In the news this week is what is, frankly, a rare outcome for a Police complaint investigation: two Officers of Devon and Cornwall Police (PCs Kenneth Anscombe and Daniel Care) were sacked for dishonesty.
The two officers were found guilty of gross misconduct after making false statements, and in the case of PC Anscombe lying under oath, apparently in order to secure the conviction of an innocent man. There are few more serious abuses of the particular power and authority of a Police Officer that can be imagined, than using that power to ‘frame’ someone for a crime, and it is entirely right that these Officers were immediately dismissed.
It appears that PCs Anscombe and Care gave false evidence leading to the (wrongful) conviction of a man for the offence of ‘drunk and disorderly’ behaviour, after an incident in Penzance in 2018. Crucially, the man was able to overturn his conviction because of footage of the incident which he had filmed on his mobile phone, and which proved that the Officers were lying.
The Misconduct panel which dismissed the two Officers found that they had made false statements about the man swearing and being aggressive, which were simply not true and were evidently not ‘mistakes’ on the part of the (now ex) Officers, but deliberate mistruths designed to secure a false conviction.
A sadly similar matter was the case of my client Richard Roberts who was the victim of lies told by PC David Norman an Officer of Dyfed & Powys Police, which led to Richard’s unlawful arrest and prosecution.
Richard had been the victim of an assault from an abusive neighbour, who had also committed criminal damage against Richard’s car, causing Richard to telephone ‘999’ for the protection of himself and his family.
Outrageously, it was Richard who then ended up being arrested for a “Public Order offence“ by PC Norman who made a statement falsely alleging that Richard was shouting, screaming, swearing and using foul language in the Officer’s presence.
Because of previous problems with his neighbour, Richard had set up a CCTV camera (with audio) at the front of his property and the video from that device incontrovertibly demonstrated that Richard had not been shouting or swearing and that the numerous allegations contained in PC Norman’s official statement were patently false.
Although Richard was confident that eventually the CCTV footage would exonerative him, the Police made no attempt to immediately review it, and therefore it did not save Richard the trauma of being detained in police cells for over 44 hours.
To make matters worse, Richard was subject to a further arrest which considerably prolonged his detention, because PC Norman’s false evidence suggested that Richard had breached an Anti-social Behaviour injunction which was in place regarding his dispute with his neighbour. Richard was so angry and upset at the injustice of what he was being put through, that he started punching the walls of his cell such was his frustration and distress.
It was a few days after Richard’s release from custody that he was contacted by a Sergeant from the Professional Standards Department who had now viewed the CCTV footage and she encouraged Richard to bring a formal complaint against PC Norman, on the basis of what she had seen. The following day, the criminal proceedings for the public order offence against Richard, and the allegation that he had breached the terms of the injunction were also both withdrawn/ discontinued.
It is highly concerning of course, to consider what would happened if the CCTV had not been available and this had been a case of Richard’s word alone against that of PC Norman…the inescapable conclusion is that Richard would have been wrongfully convicted of a criminal offence.
In fact, PC Norman was subsequently arrested for perverting the course of justice and with the ‘tables turned’ in this manner it was Richard who was called as a witness for the prosecution at the Officer’s trial.
Sadly, PC Norman was – despite the weight of evidence – acquitted of any criminal offences. Subsequent police disciplinary action against PC Norman quite rightly found him guilty of misconduct – but he received a sanction of only a “final written warning“ rather than being dismissed from the Force.
Richard suffered psychiatric injury as a result of these events, and his recovery from the same was not aided by the way that he was subsequently let down by the system – PC Norman ‘wriggled off the hook’ and was able to continue in his career as a police officer despite the clear evidence of his dishonesty. What signal did that send to PC Norman and other officers like him? I would suggest that the message appeared to be that PC Norman’s conduct had no ultimately meaningful consequences, and Dyfed & Powys were prepared to tolerate such behaviour to the extent of keeping this Officer amongst their ranks.
Thankfully, Richard was able to achieve some measure of justice through the civil courts. I pursued a claim on his behalf against Dyfed & Powys Police and Richard was ultimately awarded £40,000 compensation.
I have blogged before about how modern technology in the form of mobile phones and CCTV cameras can prove a great ‘leveller’ in correcting the imbalance of power between ordinary citizens and Police Officers, particularly in counteracting the historical bias which the Courts tend to have in favour of the evidence of our ‘upstanding boys in blue’ and this is yet another salutary example of this phenomenon.
However, the lingering bad taste in the mouth which I am sure most of us are left with after reflecting a little further on this and similar stories, is caused by the realisation of how often in the past Police Officers were able to get away with this sort of flagrant dishonesty and abuse of power, before they were made subject to the era of CCTV and mobile phone ‘surveillance’ from all we Little Brothers (and Sisters)…
In relation to the Devon & Cornwall case, the regional director of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Catrin Evans told the BBC –
“The public must have confidence in police officers who have a duty to be honest, act with integrity, and not compromise or abuse their position.”
I absolutely endorse those sentiments; it is just a pity that so often rooting out dishonesty from our Police profession depends on the public catching them at it…