My final word on the case of Yvonne Farrell this week, relates not to the original wrongdoing by Hertfordshire Constabulary – as heinous as it was – but to the attitude and conduct of the Police thereafter, which was littered with obstruction, denial, delay, excuses, and counter- accusations; everything, in fact, apart from an apology until the very last moment.
I felt the need to highlight this after reading the press release which Hertfordshire Police issued following Yvonne’s interview on Newsnight. Therein, the Police strove to present themselves as having been on Yvonne’s side throughout –
“The fair treatment of people detained in custody in Hertfordshire is very important. Following a review of the circumstances we accepted that, regrettably, we didn’t get everything right on this occasion four years ago. We were in regular contact with the complainant’s legal team throughout and the force agreed to settle the matter in recognition of the distress caused. The matter was settled amicably.”
In reality, that statement is nothing more than misleading ‘spin’. Tell me how ‘amicable’ you find the following Police actions/ responses-
• 2/8/18 Yvonne is wrongfully arrested and subjected to an unlawful strip- search
• 15/8/18 Yvonne lodges her complaint
• 15/3/19 Hertfordshire Professional Standards Department provide their response in a 26 page report – entirely rejecting all aspects of Yvonne’s complaint and purporting to find that her claim was entirely lawful and that there was “there is no evidence to suggest the actions of the officers have fallen below the Standards of Professional Behaviour…”
• 14/3/20 I submit a formal letter of claim on behalf of Yvonne
• 4/6/20 Hertfordshire Police Legal Services deny all liability (“your client’s claim is denied in its entirety”) relying heavily on the findings of the Complaint Report (praised by Legal Services as having been “an extensive PSD investigation”) but make a confidential offer of £800 damages.
• Their offer was eventually increased to £5,000 but the denial of liability was maintained.
• 1/9/20 I issued Court proceedings on behalf of Yvonne.
• 19/11/20 The Chief Constable of Hertfordshire filed a Defence to the claim, again entirely denying liability and alleging “All force was necessary, reasonable and lawful.”
• 15/12/20 The Chief Constable accepted the Claimant’s offer to settle her claim for £45,000 damages and agreed to provide a letter of apology.
The reality is that this wasn’t an amicable process, with the Police trying to set things right from the outset, as their publicity implies. Instead, the Force’s long- established internal processes – designed, in my opinion, to demoralise victims of misconduct, deter complaints and frighten off claims (through the spectre of lengthy and costly contested court proceedings) – went to work to obfuscate Police wrongdoing and frustrate a legitimate complaint and claim.
It is those processes, the institutional response to external criticism, which need just as much reform as the dirty practice of stripping detainees of their clothes along with their rights.
Let me therefore offer a re-worded version of Hertfordshire’s statement which more accurately reflects the truth-
“The fair treatment of people detained in custody in Hertfordshire was sadly not as important to us as protecting our officers from criticism. Following a review of the circumstances we wrongly maintained that we had got everything right. We were in regular contact with the complainant’s legal team throughout, repeatedly denying liability and thereby adding to the distress caused to her; and the force agreed to settle the matter only after being sued.”