It’s always good to start the new year with a victory at Trial, and that was what happened this week for my client William Biddle (known as Billy) at Nottingham County Court; however, his case is also yet another example of how broken and dysfunctional the Police complaints system is: his dispute with the Police simply didn’t need to go this far, had they addressed it properly in the first place.
We’ll Knock You Over, Then We’ll Arrest You?
Billy is a supporter of Mansfield Football Club, but because of work commitments is not usually able to go to the match. On Saturday 17 March 2018, on a rare day off work, he had the opportunity to go and watch Mansfield play away at Notts County (a local derby) and looked forward to attending the game with three of his friends.
Shortly before kick- off, Billy and his friends were making their way along County Road, approaching Notts County’s ground.
They walked past a stationary Police van, which was parked fully on the road, to their left. As they passed the van, Billy, who was on the outside of the group of friends, walking closest to the edge of the pavement, noticed three more Police vans approaching them from the opposite direction. At this point, they were only about 100 feet from the turnstiles.
Because of the weather conditions – strong winds and snow – Billy kept his head down as he walked; he was fully on the pavement, albeit close to the edge.
Suddenly, he felt a sharp blow to his left shoulder, such that he was spun around and knocked into the friend who was walking beside him. Billy felt immediate pain and realised that he had been struck by the wing mirror of the first of the three vans in the Police ‘convoy’, which had mounted the kerb as it drove past, striking Billy in the process.
This van was then followed by two other Police ‘riot’ vans which performed the same manoeuvre i.e mounting the kerb and continuing to drive for a distance before coming to a halt partly on, and partly off the road. Thankfully, because of the first impact, Billy was at least no longer in the path of the second or third vans.
Billy was shocked and in pain, and was minded to immediately complain, but one of his friends told him not to say anything in case the Police thought Billy was causing trouble and might stop them from entering the ground.
Billy was also aware that the gates were about to be locked and didn’t want to miss the game. Accordingly, he let it go and went through the turnstiles.
However, at half time, Billy took the opportunity to approach the convoy of parked Police vans, which were still in situ outside the ground; there were four such vehicles in total i.e the first one Billy had noticed parked on the road, and the other three (the leader of which had hit him) parked half on/half off the pavement. Several of the vans contained Police officers, presumably awaiting deployment at the end of the game.
Billy approached the first uniformed Police Officer that he saw, a Sergeant sitting in the front passenger seat of the fourth and final van.
Billy tapped on the window and then noticed that the Sergeant was on the phone. He waited politely for the officer to finish. The Sergeant then wound his window down and asked, “What’s up?”
Billy explained what had happened to him, to which the officer replied “Yeah I seen it happen, it wasn’t that bad, I’m not in charge, go and speak to the Inspector” – gesturing to a van ahead. He then wound his window back up and turned his attention back to his phone.
Not perhaps the response we might want from a Police officer who on his own evidence had witnessed a road traffic collision involving a pedestrian…but perhaps the response we might expect when the vehicle involved was a Police unit.
Billy was not impressed by the Sergeant’s dismissive response and decided that he would complain; he used his phone to take a photograph of the officer’s collar number.
Although witnessing an accident was apparently not enough to pull the Sergeant’s attention away from his phone, taking a photograph of him was – he immediately alighted from the van and, Billy says, threatened him with the words “If you don’t piss off now, I’ll arrest you.” When Billy asked what he could possibly be arrested for, the Sergeant contemptuously replied, “I don’t know, I’ll think of something.”
This response was both so despicable and so ridiculous that Billy’s reaction was to laugh at the trumped-up Sergeant, but one of his friends, who had overheard the conversation, pulled him away with the warning “Come away, he’ll lock you up.”
Billy didn’t want to spoil the day for himself or his friends by getting arrested. He walked away, and down the road to the van that the first officer had pointed to. The van’s doors were open; it was being used as a mobile “control centre” for the match day.
Billy now spoke to a second Police Officer. He told him what had happened i.e. about being struck by the Police van. This officer replied that the Inspector in charge was in the ground, however he took Billy’s name, address and phone number. Billy also pointed out exactly which van had hit him and the officer seemed to make a note of the registration plate number of that van. The officer then told Billy that he would call him on Monday. Billy then returned within the ground, to rejoin the rest of his friends for the second half of the match.
It was only on waking the next day, that Billy realised the full extent of the injury he had suffered; his left shoulder was really painful, and he could barely move it. He also had a tingling sensation in his fingers; he struggled to get out of bed and couldn’t drive.
Accordingly, on Monday morning Billy attended his GP surgery; he was signed off work, prescribed painkillers and referred to hospital for x-rays; fortunately, these confirmed that there was no fracture.
Having obtained medical treatment, Billy then attended his local Police Station, Mansfield Woodhouse. He was kept waiting for some time and asked that someone call him.
He did subsequently receive a call and was invited to re-attend the Police Station the next day (Wednesday), whereupon he gave a full report as to what had happened and signed a detailed witness statement. He also provided the photograph he had taken of the Officer who had been rude to him, and who had so outrageously threatened to arrest him for no reason. He was assured that the incident would now be investigated.
Because of his injury, Billy was off work for two weeks and suffered loss of earnings as a result; he works in traffic management and when he returned, the physical aspects of his job, such as repetitive, heavy lifting of street furniture caused significant discomfort in his shoulder for months afterwards.
Insult to Injury: Why the Police Complaint System Remains a Bad Joke
In early June 2018 Billy received a letter from Inspector Longden of Nottinghamshire Police headed “Summary of Local Resolution” which stated that his complaint had been investigated, but which did not offer any proper findings or conclusion – Inspector Longden completely failed to address the serious accusation that the Sergeant whom Billy had approached had threatened an unlawful arrest to get rid of him, merely offering a typical, non- committal, ‘corporate’ apology in the following terms – “I would like to apologise if you felt the officer you spoke to was rude…”
Furthermore, although an accident report had now been completed by the Police, the Inspector failed to tell Billy what its conclusions were, or to supply a copy of the same, merely stating that Billy’s solicitor could request a copy of the report, if he was interested.
The “resolution” letter was then signed off with yet more standard, empty verbiage – “Whilst I trust all the areas of your complaint have been answered, you may exercise your right to appeal if you are not satisfied…” In fact, Billy was so disappointed by the totally lacklustre response he had received, he couldn’t be bothered appealing – almost certainly a correct decision, as it would likely have been a waste of time on his behalf given the defensive/ disinterested attitude Nottinghamshire Police had displayed to date in response to his complaint.
From the accident report, which I was able to obtain for him, Billy then learned that the Police had identified the van that hit him, and the van driver as being PC Hornsby. The report, apparently completed by Inspector Longden himself, stated as follows “Injured party reports being struck on his shoulder by the wing mirror of a police personnel carrier which was deployed to a public order incident. Police driver unaware of incident and other personnel and passengers are also unaware.”
The report contained no suggestion that any effort had been made to obtain the kind of video evidence, which is likely to have been available, had prompt enquiries been made – given the very nature of the vehicle involved being a Police carrier, with numerous other officers and police vehicles in close proximity, as well as a football ground nearby, likely fitted with CCTV cameras.
Rather, the report seemed to have been completed as a half-hearted ‘box ticking’ exercise, and came to no useful conclusion as to whether a collision had occurred or not: certainly, no action was taken against the alleged driver of the offending Police van, PC Hornsby, in any way.
I will also highlight here the fact that in the statement he made for the subsequent County Court proceedings brought by my client, PC Hornsby, whilst accepting that he had been driving a vehicle in the vicinity on the day in question, not only denied any knowledge of hitting Billy– he also asserted that “I am unsure of how I came to be referred to in the report as I was not involved in the complaint investigation” – rather begging the question of why Inspector Longden felt he was able to so confidently assert in that report “Police driver unaware of incident”.
Frankly, is it any wonder, in light of conduct like this, that so many people are cynical about the integrity of the Police complaints system?
Suing the Police for Personal Injury
In any event, Nottinghamshire Police had had an opportunity to deal with this matter promptly with an acceptance of liability for Billy’s injury and a proper apology for the Sergeant’s misconduct – they failed to take that opportunity and would instead devote the next three years to spending public money in an attempt to frustrate Billy’s legitimate, and modest, claim for compensation, forcing him to go all the way to Trial during the continuing Covid pandemic.
Along the way, the Police attempted to throw as many obstacles as they could in the path of Billy’s claim, variously accusing him of – causing the accident through his own negligence, being drunk, walking into the carriageway (into the path of the vehicle) and exaggerating the severity of his injury (or even making it up entirely) – all without a shred of positive evidence in their favour, and despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary (Billy’s prompt report of the incident and the photograph he took of the Sergeant; his contemporaneous medical records; his documented absence from work; his witness statement; and the fact that the Police themselves, whilst denying knowledge of any collision, accepted that the van Billy had pointed out had driven onto the pavement in the manner he had described).
Finally, at Trial, on Monday of this week, justice was done with His Honour Judge Godsmark QC taking only two hours, rather than three years, to cogently assess the evidence and conclude that Billy’s case was proven – the balance of the evidence was, of course, that he had been struck by a passing Police van, and suffered injury as a result – as, we might well imagine, the Police themselves might have promptly concluded, had the vehicle and driver in question not been ones of their own.
The game was finally up for the Police, and Billy was awarded compensation of almost £6,000 for his injury and loss of earnings.
But how many more members of the public will suffer similar disappointment and frustration before the bias and partiality of the Police complaints system is addressed? It continues to be a major systemic and cultural failing within our Policing system, and sadly, a determination for root and branch reform of how the Police ‘police themselves’ does not seem likely to be on the New Year Resolution agendas of any of our Chief Constables, either now or in the foreseeable future.