It is natural that claims against the Police involving deliberate abuse of power have a tendency to steal the media headlines, however a great many of the people whom I represent have suffered as a result of acts of Police negligence/ incompetence which can be shocking in their own right.
The utmost care and attention to detail should be applied by officers who are initiating a process which could result in a person losing their liberty – but sadly that is not always the case, as the situation my client Tony Jones found himself in demonstrates.
On the evening of 16 February 2020, Tony was proceeding along Green Lane, Liverpool, when he was stopped by two officers of Merseyside Police, including PC Scully.
Tony admitted to being in possession of a small amount of Cannabis and confirmed his name, date of birth and address (42 Montgomery Road).
Tony understood that because he had made a full admission there and then, and surrendered the cannabis, that no further action would arise. He was released and allowed to continue on his journey.
In fact, it appears that PC Scully subsequently decided to issue a postal requisition against Tony i.e a ‘remote charge’ of being in possession of cannabis, delivered by post, and requiring the charged individual (in this case Tony) to attend the Magistrates Court.
On the morning of 27 August 2020, no less than four officers of Merseyside Police attended at Tony’s address (42 Montgomery Road) and arrested him; a warrant had been issued by Liverpool Magistrates’ Court on 10 August 2020 in respect of Tony’s failing to appear in response to the postal summons.
In a state of considerable shock, as he was completely unaware of the postal summons, Tony was transported to Belle Vale Police Station where his detention was authorised. Tony was kept in Custody for around half an hour before being granted bail to appear at Liverpool Magistrates Court in December 2020, to answer charges under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Tony was left bewildered by what had occurred, knowing full well that he had received no summons and had been innocently unaware of the original date for his Court attendance.
All however became clear when Tony received the prosecution papers for his case, which revealed that the summons requiring his attendance at court on 23 July 2020 had been sent to “Street Record, Green Lane, Tuebrook, Liverpool, L13 3DB” i.e not his home address – but the location of the stop and search!
Nevertheless, the Police staff member who had completed the “Certificate of Service by Post” had endorsed the declaration that this was “an address at which the issuing authority reasonably believes that the Defendant will receive the documents”.
That such an elementary and obvious error could have been made by Police officers/ staff and then relied upon as a basis to issue a warrant for arrest against Tony, simply beggars belief, and yet that is what happened. As one of my colleagues commented – someone in the Police must have been having a “stupid day” when they drafted the request, and equally baffling is the fact that the Court then issued the warrant despite such a glaring error in the address. Subsequent enquiries revealed that the Court staff apparently believed that “Street Record” was the name of a hostel for the homeless! The CPS lawyers conducting the prosecution also appear to have read the blatantly incorrect address with glazed eyes. But this is no laughing matter really; a man was unjustly deprived of his liberty by this bureaucratic botch-up.
Although Merseyside Police were protected by an archaic piece of legislation (the Constables Protection Act 1750) from a claim under the common law for the tort of false imprisonment – on the basis that they had arrested Tony under the authority of a Court warrant, and sadly notwithstanding the fact that the gross error as to his address had arisen as a result of Police fault in the first place – I was nevertheless able to obtain an appropriate four figure settlement for his 30 minutes of detention.
I am left to reflect once again how human error in the form of ‘schoolboy mistakes’ such as the Police committed here – and numerous other legal professionals then overlooked/ signed off on – remain rife even in our modern era of data sensitivity and risk management.
Names have been changed.