Blue Lies Matter

Did you know that lies come in three different colours ? Reading a psychology paper this week I noted that whereas the term for an entirely self-serving lie is a “black” lie, and the term for a “selfless” lie (e.g so as not to hurt someone’s feelings) is a “white” lie, the phrase “blue lies” has been applied to that category of falsehoods whereby someone is lying for the benefit of their team or “side”, to the detriment of another group. So they are simultaneously selfish and beneficial.

Commenting on the predilection of the current American President for telling – often outrageously hypocritical and blatantly false – lies, an article written by Jeremy Adam Smith in Scientific American (24 March 2017) commented as follows, on the subject of “Blue Lies” –

If we see Trump’s lies not as failures of character but rather as weapons of war, then we can come to see why his supporters might view him as an effective leader. From this perspective, lying is a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s campaign and presidency.

Common experience tells us that Police Officers are prone to such lies; to “protect” their colleagues, and ensure the “bad guys” get their just desserts, we might imagine. Indeed, in America there is a term for this: “testi-lying” or Officers telling falsehoods on oath in Court in order to ensure the conviction of a person they deem to be an undesirable criminal – whether or not on this occasion the actual evidence proves that the person “did it”… Blue lies are considered by psychologists to actually strengthen the bonds of loyalty within members of a group, community or gang (that latter word once being memorably used by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to describe – approvingly – his Officers).

So, although the phrase “blue lies” might be relatively new, the phenomenon it refers to is surely as old as the hills. One good thing we have to thank modern technology for is that it is increasingly likely that Officers will be caught out in their falsehoods, because of the prevalence of video recording technology across our society – and particularly, easily accessible in people’s pockets in the form of mobile phones.

The issue of independent video evidence “catching out” a Police Officer’s falsehoods was a key factor in a case I recently concluded on behalf of two clients from West Yorkshire, gentlemen of Asian origin whom I shall identify as Shahid and Hashim.

Shahid and Hashim, along with Shahid’s nephew Mohammed, were minding their own business in a parked car when approached by two officers of the West Yorkshire Police  – whom I shall identify as PC Michaels and his female colleague, PC Kirby.

Although the three men were not doing anything other than sitting in a car chatting, the two officers immediately adopted a suspicious/ hostile attitude towards them and began to demand their personal details. As I have made clear on many previous occasions in this blog, we do not live in a society where the Police have the power to demand that you identify yourself to them (unless they already have a reason to suspect you are guilty of committing a crime, which certainly did not apply here – unless being Asian sitting in a car is as suspicious as being Black whilst driving one…).

Shahid began to record his conversation with PC Michaels on his mobile phone, as he (correctly) did not believe he was obliged to give his name on demand. PC Michaels then asserted that he had the power to demand Shahid’s details because (in the Officer’s words) Shahid was “Committing anti-social behaviour”. When challenged, PC Michaels refused to specify what this “antisocial behaviour” was – no doubt because there wasn’t in fact any!

Shahid and PC Michaels remained at loggerheads until the officer decided to snatch Shahid’s phone out of his hand, and pull Shahid out of the car. PC Michaels then walked away across the car park, causing Shahid to follow after him insisting – politely – that the officer return his phone. Unfortunately, PC Michaels, obviously unhappy with Shahid’s continued refusal to identify himself, then produced his handcuffs. This caused Shahid considerable alarm, and he backed away from the officer. PC Michaels pursued Shahid, spraying him in the face with CS gas, and then handcuffing him whilst Shahid was incapacitated from the gas. The officer then marched Shahid to his nearby Police van, forcing Shahid to follow him by pulling on the handcuff chain as if it were a “lead” and incarcerated Shahid in the back of the van.

Whilst these events were going on, Hashim attempted to record matters on his own mobile phone, only to have this snatched from him, in turn, by PC Kirby. When Hashim followed Shahid to the Police van, protesting about Shahid’s unlawful arrest, he was then shoved by the officers up against a wall, also handcuffed and arrested.

Notably, at this point, neither officer had told Shahid or Hashim what specific offence it was they were being arrested for – no doubt because “talking back” to Police officers and refusing to identify yourself in an otherwise peaceful and law-abiding situation, are not actually crimes.

Both of my clients were then transported to Huddersfield Police Station, where they learned for the first time that they were being accused of assaulting a Police Officer (PC Michaels in Shahid’s case, and PC Kirby in Hashim’s) and breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act. These charges quite literally added insult to injury as the very reverse was true; it was Shahid and Hashim who had been assaulted by the officers, and Shahid in particular required after-care for the effects of the gas used upon him. The false charges, and the threat of a custodial sentence hanging over them, were very distressing to my clients, particularly Hashim who was only a teenager at the time.

The criminal charges against my clients proceeded all the way to Trial at the Magistrates Court. In support of the charges against Shahid, PC Michaels in particular made a statement in which he alleged a number of untruths, including that he had informed Shahid during their initial conversation that he was being detained for the purpose of a Stop & Search under the Misuse of Drugs Act. In fact, the mobile phone footage which Shahid had preserved showed incontrovertibly that PC Michaels had not said anything to Shahid about a drugs search, but had rather been insisting that Shahid identify himself because of (unspecified) “anti-social behaviour”.

The clearly recorded conversation between the officer and Shahid went like this –

PC:     I am an Officer in uniform and I have got a power to require your name and address.

S:            Regarding What?  Anti-social behaviour?

PC:         Anti-social behaviour regarding a report we have had that I am not obliged to disclose to you at the moment.

And a little further into the conversation –

PC:         What is your name?

S:            Regards to what?

PC:         I have got the report.

S:            Anti-social behaviour, you know what, you’re making it up.

PC:         I don’t have to explain it to you.

S:            I know what you’re doing; you’re just making it up now.

PC:         No I’m not.

Needless to say, PC Michaels did not have any “report” relating to Shahid, and does indeed appear to have been, as Shahid put it “making it up” in order to get his details.

Certainly, PC Michaels as recorded on the phone was saying very different things to what he purported in his later Statement to have said; it was clear to all on viewing the footage that the Officer had said nothing about a Stop & Search for drugs.

This evidence was played at Court, and I am pleased to confirm that the cases against both of my clients collapsed, the Crown Prosecution Service discontinuing all proceedings against both of them after watching the footage.

The way was now clear for my clients to re-set the scales of justice by bringing their own proceedings against West Yorkshire Police in respect of claims for assault and battery, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. I instituted County Court claims on behalf of both Shahid and Hashim.

As is their wont, West Yorkshire Police legal services initially put up a robust defence on behalf of their officers, denying any wrongdoing and seeking to argue that the arrest of both of my clients was lawful.

Fortunately, the brief mobile phone footage that Shahid had been able to film (before his phone was snatched by PC Michaels) was not the only video evidence available; we were able to obtain CCTV footage of the car park from a nearby sports centre, and thus able to conclusively expose other “blue lies” told by the two officers in their statements for the criminal proceedings.

In particular I highlight the following –

  • Both officers alleged that PC Michaels suffered an unprovoked “shove” from Hashim, whom PC Kirby describing as “running” towards her colleague; CCTV footage showed this to be completely untrue. Hashim had walked peaceably around the car, trying to film what was happening to Shahid on his own phone.
  • PC Michaels alleged that Shahid had broken away from him, whilst the officer was trying to carry out a search, and made off across the car park – the CCTV footage showed that in fact (as reported by Shahid) it was PC Michaels who, having taken Shahid’s phone, stalked off across the car park with it, and Shahid who had to follow after the officer (not the other way around).
  • Likewise, the CCTV footage failed to support the officers’ assertions that they had been the victims of violence from my clients – rather it showed PC Michaels using his gas spray apparently without provocation, and PC Kirby repeatedly shoving Hashim (not the other way around).

I am pleased to report that after several months of contested litigation, the Police once again backed down before Trial and agreed to pay both of my clients considerable damages; £25,000 for Shahid and £15,000 for Hashim. West Yorkshire Police had obviously realised the truth, that when you get into Court, there are no longer such things as defensible or justifiable partisan “blue lies” – there are just black and white facts, and the truth will out.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.