Partners in Crime: Why Bedfordshire and Surrey Police both had to pay for wrongful arrest

“Mr Gould, words fail me in adequately expressing my sincere appreciation for all you have done for me. It is beyond belief that after 30 years I can now close this chapter of my life.”

Receiving a testimony like that from one of my clients is absolutely priceless, and is one of the reasons why I love doing the job that I do; giving a person, beyond the simple monetary amount of their compensation, a sense of true satisfaction that they have been listened to, and justice has been done, in defiance of the abuses of the powerful – most usually, Police Forces.

Those words were written this week by my client Gordon Matthews, at the conclusion of two overlapping claims which I pursued on his behalf against Bedfordshire and Surrey Police. The background of Mr Matthews’ claims are as follows.

It is surely one of the hallmarks of a modern, democratic society that individuals have a right of complaint, and a right to request explanation and redress against much bigger and more powerful entities which may have wronged them – be they commercial corporations or agents of the State. Individuals, such as Mr Matthews, should be able to pursue their legitimate complaints without fear that the institution they are complaining about will lash out to punish or frighten them off, by abusing the financial or public power which that institution may possess.

On 26 April 2016, Mr Matthews wrote to the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police by recorded delivery.  The subject of the letter was ‘ MURDER OF A POLICEMAN’ .

In the letter, Mr Matthews wrote the following;

“ If I were to advise you that I wished to MURDER A POLICEMAN what action would you take?”

Mr Matthews suggested that the Chief Constable take legal advice and that if the Chief Constable did not reply within 21 days, he would report the response to a number of interested parties including the national press.

The letter openly provided Mr Matthews’ home address, name and signature and was written against a background of historic correspondence and proceedings between my client and Bedfordshire Police, arising from my client’s dispute of what he believed to have been an improperly imposed penalty ticket for a road traffic matter some 26 years earlier by an officer named PC Maxey. During the course of that dispute, Mr Matthews had submitted a DPA request and in response received a redacted email from Bedfordshire Police Legal Services (dated 25 May 2010) in which it was falsely stated that Mr Matthews had threatened to kill PC Maxey; this ‘mistake’ was subsequently acknowledged as such by the Police in an internal memo created after 28 April 2016. Mr Matthews had, understandably, been utterly appalled by the suggestion he had threatened to kill anyone, and had for many years been seeking an apology for this falsehood, but had been continually rebuffed by Bedfordshire – who indeed had gone as far in July 2015 as taking out a 2-year restraining order, preventing Mr Matthews from taking further legal action against the Chief Constable.

It was in this context, frustrated by the deliberately deaf ears of the Force, that Mr Matthews had written to them in April 2016 to try to elicit some form of proper response.

The said letter was received by the Chief Constable’s Personal Assistant on 28 April 2016 who emailed a copy of the letter to (the then Bedfordshire Police Legal Services Manager) Ms Hall that same day. Ms Hall wrote that by sending the letter, Mr Matthews intended “to cause alarm and distress to staff and Police Officers at Bedfordshire Police” and that it was a “malicious communication”  intended “to cause harm” .

Ms Hall then prepared a witness statement regarding the letter dated 28 April 2016.  She requested that the communication be “crimed as malicious communication” and that Mr Matthews be “arrested” .

According to Ms Hall’s witness account, she then spoke to Inspector Cotton and PC Birch of Bedfordshire Police Force Control Room.  It was decided that the matter would be farmed out to Surrey Police, as that was where the letter had been posted.

At 17.05 on 28 April 2016, Ms Hall then sent an email to PC Birch with her witness statement attached stating that she was “hopeful that this is sufficient should he be eligible for a caution” .

At 17.41 PC Birch sent an email to PC Rogers asking Mr Rogers to “create an incident for Surrey to arrest the suspect for malicious communications”.

At 18.25 on the same day, PC Rogers emailed the Force Control at Surrey Police and requested “a unit be assigned to conduct an arrest enquiry to arrest Gordon Matthews for malicious communications” .

The email continued; 

“The grounds for arrest will be:

On the 26 th April 2016 Mr Mathews sent a letter to Bedfordshire Police stating that “If I were to advise you that I wished to MURDER A POLICEMAN what action would you take?”  with the intent to cause harassment, alarm and distress to Police Officers and staff at Bedfordshire Police.

As you will see from a number of attachments Mr Matthews has been communicating with Bedfordshire Police for approximately 26 years after disputing a fixed penalty ticket for a road traffic offence and this letter is not a one off incident.

The OIC for this case will be Tracy Hall?????????  should you have any questions.  If out of hours please contact Bedfordshire Police control room and ask for Oscar 1 or 2, the direct line being ????????  

There are comments in respect of the risk assessment for this male and in that regard he is essentially unknown to us and should be dealt with as such.”

On the afternoon of 29 April 2016, Mr Matthews was arrested by Surrey Police Officers and conveyed to Salford Police Station, Redhill, Surrey.  He was at the time 74 years old, a man of exemplary character who had never previously had any experience of Police custody. He was utterly shocked and bewildered at what was happening to him; furthermore, to his distress and embarrassment, Gordon was arrested in front of his wife and neighbours. 

According to an email subsequently written by PS Freeman of Surrey Police, “Enroute to custody, the arresting officer contacted Beds Police, he spoke to Ms Hall who stated that Beds Police would not be dealing, she added that Matthews had been sending letters to them since receiving a ticket in 1990 but that they had been ignoring his letters but she felt that this letter had more punch than previous ones.  As a result of this Surrey Officers had to interview Matthews” .

According to Ms Hall, at about this time, “She received a very abusive telephone call from Bedfordshire PS Night who said Surrey Police had arrested someone and were asking for him to be picked up.”  She “apologised and tried to explain that a mistake had been made”.  She had been “expecting a call from Surrey Police to talk about the case”. She “was shouted at again and then given a telephone number to call and told to deal with it.”

Essentially, now having committed the act of arrest ‘in haste’ both Bedfordshire and Surrey were trying to pass the buck to one another, each disclaiming responsibility. Bedfordshire (in the person of Ms Hall) were claiming they had been expecting a call from Surrey to discuss arrest or other options before they were carried out, whilst Surrey clearly thought they were ‘under orders’ from Bedfordshire to simply arrest (no questions asked) – and wanted to hand the ‘prisoner’ over to Bedfordshire as soon as possible, thereby washing their hands of the matter.

Whilst Mr Matthews was in custody, the investigation was assigned to Officers PC Hawes and PC Turner.

PC Hawes’ understanding was that upon arrest, Mr Matthews would be collected by Bedfordshire Officers and processed by Bedfordshire Police.

On notification of arrest however, PC Hawes reported that he contacted Bedfordshire and was told that they would not deal with the matter.  Yet further, that Bedfordshire Police claimed they had not in fact made an arrest request but had merely notified Surrey Police of the ‘issue’.

On further investigation, PC Hawes read the letter Mr Matthews had sent.  In a subsequent email dated 29 April 2016 PC Hawes stated that “I struggled to find that it contained enough to make out the offence as described” and that “the letter in and of itself did not fulfil the offence” .

Notwithstanding PC Hawes’ (correct) assessment, he and PC Turner interviewed Mr Matthews under caution. Mr Matthews confirmed that he had sent the letter but had no intention of causing any alarm or anxiety.

PC Hawes then contacted Ms Hall for clarification.  Ms Hall now denied that anyone at Bedfordshire had requested the arrest and asserted that they had merely passed the letter on “for information”.

PC Hawes added that Ms Hall was “very keen” for Mr Matthews “to have been charged for any offence that came to mind”.  Further, that on review, PC Hawes was “left with the impression that Ms Hall had become tired of dealing with Matthews, and had either generated the arrest request herself or had arranged for it to be done, to mislead Surrey Police into arresting Matthews for an offence which was not really made out.”  PC Hawes concluded that Surrey Police had been used by persons within Bedfordshire Police to arrest Matthews “for the purpose of teaching him a lesson.”

I personally believe that analysis was entirely correct.

PC Hawes reported to his Custody Sergeant, PS Freeman who reviewed the matter and due to the lack of any evidence decided to immediately release Mr Matthews, with no further action. He had been wrongfully detained for approximately 6 hours, and had been obliged to provide his fingerprints and a DNA sample: all part of the degrading and dehumanising process of being in Police Custody which makes even innocent people feel like ‘criminals’.

Mr Matthews subsequently brought a complaint to the Professional Standards Department of Bedfordshire Police, regarding his arrest and incarceration.

·         The Complaint Investigating Officer David Bird concluded that there was insufficient evidence to have ever justified arresting Gordon.

·         Further, Chief Inspector Donna Pierce, Bird’s Supervisor in a subsequent review of the complaint,  concluded that the arresting officer had failed to make his own assessment of the threshold for arrest prior to taking any action.

·         Furthermore, that in all likelihood, the “arrest request” of Ms Hall as Bedfordshire Legal Services Manager, was implemented unequivocally because of the perceived seniority of Ms Hall’s position.

·         Yet further, that in any event, as a Civilian Member of staff, Ms Hall had no authority to instruct any Police Officer to arrest a person.

Partners in Crime

A lawful arrest essentially requires two elements:

  1. Objectively reasonable suspicion of a person’s involvement or suspected involvement or attempted involvement in the commission of a criminal offence;

AND

2. Objectively reasonable grounds for believing that the person’s arrest is necessary.

Both elements must be satisfied, and, simply put, neither were in Mr Matthew’s case.

As is clear from the accounts of various Officers as cited above, both Forces in the aftermath of the intemperate and grossly heavy-handed arrest of Gordon Matthews, sought to put the blame on one another. Their conduct in this regard could almost be described as a ‘comedy of errors’, but Gordon’s arrest was no laughing matter, and he quite rightly wanted both Forces held to account for what they had done – Bedfordshire for the instigation of his arrest (as an abuse of power, designed to teach a person they labelled as a ‘serial complainant’ a lesson) and Surrey for putting the wishes of another Police Force ahead of the actual law of the land, without any question – until it was already too late.

Both Police Forces were partners in this particular ‘crime’.

When I was instructed by Gordon, I first pursued Surrey Police as the Force whose Officers had physically arrested and detained him.

Surrey’s insurers soon came to the negotiating table and following the institution of Court proceedings, a settlement for substantial compensation and costs to be paid, was agreed. 

Gordon was very pleased with this outcome – not least because the payment clearly represented an admission that Surrey knew they had acted illegally. He told me how much easier he could now sleep, given the sense of ‘justice done’ which he had received, which was very gratifying to hear.

What still rankled for Mr Matthews however was that, at this point (December 2019), Bedfordshire Police were apparently getting away ‘scot free’ for their original ‘deceit’ which had led Surrey to arrest him.

He and I therefore turned our attentions to Bedfordshire.

Misfeasance in Public Office

Although it was not possible to claim against Bedfordshire Police damages for assault or false imprisonment (given that his arrest was carried out by Surrey officers), I identified that Mr Matthews had valid claims against Bedfordshire for damages arising from Misfeasance in Public Office and Breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

At first, and perhaps unsurprisingly, given their cowardly attempt to disavow responsibility for Mr Matthew’s arrest in the immediate aftermath of that event, Bedfordshire sought to dispute the claim – and once again, to hide behind the actions of Surrey as the ‘frontline’ Force who had carried out the arrest.

Mr Matthews however possessed the strength of character and conviction in the righteousness of his cause not to be dissuaded by the Police denial, but to authorise me to take the fight to Bedfordshire through Court proceedings.

He was determined that not only those who unthinkingly arrested him, but those whose malice and vindictiveness had sparked that arrest, should pay the price, and thereby reset the scales of justice.

Following review, Bedfordshire changed tack and a settlement for the payment of additional compensation and costs was agreed. 

As stated at the beginning of this blog, for both Mr Matthews and myself, this claim – particularly the second claim against Bedfordshire was always about principle rather than monetary amounts.

Mr Matthews had vented his frustration with Bedfordshire Police by writing them a letter whose worst ‘offence’ was a spirit of sarcasm, expressing his feelings about the false accusation they had recorded about him. In response, Bedfordshire Police’s high echelons took out their frustration at Mr Matthews by setting him up for arrest – here was a gross imbalance of power and manifest abuse of that power by the Police.

The bravery and endeavour of people such as Mr Matthews, who refuse to be cowed in the face of Police denials and threats of legal costs are essential in ensuring that our Police services operate according to the proper rule of law, for the good of all in our society, including the Policing institutions themselves.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.