Exploring abandoned buildings is somewhat of a moral grey area. Depending on what kind of places you explore you may get caught by someone and your intentions will be questioned. Obviously, the best option is not to get caught but if you do then how you respond can change the outcome a lot.
First of all it is important to know the law. If you know you haven’t done anything illegal and you can calmly explain that you haven’t broken any laws and have no intentions of doing so then you are already taking a step in the right direction.
If you haven’t damaged anything, used force to enter the building, stolen anything and you have no equipment that would suggest those are your intentions then all you have broken is trespass laws (Which is a civil law i.e. not criminal).
Be open and transparent about your intentions, that all you are doing is taking photos and you didn’t mean to cause any issues.
Knowing your rights can help keep you safe and away from trouble. If you sound like you know your rights, they people are much less likely to go against them, for fear of prosecution.
Here are some useful to know rights:
Although someone can use “reasonable force” against an intruder/ trespasser, they can’t continually harm you, can’t harm you without reason to think you are of significant threat or detain you without evidence you have broken a criminal law.
If you are trespassing and a dog bites you then you are not protected by the law, unless the dog is deemed out of control. No one can set a dog on you or use a dog as a weapon legally. Another thing to note is the owners language, listen for any phrase which can indicate they intended for the dog to bite you, this could be used as evidence.
If a land owner sets a trap to deter or injure a trespasser then this is a crime and shouldn’t be done.
No one can forcibly remove you from a property, not even the police unless you are breaking a criminal law.
The main thing that will determine the level of confrontation is your attitude, always stay calm, polite and unthreatening.
I find the best response to any complaint, be it “what are you doing”, “you can’t be here” etc, is to play dumb. People often reflect emotions, people also become less aggressive if they do not feel threated. When confronted, stay calm, apologise and say you didn’t realise you were doing anything wrong and you are happy to leave. Even when they outline all the “do not enter” signs, just continue to apologise and play dumb.
One thing to note is how to apologise. Don’t apologise for doing something wrong, just apologise for thinking you weren’t doing anything wrong. “Sorry, I know I shouldn’t be here” admits fault, “Sorry I didn’t even realise anyone owned this place” doesn’t.
Another good way to calm someone confronting you is to divert the conversation. Asking about the building, the history or the local area shows you have more of an interested in the history than the items inside the property or in causing damage.
If playing dumb isn’t working and there is still a lot of hostility then you can start acting less dumb and let them know that you know your rights. You should still remain calm and stay respectful. Try not to sound argumentative but state your rights and how you have broken no law, it may also be an idea to start moving on to your next location.
Who Caught You & How Your Response May Differ
Member of the public:
If a random member of the public questions what you are doing you can either tell them you are taking pictures, ignore them or make something up. The aim is to get them to leave you alone without calling the police. Don’t act suspicious, again stay polite but just be cautious that the police may have been called if a member of the public thinks you are up to no good.
The land owner:
If you are caught/ challenged by the land owner then your best option is to do as per the majority of the advice in this article. Play dumb, apologies for not realising you were in the wrong and offer to leave. If they say they are calling the police then you can either choose to wait around or you can leave (a member of the public has no right to detain you or ask for your details)
Dealing with the police can be intimidating but the basics are still the same, although playing dumb may be less of a good idea as you don’t want them thinking they can take advantage of you. Be polite, state that you have not committed any crimes, you may also volunteer to be searched to prove your innocence. Although it is always best to comply with the police to get away quickly and without issues you should know that trespass is a civil offence and if the police are called and there is no evidence to say you have broken in/ damaged anything or stolen anything then all they are there to do is keep the peace. Unless you are arrested you don’t have to provide your personal details and you are not detained i.e. you can leave at any time. It may always be best to get verbal confirmation of any of the above points from the police, ask if you are not under arrest are you free to leave or ask if you are legally obligated to give your personal information.