The failings of Greater Manchester Police have been the subject of numerous news reports in recent times, following on from the Force being placed into “special measures” in December 2020. A Police Effectiveness, Efficiency and Legitimacy (PEEL) report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary published last month, highlighted continuing areas of concern.
This week in my blog I will illustrate what sub-standard performance can mean on the ‘front line’ of day-to-day policing in the Greater Manchester area, for an innocent man and his family.
In the early hours of Saturday, one day in November 2017, my client David was at his home address in Wigan. He was asleep on his sofa after a night out at a family celebration. His wife, Emma , was still out and their teenage daughter Lucy was in bed upstairs.
Unbeknown to David, Lucy had mistakenly called 999 on her mobile phone just before midnight and quickly cancelled it. There were then two further accidental calls from her phone at 1:26am and 1:33am (“butt dials”). When the emergency call centre called the number back, Lucy answered. When asked if she had called the police she replied no, and apologised. When asked for her address she hung up. The mobile phone was registered to her mother, Emma, at the family’s home address.
In response to that abandoned 999 call, GMP officers attended at the family home at around 4:20am. Initially, there were just two officers, PC Matthews and PC Brandon. PC Matthews was clearly the older and more experienced of the two officers and took the lead in what happened thereafter.
David did not hear the officer knock on the door but was woken as the officers walked into the living room where he had been sleeping on the sofa. He was surprised to hear about the 999 call and politely answered all of the officers’ questions, explaining that Emma was still out with family/friends. He confirmed that there had not been any ‘domestic’ between him and his wife.
David explained that his daughter was upstairs and went to her bedroom to see if she would speak with the officers. Lucy explained to David that ‘999’ was dialled by accident and he relayed that to the officers.
He then showed the officers upstairs so that PC Matthews could speak directly with Lucy, whilst David provided further details to PC Brandon in the living room. Lucy asserted to PC Matthews that the 999 call was a mistake.
During these interactions, David was very co-operative and allowed the two officers free-rein to explore the house. The officers searched the ground floor living room, dining area, kitchen and even under-stairs cupboard. PC Matthews also searched the upstairs floors (the bathroom and all of the bedrooms).
PC Matthews then saw Emma’s mobile phone (switched off) on the hallway table and David confirmed that it was his wife’s, explaining that she must have not taken it out with her.
“I smell porkies”
At that point PC Matthews asserted, “I smell porkies”, insinuating that David was lying. David took offence at that and clearly asked the officers to leave his home.
The officers refused to leave, at which point David raised his voice and tried to guide the officers from the living room to the front door. He repeatedly asked the officers to leave his house, yet they refused to do so.
It would appear that PC Matthews was assuming that the phone used to make the ‘dropped’ 999 call was Emma’s phone in the hallway – as opposed to Lucy’s phone registered in her mother’s name – and from that had leapt to the wild surmise that something sinister had befallen Emma – despite there being absolutely no evidence of this (and, indeed, significant evidence to the contrary was about to appear).
At this point the officers had already spoken to the couple’s daughter and searched the house from top to bottom. There was no evidence of any crime and the officers should have simply obeyed David’s instruction to leave – by point-blank refusing to do so, they thereby rendered themselves as trespassers, having no power to remain on the premises in these circumstances once the householder’s consent to their presence was withdrawn.
As David moved towards PC Matthews to guide him back towards the front door, PC Matthews shoved David violently in the chest with both hands, pushing him backwards.
PC Matthews then moved into the hallway briefly, before pushing past David to return into the living room and through into the dining area again, apparently searching the area for a second time to see if Emma was there, which she clearly was not. It was around this time that Lucy, having heard the disturbance, came into the living room.
As David approached PC Matthews, repeating his instructions for the officer to leave, PC Brandon suddenly and without warning grabbed hold of David from behind, putting his arm around David’s neck in a ‘choke hold’.
David struggled to free himself from the choke hold, and he and PC Brandon fell onto the sofa, where a struggle ensued.
At that moment, Emma entered the living room with her brother, having just returned home, shocked and stunned to witness a Police officer wrestling with her husband on the couch.
It was now manifestly clear that no harm had befallen Emma, but PC Matthews and PC Brandon continued their assault upon David.
PC Matthews sprayed David in the face with CS Spray. As well as debilitating David, the spray affected everyone else in the room, including Emma and Lucy. Emma’s brother pulled David up from the sofa.
David then went upstairs and the police officers stepped outside the house with Emma and Lucy. PC Matthews then stepped back into the hallway and walked to the bottom of the stairs.
David came back down the stairs, in distress and pain from the CS spray, again instructing PC Matthews to leave and attempting to close the front door. PC Matthews stood in the doorway, preventing David from closing it and forcing the door against David.
PC Brandon then discharged CS Spray into David’s face for a second time.
Multiple Police units now pulled up outside the house, blue lights flashing.
PC Brandon and a female officer now restrained Emma, who was protesting at the officer’s treatment of her husband and moved her away from the front door. PC Brandon then handcuffed Emma to the rear and detained her on the driveway while the other officers approached David. Let us not forget that this whole incident had ‘kicked off’ because the Police were allegedly concerned as to Emma’s safety – but she was entirely unharmed until the Police subjected her to gas spray, manhandling and handcuffing.
One of the newly arrived officers, PS Brown, then entered the house and took hold of David. PS Brown punched David several times to the face. David struggled in an attempt to defend himself and get away from PS Brown and the other officers. PC Matthews had also grabbed hold of David and both officers dragged him out of the house.
Outside the house and whilst David was restrained by PS Brown and PC Matthews, PC Edwards approached David and Tasered him from close range – making contact with his torso. The Taser incapacitated David causing him to fall to the ground, whereupon he was handcuffed by PC Matthews and taken to a waiting police vehicle. The Police had brutally deployed the full extent of their weaponry upon an innocent man.
Once David was inside the police van, at around 4:50am, PC Matthews arrested him for “assaulting police officers in the execution of their duties”.
David arrived at Wigan custody suite at around 5:15am and his detention was authorised at 5:27am.
Following an interview under caution, in which he asserted his innocence, David was released, after almost 12 hours in Police custody. His shirt and trousers were returned to him but they were ripped and smelled of CS gas so he threw them away. At the time of release he enquired as to how he could make a complaint against the officers involved in the incident.
David was subsequently sent a postal requisition in January 2018 in regard to three offences of assaulting a constable contrary to s.89(1) of the Police Act 1996, based on allegations that he assaulted PC Matthews, PC Brandon and PS Brown. All of the charges against him were dismissed following a trial at the Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court in October 2018, but he nevertheless had the stress of those charges hanging over his head for almost a whole year.
As a result of the force used against him by the Police, David was left with pain and discomfort from the gas spray and taser, as well as bruises and scratches to his face, and a cut inside his mouth that required hospital treatment.
David subsequently brought a complaint against GMP, but sadly the Professional Standards Branch failed to take this opportunity to apologise and to rectify the failings of PC Matthews and his colleagues – instead endorsing the officers’ actions and rejecting the complaint as “not upheld” on all counts.
Such is the typical reactionary response of most Police Forces in these scenarios, thereby wasting significant opportunities to improve professional standards – of which GMP of all Forces would appear to be sorely in need at the current time.
What a self-inflicted waste of Police time and resources this incident was – although over and above ‘mere’ incompetence and aggression, we also have the more sinister spectre of the efforts made by the Police to criminalise David for this encounter – despite the fact that he was an innocent man in his own home, trying to get two trespassers to leave, who both assaulted him without warning, including a violent ‘choke hold’ manoeuvre. Multiple officers involved in the event gave sworn statements depicting David as the aggressor. Such falsehoods could have resulted in David being convicted and facing a jail sentence and might have blighted his future career prospects. It is awful and reprehensible conduct on the part of the Police, although in my experience sadly an all too common an outcome of such encounters.
Ultimately, justice was secured, firstly as a result of David’s courage and determination in proving his innocence at the Magistrates Court, and secondly through my expert legal assistance in the Civil Court proceedings which followed, forcing GMP to settle David’s damages claim for a significant five-figure sum.
In light of incidents like this, however, GMP have clearly got a long way to go to improve their Policing to adequate levels – or, indeed, to demonstrate any real intent to reform the errors of judgement and institutional malice which allow misbehaving officers to go unpunished, and put innocent people at risk of being ‘framed’ for offences they did not commit.