This week’s blog focuses on the case of my client Michael, on whose behalf I sued the Police for damages of £6,500 when a postal summons address error led to his wrongful arrest and detention.
In February 2021 Michael was arrested for harassment by Officers of Wiltshire Constabulary, at the behest of Surrey Police, and taken to a Police Station for interview.
He was subsequently granted Police bail with a condition of residence at a specified address in Cheshire, which belonged to Michael’s parents.
In April 2021, Michael advised the Officer in charge of the investigation (who I will identify by the initials “CJ”), that he had been offered work in the South of England and therefore planned to relocate (albeit avoiding Surrey).
On 21 April, CJ asked my client to let her know his new address, stating that she would then update his bail conditions.
On 29 April, Michael duly notified CJ of his new residential address in Sussex.
That same day, CJ advised that she had emailed the Wiltshire ‘Custody Team’ to ask if Michael’s bail address could be changed from the Cheshire address to the Sussex address.
Subsequently, CJ requested that Michael provide proof of the new address, and he did this by way of email.
On 30 April, CJ advised Michael that his new address had been approved and provided a new “bail sheet” and asked if he would also like it sent via post. The new bail sheet confirmed that my client’s approved residence was now the Sussex property, and that was where he must live and sleep each night.
On 8 May, Michael received confirmation that a decision had been made to ‘release him under investigation’, which meant that his bail conditions no longer applied. That notification was also sent via post to his Sussex address.
All appeared to be well. Two months later, having heard nothing further, Michael emailed CJ for an update as to the investigation. On 21 July, CJ advised in response that the case was with the Crown Prosecution Service for review, and she would update him in due course.
Then on Saturday 25 September, Michael drove to Cheshire to visit his parents.
On arrival late that afternoon, Michael found a letter addressed to him at the Cheshire address which at first looked like ‘junk mail’, but which when he opened, to his horror, contained a Postal Requisition/Summons requiring him to attend Staines Magistrates Court in relation to the charge of harassment on 15 September 2021 – some 10 days previously. Michael was understandably shocked/ surprised, but also exhausted given his long drive and the time of day, and decided he would try to resolve the issue the next morning. He knew this must have been an error, as the Police had been fully notified of his Sussex address.
However, at approximately 9.30am on 27 September, my client’s father woke him with the news that there was a Police Officer downstairs with a warrant for Michael’s arrest. Michael got up, whereupon he was arrested for failing to attend Court on 15 September.
Michael sought to explain that there had been a mistake, but to no avail. He was transported to a local Police Station, where he was detained in a cell all day and all night.
The following morning, Michael’s fingerprints were taken before he was then transported in handcuffs to Chester Magistrates Court, where he spent a further 4 hours detention in a Court cell.
In Court, it was quickly accepted that there had been a ‘clerical error’ and Michael was then immediately released, and a new hearing date set for the original matter . Needless to say, Police transportation to Court is a one-way service, even when it arises as a result of a Police negligence – and Michael now had to pay for a taxi to get home.
Michael’s ordeal was worsened by the fact that he had arranged for his mother to have 3 days home leave from her care home, to coincide with his visit; both of his elderly parents were therefore directly caught up in the stress of the situation, which had arisen from a wholly avoidable Police error.
I was able to swiftly secure an admission of liability from Surrey Police and an appropriate monetary settlement for Michael, but I remain shocked at how often ‘schoolboy’ errors such as this are committed by the Police – causing in this case unnecessary trauma and disruption to three people’s lives, as well as wasting significant amounts of Police and Court time and money. All for want of properly checking a postal address prior to sending a communication as significant as a Summons which, if unanswered, could lead directly to a person’s arrest. Michael himself had been meticulous in gaining Police approval of his plans to relocate and ensuring they had full details of his new address; he could not have done more, and yet he still ended up in handcuffs and lost an entire day of his life to Police custody.
Postal Summons mistakes such as this simply aren’t acceptable, and if you or someone you know has suffered in this or a similar way, please contact me for expert advice and representation.