Several years ago, I was contacted by Kevin Holt. He had been arrested a few months before for being Drunk and Disorderly and assaulting a Police Constable. Following his arrest, he was charged and bailed to attend Court. He had attended Court, pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial.
Kevin had declined the services of a Solicitor at the Police Station and so, once bailed to attend Court, was sensible enough to realise that he needed representation for his appearance at Court.
The circumstances of this incident, as reported to me by Kevin were as follows. Kevin was in York, visiting two old university friends to celebrate one of them turning 40. In the early hours of the morning, the three friends were on their way towards York Train Station, where they knew there would be a taxi rank so they could travel back to the house where they were staying. It was then that they were approached by a Police Officer who will be identified in this blog as ‘Police Sergeant Ali’. Kevin happened to be carrying a bottle of mineral water. Sergeant Ali approached Kevin and stated that he couldn’t drink alcohol in this area. Kevin quite reasonably pointed out that what he was drinking was water, not alcohol. At the Officer’s request, he handed the bottle to him, but it appears the Officer did not smell/check the contents of the bottle. Had he done so, it would have been quite obvious that it was not alcohol.
Instead of letting the friends go on their way, Sergeant Ali then informed Kevin that he had a power to arrest him, but did not give any reason or specify an offence. Kevin challenged the Officer as to what offence he could possibly have committed. Sergeant Ali failed to specify what offence he was considering and now insisted that Kevin provide his name and address. Kevin refused to do this, beyond giving his middle name of Robert only, because he believed – quite rightly – that the Officer had no power to require him to give his name and address if he had not committed an offence.
Becoming exasperated, Kevin accepted that he did at this point swear (with words to the effect of “I can’t see why you want my fucking details”) and feeling intimidated by Sergeant Ali’s continued demands for his details, ran across to the other side of the road.
Kevin was then chased by Sergeant Ali and a second Officer, who will be identified in this blog as ‘PC Smith’.
PC Smith grabbed Kevin and manhandled him to the ground. Kevin was incredulous at what was happening to him. Out of the blue, his enjoyable night with his friends had suddenly turned into a situation in which he was being held face down on the ground by Police Officers. Kevin could feel PC Smith kneeling on his back and using his hand to hold Kevin’s head to the ground.
PC Smith then forcibly pulled Kevin’s left arm across his back causing him considerable pain and discomfort and then, whilst he remained pinned helplessly to the ground by the combined weight of both Officers, Kevin found himself being sprayed in the face by a canister of PAVA gas which was being wielded by Sergeant Ali. The gas was sprayed at point-blank range for several seconds into Kevin’s face causing instant and acute pain to his eyes, nose and throat.
Kevin was then handcuffed and roughly manhandled into a Police car, including having his head banged on the car doorway as the Officers moved him (something which you may recall President Donald Trump encouraged American Police Officers to do to ‘felons’ in their custody).
Kevin was subsequently shocked to learn that the two Officers involved – Sergeant Ali and PC Smith- had given witness statements which painted a dramatically different account of their encounter with him, containing serious allegations about wrongdoing on his part which Kevin completely disputed. The Officers variously alleged that Kevin had immediately become abusive towards Sergeant Ali (despite the fact that he had handed over the bottle of water without complaint), alleged that Kevin repeatedly swore at Sergeant Ali and that when PC Smith attempted to detain him, Kevin had attempted to grab the Officer’s taser gun, and then furthermore that whilst the Officers were detaining him, Kevin had struggled violently and twice kicked Sergeant Ali in the leg.
Kevin who, as my experience would show, is a thoughtful and well-mannered man of good character, was understandably outraged by these false accusations by the Officers, who sought to paint him as a drunken, foul-mouthed and violent lout.
Magistrates Court Proceedings
At the time of his arrest, Kevin was living in Exeter but had been visiting a friend in York to celebrate the friend’s birthday. In the circumstances, Kevin chose to instruct a local Solicitor in York.
Following an internet search, Kevin identified a criminal defence Solicitor based in the city and made contact. Kevin explained that he had been arrested for being Drunk and Disorderly, was due in Court and intended to plead not guilty. The Solicitor agreed to act and advised his fee would be £300. Kevin paid up front and attended Court. The prosecution provided some disclosure, notably the statements of the two officers.
Following review and presumably cognizant of both Kevin and the officers’ accounts (By his own admission, Kevin had drunk 6 pints of cider and the arresting officer Sergeant Ali stated that at the time of arrest, Kevin “smelt of intoxicating liquor, his eyes were glazed, he was unsteady on his feet, he was drunk”) his Solicitor advised him to plead guilty, notwithstanding Kevin’s clear instructions that he had not been disorderly nor assaulted any Police Officer, in short, that he was innocent.
Kevin was understandably disappointed by his Solicitor’s advice and it was this that encouraged him to make contact with me following an internet search.
At this stage, Kevin’s objective was to ensure that the criminal proceedings terminated in his favour (either by discontinuance or acquittal at trial) and to then sue the North Yorkshire Police for wrongful arrest.
So, to begin with, I encouraged him to change Solicitors and I then arranged for representation at the forthcoming trial with a clear direction to the advocate that from the Defence perspective, the trial would be effective and Kevin’s not guilty plea would be maintained.
Several weeks later, I was delighted to be informed that after a contested trial where both arresting officers gave evidence, Kevin was cleared of being drunk and disorderly and of assaulting either officer.
Kevin’s acquittal now opened the gates for him to bring a civil claim against the Police. Had he been found guilty, it would have been ‘game over’.
County Court Claim
Following a review of all the evidence, I intimated a claim against North Yorkshire Police. Following investigation, the Police Force denied liability, maintaining that Kevin had been Drunk and Disorderly and had assaulted an Officer, therefore justifying his arrest and subsequent prosecution. North Yorkshire Police advised
“The arrest and detention of your client was entirely lawful, and any force used by the officers in effecting arrest were entirely reasonable given the behaviour and demeanour of your client at the time”.
Notwithstanding the denial, I was satisfied that Kevin’s case enjoyed good prospects of success and therefore on my recommendation, Kevin authorised me to institute Court proceedings for false imprisonment, assault and battery and malicious prosecution.
Following issue of proceedings, North Yorkshire Police maintained their denial of liability and pointed out that even on Kevin’s account, he had admitted to;
a) Swearing at Police Sergeant Ali before his arrest;
b) Refusing to give and/or confirm his true details to any officer until, on his case, nearly 10 hours after his arrest;
c) Giving a false name and/or seeking to mislead PS Ali by stating his name was “Robert”, which transpired to be his middle name;
d) Acting foolishly by running away from PS Ali;
e) Being rude and abusive in custody.
Kevin’s admissions aside, I was satisfied that his claim enjoyed good prospects and I encouraged him to ‘bat on’. I felt that Kevin’s only ‘crime’ was not being sufficiently submissive to an officer when Sergeant Ali demanded his details. We do not live in a country where the Police have a right to demand ‘your papers’ (as it were) and Kevin was doing nothing wrong in refusing to give them. I believe that Sergeant Ali had severely overreacted when he felt his authority was being questioned, and any ‘disorder’ that ensued was caused by the Police, not by Kevin.
The Court subsequently fixed the case for a Case Management Hearing in July 2018. In advance of that hearing, the parties agreed to engage in a Joint Settlement Meeting at which all issues were aired and after extensive negotiation, a settlement of £25,000 damages plus costs was agreed for Kevin.
Kevin was delighted. Following his initial encounter with officers of North Yorkshire Police, he had been engaged in a long and arduous fight for justice and finally, nearly 4 years later, justice had prevailed.
I am delighted to have played my part in Kevin’s struggle but what concerns me gravely is the fact that, had he listened to his first criminal defence lawyer, he would have pleaded guilty and he would have returned home a broken man, having lost faith in both the Police and our Criminal Justice System. Furthermore, Sergeant Ali and his colleague PC Smith would have gotten away with their oppressive, heavy-handed and frankly unlawful conduct towards an innocent member of the public.
In my experience, too many Solicitors seek to persuade their clients to plead guilty. Many jaded criminal practitioners it seems to me, made cynical by the nature of their day-to-day job, seem to assume most of their clients are guilty, and seek to get the case off their desks by encouraging a ‘guilty plea’, which they can entice clients to make because of the promise of a reduced sentence (compared to being found guilty after Trial). This attitude lets down honest and upstanding individuals who have simply found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who have run afoul of Police aggression/ misconduct. This problem amongst criminal defence solicitors was highlighted by Dr Daniel Newman in his recent article “Why do some defence lawyers regard their duties as a problem”. To quote from Dr Newman –
Beyond simply believing clients guilty, I saw every lawyer push clients to plead guilty, in many cases despite the client asserting their innocence and wanted to plead not guilty.
Here, I’m pleased to say, Kevin came to me for a second opinion, and I ensured that he first got the right advice, and then at the end of the day, the right result. I will leave the last words to Kevin himself –
“I’d like to thank Iain Gould and his colleague John Hagan for their support and expertise in conducting my case. I am very happy with the settlement I received. Iain did not shy away from issuing Court proceedings when it was necessary, and he and John provided me with calm advice and robust representation, making what could have been an uncomfortable and nervous process a lot easier.”