The UK’s 6 craziest criminal offences

By Ned Donovan

Often we read in the news or on forums about strange laws that people find amusing – laws that appear to involve killing Welshmen in Chester or pregnant women peeing in policemen’s helmets. The only problem is that many of them don’t actually exist.

But the following ones do. Here are six offences that are still on the books in England and Wales.

1. Handling salmon in suspicious circumstances


Under Section 32 of the 1986 Salmon Act, it is an offence to handle salmon “in suspicious circumstances”. There’s not much more that can really be said. Just don’t do it.

2. Firing a cannon within 300 yards of a house


In Section 55 of the 1839 Metropolitan Police Act, it is made an offence to discharge any “Cannon or other fire-arm of greater Calibre than a common Fowling Piece” within 300 yards of anyone in London.

If, however, you did have the cheek to fire a piece of artillery in your back garden “to the Annoyance of any Inhabitant”, then you shall apparently be liable to a serious punishment – “A Penalty not more than Five Pounds”, in fact.

3. Jumping the queue on the Underground


Within the first paragraph of the Transport for London Railway Bylaws, it is clearly made against the law to jump the queue on the Tube. The regulation states: “Any person directed by a notice to queue or asked to queue by an authorised person shall join the rear of the queue.”

So remember to think before you fight your way to top up your Oyster card.

4. Touching Pelicans


Deep within the 1997 Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces Regulations, it is made clear in subsection 24 of Section 4 that “touch[ing] any deer or pelican” is an act that is illegal unless you have received the permission of the Secretary of State.

So before you go and bother any pelicans, remember to ask Maria Miller first.

5. Wearing armour in Parliament


One of the oldest statutes that is still on the books in this country dates from 1313 and forbids Bearing of Armour, enacted by Edward II.

This statute, while originally written in French 700 years ago, still states that: “In all Parliaments … Man shall come without all Force and Armour.” The punishment for breaking the wishes of Edward are unclear, although we could ask Michael Fabricant to find out for us.

6. Being drunk and in charge of a cow


Unless you wish to pay the fine of 40 shillings and spend a month in jail, it is not recommended that you attempt to be in charge of cattle after a heavy night out, as, in Section 12 of the 1872 Licensing Act, you are guilty of an offence.

The section concerned also makes it illegal to be drunk and “in charge… [of] a steam engine”.