A common sight in today’s media is news and photographs of an organised early morning Police raid on a residential home or series of homes, carried out in accordance with a Magistrates’ Court Warrant.
These stories are released by the Police to proclaim their success in terms of the seizure of drugs, firearms and/or cash and the arrest of key suspects.
What is often not publicised is where frankly the Police ‘screw up’ in terms of planning or execution of these Search Warrants. Sadly, this happens more often than one might imagine and for all sorts of reasons.
Police get the wrong house!
I have just concluded a claim on behalf of Mr and Mrs S who live at 43 Lake Road, Liverpool L99 8BS with their 3 young children. (NB All personal details changed.)
On the morning of 2 August 2016, at approximately 06:45 – 07:00, Mr S was showering in the upstairs bathroom, prior to leaving the premises to go to work.
Mrs S was asleep in the matrimonial bedroom.
Unexpectedly, Mr S became aware of activity outside, beginning with the noise of his dog barking and thereafter banging noises.
Upon looking outside from the bathroom window, Mr S became aware of the presence of 3 armed Police Officers, who had forcibly entered his rear garden by breaking the back gate.
Mr S called down to the Officers to ask what was going on. They looked up and one Officer pointed a gun directly at him and shouted to him ‘Where’s Cody?’ and instructed him to put his hands up. As he did so, his towel dropped. Mr S tried to reach for his towel whereupon the Officer again shouted, warning him to keep his hands up. Mr S was shocked and frightened. He replied that he did not know anyone by the name of ‘Cody’. He was ordered to go downstairs to the front door. Mrs S was roused from bed by the noise.
As Mr S got to the front door, he was confronted by 2 Officers one of whom was pointing a gun at him. He was still only wearing only a bath towel, and was again told to keep him hands in the air.
One Officer then said “That’s not him”. It was clear to Mr S that the Officers had attended at the wrong address.
Mr S questioned the Officers as to whether they had identified the correct address. The Officers ignored Mr S and demanded his name which he gave. Mr S was then asked as to who else was in the premises. Mr S advised that his wife was upstairs.
Mr S was told to dress and to come back and to leave the front door open.
No search warrant or a copy was presented to either Mr or Mrs S.
Mr S returned to the front door and stepped outside. Mr S could see that there was an armoured Police vehicle and several marked Police cars. An Officer who was pointing a gun at Mr S told Mr S to walk towards him slowly and to keep his hands visible. Mr S was bare footed. There were various neighbours looking on. Officers told these neighbours to get inside and stay away from windows and doors. Mr S was frightened he might be shot. He was ordered to walk to a Police armoured vehicle and to then get inside which he did. Mr S was then asked his wife’s name.
Mrs S was then told to come outside. As she did, she saw an Officer pointing a gun at her and she was directed to put her hands in the air and walk towards the armoured vehicle and to get inside.
Both Mr and Mrs S remained under armed guard in the Police vehicle during which time they were led to believe that the premises were being searched. During this process, they were obliged to provide their personal details. Both felt that they were in effect under arrest and were not free to leave.
Following a period of approximately 20/30 minutes detention, Mr and Mrs S were advised that the Police had indeed misidentified their address and that they were able to return inside.
Notwithstanding their gross mistake, none of the Officers present offered an apology for the deeply traumatic events which had taken place. Mr S spoke to an officer about the damaged gate and was told that someone would be sent “to sort it”.
As a matter of good fortune, Mr and Mrs S young children had stayed the night with their grandparents. Thoughts ran through their heads as to what would have happened if their children had witnessed these events.
The arrival and presence of the armed Police Officers, the subsequent detention of Mr and Mrs S and the subsequent search of the premises were all witnessed by their immediate neighbours, to their great embarrassment.
Such was the upset and stress which had resulted from the Police raid, Mrs S was unable to attend for work that day.
Later that afternoon, a Detective Sergeant visited Mrs S apologised for the mistake which had taken place and provided a bunch of flowers.
Despite the apology which was made to Mr and Mrs S no explanation was provided, nor was any reassurance given that no repeat of the incident would occur in the future.
The incident was subsequently reported in the Liverpool Echo but there was no indication in the press coverage that the Police had attended the wrong address.
Having taken instructions, I was of the view that Mr and Mrs S had viable claims for assault, false imprisonment and trespass.
Both Mr and Mrs S had been caused to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful physical contact (the assault). Both Mr and Mrs S had been unlawfully detained (the false imprisonment). The police officers had entered Mr and Mrs S’s property without lawful authority (the trespass).
Following investigation, Merseyside Police admitted liability for all 3 heads of claim. It transpired that the Police had secured a Warrant for 43 Lake Road, L99 4FU.
Unfortunately, once the Warrant had been obtained, a briefing pack was prepared that by human error now had the Warrant address as 28 Lakes Road, L99 8BS and on the back of this, firearm officers were deployed to the wrong (my client’s) home address.
Both of my clients were understandably traumatised by reason of what had happened and I referred them to a Psychologist who recommended that they undergo a course of CBT. Both clients then underwent a short course of treatment.
I then sought to negotiate settlement and following discussions, I am pleased to report that my clients received total damages from Merseyside Police of £21,000.00.
My clients were extremely distressed by the intrusion and disruption which this incident caused to their lives, particularly the embarrassment of having the event play out in full view of their neighbours. But I think they were also conscious of how much worse it could have been were it not for the fact that Mr S was already awake, despite the early hour, and was able to interact with the officers prior to them taking their next step – which presumably (given the threat the officers obviously imagined they might face from the occupant of the house) would have been to kick the door down and burst upstairs with weapons drawn. I am sure we can all imagine the shock of being woken in our bed by armed men shouting instructions and the risk of how the wrong reaction could result in fatal consequences. An error no matter how small, by the police which results in an armed raid on your family, is not one to be shrugged off or forgotten lightly.