Police abuse powers to arrest the ‘usual suspects’

Iain Gould, Actions Against the Police SolicitorBy Iain Gould, solicitor

 Despite the strict requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), it would appear that at least one police force, under pressure to increase the detection rate in relation to serious offences, admit to simply rounding up the ‘usual suspects’ without any evidence to suggest those individuals are responsible.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by J

Police abuse power of arrest

In a report commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, Vicky Kemp reviewed 5000 arrests made over a 3-month period in 2012 by Nottinghamshire Police.  She found that ‘a significant minority’ involved suspects who were known to be prolific in the past but who had been wrongfully arrested with no evidence linking them to the crime for which they had been detained.

Such a policy has strong historical roots in British policing. It is a form of ‘social control’.

According to some police officers who were interviewed:

  • arresting persistent offenders;
  • detaining them for up to 24 hours;
  • confiscating their mobile phones and shoes for forensic examination;
  • imposing bail conditions; and
  • searching their homes

will all help reduce crime.

Police legal powers abused

While it is debatable if such an approach to ‘social control’ was ever in place, cultural and technological changes in the 1970’s introduced a more professional and tolerable model of policing reinforced by the provisions of s.24 of PACE (1984), which stresses that the police must have ‘reasonable grounds’ for arrest. The law states that –

24 Arrest without warrant: constables

(1) A constable may arrest without a warrant—

(a) anyone who is about to commit an offence;

(b) anyone who is in the act of committing an offence;

(c) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be about to commit an offence;

(d) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an offence.

(2) If a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed, he may arrest without a warrant anyone whom he has reasonable grounds to suspect of being guilty of it.

(3) If an offence has been committed, a constable may arrest without a warrant—

(a) anyone who is guilty of the offence;

(b) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of it.

(4) But the power of summary arrest conferred by subsection (1), (2) or (3) is exercisable only if the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that for any of the reasons mentioned in subsection (5) it is necessary to arrest the person in question.

(5) The reasons are—

(a) to enable the name of the person in question to be ascertained (in the case where the constable does not know, and cannot readily ascertain, the person’s name, or has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given by the person as his name is his real name);

(b) correspondingly as regards the person’s address;

(c) to prevent the person in question—

(i) causing physical injury to himself or any other person;

(ii) suffering physical injury;

(iii) causing loss of or damage to property;

(iv) committing an offence against public decency (subject to subsection (6)); or

(v) causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway;

(d) to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the person in question;

(e) to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question;

(f) to prevent any prosecution for the offence from being hindered by the disappearance of the person in question.

(6) Subsection (5)(c)(iv) applies only where members of the public going about their normal business cannot reasonably be expected to avoid the person in question.

So, aside from the very specific grounds detailed in the Act, the police do not have the power to arrest without a warrant. Any arrest outside of these terms is an abuse of police powers, and can lead to claims for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and misfeasance in public office, especially if repeated as described in the Ministry of Justice report.

As a specialist actions against the police solicitor, in my experience it is not just Nottinghamshire Police who are abusing their power to arrest. Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I have repeatedly reported on police abuse, for example in describing the Andrew Mitchell ‘plebgate’ affair, and when discussing South Yorkshire Police’s claims that they have changed post-Hillsborough.

Police harassment of a current client

I am currently representing a 57-year-old man who wishes to sue Greater Manchester Police.  Mr X will openly admit that he has a chequered past but has served his time and says his offending days are over.  Despite this, he has been arrested for burglary at least nine times over the last 5 years and maintains that on each and every occasion, there has been no evidence linking him to any of the crimes (burglary or robbery). Certainly, no arrest has led to any successful prosecution.

Consequences when the police abuse their powers

Mr. X’s case highlights a policy that not only wastes police time and resources but also causes distress and yet further damage to the reputation of the police while the real offenders escape justice.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Insomnia Cured Here

The classic film, Casablanca, ends with Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick Blaine killing the Nazi, Major Strasser. Captain Renault saves Rick’s life by telling the investigating police to ’round up the usual suspects’. While that may have saved the hero in the famous wartime story, police officers in real-life England and Wales have no such excuse.

Advice for victims of police abuse

If you are a victim of police abuse and want advice about pursuing a compensation claim against the police, contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website.

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Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.