Is it legal to carry a wooden truncheon in the UK?
Is a wooden truncheon an offensive weapon?
[Editorial note: this article was written in 2021, please read it in conjunction with >this article< from 2023 which cites amendments.]
These are questions that crop up from time to time and the answer is not black and white. In short, it depends on why you are carrying it and if you intend it to be a weapon or not. The intent is what would define it as an offensive weapon or not.
Let’s delve into the subject a little more.
A wooden truncheon of the type the police used to use isn’t classified as an offensive weapon in and of itself unless it is being used as one or you intend to use it as one.
The law clearly describes offensive weapons in The Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988, and this is what that law says:
Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (offensive weapons) shall apply to the following descriptions of weapons, other than weapons of those descriptions which are antiques for the purposes of this Schedule:
- (a)a knuckleduster, that is, a band of metal or other hard material worn on one or more fingers, and designed to cause injury, and any weapon incorporating a knuckleduster;
- (b)a swordstick, that is, a hollow walking-stick or cane containing a blade which may be used as a sword;
- (c)the weapon sometimes known as a “handclaw”, being a band of metal or other hard material from which a number of sharp spikes protrude, and worn around the hand;
- (d)the weapon sometimes known as a “belt buckle knife”, being a buckle which incorporates or conceals a knife;
- (e)the weapon sometimes known as a “push dagger”, being a knife the handle of which fits within a clenched fist and the blade of which protrudes from between two fingers;
- (f)the weapon sometimes known as a “hollow kubotan”, being a cylindrical container containing a number of sharp spikes;
- (g)the weapon sometimes known as a “footclaw”, being a bar of metal or other hard material from which a number of sharp spikes protrude, and worn strapped to the foot;
- (h)the weapon sometimes known as a “shuriken”, “shaken” or “death star”, being a hard non-flexible plate having three or more sharp radiating points and designed to be thrown;
- (i)the weapon sometimes known as a “balisong” or “butterfly knife”, being a blade enclosed by its handle, which is designed to split down the middle, without the operation of a spring or other mechanical means, to reveal the blade;
- (j)the weapon sometimes known as a “telescopic truncheon”, being a truncheon which extends automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to its handle;
- (k)the weapon sometimes known as a “blowpipe” or “blow gun”, being a hollow tube out of which hard pellets or darts are shot by the use of breath;
- (l)the weapon sometimes known as a “kusari gama”, being a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at one end to a sickle;
- (m)the weapon sometimes known as a “kyoketsu shoge”, being a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at one end to a hooked knife;
- (n)the weapon sometimes known as a “manrikigusari” or “kusari”, being a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at each end to a hard weight or hand grip;
We can see clearly here that a plain wooden truncheon or similar baton isn’t on that list.
To see how UK law might view a wooden truncheon in different situations, we have to look at legislation surrounding offensive weapons being carried in a public place.
What is an offensive weapon in the UK?
Aside from firearms, which you obviously can’t carry about, and the list above, Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 provides that an offensive weapon is any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person or intended by the person having it with him for such use by him or by some other person.
Is a wooden truncheon “made for causing injury to the person”?
The law is quite grey here and open to interpretation, not to mention proof of intent – and that’s why we have courts.
What if it isn’t a truncheon at all? It may be a ‘priest’ used in fishing. Wikipedia tells us this about a priest: a priest (poacher’s, game warden’s or angler’s “priest”), sometimes called a fish bat, or “persuader” is a tool for killing game or fish. The name “priest” comes from the notion of administering the “last rites” to the fish or game. Anglers often use priests to quickly kill fish.
When is a truncheon not a truncheon? When it’s a priest, a rounders bat, a tyre knocker (used by truckers to hit tyres to establish that they’re inflated) or any other type of wooden baton that has another purpose.
Is the old-style police truncheon above a weapon or simply a collectable item that might be bought by an enthusiast?
Almost anything can an offensive weapon if used as one. You could stab someone with a screwdriver. A baseball bat is used for sport but you’d know about it if someone hit you with one. The keys in your pocket become an offensive weapon if you punch someone with one protruding from between your fingers. The deadliest weapon you possess is your car – if you used it to run someone down.
You may carry a truncheon while you’re walking your dog to thrash your way through the undergrowth looking for his lost ball. Or indeed to hit the ball so he can chase it.
It boils down to intent. That is why wooden truncheons are not specifically outlawed.
Can a police officer decide what is and isn’t an offensive weapon?
We asked a serving UK police officer this question, and below is a synopsis of that conversation.
A police officer cannot conclude that a truncheon is an offensive weapon without taking into account what you say, the circumstances and the intent. It is ultimately for a court to decide if your truncheon is intended for use as an offensive weapon.
If you say it’s for self-defence – you’re toast.
A police officer could arrest you having satisfied himself you intend to use it as an offensive weapon. His superior at the station may agree and decide to charge you for that offence. A court would then decide if you were guilty depending on your defence.
The police officer we spoke to said it is simply a question of what might be considered reasonable in the circumstances. It depends on how he views your intent, the reasons you give for carrying it and also your attitude to his questions.
If you’re stopped in your souped-up VW Golf at 3am with three of your shaven-headed pals, a smell of cannabis drifting from the car, and you each have a truncheon stuffed up your hoodie, you’re clearly up to no good. You’re nicked. And quite rightly so.
If you’re an average sort of chap, who appears to be going about his lawful business, and let’s say you borrowed it from your brother who collects old truncheons, police whistles, handcuffs and general militaria, that may shed a different light on the matter.
Supposing you had borrowed it so your kid could take it into school for a topic they are doing on the police. That would seem to be a very reasonable reason for carrying it. It isn’t a weapon now, is it? It’s a collectable item borrowed for an interesting school topic or “show and tell”.
If you’re defensive, aggressive or antagonistic, he is more likely to take a dim view of the situation. If your attitude is pleasant and calm, you’ve given a reasonable excuse, nefarious intent cannot be established, the officer would have little choice other than to bid you a good day and send you on your way. Perhaps with some verbal advice not to make a habit of carrying it around.
The police officer we spoke to summarised by saying “it boils down to having a plausible excuse and your attitude”.
The likelihood of a regular person going about his lawful business being stopped and searched by the police nowadays is pretty much non-existent in any event. When did you last see a bobby on the beat? The last one I saw had a pointy hat and most forces haven’t worn those for many years.
The police are mostly all filling in endless forms about gender and diversity nowadays, and then we have silliness like this.
Some seem to feel that taking the knee in front of protestors is a good use of police time and gives out the right message.
Pound to a penny nobody was searching that crowd for offensive weapons.
Whatever. The modern rozzer has mountains of paperwork and many woke and PC things to consider nowadays and none of that is likely to involve rifling through your car door pockets for a truncheon. Think back to when you were last stopped by the police when driving (back in the pre-speed camera days I expect). Did they search your car? Probably not, as they would need to have reasonable cause to do so.
Stop and search laws are quite restrictive nowadays. Why would the police search you if you’re not doing anything suspicious? Regular people going about their day doing normal, reasonable things need not think about being stopped by the police.
The police are not lawyers. They’re not judges. Most of their decisions rely on common sense and people skills. The average copper doesn’t want to spend two hours filling in forms about your truncheon if you have a plausible excuse for carrying it with you, you’re a reasonably amiable type of cove and a court would likely kick it out anyway.
It likely depends on how much common sense you have and whether you have any understanding of the law and the law’s intent.
Say you have a truncheon in the glovebox of your car and the police find it.
If they ask: “What’s this for” and you reply “it’s for self-defence”, the police officer will sigh, worry for the future of humanity and arrest you for possessing an offensive weapon. Stupid.
If you say: “it’s an antique I was transporting back home” fine. If it’s a modern truncheon and you state that it’s for re-enactment, you collect militaria or just about anything plausible, you’d probably be OK.
The law (and those that uphold it) are more interested in your attitude than any potentially lethal or harmful items you might choose to ferry around in your car.
Anyone who carries stuff around with the intention of using it as a weapon is a potential criminal in the eyes of the law.
What might be a plausible excuse for having a truncheon about your person or in your car?
I mentioned above several possibilities. Here they are again along with a few others:
- You borrowed or bought it for a topic in your kids’ school or a ‘show and tell’ there.
- You bought it as a birthday gift because your friend or relative collects police-related items and militaria.
- You bought it from a fair/market/car boot for a low price to resell to a collector and make a little profit.
- You drive a truck, tractor or plant and use it to check tyre inflation.
- You bought it as you collect interesting police-related items like handcuffs, helmets, whistles, old police badges, etc. It’s an interesting piece of social history.
- You use it when walking your dog to delve through nettles to retrieve his ball.
- You’re an angler and you use it as a priest.
- It’s actually a rounders bat.
- You borrowed it from a pal who collects these things to use for a fancy dress party.
- You borrowed it for fun as your wife is going on a hen night and they’re all dressing up as policewomen.
- It’s a prop for a theatre production or play. Perhaps a TV prop.
- You found it while walking the dog.
- You bought it on a car boot sale and then sold it online to a collector. You’re taking it to your pal’s house as he is packing and mailing it for you as he is an eBay seller.
- You buy and sell bric-a-brac and collectables, you bought it and are taking it home to clean up and resell.
- You buy and sell bric-a-brac and collectables, you are taking it to an auction house or trader for a valuation with a view to selling it on.
- You’re fond of a bit of S&M and it is a sex toy to use later today with a similarly-inclined lady friend.
- Your wife likes dressing up in the bedroom and asked you to buy one online. You have an evening of booze and fun with her in a uniform and black stockings planned.
Lots of women have an Instagram account filled with all kinds of sexy photos of themselves. Many of those photos require the use of props for fun.
Photo credit: @CheshireOlga
Nobody would regard that pistol as an offensive weapon when it’s used as a prop like this, would they? She doesn’t look like she is about to rob the local post office. The gold bar and bag of cash aren’t real either.
So, is it legal to carry a wooden truncheon in the UK?
It’s simply a question of intent. If the truncheon is not intended as an offensive weapon, it isn’t one. Any more than a table leg, claw hammer or a screwdriver is. It would be up to the prosecution in a court to prove that you intended to use it as an offensive weapon. How do you prove intent? If you have a plausible excuse for having it about your person, that casts doubt. A jury ‘must be sure’ you are guilty.
Juries in criminal courts in England and Wales are no longer customarily directed to consider whether there is reasonable doubt about a defendant’s guilt. A judge should direct a jury that before they can return a verdict of guilty, they “must be sure that the defendant is guilty” (Regina v Abdul Majid 2009)
If you have a plausible excuse, don’t say silly things that would incriminate you and are generally credible, a prosecution for carrying a wooden truncheon on the grounds of it being an offensive weapon seems unlikely.
If you want a traditional British police-style wooden truncheon, we sell an exact replica of a 1960s Leeds City Police one with a leather lanyard at a very reasonable price. Click the button below to find out more.
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