We are now living through the second in a series of national ‘lockdowns’ brought on by the Coronavirus Pandemic; an unprecedented era of restrictions in the lives of most of us, in terms of our ability to travel, to see friends and family or even (especially in the earlier months of the pandemic) to access our places of work or education.
Lockdown, whilst alleviating the spread of the virus, has brought its own pressures in the form of isolation, concerns about home schooling and job security, leaving some to complain that they feel like “prisoners in their own homes”.
If there is one thing worse than being restricted to your own home however, it is having the privacy – even sanctity – of your family home violated by trespassers.
The most grossly obvious example of such an act of trespass would be a home burglary. A burglary is a traumatic event for anyone to have to cope with, generally causing emotional distress far greater than the mere financial value of any property damaged or stolen.
A more insidious form of trespass however, is that committed by Police Officers who knowingly or recklessly overstep the bounds of their power on private property, causing emotional distress and even physical harm to the inhabitants, as a Norfolk family who I represented found out in shocking circumstances.
The incident began when PC White and Special Constable Anderson of Norfolk Constabulary attended at the home of my client Linda in order to issue a Police Information Notice (PIN).
At the time of this visit there were present in the house, along with Linda, her three daughters – 14 year old Annabelle, 12 year old Charlotte, and 5 year old Lucy – as well as Linda’s sister in law Catherine and brother in law Derek.
Special Constable Anderson requested permission to enter the house (having no Police power to enter without an invitation in the circumstances) and this was duly provided by Linda.
SC Anderson began to explain to Linda that as a result of an allegation of harassment made by her ex-partner, he intended to issue her with a PIN. SC Anderson omitted to explain, however, that Linda was under no duty to accept the PIN, and furthermore that a PIN did not carry any Statutory force.
Linda stated to the Officers that she was not happy to be issued with a PIN and that it was in fact she who was the recipient of inappropriate behaviour from her ex-partner, which she had previously reported to Norfolk Police without action. Linda then insisted that both Officers leave her house immediately.
In a subsequent written statement, SC Anderson confirmed that Linda had indeed requested that he and his colleague should leave the premises, in the following terms:-
“[LINDA] began to shout ‘Get out of my house’. I replied ‘I will once you have accepted and signed this PIN.’
Under protest, Linda then signed the PIN document. The fact was, however, that as soon as she had instructed the Officers to leave her home, thereby revoking her consent to their continued presence, the decision of the Officers to remain (and to ‘brow beat’ Linda into signing the Notice) converted their status from lawful visitors into trespassers.
The Police do, of course, have various Statutory powers to allow them to enter or remain upon premises against the owner’s consent – however, not for such a minor matter as discussing or issuing a Police Information Notice.
Having got Linda to sign the document, the Officers then proceeded towards the front door. At Linda’s request, 14-year-old Annabelle (holding her 5-year-old sister in her arms) then attempted to shut the lounge door behind the departing Officers, by kicking the door with her foot. Unfortunately, this clumsy action by a stressed teenager resulted in the closing door striking Special Constable Anderson a glancing blow on his left arm. This had not been intended by Annabelle who was, frankly, just performing a fairly standard ‘teenager slamming a door’ manoeuvre.
Special Constable Anderson returned to the lounge at this point and stated to Annabelle that it would now be open to him to arrest her on suspicion of assault. SC Anderson who was over 6 foot in height and wearing body armour, towered over Annabelle, who was still holding her younger sister in her arms. There was no suggestion that the impact of the door on his arm had caused any significant injury at all.
SC Anderson then left the room, apparently satisfied that his ‘warning’ to Annabelle was sufficient.
Unfortunately, PC White then stormed back into the lounge and threatened to arrest Annabelle for assault on his colleague. In response, Annabelle swore at PC White and told him to leave.
In response to this, PC White then grabbed hold of Annabelle’s arm and started pushing and pulling her around, such that Linda had to rescue her younger daughter from Annabelle’s arms.
PC White then forced Annabelle face down on to the floor and pinned her down, placing his knee against her back. Annabelle was a slim teenage girl, whilst PC White was a much stronger, taller adult male, both armed and armoured, and his use of force against her was, in my opinion, utterly reprehensible.
PC White then twisted Annabelle around before spraying her directly in the face with PAVA gas, and then handcuffing her in the rear stack position.
PC White also deployed his PAVA spray in a broad sweeping motion towards the adult occupants of the room, all of whom were understandably distressed by the extreme force he was using against Annabelle.
Linda, who had been pushed away by SC Anderson as she attempted to go to the assistance of her daughter, recalls PC White deploying the PAVA spray ‘as if it were an air freshener’. This was in the close confines of a living room which as well as Annabelle, contained 2 other children, the youngest of whom was only five.
Catherine was also shoved and sprayed with PAVA by PC White, as she attempted to check on Annabelle’s welfare.
Further Officers now arrived at the house, in response to an emergency request which had been made by PC White, and Linda was arrested on false charges of having assaulted PC White in the execution of his duty.
To Linda’s shock and distress her daughter Annabelle was also arrested (for allegedly assaulting both SC Anderson and PC White) and Linda’s sister in law Catherine was likewise, for supposedly having assaulted PC White. Neither Linda nor Catherine had in fact done anything other than to protest and attempt to come to the aid of a 14-year-old girl who was being assaulted in the highly distressing circumstances described above. Nevertheless, both women and the girl were transported to and detained overnight at Bury St Edmund’s Police Station.
All of them underwent the degrading process of being fingerprinted, photographed, having DNA samples taken from them and being incarcerated in a cell. All were interviewed under caution.
Linda, Annabelle and Catherine were then released on bail having been charged with assaulting PC White in the execution of his duty, although notably the charge was subsequently reduced to one of common assault against PC White. This was because the Crown Prosecution Service, on review of the evidence, correctly established that PC White had not been acting in the course of his duty at the time of the alleged assaults, for he was at that point a trespasser on the premises having failed to obey Linda’s original instruction to leave the house.
Disappointingly, the CPS maintained the prosecution of all three of my clients, albeit on the lesser charge; Linda, Catherine and Annabelle maintained their pleas of ‘not guilty’ and were completely exonerated at trial at Norwich Magistrates Court some 4 months later.
At trial, the Court criticised inconsistencies in the evidence offered by PC White and SC Anderson, and in response to a formal complaint that was then brought by Linda, the Professional Standards Department of Norfolk Police admitted that PC White had used unnecessary and excessive force and Annabelle’s arrest was unnecessary in the following terms:-
SC Anderson dealt with Annabelle by speaking to her in an effective manner, however PC White then took it upon himself to further ‘deal’ with Annabelle. It is considered the actions of PC White, at this stage, were unnecessary and somewhat excessive, and therefore it is suggested that this complaint be upheld, in that instance and the Officer be made subject to Management Action.
Further criticism of PC White was then offered by the determining Officer who reviewed the complaint as follows:-
[PC White’s] decision to arrest Annabelle for an impetuous act which SC Anderson had effectively dealt with, notwithstanding his actions were lawful, on this occasion calls into question his judgment. I consider that the arrest was unjustified and the matter could have been dealt with without recourse to this. PC White overreacted in what appears to be an overprotective and unnecessary way which then led to the sequence of events resulting in further arrests. I therefore consider that the complaint is justified and is upheld.
Notwithstanding that the complaint was (somewhat reluctantly) upheld in this respect, it was disappointing to my client that the only punishment PC White received for his assault upon the family, was the minimal sanction of ‘Management Action’ and furthermore, when I presented a claim on behalf of Linda for trespass, assault and battery, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, the initial response of Norfolk Constabulary was to contest the claim.
Undeterred, I issued County Court proceedings on behalf of Linda which soon caused the Police to cave in and, after negotiation, agree to settle the claim for £29,000 plus costs.
Further claims which I brought on behalf of Annabelle and Catherine were also subsequently settled by Norfolk Constabulary for damages of £30,000 and £24,000 respectively resulting in a total recovery of £83,000 damages for the family.
I think that this amounted to an entirely appropriate sanction against the Police for what was a flagrant abuse of power perpetrated by their Officers, in particular PC White, completely misusing both the weaponry and the powers of arrest with which they had been entrusted to uphold the law, the whole incident beginning with their arrogant decision to ignore Linda’s lawful command for them to leave the property.
After respect for the person, the law begins with respect for the privacy of the home and Police Officers of all people should understand, acknowledge and uphold this.
The names of all individuals have been changed.