How False Imprisonment Claims Can Be Made Against Private Security Companies.

Picture of Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer) and specialist in actions against the police claims.
Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer)

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

I recently settled an assault and false imprisonment claim for my client, Mark Holt. (He has agreed to me giving his details.)

Mark, 53, is a prominent local businessman and peace campaigner who has never been in trouble with the police before.

You can read his case report here.

False Imprisonment at a Train Station

On Tuesday 10 January 2012, Mark Holt (pictured below) was returning home from a day out in Liverpool with his wife. He attempted to pass through the ticket barriers at Liverpool Central Train Station but was prevented from doing so by a ticket inspector, and was then assaulted by a private security guard.

The guard was employed by Carlisle Security, a sub-contractor of Merseyrail, the station operators.

Photo of Mark Holt, who made a false imprisonment claim against a private security company.
Mark Holt, who made a false imprisonment claim against a private security company.

Mark, who was not misbehaving, was put in a headlock and forced to the ground by the guard, smashing his right front tooth and cutting his lip. He also injured his neck, shoulders, and back in the assault. He suffered psychologically and needed medical treatment.

Another Carlisle Security guard came to assist in pinning Mark to the ground while British Transport Police Officers were called.

To (literally) add insult to injury, the first security guard gave a false statement to the police who attended saying that Mark:

  • had thrown a punch, which missed;
  • that he was abusive and disorderly; and
  • that the guard restrained him out of fear for his own safety.

The police accepted this (false) version of events and arrested Mark for a breach of section 4 of the Public Order Act.

Mark was kept overnight in a police cell before being released twelve hours later on police bail.

The police later dropped the case.

Claim for Assault and False Imprisonment Against a Private Security Company

Private security companies will understandably be liable if their employees assault or imprison members of the public unlawfully but what about when a third-party, in this case the Police, imprison the individual? Who, if anyone, is liable?

Upon arrival, the Police Officers were given a version of events by the security guard. Although never challenged, I expect that the officers would say that they quickly formed a reasonable suspicion that a Public Order offence had been committed by Mark, so they were justified in arresting and detaining him.

The 12 hour detention would also be justified by the Police. They would say that as Mark had had a drink it was reasonable for his rights to be delayed at the Police station while he was ‘bedded down’ for the night. The next morning, he was interviewed and then released on Police bail.

So, on the face of it, the Police had acted lawfully.

But could the security company be liable instead for Mark’s arrest and imprisonment by the Police? Could they be liable for the officers’ actions even though the Police themselves had acted lawfully?

According to Lord Bingham in the case of Davidson v North Wales Police (1994), if a person merely gives information upon which a Police Officer decides to make an arrest, that person would not be liable. If on the other hand, that person’s conduct amounted ‘to some direction, or procuring, or direct request, or direct encouragement, that they (the police) should ….arrest’ that individual would be liable to an action for false imprisonment.

Here, I was of the opinion that the security guard had procured the Police Officers to act as they did and therefore the security company would be liable for both assault and false imprisonment.

CCTV Footage Helps Prove the False Imprisonment Claim

I obtained CCTV footage which proved that the security guard had assaulted Mark. It also showed the police attending and Mark being handed over to them by Carlisle Security’s guards.

In the circumstances, I claimed damages for Mark against Carlisle Security Ltd.

After I submitted the claim, Carlisle Security’s Head of Legal also reviewed the CCTV footage and responded by explaining that the company provide ‘byelaw enforcement officers’ who have the power to arrest and detain or issue penalties to passengers breaking Merseyrail’s byelaws.

He felt that his company’s security guards were acting correctly as they were assisting Merseyrail staff in enforcing byelaws, as they felt that Mark was not in a fit condition to travel. So he denied liability for Carlisle Security.

Following review by the company’s insurers, this denial of liability was retracted and liability admitted.

However, the insurers refused to settle at a reasonable amount so I issued proceedings for Mark Holt’s claim for assault and false imprisonment and eventually settled it for four times more than their original offer. This meant that Mark received a five-figure sum plus legal costs.

Private security guards, or ‘byelaw enforcement officers’, may seem like a cost-effective way for public transport operators to enforce their laws.

But, without the proper training, and recognition that their guards are acting with police-like powers, private security companies are at risk of more false imprisonment claims.

If you have a false imprisonment claim and want compensation 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.