35,000+1 reasons to sue the Police

I am very pleased to see that the recent settlement agreed on the case of my client Paul Ponting is deservedly attracting media attention.

Paul has fought a long campaign for justice ever since he was arrested, and assaulted, by Officers of Lancashire Constabulary in June 2014; last week we agreed terms to settle his case for damages in the sum of £35,000 plus an apology from the Chief Constable of Lancashire as follows –

The Chief Constable wishes to apologise to you for the way the incident on 18 June 2014 was handled. 

The Chief Constable hopes that now your action against the Force has been settled you will be able to regain your health and, in time, your faith in Lancashire Constabulary. 

The background to this matter was that Paul and his family had reported to the Police harassment, including death threats, which they had received from a former employee of their computer maintenance and support business. 

Paul was a law-abiding family man who had never previously had any adverse dealing with the Police, and indeed counted a number of Police officers as personal friends, but he became understandably frustrated when months and months dragged by without the Police taking action against the man whom Paul knew had threatened to kill his wife and young children. Matters culminated on the evening of 18 June 2014 when Paul and his wife Anna were in the process of putting their children to bed and were visited ‘out of the blue’ by two Police Officers – Sergeant Hayes and Constable Ward – who delivered the ‘bomb shell’ news that no action was to be taken against the man who had been harassing the Pontings. This confirmed Paul’s worst fears, as he had knowledge that the man in question was a ‘Police informant’ and he had come to suspect that this was behind the apparent reluctance of the Police to prosecute him.

Owing to what Lancashire Constabulary have subsequently stated was a ‘mix up’ the two Officers who attended seemed to be under the impression that Paul and Anna had already been informed about the ‘no charge’ decision in their case, when in fact they had not, meaning that this surprise visit came as a severe emotional blow to both of the Pontings. Sergeant Hayes and his colleague then said they had no knowledge of the case, and therefore couldn’t answer any of the Pontings questions as to why no further action was being taken against the man who had harassed them.

A discussion took place on the driveway of the Pontings’ home, with Paul and Anna seeking answers as to why – in their eyes- they had been so badly let down by the Police; this culminated in Sergeant Hayes grabbing hold of Paul and placing him under arrest for an alleged ‘Public Order’ offence. The Officer alleged that Paul was shouting and swearing so as to cause distress to nearby members of the public; something vehemently denied by Paul.

As the Officers dragged Paul away before the unbelieving eyes of his wife, Paul although shocked did not attempt to physically resist the Officers in any way, until Sergeant Hayes sought to handcuff Paul’s left arm which was sore and tender following a recent injury. As Paul sought to ‘protect’ his injured arm from being grabbed, twisted and cuffed, Sergeant Hayes, in Paul’s account, seemed to lose control of his temper and sprayed Paul in the face with CS gas, before wrestling him to the ground. As now witnessed both by Anna and by Paul’s parents – who had arrived at the scene following a distressed call from Anna – Sergeant Hayes held Paul down on the ground, with a hand around Paul’s neck, partly choking him and making Paul struggle to breathe.

Numerous other officers then arrived and Paul was manhandled in a Police van and driven to Skelmersdale Station.

Following the subsequent complaint to the Police made by Anna Ponting, the CCTV footage from the Station that night was preserved, and I can confirm that it shows Paul being brought in with obvious injuries before the Custody Sergeant. Paul, understandably incensed – though not foul-mouthed- about the treatment he had received protested about his unlawful arrest and assault and demanded to see a doctor. The response of the Custody Sergeant was to order Paul to be taken to a cell, where he was held- down by multiple officers, who stripped him naked and left him degraded and injured in the cell, with only a thin paper suit provided for him to cover himself. Watch the shocking video here. I consider this to have been an outrageous course of action which was completely unjustified, a subject discussed in my previous blog about this case.

Paul was left naked, humiliated and in physical and emotional distress for several hours in the cell before the Police finally called an ambulance to attend upon him, Paul having suffered chest pains which he feared were a heart attack. Footage from the cell shows officers visiting Paul whilst the ambulance was awaited, trying to persuade him to dress in the paper suit they had left for him. Paul strongly suspected that this was more for the benefit of the Police than him; i.e the officers did not want the paramedics to find a naked, injured man in the cell. When Paul who was frightened to move too much because of his chest pains failed to put the paper suit on, an officer contemptuously dumped it on his head. All of this can clearly be seen on the CCTV footage from the cell.

On arrival, the paramedics quickly assessed Paul as requiring transfer to hospital, and he was finally allowed to dress in his own clothes again and was taken to Wigan Infirmary for treatment, where he was kept in for monitoring until the afternoon of 20 June.

The photo below shows some of Paul’s injuries. It was taken by his wife Anna, whilst Paul was still under ‘Police guard’ at the hospital. I would ask you to reflect on the fact that this was the result of what the Police deemed to have been a “welfare visit” to his home…

Photo of Paul Ponting in hospital.
Paul Ponting in hospital.

Some weeks later, having been released on bail, Paul was charged with a variety of offences including disorderly behaviour contrary to the Public Order Act, assaulting Police Sergeant Hayes and ‘harrassing’ Detective Sergeant Langton, the officer with conduct of the investigation into Paul’s own harassment at the hands of his former employee.

Magistrates Court Trial

The charges against Paul went to trial at Chorley Magistrates Court on 28 November 2014, where I am pleased to say he was completely acquitted.

In order to acquit Paul, the Magistrates had only to find that the charges against him were not proven “beyond reasonable doubt” but in fact the Magistrates judgment showed that they very much favoured Paul’s version of events over that of the two Police officers. Amongst their findings, the Magistrates concluded the following –

  • That emails Paul had sent to DS Langton did not constitute harassment and that the officer was neither alarmed nor distressed by them
  • That Paul’s behaviour on the evening of 18 June 2014 was not disorderly, and that he had posed no threat to himself or any others, including the Police Officers
  • That Sergeant Hayes was not properly acting in the course of his duty when he struggled with Paul, nor that the officer had reasonable grounds for arresting Paul.

Complaint Against Lancashire Constabulary

Within hours of the arrest, assault and strip- search perpetrated upon Paul, his wife Anna had lodged a complaint on his behalf with senior officers in the Lancashire Constabulary.

In my opinion, it would have been wise for the officers investigating Paul’s complaint to have reflected on the impartial conclusions reached by the Magistrates (as outlined above) and taken seriously the Pontings’ complaints about what had happened to Paul that night. In fact, sadly, but in my experience hardly surprisingly, Lancashire’s Professional Standards Department (PSD) chose to perform their usual manoeuvre of ‘circling the wagons’ and rebutting the complaint with the minimum of investigation. On 10 December 2014 a document purporting to be the final Complaint Investigation Report was sent to Anna Ponting, but it was, in fact, incomplete (missing pages). On 12 February a further (complete) copy of the report was sent. I was by now acting on behalf of Paul in regards to a claim for damages against Lancashire Police, and on review of the Complaint report I requested a re-investigation as there were blatant failings and errors in the investigation, most notably that the report was based only on the testimony of the Officers involved, whereas no effort had been made to take statements from other key witnesses such as Anna Ponting, Paul’s mother and father (who witnessed Sergeant Hayes’s shocking assault upon their son) and indeed Paul himself (a minor omission you might say…).

In response, on 18 June 2015 Lancashire PSD indicated that the Complaint was now been reviewed, and, indeed, they wrote again on 27 July, apparently acknowledging errors in the handling of the complaint. Paul and Anna took heart at this believing their Complaint would now be properly investigated, only to receive a further ‘slap in the face’ when Lancashire PSD declared on 22 September 2015 that following re-investigation, the Complaint was once against dismissed. Shockingly, it still remained the case that no statements had been taken from any of the Ponting family about the events in question. Then, in June 2016, following receipt of a formal letter of claim from myself as Paul’s solicitor, Lancashire Constabulary apparently changed tack again, indicating a further review of the circumstances surrounding Paul’s arrest 2 years previously would now take place…only to declare the following January, once again without any apparent effort having been made to gather/ consider the ‘missing’ evidence, that the Complaint was “investigated and finalised” (and still dismissed).

All of this was a very frustrating and demoralising experience for the Pontings, adding insult to a quite literal injury.

Claim Against the Police

The Complaint process having let the Paul down so badly, he felt he had no choice but to bring a claim for damages in the County Court. Accordingly, I commenced proceedings on behalf of Paul in June 2017 seeking compensation for false imprisonment, assault and battery occasioning physical and psychological injury and malicious prosecution.

As with the Complaint, the Police initially ‘circled wagons’ denying any wrongdoing on the part of any of their officers, and disputing Paul’s claims in their entirety. We were forced to litigate these proceedings almost all the way to Trial, incurring significant legal costs as a result, until in late Summer of this year the Police finally indicated that they were prepared to meet to discuss settlement terms, the results of which are spelt out above – a payment of £35,000 damages to Paul and a clear apology from the Chief Constable of Lancashire. I always strongly believed in Paul’s case and knew he would make an excellent witness should the matter come to Trial, as would his wife and parents. The evidence of his shocking treatment at the Police station was available for all to see. What is very disappointing is that the Police adopted such a combative, confrontational approach to Paul’s legitimate complaints, seeking to deny, delay and frustrate and only ‘paying up’ when Paul showed that he was prepared to ‘go the distance’ when his case against them was so strong, as reflected in the judgment given in the first place by the Magistrates Court, as well as the undeniable CCTV footage.

It is worth reflecting that the words chosen by the Chief Constable include a hope that Paul’s faith in the Police will be restored; indeed, that was all Paul ever wanted, to be able to place his trust in the Police and for the Police to approach complaints about their own officers in the same open-minded way they would approach complaints about a member of the public. Sadly this did not happen, as we have seen above, even when Lancashire’s PSD had several opportunities to put things right in responding to Paul’s official complaint. As I have said before, in Paul’s case and those of many more of my clients, the Police in adopting an unnecessarily obstructive and adversarial approach to the case, treating people like Paul as ‘enemies’, end up causing more heartache and alienating those who want to have faith in the Police – as well as wasting huge sums of public money in fighting cases that could have been dealt with by an early, full and honest apology.

I would (if you’ll excuse the pun) echo here the words I said to the Liverpool Echo in regards to Paul, but which would also apply to a great majority of my clients – the most important thing about this long overdue settlement is not the level of damages, it is first and foremost the apology which was sought, which goes some way at least to delivering a sense of justice being done – something which simply can’t be measured in money.

2nd October 2018 update

Watch the ITV news report which features Mr Ponting and my colleague John Hagan here.

 

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.