Many of you may have read the disturbing story of the death of Jack Barnes at the hands of Manchester Metrolink staff in October 2016, following the verdict of unlawful killing pronounced by the Coroner’s Court last month.
Jack, aged 29, had been on a night out with friends in Manchester when the group had become involved in a dispute with Metrolink staff. Jack foolishly but harmlessly swung a drawstring bag at the Metrolink workers, causing four of them to “take the law into their own hands”. Four Metrolink CSRs (Customer Service Representatives) breached all of their training and policies by pursuing Jack from the station, before catching him almost a mile away, and holding him down on the ground outside a restaurant on Deansgate.
Body camera footage captured one of the Metrolink ‘posse’ – Stephen Rowlands, a former Police Officer – threatening to put Jack ‘to sleep’. The camera then recorded Jack on eight separate occasions telling the men who were holding him down that he couldn’t breathe but – in a scene shockingly reminiscent of what happened in the last few moments of George Floyd’s life – his desperate pleas for them to ease the pressure on his neck were ignored. Within moments, Jack suffered a cardiac arrest and although an ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital, he never left it, dying there some seven weeks’ later from his injuries.
Jack’s grieving mother told the BBC that in her view the Metrolink staff had hunted her son down like an animal.
Greater Manchester Police had initially arrested the 4 Metrolink CSRs, including Mr Rowlands, who gave evidence to the Coroner’s Court about his 13 years of experience with that self-same force and the ‘restraint techniques’ he had learned as an Officer, but released them without charge.
Metrolink’s explicit policy for situations such as this was for their staff to ‘walk away’ – not give chase to somebody for a mile, and then assault him as if they were some kind of private Police force, administering their own ‘rough justice’.
Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour by private company staff with security or quasi- security roles, acting out what we might consider to be Police or paramilitary fantasies, or just their own anger and aggression, is all too common.
I am currently acting on behalf of David Roberts (name changed), who in October 2020 was shopping in a well-known chain store in London.
David was challenged by a security guard as he was on his way out of the store, having just purchased an umbrella. Because the item had only cost £4, David had declined a ‘paper receipt’ from the cashier, as he was entitled to do. David told the security guard that all he needed to do was radio the cashier and she would confirm that his umbrella was ‘legitimate’ but the man was unhappy with this and tried to drag David physically back to the cash desk, breaking the umbrella in the process…when David then demanded the man’s name so he could make a complaint, the security guard refused.
The cashier had now corroborated that David’s (now broken) umbrella had indeed been purchased by him, and so he was begrudgingly offered a replacement for the one their colleague had broken – however, a stand-off then developed when the security personnel refused to tell David the name of their colleague who had first been aggressive with him, and even threatened to ‘call the Police’ on him – clearly all designed to frustrate his attempt to complain, and to intimidate him into going away.
When David refused to do so (until he knew the man’s name) 3 of the security guards commenced a vicious assault upon him – apparently continuing the argument in the only language they understood: David was dragged to a ‘back room’, being struck by the security guards along the way, and subjected to a tirade of abusive language.
In the back room, whilst one of the security guards took David’s phone (with which he had been recording their interactions on the shop floor) others pinned David down on the ground. His arms were held down, and one of the men knelt on his neck/chest; once again this is an incident which raises the unavoidable spectre of George Floyd in our minds. It could all have ended in tragedy, though fortunately, unlike George Floyd or Jack Barnes, David would escape with his life.
The assault ended when the Metropolitan Police – called by a third party – arrived, and not a moment too soon, in my opinion.
Now the tables have been turned and the men who assaulted David are facing investigation, and hopefully prosecution, by the Police and CPS; but David is still left with the physical and mental scars of what happened to him, and the thought of how much worse it might have been.
Far too many security staff, it seems, are itching for the slightest excuse to flex their muscles, power- fantasies or whatever other urge drives them. One of the most shocking aspects of the incident was how complacently the security guards, bullies in uniform, apparently thought they could get away with this.
As soon as the criminal process is over, I will be instituting civil proceedings on behalf of David against the security guard’s employer for the loss and damage they have caused to him, and both David and I hope this will teach a retailer which boasts one of the most well known ‘high street’ business names in the UK a valuable lesson about the quality and calibre of men whom they employ and supervise.
We don’t live in the ‘Wild West’ – that era of hair-trigger violence and vigilante ‘justice’ – but it, unfortunately, seems to live in the hearts and minds of too many security staff, employed at high profile businesses and venues, whose behaviour threatens the life and limb of anyone these cowboys take a dislike to.