Q: Which self- proclaimed “gang” in London loves nothing more than “kicking down doors” ?
A: The Metropolitan Police
Sadly, whilst this may seem like a joke, it is not. Those words used to described the Met and its motivations came, in the first instance from Chief Inspector Ian Kibblewhite, and in the second from one of the MPS’s official twitter accounts yesterday.
Whilst the MPS moved quickly to delete the tweet, which showed an image of Officers smashing in the front door of a house beneath the boastful caption “Kicking down doors is probably one of our favourite things”, and offered a half- hearted apology (describing the tweet in rather lukewarm terms as “inappropriate”) the very fact that an Officer with public relations responsibilities thought that this was in any way an acceptable message to post demonstrates the prevalence of a dangerous attitude within the Police towards excessive use of force and other punitive powers. It would not be incorrect to describe the tweet as “gleeful” and presumably the Officer who posted it felt it would welcomed by his colleagues and superiors, indicating the extent of the problem.
Working as a specialist in the field of claims against the Police, I see many, many examples of this bad attitude in action, and it is certainly not confined to the Met, but spread widely throughout the UK Police as an institution. Too many Police Officers, it seems, are too quick to use force – whether with batons, battering rams, handcuffs, gas or the other weapons in their arsenal – and it is disturbing but not unrealistic to think that in many cases this may be because the Officers ‘enjoy’ it or are looking for an excuse to get their adrenalin going and assert their power.
Certainly that would be the message conveyed by that tweet, don’t you think ?
I also note that the Officer responsible for this offensive tweet seems to have been let off extremely lightly, his only ‘punishment’ being to be given “words of advice” – an artificial sounding euphemism which the Police often deploy in response to complaints; it seems almost engineered to say to the complainant that ‘here is an apology through gritted teeth’ whilst at the same time saying to the Officer ‘don’t worry we’ve got your back’. I often wonder if the ‘advice’ given is how best to ‘get away’ with this next time…
I think it is also essential for us to remember, when we look at the picture in that tweet, that there is someone on the other side of that door. The Officer from Homerton Police seems to want to imagine that every time he and his colleagues ‘kick in the door’ some Sweeney-esque villains are waiting to get ‘nicked’ on the other side of it; but all too often, it can be an entirely innocent family who is cowering in terror as the Police with para-military tactics burst into their home.
Take for example, the case of my client Christine, who came to the UK from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016, where, in her childhood she had suffered a very traumatic experience when men in uniforms had broken into her home, robbing her family and attempting to rape her older sister.
Christine thought she was safe from such experiences in the UK but early on the morning of 7 March 2018 she was awoken by the noise of her front door being broken in. Christine was terrified; she was alone in the house with her 5 month old son, her husband having left early for work. Wearing only her nightdress, and suffering flashbacks to the home invasion of her youth, Christine was confronted by numerous Police Officers who swarmed into her house after breaking open the door and started searching all the rooms.
This was all a colossal mistake; after several minutes one of the Officers suddenly announced that they had the wrong address. It wasn’t Christine or her husband they were looking for at all. The scariness of the situation for Christine was compounded by the fact that her first language is French and she was not a fluent English speaker. Furthermore, when the Officers left Christine – alone in a home without a front door anymore – they gave her an incomplete warrant that was neither signed nor dated by a Magistrate.
Although the whole event had lasted only a matter of minutes until the Police realised their error, the effects upon Christine and her family were much more long lasting. For months afterwards she suffered from sleep disturbance and a lack of appetite, and found it impossible to relax at home with her child when her husband was at work, for fear that the Police would repeat their ‘mistake’.
I sued the Police on behalf of Christine and her husband and recovered £7,150 damages for this Police trespass into their home.
This is, of course, only one example amongst many clients I have represented who have been on the end of a bungled Police search, involving either improper/ excessive force, the Police coming to ‘the wrong address’ or not following correct procedure particularly in regards to the production of search warrants. The safety and sanctity of Christine’s family home had been shattered; perhaps preserving that should be higher on the list of Police Officer’s “favourite things”, rather than the ‘thrill’ of smashing and crashing through someone’s front door.