My client Curtis Givens has recently concluded his claim against Merseyside Police, and there are some interesting aspects of his case which I felt it worth highlighting in this week’s blog.
Curtis and his adult son resided at separate flats in the same building in Liverpool. In June 2019, a dispute was ongoing between Curtis’s son and the building’s landlord over rent arrears.
On the afternoon of 10 June, Curtis’s son’s flat was ransacked by unknown individuals whilst he was out walking his dog.
That evening, Curtis had his son and a friend round at his own flat socialising, when the three men were startled by a loud banging at the communal door to the premises. Three uniformed officers from Merseyside Police were outside the building; when Curtis’s son spoke to them through the window of the flat (Curtis’s flat being on the 1st floor) the officers stated that they were responding to reports of an (unspecified) incident, and requested that Curtis’s son come down to talk to them. They refused requests to elaborate as to the nature of the ‘incident’.
Curtis’s son challenged the officers as to whether they had a warrant; they did not. They then alleged that Curtis’s son was not a tenant of the building, but was rather a ‘squatter’, to which he responded by throwing down to them a copy of his tenancy agreement and bank statements.
The officers persisted in asking Curtis’s son to come down stairs to ‘speak’ to them – for unspecified reasons – and he continued to refuse to do so, as was his right.
However, numerous other officers were now arriving at the scene, and some of these new arrivals were armed with an ‘enforcer’ (i.e battering ram) and crowbars. Police dogs had also been brought.
Curtis encouraged his son to now go down and talk to the officers. With a view to avoiding unnecessary damage to the property, Curtis’s son did so, but before opening the front door he made it clear to the officers that he was coming out to speak to them, and he was not giving them permission to enter the property. The officers replied that that was understood/ agreed.
Nevertheless – but perhaps predictably – as soon as Curtis’s son opened the door he was aggressively grabbed by a male officer, who pulled him out of the building, and immediately handcuffed him. To compound the unlawfulness of this action, no reason was given as to why Curtis’s son was being arrested/ detained.
Curtis – who had accompanied his son downstairs – was now likewise pulled out of the building by the Police, and handcuffed by a different officer. Again, no explanation whatsoever was given to justify this.
Numerous officers then entered the building, and shortly afterwards, Curtis’s friend was brought down from the flat, also in handcuffs.
All three men remained entirely in the dark as to any basis for their (presumed) arrests – with Curtis’s son questioning the officers as to whether his landlord had put them up to this with a false report of illegality (as he had done that before) – until around 15 minutes after the officers had laid hands on them: an officer announced that they were all under arrest on suspicion of possession of a Class A drug (Cocaine) with intent to supply. Curtis and his companions were incredulous and disputed these false charges, but were nevertheless taken into custody at St Anne Street Police Station.
The Custody Record gave the following justification for Curtis’s arrest-
“PWITS A [Possession With Intent To Supply Class A] suspected to be cocaine circumstances:- Called to a disturbance… report of males attacking another within a property patrols attend and enquiries take place another arrested male spoken to in the property he refuses officers entry and was evasive, male kept moving away from the window – patrols entered under s17 PACE x 3 males located inside property evidence of drug misuse snap bags and white power suspected to be cocaine no person making allegation of assault DP 1 of 3 inside therefore C+A no reply handcuffed to the front anc informed”.
Curtis, his son and his friend knew nothing about any such disturbance/ fight – let alone drugs in the property – but were nevertheless strip- searched, detained for over 18 hours and interviewed.
During the interview process, photographs of a mysterious ‘white powder’, said to have been found on a surface in Curtis’s son’s flat, were produced to Curtis and his son. Curtis’s son correctly observed that this powder, rather than being a Class A prohibited drug, was in fact flour – although the Police actually went to the length of laboratory tests before they admitted defeat on this.
In their apparent desire to find ‘something’ to pin on the three men, and thereby justify their intrusion into the premises, the Police had also gone into an unoccupied flat in the same building and discovered there a handful of “extremely tiny” cannabis seedlings of “no monetary value” (that is the official Police description of this ‘haul’).
Curtis and his son were released “pending further enquiries” on 11 June and subsequently received confirmation that no further action was to be taken against them. The final Police report stated-
“It is my request due to the serious lack of evidence this matter be NFA’d … I strongly believe this matter is not in the public interest to pursue any further and the likelihood of a conviction for PWITS or POCD [Possession of Class D] is impossible.”
Curtis subsequently instructed me to pursue a legal claim for compensation against Merseyside Police on the basis of trespass to land, false imprisonment and assault and battery: those proceedings have recently been successfully concluded.
Absent of a warrant, the Police only have the power to enter a private dwelling house, if permission is not granted by the occupant, in certain limited and generally ‘emergency’ circumstances.
The power which Merseyside Police purported to rely upon on this occasion was that granted under Section 17 (1) (e) of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) – the power to enter premises for the purpose of “saving life and limb or preventing serious damage to property.”
My client now understands that the landlord of the premises had made a malicious report to the Police, alleging that a new tenant at the property was being threatened by a gang of teenagers linked to Curtis’s son. Curtis asserts this was entirely untrue, and it is undisputable that when the Police arrived, there was neither sight nor sound of any such disturbance.
The Police log indicates that before arriving at the property, the Police did speak by telephone to a male who claimed to be the new tenant, and who stated that a group of males had chased him from the premises – but that he was now safe elsewhere. Even if this was true, therefore, there was no evidence of any ongoing threat to ‘life and limb’ which would have justified the Police entering under Section 17 – but that is nevertheless what the officers did, having enticed Curtis and his son to the door by suggesting that they just wanted to talk.
Thus it was my firm view that the entry of the officers into the flats was unlawful and constituted trespass to land; furthermore, the Police were at the same time committing the offences of trespass to the person and false imprisonment upon Curtis and his son, by handcuffing and detaining them not only without an objectively lawful excuse – but in fact, without any stated justification at all! Even the Police themselves, in their response to the legal claim, did not contend that any justification for arrest had been given to Curtis during the first 13 minutes of his detention (until he was then formally arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply flour – sorry, cocaine).
I am pleased to confirm that Curtis’s claim has recently been settled on the basis of a payment of £5,000 damages, plus legal costs.
I have blogged before about the disconcerting tendency of some Police officers to ‘detain’ people whilst they try to find an excuse to arrest them . That is indisputably what was going on here; the Police evidently took a dislike to Curtis and his son, as the inhabitants of low-rent housing with a previous history of interactions with the Police, and decided that they would find a reason to arrest them, rather than arresting them for a reason. Such acts of Police misconduct might be written off as incompetence/ rashness on the part of officers who genuinely do not understand the limits of their own powers, but I have grave concerns that many officers know full well that such acts of detention are unlawful, but nevertheless consider them a useful tactic in the face of the general public, who do not necessarily know that such powers don’t exist. Even if the Police commit such acts of wilful false imprisonment ‘with the best of intentions’ this gives rise to a slippery slope whereby such conduct could become more commonplace/ accepted, severely eroding our long established civil liberties.
If the Police exceed the law, then the law must be used to push back at them – and I am pleased that is exactly what Curtis Givens, with my expert assistance, was able to do.