It is a sad fact of life that the Policing profession is attractive not only to those who feel the call of duty to help keep society safe, and to protect others – but also those with authoritarian tendencies and who, in the wrong circumstances, can let their impulses turn them into overgrown playground bullies.
I have recently concluded claims recovering damages totalling £65,500 on behalf of four young men, who were on the receiving end of vicious abuse and violence from an officer of British Transport Police who has now, thankfully, been dismissed from the service.
I will set out here the shocking details of this case.
Arrested for Queue-Jumping?
On the evening of 4 June 2018, my client Eduardo was working at a restaurant in the Westfield Shopping Centre.
That same evening at approximately 19.25, a group of four friends, including Mohammed (Mo), Rui Cassama and Rui Santos, queued up to eat in the restaurant. All the friends are of Black African heritage. Rui Santos had a pre-existing injury (from football) and was using a crutch.
Mo and the two Ruis temporarily left the queue, debating whether to eat elsewhere, but then decided to stick with this restaurant, and returned to the point in the queue where their fourth friend had remained throughout.
PC Mahbub Ahmed of the British Transport Police (known to his colleagues as “Mabs”) then approached the friends and accused them of queue jumping; they reasonably disputed this. PC Ahmed was with two other officers, PC Owusu and PC Davenport.
An argument then developed, during which PC Ahmed threatened to arrest the friends for an unspecified offence – queue jumping? – and also grabbed Rui Santos’s shirt, in an attempt to pull him out of the queue. When the friends protested about this, PC Ahmed then indiscriminately deployed his captor spray, spraying Mo, Rui Cassama, Rui Santos and several others in the vicinity, including Eduardo who was innocently standing behind the food counter in the course of his employment. All of my clients felt a burning sensation in their eyes and on their faces, and their eyes began to water. The spray had also affected some of Eduardo’s colleagues and contaminated food that was on the restaurant counter.
Fortunately, the unfolding events, the aggression and increasingly deplorable behaviour of PC Ahmed were captured on the shopping centre CCTV and the body cameras worn by PC Ahmed, as well as the numerous other police officers who quickly gathered in the vicinity, PC Ahmed having activated a ‘panic button’ which had brought numerous other officers of both BTP and the Metropolitan Police, who had been elsewhere in the Westfield Centre, running to this ‘emergency’.
PC Ahmed, referring to Rui Santos, said to a colleague (believed to be PC Owusu), “Let’s nick him mate ……. he’s coming in for assault bruv, cos I captored him as well.”
At this point, Eduardo touched PC Ahmed’s elbow to gain his attention and tried to explain that, whilst working, he had been affected by PC Ahmed’s deployment of captor spray. PC Ahmed replied “I know you’re working.”
PC Owusu then said to PC Ahmed, “Mabs, calm.” However, PC Ahmed instead decided to berate Rui Santos with the words “Listen, you’re a pussy, you’re a fucking pussy.” , before declaring to his colleague PC Owusu, “I’m gonna drop him. Let’s fucking drop him” and “I swear to God I’ll drop him.”
PC Ahmed then continued to spray insults and threats around as liberally as he had his captor spray, repeatedly calling Rui Cassama a “pussy”, and threatening to “pepper spray” everyone again, before announcing “I’m a mad man”. He then went on to call Rui Santos a “Fucking piece of shit”, and threatened Mo with the words “I will fucking drop you like a piece of shit.”
PC Ahmed then advised Rui Santos that he was to be arrested for “Common assault” because he had “grabbed hold” of PC Ahmed.
The argument continued and PC Ahmed questioned Rui Santos about what had happened to his leg, in reference to his crutch, stating “Did someone beat you up? You’re an idiot mate, I’ll break your leg as well.”
The Thin Red Line
That thin red line into rage which is evidently near the forefront of certain Police officers’ minds had evidently now been crossed. PC Ahmed pushed Rui Santos and produced his baton. Rui in turn raised his crutch, defensively.
PC Owusu and another officer, PC Obaseki, then took hold of Rui Santos. PC Ahmed approached. A member of the public sought to intervene.
PC Ahmed pushed the member of the public aside and said “Get rid of him. Me? I’m handling my job.” Then, whilst Rui Santos was restrained by his police colleagues, and using over-head strikes, PC Ahmed lashed out twice with his baton – first inadvertently striking PC Obaseki’s shoulder and then, getting his aim right, deliberately striking Rui Santos in the head, connecting with Rui’s left cheekbone.
PC Ahmed then said of Rui Santos “He’s getting nicked” and then indiscriminately towards the rest of Rui’s companions – “You’re getting nicked as well, they’re all getting nicked for common assault.” To literally add insult to injury, PC Ahmed, on noticing the wound he had caused to the side of Rui Santos’s face, taunted him with the words “Ooh, we’re bleeding now, are we?” He also mocked Mo, whose eyes he noticed were watering in response to the captor spray, with the jibe “Don’t you dare cry now.”
The member of the public who had just been pushed aside by PC Ahmed now said to him, ”You guys are antagonising the situation” and “You need to care, because you’re the one that caused this.”
Ignoring this, PC Ahmed told PC Walters, “They all need to get nicked ……… for common assault” and “I tried to talk to them, all three of them…………. just started pushing me and grabbed hold of me by the collar, so all of them are getting nicked. He’s [referring to Rui Santos] the main aggressor and all of them have to get nicked… If there aint no one else gonna do it, I’m gonna do it. Mate, they need to get nicked.”
PC Ahmed now went on to engineer the arrests of Rui Cassama and Mohammed, outrageously alleging that Rui Cassama had come at him with a knife, and that Mo had tried to assault him with a fork.
Mo immediately protested his innocence, but to no avail, and was unquestioningly handcuffed by PC Brown. Rui Cassama’s pleas of innocence likewise fell on deaf ears. Both men were simply incredulous at the blatant lies that Ahmed was telling.
Appetite For Detention
PC Ahmed’s appetite for arrest was evidently not yet satisfied, however.
Eduardo had seen Rui Santos, Rui Cassama and Mohammed be arrested, and attempted to engage with PC Ahmed about his conduct. Instead, Westfield security staff restrained Eduardo, PC Ahmed approached him and announced, “You’re going to get arrested in a minute as well.”
In response to this outrageous threat, Eduardo understandably protested “Who do you think you are?” to which PC Ahmed replied, “Who do you think you are? You work behind the counter mate. Go back there you little idiot. Mate, drop him to the floor if he does anything else.”
PC Ahmed then turned to PC Owusu and said, “That member of staff’s getting nicked as well ‘cos he’s just come and grabbed me by the collar ‘cos I accidentally sprayed him. He needs to get nicked.”
This allegation of assault by PC Ahmed was a blatant untruth, but none of the police officers present challenged their colleague; instead, they joined in the pursuit of Eduardo, as he attempted to escape from his unlawful arrest. PC Mirza grabbed hold of Eduardo and pushed him up against a wall.
Eduardo was told several times that he was to be arrested but was not given any explanation as to what the alleged offence was; he was then handcuffed to the rear.
Truth be told, it should have been PC Ahmed who was being restrained and arrested at this point, but of course that is not what his brother officers did.
One of the Westfield security guards did, at least, challenge PC Ahmed’s reason to arrest, pointing out that Eduardo had not assaulted him, but had just tapped Ahmed on the shoulder. PC Ahmed dismissed this challenge, pontificating “That is an assault …… listen, don’t teach me my job mate….. just because it’s a member of staff that works with you, I don’t give a shit.”
Eduardo protested that he was innocent, that he was not resisting, and that the officers were treating him like “an animal”. Another member of staff queried if they could give Eduardo first aid because of the obvious pain the captor spray was causing to Eduardo’s eyes. Unsurprisingly, PC Ahmed replied, “It doesn’t matter. ……….. he don’t need no first aid.”
All four of my clients were then transported separately by van to Leyton Police Station, where they were variously informed they were under arrest for either “assault PC” or “common assault”. All four were then subjected to the degrading ordeal of being searched, having their fingerprints and DNA taken, and being detained overnight before being formally interviewed on the assault charges the next day. All of them denied any wrongdoing. They were subsequently released under investigation but had the false accusations hanging over them for several months, until they were finally advised that no further action would be taken.
The mendacious PC Ahmed had made a series of deliberately false accusations of assault and public order against my clients, firstly in the heat of the moment, at the restaurant, but then ‘doubled- down’ upon in his later written statement, as he attempted (but failed) to manufacture a smokescreen for his own wrongdoing.
Discredit to the Service
Thankfully, PC Ahmed’s lies were exposed by the plenitude of video evidence available – including that officer’s own body camera recording.
The tables were turned, and it was he, rather than my clients, who faced charges as a result of this investigation – albeit for disciplinary, rather than criminal, offences.
Following misconduct proceedings, PC Ahmed was dismissed for gross misconduct by reason of, inter alia, unreasonable use of force on 8 September 2020.
Following that hearing, the head of BTP’s Professional Standards Department, Detective Superintendent Peter Fulton described PC Ahmed’s behaviour as “completely inappropriate and he brought discredit to the service…PC Ahmed’s reaction was unnecessary and completely inexcusable. I support the decision of the independent panel to dismiss him with immediate effect.”
Justice has been done in this case, but what to me remains a grave concern is the fact that PC Ahmed’s outrageous behaviour – in terms of the lies he was telling, the violence he meted out, and his orchestration of not one but four unlawful arrests – were not stopped by his Police colleagues, all of whom essentially followed Ahmed’s lead despite the evidence of their own eyes, and what they were evidently hearing from the members of the public and Westfield staff who had witnessed these shocking events.
It is that type of culture of complicity and compliance amongst the Police ‘brotherhood’ which unfortunately facilitates the abuse of power to which many officers fall prey when their ‘red mist’ descends – and which attracts those with tendency to bully to the Force in the first place.
That is the real discredit to the Police service.
The names of all individuals in this blog have been changed apart from – PC Ahmed, Detective Superintendent Fulton, Rui Santos and Rui Cassama.