As a specialist Actions Against the Police Solicitor, I pursue numerous claims on behalf of my clients for damages under the tort of False Imprisonment ie compensation for my clients being subject to unlawful detention whether that detention is 5 minutes, 5 hours or 5 days (etc). By their very nature, the majority of these cases are brought against police forces who routinely subject people to deprivation of their liberty whether relatively briefly during a stop on the street or for much longer periods, by holding people in police cells for several hours/days.
It is therefore natural for claims for False Imprisonment, sometimes colloquially referred to as “unlawful arrest”, to be associated primarily with the Police.
However, just as any of us can be the victims of False Imprisonment, so equally any of us can commit this tort, whether we are Police officers or not, if we subject another individual to deprivation of their freedom of movement without a legal basis to do so.
I have previously blogged about a case in which I successfully recovered damages from a taxi firm after one of their drivers locked my client in his cab because she had insufficient money to pay the fare.
Another, and even more common example, of a False Imprisonment claim where the Defendant is not the police is the case I am going to talk about today, where my client was detained and then ejected from a Burger King restaurant by a Security Guard.
It is of course perfectly valid for any of us – whether it is in the course of our private lives, or through the course of our employment (such as security personnel) – to use force to restrain, detain or eject a person from premises if there are lawful grounds for doing so such as self defence, or to prevent that person from committing a criminal offence or a Breach of the Peace, or to restrain them until the police can arrive (the so-called ‘citizen’s arrest’).
It is, for example, valid for security guards to detain a suspected shop lifter, provided there are reasonable grounds to suspect that such an offence has been committed.
However, in the case I am blogging about today, it was quite apparent that there were no reasonable grounds for the security guard’s actions against my client.
My client, who I shall refer to as Rebecca, was a young woman out with a group of friends, attending a music concert in Liverpool City Centre.
In the early hours of the morning, having left the concert my client and her two female friends entered the premises of the Burger King restaurant.
My client and her friends, in good spirits, ordered and were served food and sat down at a table in order to eat.
The Burger King restaurant was at the time being patrolled by a Security Guard in a high visibility jacket.
Whilst sitting and eating her food, Rebecca was aware of some other young women (whom she did not know) who were sitting at an adjacent table.
One of the girls at this other table then threw some food (believed to be a single French fry) towards the Security Guard who was standing at the food service counter, with his back turned to the customers.
During the subsequent course of the claim, I obtained the CCTV video footage of this incident from the restaurant’s security cameras, and from this footage it was clear that the security guard did not and could not have seen who had thrown the chip at him, but on turning around he immediately marched up to my client in the apparent (mistaken) belief that it was her. There was no objective reason why the Security Guard should have picked my client out from amongst all the other customers who ‘could’ have thrown the chip at him. Sadly, he had jumped to the wrong conclusion and was ignoring the real culprit.
My client tried to explain to the Security Guard that it was not her who had thrown the food at him.
The Security Guard refused to listen to Rebecca and instructed her to leave the premises.
As it became clear to Rebecca that the Security Guard was not going to accept what she was saying, she stood up, and picked up her handbag with the intention of leaving the premises, albeit under protest.
Rebecca did continue to protest her innocence to the Security Guard, understandably frustrated at being treated so unfairly, but did not refuse to leave the premises. She was now on her feet, and having collected her coat (which had been laid on the table) was preparing to leave, whilst making it very clear to the Security Guard that she had not thrown the food and she felt his behaviour to be entirely unreasonable.
The interaction between the Security Guard and Rebecca had not lasted very long – from the CCTV footage it is clear that no more than 2 minutes past since the initial ‘chip throwing’ incident- when the Security Guard, apparently unhappy at Rebecca’s continued protests of her innocence, suddenly and without warning seized hold of her by her left arm.
Rebecca instinctively tried to pull away but the security guard’s grasp was too strong and powerful and she could not escape from his grip.
The Security Guard then twisted Rebecca’s arm up behind her back and force-marched her towards the exit from the restaurant.
Rebecca was immediately aware of pain in her left arm and recalled calling out in pain but the Security Guard would not release his grip upon her.
The Security Guard kept hold of Rebecca, before ushering her out of the door onto the street.
Rebecca’s two friends, who had tried to come to her assistance in view of the assault being perpetrated by the Security Guard, were then also ejected from the premises by him.
In a state of understandable shock and distress, and experiencing pain and discomfort to her left arm, Rebecca then took a hackney cab to the Accident and Emergency Department at the local hospital for medical treatment and advice.
Whilst it is immediately apparent from these facts that Rebecca would have a claim against the Security Guard (and hence his employers) for assault and battery occasioning personal injury (the Guard’s manhandling of her left arm) I also knew at once that Rebecca had a valid claim for False Imprisonment. This arose from the moment the Security Guard laid hands on her and compelled, or force-marched, her to go towards, and then through the door from the restaurant into the street outside. During this period – albeit that it lasted less than a minute – she was completely deprived of her freedom of movement; loss of liberty is not just when you are held in one place -classically a locked cell with no means of escape- but also applies if you are being forced to move by a person against your will.
I advised Rebecca that it was correct for her to bring a claim not just for personal injury, but also for False Imprisonment as although the damages payable for a loss of liberty of less than a minute are not especially high, a successful claim in the tort of False Imprisonment also gives rise to a potential higher tier of damages known as Aggravated damages.
Aggravated damages apply where a person has suffered a gross affront to their personal dignity and integrity and/or has suffered from arbitrary, intimidating and oppressive behaviour, and includes compensation for such things as injury to feelings, public humiliation, distress, indignation and other mental suffering not amounting to psychiatric injury.
Pursuant to the case of Thompson & Hsu v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis  QB 498 the level of an aggravated damages award begins at £1,000 (to be updated for inflation since 1997) and can rise as high as twice the ‘basic’ amount of damages (ie the ordinary compensation awarded for the other elements of the claim such as injury and the duration of the False Imprisonment itself).
It is a discretionary award and is not granted in every case but I felt that Rebecca had a strong argument in view of the unpleasant treatment that was meted out to her.
In response to the claim which I brought on behalf of Rebecca, the Security Guard’s employers initially denied any wrongdoing on his part and refused to offer compensation. I subsequently issued County Court proceedings against them and I am pleased to report that prior to trial we achieved a settlement of £7,100 on behalf of Rebecca which I believe reflected fair compensation for the wrongs which had been committed against her.
If you have suffered False Imprisonment at the hands of staff members or security personnel in a store or restaurant please contact me for advice. As in Rebecca’s case, it could well be worthwhile in pursuing a claim even if the period of False Imprisonment was not especially long. Everybody is entitled to respect for their bodily dignity, integrity and personal liberty and it is through the enforcement of valid False Imprisonment claim such as Rebecca’s that these standards are upheld throughout society.