Security staff unlawfully detained and restrained me – what can I do?

Our Human Rights team regularly deals with cases where persons have been falsely imprisoned and unlawfully restrained by the state, such as by police. However, these kinds of claims can also arise at the hands of non-state actors – for example, where the detention and/or restraint is carried out by security staff or bouncers.

In such cases, similar kinds of claims arise as with state actors and it is possible to seek compensation, although the law justifying the detention or restraint is different. We explore this further below.

False imprisonment

False imprisonment has two elements: (i) detention and (ii) lack of lawful authority for the detention.

Regarding the first element, detention can occur without someone being confined in “four walls”; in other words, it can occur outside and in a public place. The key question is whether a person is being required to stay and is not in a position to leave.

Regarding the second element, since security guards and bouncers are not state actors, any restraint or detention is effectively a citizen’s arrest, and the relevant law applies; section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

A person other than a police officer can make an arrest using reasonable (minimal) force where someone is in the act of committing an indictable (i.e. serious) offence, or where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that someone is committing an indictable offence; and that it is necessary to arrest the person in question because it will either prevent the person: causing harm to themselves or others; suffering physical injury; causing loss or damage to property; or making off before a police officer can assume responsibility for them.

Detention must be lawful from beginning to end; it must be lawful minute-by-minute. As soon as the detention is unlawful, a claim for false imprisonment arises.


Any unwanted touching constitutes a battery in the absence of lawful excuse or justification. The unwanted touching must be intentional or reckless.

Therefore, if a person is touched or restrained during a citizen’s arrest, and there is no lawful basis for it, this touching and restraint would amount to battery. Even if the person conducting the restraint can establish a lawful basis for the restraint, if the force used was excessive, this can amount to a battery. It is not necessary for the physical contact to have caused pain or injury, however, the extent of pain and injury determines the extent of damages awarded.

Aggravated damages

Aggravated damages may be relevant if the manner or motives of the person(s) conducting the detention and restraint have the effect of aggravating the damage caused to a person.

Awards of aggravated damages are discretionary and the courts do not award them as a matter of course. It comes down to the facts of each individual case and there is always a risk they will not be awarded. The court may simply feel it inappropriate to make such an award and feel the “basic’”damages are sufficient in and of themselves, to compensate a person for what happened.

If you believe you may have been unlawfully detained and restrained by a state or a non-state actor, our expert team of experienced police action, civil liberties and human rights solicitors are always happy to discuss this further with you. Please call our office on 0207 632 4300.


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