Festival Season and the dangers of ‘Wild West’ Policing

I have often used this blog to highlight occasions when Police officers, for a variety of reasons, overstep their powers. However, the imminent approach of this Summer’s Festival Season puts me in mind of risks posed by aggressive or improperly trained security industry personnel/ bouncers overstepping their own powers (such as they are) and acting like a quasi- Police force within the territory of the Festival, behaving in fact like a ‘Wild West’ posse making up the law to suit themselves.

Unfortunately, experience tells me that when members of the official Police Force encounter disputes between members of the public and security staff, they tend for reasons of bias or convenience, to side with the security agents  and penalise the (often innocent) victim of their heavy- handed treatment, leaving such victims to have to come to solicitors such as myself to seek redress via the civil justice system.

One such gentleman was my client Jack Cooper (whose name has been changed for the purposes of this blog), who had an unfortunate run in with security personnel at the Isle of Wight Cowes Festival in August 2016.

Mr Cooper, a successful business man based on the South Coast, was visiting the Cowes Regatta with his friend Andrew. After spending a few hours in the festival site, enjoying the events and with nothing untoward occurring, Jack and Andrew made their way towards the exit. En route Jack was ‘caught short’ and needed the toilet; unfortunately the portaloos were all occupied, so Jack urinated behind them (into the waters of the quay), out of sight of members of the public.

He was however spotted by a private security guard who approached and instructed him to leave the site immediately; Jack confirmed that he would do so – and that, indeed, it was already his intention to leave.

Jack tried to continue towards the exit gate, where his friend Andrew was now waiting for him. Spotting Andrew sitting at a table near the gate, Jack attempted to walk towards him (so they could leave together) whereupon he was without any warning physically assaulted by the security guard. The security guard grabbed hold of Jack’s arm and attempted to force it behind Jack’s back (as if he were a Police Officer effecting the arrest of a violent criminal). In shock, Jack tried to pull away from the security guard, but then not wishing to escalate the situation let the man re-take hold of his arm. Jack explained that all he wanted to do was get his friend, and then it was absolutely his intention to leave the festival site.

Despite Jack’s reasonable behaviour, he was then set upon by approximately six of the security guard’s colleagues, who forced both of Jack’s arms behind his back and pushed him face down onto the ground. Jack could not believe what was happening to him.

Jack was then pulled to his feet by the security guards and marched, with his head bent down, through the gates and outside the festival grounds. Once outside the gates, however, the security personnel did not let Jack go but instead forced him face-down to the ground for a second time, and now applied handcuffs to tie his hands together, which was a painful and humiliating experience for my client. Jack felt significant pain building up in his left wrist and appealed to the security guards to loosen the cuffs, but to no avail. He was being held down on the concrete surface of the ground, close to the quay wall.

Despite offering no physical resistance or threat to the guards, Jack was held down and restrained in this position for about five minutes, during which the pain in his wrist increased and the security guards continued to ignore his request to loosen the cuffs. All of this was taking place in full view of numerous members of the public.

Police officers then arrived, whereupon Jack’s handcuffs were removed, though not before he had lost feeling in his left hand.

Jack was then issued with a Dispersal Notice by the Police officers, under Section 34 of the Antisocial, Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, requiring him to leave the area and not return for a period of six hours, something which he had fully intended to do before being set upon by the gang of security guards.

The Dispersal Notice was not issued because of anything the Police themselves had witnessed, but evidently on the basis of whatever they were told by the security staff.

Jack then proceeded back to the marina, where his own boat was docked, but owing to the injury to his hand he was unable to operate the vessel, which had to be sailed back home by Andrew.

Very shortly after these events, Jack instructed me to pursue a claim for compensation against the security personnel, who were all employed by a firm called Blueline Security, purportedly “specialists in event management and security services.”

After considering Jack’s account of these events I quickly identified that he had strong claims against the Security Company for assault and battery and also false imprisonment.

Security guards employed by private companies may often behave as if they are the Police Force of a Wild West town, but the reality is that they are not warranted constables and have no greater powers than you or I do to effect a ‘citizen’s arrest’ or to deploy force in the prevention of crime. Notwithstanding Jack having ‘a wee’ behind the toilets, nothing he did could have justified the overwhelming force used against him, and/or the decision to detain (and in particular handcuff him) when he was already voluntarily making his way from the site of the Regatta.

Indeed, it was subsequently established that the totally excessive application of handcuffs to Jack’s wrists had caused nerve damage, which continued to plague him for months afterwards with numbness/ pins and needles in his left hand and which necessitated hospital investigations.

I wrote a letter of claim on Jack’s behalf, which Blueline Security disputed, hiding behind the fact that the Police had issued Jack with a Dispersal Notice (although of course this had only occurred as a result of the one-sided story told to them by the security staff, and the issuing of a Dispersal Notice is not tantamount to a criminal conviction or even a caution). Blueline argued that our client had been aggressive and that their use of force upon him, including handcuffs, was legitimate “self-defence”. It was quite clear however, that the only person who had been injured in this incident was my client and I knew he would come across as a strong and honest witness, and so had no hesitation in acting upon his instructions to pursue this matter to Court.

In response to County Court proceedings, Blueline Security initially filled a Defence repeating their complete denial of liability for either assault or false imprisonment. Amongst the outrageous allegations put forwards in the Defence was a suggestion (made for the first time) that Jack had had to be restrained to prevent him attempting to injure members of the public! One would wonder why, if Jack had been behaving in the extremely violent and anti-social manner that Blueline were suggesting, the Police would have been content to simply let him walk away once they had taken his handcuffs off…

I strongly believed in the truth of my client’s account, and was able to judge this in the context of my long experience of pursuing claims against private security companies; the truth is that they often harbour individuals who behave as if they are Police officers, but without having any of the training or self-discipline of (the majority of) law-enforcement professionals.

Long before Jack’s case was listed for Trial, and notwithstanding the Defence filed, Blueline Security duly agreed to settle Jack’s claim in the sum of £9,000 damages, plus legal costs.

Enjoy this Summer’s festival season – from the cow-fields of Glastonbury to the sailboats of Cowes – but beware the dangers of security guards behaving like an undisciplined private Police Force.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.