An initial arrest guide

Try not to panic

Take note of everything around you and try to record, in some manner, the chronology of events and the people you come into contact with. You may need it for later use. 

Do NOT admit or sign anything. Our experience taught us that what you do (or fail to do) within the first hours of your arrest may impact upon the rest of your life. Innocent people do regularly plead guilty

Later, you and your family/supporters may say, “What the heck did you do that for?” or “Why were you so stupid as to go and do/sign/agree to/confirm that?” It’ can all be used against you in the courts in the coming years.

Don’t be stupid or naive

Do not be the crazy Brit waving your passport, demanding a gunboat. 

Be careful!

  • they might play the ‘good cop/bad cop’ routine on you
  • they may tease you with dropping charges for a bribe, or if you sign a certain piece of paper

Don’t sign the paper (it will be in a foreign language and you will have no clue what it says). 

They have a system. You are in their system. Try to learn and bend with their system. 

Be respectful

Don’t be violent

Co-operate without implicating yourself


Later, I will discuss the pace of events in this new existence. How there are long periods – months or years – of relative inactivity, and then hours of intense, heart-stopping action and stress. 

I mention this now because at this initial arrest stage, this is probably one of the most blindingly intense, confusing and unspeakably stressful episodes of your life. It’s gut-wrenching. Plus, you may be hungry and thirsty and exhausted. 

From the authorities’ point of view, this initial arrest stage is often crucial in them 'nailing' you in some way. So, they may ‘sweat’ you. You can imagine what this might mean. Remember that they are supposed to use a qualified interpreter and not, as in our case, the prosecutor himself acting as one. Your lawyer should also be present. 

Otherwise, this is all totally illegal under international (and often their own domestic) law, but some may not care. An important point that you will quickly understand is that if the foreign state in question has decided to act against you, they are not going to drop their case because of some (in their mind) ‘technicality’ such as the prosecutor not having an interpreter present. 

Remember that ‘face’ is very important and that you are now the one who has entered their world!


I am now going to set out your rights. But you won’t need me to tell you how these are regularly flouted. The main ones I suggest are that you firmly request a lawyer (and interpreter) and that the authorities immediately notify the local British embassy

There may be much confusion and delay as something or someone turns up. Under international law, the local authorities must inform the British embassy. But do you think those police facing you know or care about international law? Such notification is patchy, but to be fair there is often a general understanding that when they arrest a foreigner (you won’t be their first), yes, indeed, they are supposed to tell the local embassy. Don’t expect some old consular veteran like me to turn up wherever you are within the hour. Those days have gone. Depending upon your location, the offence, the day and time, and, vitally, the character of the consular staff, it could be hours or days. 

The FCO’s official line is that they “aim to contact the arrested person as soon as possible after being told about their arrest or detention”. The FCO’s own internal guidance states: “Contact the prisoner (by telephone or in person) within 24 hours. Visit as soon as possible afterwards, preferably within 48 hours, if the prisoner wishes you to do so.”  

Local lawyers


Getting hold of a local lawyer is a subject in its own right. But you will need one as soon as possible. Your opportunity to get one will depend on whether or not the embassy has passed you their list of local lawyers. Alternatively, your local friends might help you, or the police station might even have a list. Whatever happens, be careful in your choice and with paying money or signing a lawyer’s contract. You are hardly in a fit state of mind. As I say, this will be discussed further later.


Everyone’s attitude to you will depend upon what you have done or are alleged to have done, and on how you now act. Did you smoke a joint with your mates, or take part in a human-rights demo, or drunkenly spray-paint an ancient Thai fortress? In these cases, the embassy might regard you as an idiot but will likely see what they can do to help you. If you are accused of murder or being a paedophile, however, the sympathy scale will not be in your favour. 



I am not going to advise you to pay a bribe. 

However, in the real world, they can and do work (sometimes). In my career, I regularly learned of Brits who had got into trouble, paid a bribe to the local authorities and got on the first plane out. 

In our case, in the Far East, we initially talked this over. We were ready and willing to pay a bribe. We wish we had been able to, as that could perhaps have been the end of it – or not! However, our lawyers told us that a man like me paying a local prosecutor or judge a bribe would stick out like a sore thumb. And going through our lawyer would have been risky too. There was simply no guarantee it would work, and it could have gone completely wrong. 

Paying a bribe will be your decision, based on your judgement and knowledge and experience of the country. What do your lawyers think? This is one of those instances where it could be argued that the more corrupt the country concerned, the easier it is to pay a bribe – indeed, it might almost be expected. In other countries, however, perhaps those less corrupt and with a veneer of honesty, the subject of paying a bribe is more problematic - less straightforward. It’s therefore going to be your decision.


Try to get bail. We did (£1,500). You might finally get a prison sentence of a year or two but have been incarcerated for more than that already just waiting for the trial. 

"On an average day, one out of three prisoners, or some 3.2 million people, are in pre-trial detention worldwide. In parts of the globe, pre-trial detainees outnumber convicted prisoners. Collectively, the roughly 3.2 million detained today will spend 640 million days in pre-trial detention. Some will spend only a few days in detention, but many will languish weeks, months and even years before their trials are finalised or charges dismissed. Even among Council of Europe countries, whose criminal justice systems are relatively well resourced and efficient, the average length of pre-trial detention is almost half a year.” 


It’s dreadful. Try your damnedest, then, to obtain bail. It will depend upon who you are, your attitude, who your claimed victims are (and their contacts and influence), what you are supposed to have done and a dozen other factors. If you are out on bail, you can defend yourself infinitely better. They may impose a travel ban on you, which they did in our case. Our travel ban went on for over seven years. Travel bans and pre-trial detentions are mechanisms regularly misused by authorities. 

You will probably be faced with two paths at this stage: either they are going to grant you bail, in which case there is a different life waiting for you to adjust to outside the police station; or you won’t get bail, in which case you are going directly to jail. 

Try to get bail.