What price a Police apology?

I have recently received a £40,000 offer of damages from Hertfordshire Constabulary for my client Yvonne Farrell, who was subject to shocking abuse at the hands of several Police Officers.

In August 2018 Yvonne,  a black woman of the Rastafarian religion, was at home when she noticed some activity around her partner’s car, a Renault Megane which was parked across the road (and which was at the time subject to a Statutory Off-Road  Notification).

Out of simple curiosity, Yvonne ventured outside.  She was wearing a loose fitting summer dress and flip flops.

To her alarm, Yvonne discovered that two men operating a tow truck were attempting to take her partner’s vehicle and met her with a rude reply of “None of your business” when she attempted to challenge them.

Yvonne explained that it was her understanding that the road they were on was a private road and hence her partner’s car was not on the public highway, for the purposes of SORN.

The men replied that it was not a private road and then proceeded to clamp her partner’s vehicle.  Yvonne was aware that her partner had certainly not received any prior warning or notification of seizure, and appealed to the men to simply allow her to move the car approximately  3 metres off the road onto private land. The men refused and continued to clamp the vehicle.

So as to stop what Yvonne considered to be an unlawful and unnecessary seizure of the car, she climbed up onto the roof of her partner’s car and sat down.  She attempted to telephone her partner using her mobile, but was unable to get through.

A short time later Police Officers, summoned by the operator of the tow truck, arrived at the scene. They found our client still sitting on the roof of her partner’s car, maintaining her peaceful protest against its seizure. Our client had been entirely calm throughout and at no point had been rude or aggressive to either of the men attempting to take her partner’s car.

Sadly, the Officers rather than attempting to arbitrate the situation in a neutral fashion, immediately took the side of the men who were attempting to clamp/confiscate the car, as Officers are almost invariably wont to do in any dispute between bailiffs/ officials and members of the public.

When Yvonne refused the Officer’s request to climb down from the car they demanded her name. She correctly queried as to whether she was obliged to give the Officers her name; when they told her that she did not, she exercised her right to decline to give them this personal information.

One of the Officers, PC Head, then threatened to arrest Yvonne for “Breach of the Peace”, despite the fact that she could scarcely have been behaving in a more peaceful fashion.  Our client correctly maintained that this was merely a civil dispute and the Officers should not be using their criminal law powers to intervene and take sides in this manner.

After our client again refused to climb down off the car (bear in mind she was doing absolutely nothing other than sitting on top of it, and was not shouting or making any sort of disturbance) PC Head announced that Yvonne was arrested for “Public Order” and grabbing hold of her arm and leg, dragged her from the roof of the car, causing her to land awkwardly on the ground. The Officers then immediately handcuffed Yvonne’s hands behind her; a humiliating, painful and entirely unnecessary (although again, sadly routine) action on the part of the Police.

Yvonne appealed to the Officers to loosen her handcuffs, but was ignored. She was then transported to Stevenage Police Station in a Police van, although not before the incident had caught the attention of a number of local residents, further adding to Yvonne’s humiliation and embarrassment. She was tearful and distressed.

Upon her arrival at the station, Yvonne was brought before the Custody Sergeant, where she again exercised her right to refuse to confirm her identity, knowing that she had done nothing wrong and that she was being unlawfully detained. 

The arresting Officers then falsely alleged that Yvonne had been arrested for “Using abusive language and threatening behaviour” contrary to Section 4 of the Public Order Act. This offence specifically encompasses words or actions which cause another person to be in fear of “immediate unlawful violence” against them. Nothing could be further from the truth, and Yvonne continued to maintain her innocence and her refusal to confirm her identity. It was quite clear that the only person who had been threatened with, or indeed received “immediate unlawful violence” was Yvonne herself, because she had the temerity to refuse the Officer’s demand to get off the car; the arresting officers were thereby using the Public Order Act as a smokescreen for their own violation of that law.

The Custody Sergeant then resorted to threatening to remove Yvonne’s clothing by force if she failed to cooperate with him and when she again refused to give them her name she was taken to a ‘camera cell’ and obliged to remove all of her clothing, including her underwear.

Having seen such tactics utilised by the Police on numerous other occasions, I am firmly of the view that the decision to remove and seize Yvonne’s simple, lightweight summer clothing (which was obviously not bulky, and clearly not concealing anything which could be of danger to Yvonne or the Officers)  was not done out of concern for Yvonne’s safety but rather so as to humiliate, distress and embarrass her with a view to forcing her to ‘confess’ her identity.

After Yvonne’s clothes had been taken from her she was provided with alternative clothing but Yvonne felt it inappropriate for her to don these items on religious and cultural grounds, as her Rastafarian beliefs were that as a woman she should only wear long dresses. Yvonne  was therefore left in a situation whereby she was entirely naked in her cell for almost three hours (during which time a blanket was derisorily thrown on the floor of her cell and at least one male Officer came to the cell door to observe her), before eventually her clothing was returned (why had it been taken in the first place?) and she was allowed to re-dress. During this time, detention staff also refused our client’s request to be allowed to make a phone call, until such time as she gave them her details, a further form of actual, though low-grade, psychological torture.

Meanwhile, a Detective Sergeant had reviewed the evidence and concluded, correctly, that Yvonne’s behaviour did not constitute a “public order” offence. Unfortunately, the Police did not then immediately apologise and release Yvonne, but, as a log which I subsequently obtained shows, put time and effort into considering whether she could instead be arrested for “theft” of the vehicle by sitting on it! That outrageous  idea was, thankfully, soon dismissed – in my opinion it was only given any attention at all because the Police were trying to find excuses for their initial unlawful arrest of Yvonne (a classic example of the Police not using their powers to uphold the law, but to protect themselves from criticism) – but nevertheless Yvonne was kept in the dark about this decision, and her unlawful incarceration continued.

After several hours of detention our client was brought out of the cell and taken to a side room to see her partner.  Under pressure from her partner, Yvonne finally gave her name, date of birth and address to the Custody Sergeant who only then advised her, that following review,  he was satisfied that no crime had in fact been committed and the fact that she could now be released.

Notwithstanding these assurances,  Yvonne was in fact kept in custody for a further 3 hours during which she was obliged to provide her fingerprints, under threat of force and further detention, and she was finally released shortly before midnight, having been detained for almost 11 hours.

No further action, of course, was taken against her.

The following day she attended hospital with bruising to her upper left arm and both wrists, and pain in her back and shoulder. 

Sadly, the psychological affects of this horrendous experience of Yvonne’s would prove even more long lasting than her physical injuries; she developed an anxiety and depressive disorder which has contributed significantly to her decision to relocate from this country to the Caribbean.  

Without legal assistance, Yvonne filed a complaint, which was investigated by Hertfordshire Police’s Professional Standards Department.

The PSD’s findings were set out in a report dated March 2019.  All of Yvonne’s complaints, including unlawful arrest, were rejected.  Specifically, it was stated that there had been a necessity to arrest Yvonne for “unlawful obstruction of the highway”.   This was notwithstanding the fact that Yvonne had not been arrested for obstruction of the highway, but rather for an alleged breach of section 4 of the Public Order Act.

All of this was entirely unnecessary, and amounts to a vast waste of public money and the time of everybody involved.  Yvonne was not committing a crime, and the Officers should not have waded in on the side of the operators of the tow truck, and certainly not in such a heavy-handed and aggressive manner.  The Officers had no power to remove Yvonne from the roof of the car and therefore resorted to lying about her behaviour in order to categorise this as a ‘public order offence’.

All too often in my experience, Police Officers do wrong by following the urge to “over Police” i.e. to see everything through the lens of Policing powers, trying to ‘criminalise’ a situation so that they can exercise their use of force and arrest powers, whereas the situation is actually a non-criminal civil dispute and the Officers are motivated by a perception that their authority is being slighted or ignored.

The fact is however, that Police Officers are not a ‘higher rank’ of individual whom ‘civilians’ must obey in the general course of events and it was entirely lawful (as is now clearly recognised and conceded by the Police) for Yvonne to carry out her peaceful protest and furthermore to refuse to give her details to the Officers attending at the scene.

Sadly, front line Police Officers whose authority is challenged, as I have highlighted in another recent blog post, often respond with the use of force and/or arrest , just as Custody Sergeants so challenged very often make cynical use of their ‘safeguarding’ powers to humiliate and degrade a person by ordering them to be stripped naked so as to compel them to answer questions.

Yvonne’s fight for justice was met with short shrift in the inefficient and unfair Police complaint process, but has now come to fruition thanks to her determination not to give in and the expert advice I was able to provide her with in terms of utilising the strengths of the civil justice system, and commencing Court proceedings. It is important for me to highlight here that Yvonne started this process looking for accountability not compensation, but seemingly had the door to the same slammed in her face by the rejection of her complaint. She has now pursued a meritorious claim, recognised by Hertfordshire’s offer of £40,000, but has still received no apology or even a formal admission of liability. On Yvonne’s behalf I have made it clear that she would accept a lower award of financial compensation than the full value of the claim, if it were accompanied by an apology. I have yet to receive any response from them, but strongly suspect that they will be more inclined to increase their financial offer than put into writing the contrition and humility which Yvonne deserves to receive from them after the flagrant abuse of Police power that was perpetrated against her that Summer’s day.

What price a Police apology? Apparently it is priceless, whilst tax payers are footing the bill for Police pride.

UPDATE: Read my blog post: Police Apology, or Excuse? to find out how matters resolved. The Daily Mail also reported the story.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.