This is a blog regarding my client Bryan Allden, whose long fight for justice against West Midlands Police was settled this month, just over 5 years after he had his hand savagely broken by a Police Officer who was carrying out ‘crowd control’ duties outside Villa Park football ground.
Bryan, a man of good character, was doing nothing more than holding up his phone to film the sights and sounds outside the ground, when the Officer, PC Knowles, struck Bryan’s hand with an overarm blow. There was no warning whatsoever from the Officer, before Bryan’s hand was fractured and his phone knocked to the floor. PC Knowles later claimed that he was being ‘blinded’ by light from the phone, which in my opinion was palpable nonsense; but even on the Officer’s account Bryan was doing nothing more untoward than holding up a mobile – for which the Officer apparently felt entitled to use his baton.
Here is Bryan’s mobile phone footage showing the incident (with the assault shown at 43 seconds in):
At the time of this event, Bryan was a specialist panel beater, and after 25 years of experience, was at the top of his profession. For over three years after the incident he did his very best to carry on working, despite requiring multiple operations to reconstruct his hand, and suffering significant pain and loss of grip strength. Eventually, in 2019 Bryan had to admit defeat, and on the basis of expert medical advice, face up to the fact that he was never going to be able to return to panel beating, and instead must re-train for alternative employment, a daunting prospect for a man in his late 40s. PC Knowles had casually and gratuitously shattered not only Bryan’s hand, but also his career.
Within minutes of the attack, Bryan was reporting the incident to a stony faced officer who displayed no apparent sympathy for his injury, or very much interest in what had occurred (how very different that would be, I suggest, if the person who had assaulted Bryan had not been wearing a Police uniform) and instead fobbed Bryan off by sending him on what Bryan subsequently realised was a ‘wild goose chase’ to find an Inspector to report to.
Notwithstanding this, Bryan persisted through the long- drawn out and often demoralising process of the Police complaints system, involving the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now the IOPC).
The IPCC investigator recognised the serious nature of PC Knowles’s wrongdoing and concluded –
“The overhead downward baton strike luckily connected with a green strike area, could just as easily have connected with a red area and resulted in a fatal injury…”
The IPCC (quite rightly) concluded that PC Knowles had a case to answer for Misconduct but unfortunately, West Midlands Police were allowed to sanction PC Knowles with only ‘management action’, the lowest form of disciplinary punishment, amounting to nothing more onerous than a type of appraisal with your line manager known as “words of advice” (possibly over a cup of coffee). PC Knowles’s only punishment, as such, was to be sent on ‘Personal Safety’ and ‘First Aid’ refresher courses – which, presumably, he could add to his CV.
It was the bitterness of this ‘betrayal’ by the Police – those who are charged with being the champions of law and order, going out of their way to make excuses for, and in effect ‘cover up’ a crime committed by their Officer against a member of the public – which shocked Bryan to the core and left him feeling changed inside, having irrevocably lost his faith in the Police and causing him to be haunted by deep feelings of anger and injustice. To Bryan, this is an even more harmful injury than the blow which crippled his hand.
I will let Bryan’s own words speak for themselves in this regard-
I went to a football game in 2015, a regular thing for me and never had a problem. That night my life changed forever because a person I believed was there to protect me, turned out to be a violent predator, a liar and a person hiding behind his position as a police officer. After his violent and unprovoked attack I have been left a broken and changed man. Not only did this police officer leave me with injuries that have stolen my livelihood and position as a man at the top of my profession – a man folk looked up to and came to for help and advice- he has left me with mental scars that I don’t know will ever disappear. I was put in a very dark place, I lost my profession and my self esteem. I lost friends, loved ones and caused major upset to my father the man I call my best friend. I lost my home, I had to rely on food banks. I hit rock bottom and all this time the savage attacker was protected and in my view not punished for his actions. I could talk for hours about how I have been affected but I feel it will fall on deaf ears, so to be blunt – WEST MIDLANDS POLICE you should be ashamed of yourselves.
Though they had done all they could to dismiss Bryan’s legitimate complaint, West Midlands Police did at least have the sense to admit liability promptly in response to the compensation claim which I brought on behalf of Bryan and although for a long time thereafter they refused to admit the full extent of his injuries, they eventually, a month before the case was due to go to Trial, agreed to settle Bryan’s claim for damages in the sum of £358,000.
Furthermore, the Police gave Bryan the following formal apology –
It is accepted that this incident caused a serious injury to your hand, as well as a post-traumatic stress disorder and that you had not taken any action that might have provoked this use of force. During the course of your civil claim West Midlands Police admitted that the use of force was unlawful and we would like to offer you an unreserved apology for what our officer did to you.
As the old phrase goes, the apology is “better late than never” – but how much better it would have been for Bryan’s peace of mind, and, frankly, mental health during 5 long years of suffering if that “unreserved apology” had been delivered to him by the Chief Constable’s own volition as a result of a robust and judicious police complaint system, rather than having to be extracted under threat of financial penalty after years of litigation.
What remains the most disturbing thing to both Bryan and myself is the thought that PC Knowles probably felt ‘enabled’ to use this level of force by a system which clearly functions in practice to shield officers from complaint rather than hold them to account. It is my understanding that he has since been allocated a desk job role within the force, but he remains a serving officer with full entitlement to pay and pension and only the most minor of blemishes on his official disciplinary record.
This was an injury which ended Bryan’s career; in my respectful opinion, it should have ended PC Knowles’s as well.