I have blogged before about how errors in Police investigations of cloned vehicles can lead to wrongful arrests; in this week’s blog I describe another distressing incident arising out of such a case of ‘mistaken identity’ – the deployment of a ‘stinger device’, without warning, upon my client Simon, his wife and young children, who were on a Sunday morning shopping trip in their new family car.
Simon was driving his newly purchased Mercedes motor car, with his wife Lorna and their three children (aged 8, 12 and 16) in the vehicle.
Simon and his family left their home at 10.45 a.m in order to travel to a nearby Shopping Centre and the incident occurred approximately 20 minutes later. As Simon was driving in an ordinary and lawful fashion along the road, a ‘stinger’ device was suddenly and without warning thrown across the road in front of his vehicle, causing Simon to have to perform an emergency breaking manoeuvre and he and his family to be thrown violently about inside the car as it collided with the stinger (puncturing the two front tyres).
It is now known that the stinger device was deployed by Officers of West Midlands Police. A stinger is a device/ weapon in the form of a sliding strip of spiked metal designed to puncture a vehicle’s tyres, instantly stopping it in its tracks in order to “resolve potentially dangerous pursuit scenarios” (per West Midlands Force policy). Here, Simon had been given absolutely no opportunity to stop his car peacefully – as he would certainly have done had the Police made their interest in his vehicle known in the usual manner of driving behind the target with flashing lights indicating that the driver should pull over. Simon had had no idea that the Police were following/ lying in wait for his car – what happened to him and his young family can only be described as a total ambush.
Simon’s car was then ‘swarmed’ by a number of Police Officers who ordered him out of the car and then led Simon to an unmarked Police vehicle nearby, making him sit in the rear – effectively he was now their prisoner, although he had not been told that he was under arrest for any offence.
Simon was detained and questioned within the Police car for approximately 10 minutes before the Police evidently became satisfied that his vehicle was legitimate, whereupon he was allowed to leave the Police vehicle and re-join his shocked and shaken family.
Simon was however at the scene for approximately 3 ½ hours in total, waiting for a recovery truck to arrive to collect his vehicle, which was no longer driveable (His car ultimately required extensive repairs, including replacement of the two front tyres and an alloy wheel) Furthermore, an ambulance had to be called for Simon’s family, who had suffered whiplash and seatbelt bruising injuries.
In response to the claim which I subsequently advanced on behalf of Simon and his family, West Midlands Police admitted that Simon had been driving in a perfectly normal manner, and that there was no suspicion that he had committed any driving offence, but alleged that they had “reasonable grounds” for suspecting his car was a ‘cloned’ vehicle. They further admitted that they had not made themselves known to Simon, or attempted to get him to pull over by peaceful means, but also sought to argue that a ‘pre-emptive strike’ was justified in anticipation of the vehicle not stopping if the Police revealed themselves.
Their justification for this assertion was an incident which occurred almost 2 months earlier when WMP officers were conducting speed checks in the local area and a white Mercedes motor car with the same registration as my client’s vehicle had failed to stop (nothing more than that).
It was stated that subsequent Police enquiries via Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras (ANPR) had established that the vehicle which had failed to stop on the earlier occasion was a ‘clone’ and that the genuine vehicle was registered in Kent, had a GB patch on the number plate and a large sun roof (which the cloned car did not have).
Simon had in fact purchased the genuine motor car in Kent the day before the index incident.
Then, when Simon was driving his family in the vehicle the following day, it was apparently flagged up on the ANPR system as “A potential cloned vehicle”.
Of course, Simon’s vehicle did have a sun roof (it was the real car) so it appears that the only difference between the vehicle as driven by my client and the details the Police had on their system for the legitimate vehicle was that Simon’s registration plate was lacking a ‘GB’ sign. Obviously however, it is not unusual for registration plates to be changed, and this is what had occurred before Simon bought the vehicle.
The mere lack of the GB marking on the number plate should not give rise to a reasonable suspicion that this was the cloned vehicle – especially because, had Simon’s car been properly observed by the Police, the other key distinguishing feature – and the one which could not be easily or cheaply changed – would have been surely noticed i.e. that Simon’s car had a sun roof, which the cloned vehicle did not.
West Midlands Police MP also tried to make a play on the fact that Simon’s “vehicle was a long way from where the original was registered, West Midlands rather than Kent.” The UK is hardly a country the size of the USA however, and this was again no basis for the deployment of such dramatic force against Simon’s vehicle – especially because Police logs also revealed that prior to the Stinger deployment the Police had made enquiries which had established that the previous owner of the legitimate vehicle – who lived in Kent – had notified the DVLA that he had sold it.
There was no dispute that Simon and his family were entirely innocent parties in all of this.
Rejecting the Police denial of liability, and holding them to account for their errors/ mistakes and disproportionate use of force, I am pleased to report that I secured compensation totalling £12,750 for Simon and his wife. I am also now pursuing claims on behalf of the couple’s children.
Elementary errors and the typical Police predilection to use force caused totally unnecessary shock, harm and suffering to an innocent family, and it was right to hold West Midlands Police to account.
With every expansion of Police armaments and technological capabilities, there comes an ever greater responsibility to use those devices with careful precision and proportionality.
Stingers and ANPR are, of course, potentially of great assistance to the essential functions of Police Officers at the frontline of the criminal justice system; however the Police must at all times treat such technology as tools to be carefully deployed and not toys to be played with – as I am sometimes caused to think certain officers are prone to do.
Contact me for expert advice and assistance if you, or anyone you know, has suffered as a result of Police errors and mistakes in relation to cloned vehicles and/or the use of stinger devices.
My clients’ names have been changed.