In my last blog post, I wrote about how a perfectly lawful detention can become unlawful (and therefore constitute false imprisonment) and lead to a payment of compensation. Equally, an initially unlawful arrest can lead to a period of lawful detention thus reducing the level of compensation payable.
By way of example, I recently concluded a claim on behalf of my client Helen Broughton who was unlawfully arrested and then detained at a Police Station, but whose detention ultimately became lawful.
My client attended a rave taking place in a barn at a farm in rural Northamptonshire in the early hours of the morning.
Helen drove to the farm in company with a number of friends and parked her vehicle in an adjacent field.
Over the course of a number of hours, Helen attended the party and consumed an amount of alcohol.
At approximately 07.42h, officers of the Northamptonshire Police Force attended at the scene of the party.
At approximately 09.10h Helen was approached by officers who instructed her to move her vehicle, or advised it would be seized. Helen explained that she could not drive her vehicle as she had been drinking, and requested that she be allowed to sober up first.
Officers then accompanied Helen as she went to her vehicle and opened it so that her friends could remove their possessions. Helen then sat in the front passenger seat with the keys to her vehicle on a chain around her neck.
Whilst still sitting in the front passenger seat, Helen then attempted to close the passenger side door. She had refused the officer’s requests to exit the vehicle but had no intention of driving it. She simply wanted to be left alone to ‘sober up’ and was intimidated by the presence of multiple officers.
One officer prevented Helen from closing the door and then, on instruction from his Sergeant arrested her for being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle!
The officer then attempted to remove Helen from the vehicle, by grabbing her left arm and pulling her. Helen, in a state of fear and panic, attempted to remain in her vehicle. Notwithstanding her efforts, she was pulled out of the car and on to the ground.
Three burly officers then pinned Helen down, during the course of which action, one of them stepped on Helen’s leg.
Helen was handcuffed and placed in leg restraints before being escorted to a nearby Police vehicle.
Helen was thereafter transported to and detained at Northampton Criminal Justice Centre. According to the Custody Record, the time of Helen’s arrest was 09.30h and her arrival time at 10.32h.
At approximately 10.55h Helen was then brought before the Custody Officer who refused to authorise her detention in relation to the offences for which she had been arrested.
An entry in the Custody Record timed at 11.58h read as follows –
“The event was described as a RAVE although the Sgt at the scene tells me no Supt gave direction I do not believe we had the power, that said DP was present and arrested because officers feared she would drive away. As such I cannot see how she ‘refused to leave’ in a manner that would then allow the removal of her car. I have discussed with the Sgt at the scene briefly and will reconsider if he recontacts with an explanation as to what offences this DP may have committed. At this time all these offences are NFA”
That said, Helen’s detention continued because it was deemed that Helen was in breach of pre-existing bail conditions to live and sleep each night at a specified address.
The entry continued –
“However officer advises DP on bail to reside and sleep at an address. PNC was ‘down’ this morning for while however DP admits attending Rave about midnight and was arrested there stating she could not go home because she knew she needed to wait until the alcohol wore off. I am satisfied this is a sufficient admission to show she did not sleep each night at the specified location.”
Notwithstanding that her initial arrest was clearly unlawful, Helen was detained thereafter for the purpose of production at Court in respect of the alleged offence of breach of bail.
In due course, Northamptonshire Police accepted that Helen’s initial arrest had been wrong and that her detention until the time she was arrested for breach of bail was unlawful, a period of about 2.5 hours.
Furthermore, whether the force used against Helen was excessive or not, Northamptonshire Police was also now liable for assault/battery given that Helen had been initially unlawfully arrested.
Following a personal recommendation, Helen contacted me and asked that I pursue a claim on her behalf against Northamptonshire Police for false imprisonment and assault/battery.
Although liability was admitted (for the initial arrest and detention and use of force), it was not possible to agree financial terms. In the circumstances, it was necessary to issue Court proceedings, after which settlement terms were agreed, my client ultimately receiving a five-figure sum of compensation. That sum would have been greater had the Police not been able to show a valid reason for detaining her after the initial 2 ½ hours.
ALL NAMES CHANGED