You may have seen the recent news story surrounding Lancashire Police’s hunt for a Blackpool shoplifter who resembled the actor David Schwimmer – most famous for his role as “Ross” in the ‘90s sitcom Friends. David Schwimmer humorously responded by posting an ‘alibi’ video of his own (which showed him ‘stealing’ beer from a shop in New York at the time of the Blackpool crime). The Ross look-alike was in the news again this week, when he failed to attend Court – looks although he is “on a break”perhaps?
Joking aside, however, this story makes me think of a current case I have involving Lancashire’s neighbouring Force, Cumbria Constabulary. Here, once again, the Police were in possession of a clear photograph, from a CCTV still, of a shoplifter; this man did not resemble any of the “Friends” cast, and equally did not at all resemble my client James Connors who was nevertheless arrested on suspicion of being this very person…
It appears that the manager of the store which had suffered the theft in Barrow, Cumbria reported to the Police (as well as giving them the CCTV images) that the wanted man was known to him as “Jimmy Raymond”.
In a classic example of what I would call ‘lazy Policing’, an officer carried out a search on the Police National Computer and came up with the details of my client James Connors. Mr Connors (now aged 61) had a number of convictions for minor offences in his youth (going back to the 1970s) but had turned his life around, and settled down as a family man, and had no convictions more recent than 1991.
The officer appears to have identified Mr Connors as “Jimmy Raymond” because Mr Connors has the middle name ‘Raymond’. Neither James, Jimmy nor Raymond are unusual names, and it’s clear that the Police were told that the suspect’s surname, not middle name, was Raymond, so in my view it was a totally unreasonable decision for the Police to form the view that James Connors was Jimmy Raymond, and that James Connors should be arrested.
Any belief the Police may have held on this flimsy evidence should have been completely dismissed when they called at my client’s house on 22 September 2017. They were by that time in possession of the CCTV picture of the wanted man, which showed he was aged in his 20s/30s, was of slim build, clean shaven and with dark hair. He had no resemblance whatsoever to my client who was in his 60s, had grey hair and a beard and was (in his own words) overweight.
Nevertheless, the officers attending Mr Connor’s house, apparently focused unblinkingly – unthinkingly? – on their mission, arrested him, searched his home for the ‘stolen items’ and then transported him in a van to the Police station. My client describes how the van was driven at high speed to the station (it certainly wasn’t stuck in 2nd gear) causing him to be thrown and jolted about in the back, severely exacerbating his pre-existing arthritis.
My client could not believe what was happening to him; his ordinary day, during which he was due later to go to collect his children from school, had been unexpectedly and dramatically turned upside down. Life, as they say, sometimes really is a joke…but a very bad one from Mr Connor’s point of view at that moment.
At Barrow Police Station my client was incarcerated in a cold small cell, experiencing unpleasant flashbacks to a previous period of his life which he thought he had long since left behind. The bench in the cell was so low that Mr Connors could not sit on it because of his bad back; he had to sit on the toilet seat, as this was higher up, which was a very humiliating and undignified experience.
Mr Connors was then taken for an interview, during which the CCTV image was produced. My client at once pointed out that the man in the picture looked nothing like him; indeed, on the interview tape he can be heard laughing out loud in disbelief. It appears that the interviewing officers agreed with him; the interview lasted only 7 minutes, several minutes of which included general formalities (confirming the date and parties present, explanation of the interview caution etc), after which Mr Connors was taken back before the custody sergeant and released without bail.
Having studied the evidence in this case, I am as flabbergasted as my client that he was ever arrested in the first place; he clearly bore no resemblance to the man the Police were looking for.
I am currently in the process of pursuing Mr Connor’s claim through the County Court. The Police have sought to deny liability and justify their decision to arrest on the basis of the similarity of Mr Connor’s middle name and the suspect’s surname, but in view of the incontrovertible evidence of the CCTV camera I do not believe for one moment that the Court will accept this argument, and I fully expect the Police to pay Mr Connors a handsome and proper award of damages before the case goes to Trial. If Cumbria Constabulary persists in their Defence, dare I say it, I expect them to be laughed out of Court…
And so I’ll sign off by wishing all readers of this Blog a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and remember – if you have a claim against the Police, I’ll be there for you…