.

Share icon
Share this article: