Stop and Search: How the Police Misuse their Powers (Part 4)

In parts 1,  2 and 3 of the series, I’ve pointed out that the Police have power to stop and search individuals both with reasonable suspicion (for example under Section 1 of PACE,  Section 23 Misuse of Drugs  Act) and without (under Section 60 CJA). Further, that an unlawful stop and search can lead to a claim for false imprisonment and assault/battery, compensated by an award of monetary damages.

Sometimes, a stop and search can lead to a situation escalating. For example, where the individual takes exception to being stopped and searched and this leads to his arrest for alleged criminality not associated with the primary purpose of the stop, for example, for obstructing or assaulting the conducting officer, breach of the Public Order Act or being drunk and disorderly.

Several years ago, I represented a young man of exemplary character who was training to be an architect.

My client, Ade was born in Nigeria and is black.

One evening, Ade had been playing a 5-a-side football at a local school.

After the game Ade got a lift home with 2 friends, Dan and Sam (who are white).  Dan was driving his BMW motor vehicle. All were wearing football kit and had seatbelts fastened.  Ade sat in the front passenger seat.

At around 20.30h the car arrived at traffic lights and was stopped by a Police van from the ‘Matrix’ department of Merseyside Police.

Two male officers and one female officer alighted and walked towards the car.  The driver of the van remained in it.

A male officer approached the driver’s door of the car.  Dan opened the door and was ready to alight when the officer said, “Stay in the car”.

A male Police Officer came to Ade’s side of the car.  This officer either said or motioned  to Ade that he should alight from the car. Within the officer’s view Ade began to and after a few seconds managed to remove his seat belt and then alighted.  The female Police Officer was standing nearby.

The male officer asked Ade  a number of questions about where he was coming from and what he had been doing.  In answer to those questions Ade confirmed that he was going home, having been playing football.  Ade gestured in the direction of his home on a nearby estate.

The officer told Ade to empty his pockets and Ade, still in football kit indicated he hadn’t any.

The officer then used the palm of his hand upon Ade’s back to usher him towards and then into the back of the police van.

The officer then asked Ade if he had anything on him.  Ade confirmed that he did not.  The officer then told Ade to lose his attitude and to remove his shoes and socks.  Ade was surprised at the officer’s comment about his attitude; he had quietly done everything asked of him.

Ade removed his shoes and socks as requested, revealing nothing of note.

It is worthwhile pointing out that only Ade was searched by the Police.  Neither of his two white companions were.

The officer then informed Ade that he was going to give him a fine for not wearing a seatbelt.

On hearing this, Ade was incredulous.  He had in fact been wearing a seatbelt, as the officer had seen.  Ade told the officer that he always wore a seatbelt and that moreover in the car in which he had been travelling there was an automated warning system which “beeped” continually if a seatbelt was not worn by any occupant.

Ade asked the officer whether he was serious and affirmed that he had been wearing his seatbelt.  The officer told him that he had not been wearing it and began to ask Ade to provide his name and address which he did.  Ade was incredulous but, as before, compliant. Ade was handed a Fixed Penalty Notice and told to get out of the van and not to get into further trouble.

Ade advised the officer that he intended to make a complaint because the way he had been treated was  completely unacceptable to which the officer replied, “Go on then”.

Ade having alighted from the van, for the purposes of his intended complaint attempted to copy its registration number into his mobile phone but the van drove away before he could do so completely.

Ade therefore asked  Dan to follow the van so that he could record its registration number.

After a few minutes, they got close enough to the van to record its registration number when it came to a halt.

Ade alighted from the BMW and approached the front passenger door of the van. The officer in the front passenger seat leant out of the window and  Ade requested his details.

At this, the officer covered his shoulder and pretended to be on his radio.  The officer asked what the matter was and if everything was okay and then alighted from the van.  Ade replied, “No, everything is not ok”.  Ade felt angry but remained calm and again asked the officer for his number.

Ade was not swearing or aggressive but was assertive. There was no one else around.

Another male officer alighted from the van, walked around the back and approached Ade from behind.  This officer was aggressive in his attitude and told Ade that he could ‘get done’ for attacking an officer, disturbing the peace and/or wasting police time.  He accused Ade of being aggressive.

Ade felt angry but remained calm.  The same officer told him to stop being aggressive, even though Ade was not in fact aggressive. He then told Ade to sit in the BMW.

Ade replied, “No, I’m waiting to take down some details I’ve asked for”.  The officer then told Ade that he had given his final warning and that Ade would be arrested.  However, the officer did not say why Ade would be arrested.

Ade stood in the same position silently. Whilst this was going on Dan alighted from the BMW and was standing nearby.  He took hold of Ade’s arm and told him “Leave it be”.

One of the male officers then seized hold of Ade and took him towards the police van saying that he needed to have a ‘strong word’ with him.

The officer who had warned Ade not to be ‘aggressive’ then seized hold of Ade and twisted his arm with the help of the third male officer and pushed Ade against the side of the van.  Ade was handcuffed.

Ade did not struggle or resist.

Another officer then said to his colleagues “Let me have a word with him” referring to Ade.

Ade was then taken into the van. The officer was calm and friendly.  Ade told him that he had recently been stopped by the police and that it was wrong what had happened on that occasion and again on this.

Ade said that he had definitely been wearing his seatbelt whilst travelling in the BMW.  The officer said that he understood and that he would try and speak to his colleagues about letting him off.

Ade said to him that what had happened was wrong and that he thought that it was because of his colour.  Ade said that he was going to make a complaint against the officers for being racist.

Another officer alighted from the van and spoke to the two others.  Ade could not hear the conversation.

One week earlier Ade had been on his way home from work when he had been randomly approached, stopped and searched by police officers.  No reasons had been given.  At the time he had been wearing a suit.  The police had thrown his jacket to the ground, emptied his pockets and had then let him go. At the time Ade had supposed that the stop and search had been due to his age and whereabouts, not his colour.

The conversation between the officers lasted for approximately one minute. All the officers then got back into the van and Ade was transported to the local police station.

Ade was not told that he was actually under arrest or why.

Ade was by now completely incredulous, knowing that he had done nothing wrong. During the journey to the police station Ade’s handcuffs were  reapplied to the front.

Upon arrival at the police station, Ade was kept for nearly an hour in the holding room before being taken to the custody suite to be booked in.  During the wait the police officers appeared to be having some private conversation between themselves and passed a note to each other.

The custody sergeant asked why Ade had been arrested.  One of the officers from the scene asserted that Ade had been causing  trouble and had been a nuisance to people in the neighbourhood.  The officer then said that he had had to arrest Ade to prevent him from continuing to cause distress to the public.  The officer falsely told the custody sergeant that he had given Ade many warnings before he had arrested him.

The handcuffs were removed and Ade’s details fingerprints and DNA sample and photographs were taken.

Ade was released after some 45 minutes and issued with a second Fixed Penalty Notice in relation to the alleged public order offence.

Ade immediately lodged an appeal against both Notices, expecting to be prosecuted.

Of course, the Police officers gave a very different account of events.

One officer, PC B said he had spotted Ade travelling in the car without a seatbelt and therefore caused the car to be stopped whereupon Ade was issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice.  As Ade walked away, he allegedly shouted “Get ready for a race comment”.  There was according to the officers no search under S23 MDA.

A short time later, Ade allegedly ran up to the front passenger window of the van in which the officers were travelling waving the Fixed Penalty Notice and shouting “I want all your fucking numbers now”.

PC B got out of the van and explained to Ade that his details were at the bottom of the Fixed Penalty Notice.  Ade was said to be irate, so much so that one of his friends came over to calm him down.  Ade responded, “Fuck off lad, I’m getting these officers numbers”.  There were members of the public in the vicinity including children who were clearly shocked by Ade’s behaviour and he was accordingly warned to desist or be arrested.  In response, Ade squared up to PC C and came within an inch of his face and said “Why? Little man, what are you going to do?”  PC C felt threatened and so grabbed hold of Ade and forced  him up against the side of the van.  He was handcuffed and arrested for breaching Section 5 POA before being conveyed to the nearest Police Station where he was processed and then released within a few hours having been issued with the second Fixed Penalty Notice for public disorder.

Although Ade challenged both Fixed Penalty Notices and expected to be prosecuted, Merseyside Police in fact took no action despite his alleged criminality.

I strongly believed that Ade was telling the truth and with my assistance, he brought a claim against Merseyside Police for false imprisonment, assault and battery and misfeasance in public office.

Whilst investigating the claim, I established that several members of this particular ‘Matrix Unit’ (set up to fight drug related gun and gang crime) were the subject of a misconduct investigation by the force’s Professional Standards Department.  In short, the clear implication was that these rogue officers had abused their powers on this and other occasions.

Following the issue of Court proceedings, Ade ultimately recovered £32,500 damages plus his legal costs.   Although he was detained for a relatively short period of time (just under 2 hours), the initial stop and search, arrest and then detention had a massive disruptive impact on his life.  He missed out on a promotion at work and he suffered a post traumatic reaction that necessitated a course of counselling.

I think this is another shocking case of Police abusing their powers.  Here, after an unlawful (and probably racially motivated) stop and search of Ade, the officers escalated the situation by ‘fitting him up’ for an offence he had not committed (albeit a minor one) and then arresting him, quite frankly, because he had the temerity to complain about his treatment.  Thankfully, Ade’s example shows that with personal determination and the right legal help, justice can be done.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.