£100,000 damages for Police Brutality

The shocking footage embedded in this blog captures the moment in May 2014 when my client Robert had his leg broken by a Hertfordshire Police Constable, who delivered no less than 3 ‘overarm’ blows with his baton to Robert’s shin.  The first two strikes were delivered whilst Robert was being held (effectively immobile) by two of the Officer’s colleagues, and the third, and most gratuitous blow, fell whilst Robert was already lying on the ground, howling in agony from the results of the first two (so called) ‘distraction strikes’.

In the moments leading up to this incident Robert, a middle- aged man of good character, had been going about the normal activities of daily suburban life, driving his elderly father’s motor car on his way to get a haircut.

To Robert’s complete shock, just as he was approaching the junction with a roundabout, a Police car with blaring sirens and flashing lights screeched to a halt in front of him and an Officer began aggressively shouting at Robert through the window of his car, demanding that Robert get out of the car, though without any explanation as to why. Almost without pause, the Officer then began to smash his baton against the driver’s window of Robert’s car, which caused Robert to panic and move his car a very short distance, before stopping again.  Other Police vehicles and Officers rapidly arrived and within seconds of the stop occurring, Robert, who was in a state of complete shock, bewilderment and panic, found the windows of his car being smashed in from left and right by Police Officers, showering Robert with shards of glass, and a canister of PAVA spray being discharged into the interior of the car, right into his face.  As a result of the PAVA spray Robert’s face felt as though it was being burned, and his eyes were ‘glued shut’ such that he was now struggling to see anything.

Unbeknownst to Robert, a warrant had been issued for his arrest in connection with a failure to report a change in his financial circumstances to the DWP. This arose from a claim for Housing Benefit and was due to an innocent administrative error by Robert.  The offence of which Robert was suspected was clearly a non-violent offence, and, I think everyone would agree, somewhat lowdown on the scale of seriousness, but nevertheless the Police seemed to be unleashing the kind of force upon Robert and his vehicle that they would utilise if a suspected drug dealer or murderer was inside the car. 

In the circumstances, it is in my opinion not at all surprising that Robert after initially attempting to move his car away (he moved a very short distance before stopping when he realised he had bumped into the car in front – a manoeuvre which caused no apparent damage to either vehicle), then froze in his seat unwilling to get out of the car because he was terrified as to what the Police were going to do to him.

It is quite clear from the attached video that a mere 20 seconds elapsed between the start of the Police stop and when the first Officer commenced smashing in the windows of the car around Robert, and in my opinion it was completely unacceptable that they escalated to this level of violence so quickly without giving Robert a chance to process or understand what was happening to him. 

Robert in the moments that followed was guilty of nothing more than gripping his steering wheel in terror (as many of us might have done in the circumstances). Whilst he did not willingly exit the car, equally he was in no way fighting back, as two Officers took hold of him and pulled him so that he was turned around and facing out of the car, with his feet on the road, and he was in this position when the baton wielding Officer struck. 

The Police Officer who delivered the baton strikes to Robert attempted to justify what he did by a variety of what were, in my opinion, quite deliberate lies and exaggerations, variously claiming:-

·         That Robert was revving his engine and using, or about to use, his car as a ‘battering ram’ to escape.

·         That Robert was not under the control of his colleagues.

·         That Robert was repeatedly kicking out at him and another officer.

·         That Robert was reaching for a weapon inside the car (Indeed – he was subsequently charged with possession of an offensive weapon, but this charge was later quietly dropped – see below).

All of these statements by the Officer were ultimately rejected by the Trial Judge at Cambridge County Court, and the CCTV footage was crucial in helping her to come to these conclusions; she referred to the footage frequently when rejecting the Officer’s allegations listed above, and this is a prime example of the importance of video footage in modern legal proceedings. Without that footage, we have to ask whether the Officer’s untruths would have hoodwinked the Judge – this particular Officer having been, on his own account, an actor in civilian life…

It turned out that the alleged weapon in the car was not only nothing more than a torch, but was something that the Judge, delicately but clearly, concluded the Officers had invested with “importance after the incident”. My own interpretation is that they were looking for an excuse to attempt to justify/explain the degree of brutal force that had been used upon Robert.

Probably the most reprehensible excuse the Officer used was to claim that it was necessary and justified for him to deliver the third baton strike to Robert, because (the Officer claimed) he could hear one of his colleagues calling out in pain.  The fact is that the Officers who had hold of Robert had pulled him out of the car and the three of them had fallen together in a heap on the floor, but Robert was certainly not attacking either of those Officers.

Indeed, it was never alleged that Robert had assaulted any of the Officers, and I would have been very surprised if the baton wielding Officer could have heard any alleged cry from his colleague over the sound of Robert’s screams of pain (his shin bone having been shattered) which are distressingly captured on the second video attached to this blog, which was filmed by a bystander who was evidently horrified by what he was witnessing.

The effects of the Officers’ actions was to break Robert’s right shin bone in two, necessitating an operation to insert a metal rod and screws into his leg, and leaving him crippled in that leg for life.  Robert was unable to weight bear on his injured leg for about four months after this event, and struggled to care for his elderly father during this time. As climbing the staircase was such a struggle during this time, he had to sleep on his couch and keep bottles beside him to urinate in. Prior to this incident, Robert used to run and play football regularly, as well as doing most of the housework and shopping for himself and his Dad. Now Robert was reduced to being an invalid in need of care himself, which put significant emotional strain upon him.

Although the condition of Robert’s leg has improved as the years have gone by, he remains in need of another operation to remove some of the metal work and even after that operation will be left with life-long pain and discomfort in his leg, affecting his ability to kneel down and to use ladders, and which will also restrict his comfortable walking distance. He will never be able to return to playing football or running. He has also been left with mental scars in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

At Trial, the Judge ruled, quite correctly, that the baton strikes were not merely an unreasonable use of force but in fact were ‘grossly disproportionate’.

Nevertheless, Hertfordshire Police were entirely unrepentant and unapologetic, and put Robert through further distress and anxiety by appealing the decision of the Trial Judge, which necessitated further hearings over the course of no less than 20 months in the High Court and the County Court before the original Judgment was reaffirmed and upheld in April 2020.

Despite suggesting that they were going to launch a further Appeal, the Police then opened settlement negotiations and we subsequently reached agreement for a final settlement for Robert in the sum of £100,000 damages.

Whilst this money is undoubtedly welcome, Robert is still left with a bitter taste in his mouth when he reflects on the way the Police conducted this case – their refusal to apologise and their determination to fight it tooth and nail. The Police disregard for Robert, and hostility towards him, did not stop when the baton blows stopped falling.

This case began as a result of the destructive and aggressive actions of one Officer, who was apparently prepared to risk breaking a man’s leg rather than to accept a momentary challenge to his authority from a non-compliant, but also a non-aggressive individual who was suspected only of low level, non-violent crime. 

However in the years that have gone by since the incident it is the arrogant and unrepentant mentality of the Police Force as a whole which has wasted vast amounts of time and money.

In my opinion, the video footage was from day one extremely stark and clear evidence of excessive Police brutality.  It is a great shame that the Police could not, apparently, see this as well, for if they had, they could have moved quickly in a collaborative way to admit liability and offer an early settlement along with treatment and rehabilitation for Robert, thereby increasing not only the trust of Robert and other members of the public in the Police, but also saving themselves, Robert and the Court Service considerable amounts of time and resources.

I now leave you with the video evidence, to judge that question for yourselves.

ALL NAMES CHANGED.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.

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