Police investigations

Published: 20 August 2013
  • Many more cases are investigated by the police than go to court.
  • Association of Chief Police Officers guidance was published in 2010.
  • It aims to end inappropriate police investigations and ensure police compliance with CPS policy.

In 2009, a report produced by the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) confirmed long-held fears that the scope and approach to investigations of alleged criminal HIV transmission in England and Wales may go far beyond what the law intends.1

The report found that although there were some examples of good practice –including offering post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) promptly to a complainant who had been potentially exposed that night, and taking action to prevent inappropriate public disclosure – much more was found to be lacking, including:

  • A poor police understanding of HIV, leading to inappropriate management of cases.
  • A lack of clarity amongst police officers about the current law, and what is, and what is not, an offence.
  • Unnecessarily long and drawn-out investigations, ranging between four and twelve months for cases that did not result in prosecution, and between 6 and 34 months for those that did.
  • Difficulties in reconciling the realities of HIV transmission with the requirements of the charge under general English assault law.

In order to address some of the concerns raised in the report, guidance materials were developed for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) by a working group that included police officers, the Crown Prosecution Service, the National Policing Improvement Agency and NAT (formerly National AIDS Trust).

The guidance aims both to end inappropriate police investigations and to ensure, when an investigation is considered necessary, that police forces and officers investigate allegations of criminal HIV transmission in a way that:

  • Is consistent with CPS prosecution policy;
  • Is appropriately informed about HIV from both a clinical and social perspective;
  • Is respectful of human rights and confidentiality; and
  • Does not prolong an investigation longer than necessary.

The guidance consists of six documents that are available to police officers via an online facility called the Police Online Knowledge Area (POLKA), which is hosted by the National Police Improvement Agency. They are also available on NAT’s website.2

Key ACPO guidance documents include:

  • HIV key facts for police: This document gives information on HIV for police officers, including key biological and clinical facts, information on PEP, HIV testing, medication and discrimination issues.
  • Police investigation flowchart: This flowchart sets out the overall investigative process for police once an allegation is made and clarifies the implications of the CPS prosecution policy for the conduct of investigations. It makes it clear that there should be no investigation if there is no complainant or if the complainant has not tested HIV positive. Police officers are advised to review cases on an ongoing basis with the CPS to ensure that only legitimate complaints are pursued. 
  • Evidential flowchart: This document sets out what key evidence should be collected, in what order, and when to end the investigation if there is no evidence of a crime.
  • Initial contact via GUM clinics: This document recommends that where third parties emerge during a police investigation whose HIV status is of interest to the police, initial contact with the individuals should be made by a GUM (sexual health) clinic rather than by the police themselves.
  • Communication strategy: This document gives some guidance to police officers on communication around an ongoing and completed investigation, and deals with issues of confidentiality and media relations.
  • Accused under 18?: This document alerts police officers to the requirement to have special consideration of their process where the accused is under 18.

Anecdotal reports suggest, at present, rank and file police officers have limited awareness of this guidance. Moreover, inappropriate investigations continue to occur.3

NAT has also produced a leaflet for people with HIV explaining the guidance. 'Police Investigation of HIV Transmission' is available at: http://www.nat.org.uk/Media library/Files/Policy/2011/Police Investigation of HIV Transmission ACPO leaflet 2011-3.pdf


  1. THT Policing Transmission: a review of police handling of criminal investigations relating to transmission of HIV in England and Wales 2005-2008. London: THT , 2009
  2. National Aids Trust and Association of Chief Police Officers ACPO Investigation Guidance relating to the Criminal Transmission of HIV. NAT/ACPO, available at http://www.nat.org.uk/Our-thinking/Law-stigma-and-discrimination/Police-investigations.aspx (date accessed: 15 July 2013), 2010
  3. Personal correspondence with Lisa Power, THT. , 2013
This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.
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We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

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