In certain legal jurisdictions, ‘jaywalking’ is the offence committed by pedestrians who cross a carriageway at a place other than a designated crossing point. No such offence exists in the UK, where the Highway Code does not seek to limit the freedom of movement of pedestrians, allowing individuals to make their own judgment as to whether or not it is safe, based on the well-known precepts of the “Green Cross Code.”
On 3 December 2020 my client Paul McSweeney was working at Euston House on Eversholt Street, over the road from Euston Station. At approximately 1pm he went to buy lunch from Euston Station.
Before crossing Eversholt Street, Paul looked left and right and made sure that there were no vehicles coming from either direction.
As Paul crossed the road he turned back to speak to his colleague, Rob. As Paul did so he heard someone bellow from behind him “Get out of the road” – despite the fact that there was no nearby traffic.
Paul turned around to see who had shouted and saw that a police officer, PC Armstrong, was staring at him from the top of the stairs outside Euston Station near to a Marks and Spencer’s store. There were three other police officers with PC Armstrong; another Metropolitan Police constable, and two officers from British Transport Police.
Paul shouted back at PC Armstrong words to the effect of “I’m 52 years of age and I managed to survive this long, thank you”. PC Armstrong shouted back for Paul to come up to him. Paul was in fact already walking up the stairs to go past the Marks and Spencer’s store, on his way to the Sainsbury’s store. PC Armstrong and Paul then met at the top of the stairs.
PC Armstrong demanded that Paul stop and speak to him. Paul replied that he was walking to the shop and PC Armstrong could walk with him if he wanted.
Out of the blue, PC Armstrong then threatened Paul with the words “Don’t walk away from me or I’ll cuff you”. Paul was shocked; he stopped and raised his arms and said “For what?” PC Armstrong then approached Paul and pushed him in the chest.
PC Armstrong then grabbed Paul’s right arm, whilst another officer took hold of his left arm.
PC Armstrong pushed Paul up against a pillar and twisted his right arm up behind his back causing Paul considerable pain whilst telling him, “Stop getting fucking aggie with me.”
Paul asked PC Armstrong several times to “Let go.” PC Armstrong asserted that he had only wanted to speak to Paul about ‘road safety’. Paul again asked PC Armstrong to release his grip, telling the officer “You’re fucking hurting me.” Outrageously, PC Armstrong, still tightly gripping my client, now warned Paul to ‘stop swearing’ otherwise he would be arrested for “Public Order.”
Meanwhile, the incident had attracted the attention of passing members of the public, one of whom, Professor Jean Parker, stopped and said that she had seen what had happened. PC Armstrong replied, “Okay, can you go away.”
Professor Parker told PC Armstrong that she was a doctor and expressed concern as to how PC Armstrong was restraining Paul. PC Armstrong again tried to dismiss her saying, “It’s nothing to do with you.” The Officer then accused Paul of “Creating a public order” situation, although he was clearly the real culprit.
Paul again asked PC Armstrong to “drop” his arm and Professor Parker told PC Armstrong “I really don’t think you’re helping the situation.” PC Armstrong once again told Professor Parker to “Go away.”
Professor Parker again asked PC Armstrong to release Paul and PC Armstrong advised that he would not because Paul was “Shouting and swearing in a public place.” In fact, any shouting or swearing on the part of my client had come solely as a result of the officer’s unprovoked assault upon him.
Professor Parker pointed out that it was PC Armstrong who had in fact shouted at Paul and the conversation continued until eventually PC Armstrong relented and released his grip on Paul.
PC Armstrong again sought to justify his conduct by reference to ‘road safety’. Professor Parker responded, “I think it was great of you to point it out to him …….. now I think we should just let him go.” PC Armstrong replied, “Don’t lecture me how to do my job.”
Paul now walked away and as he did so, PC Armstrong called after him in a sarcastic tone, “You have a great day sir, take care, take care, all the best, enjoy your life.”
When Paul returned home that night he noticed bruising on his upper left arm from the Officer’s totally unnecessary and violent restraint
The following day Paul called both the Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police to report the incident. Later the same day he received a call from a Chief Superintendent to whom Paul made a formal complaint. After making his complaint, Paul noticed that he also had bruising to his upper right arm as well.
Paul’s complaint was investigated by the Directorate of Professional Standards (PSD), who upheld the complaint on the grounds that PC Armstrong had been uncivil to Paul and had used unlawful force against him-
“PC Armstrong did not need to detain you just to speak with you…He had not detained you for the purpose of a search, nor did he mention that you had committed a criminal offence and that you were going to be arrested, therefore making the initial use of force against you unjustified. In my opinion, I do not believe that you had committed a public order offence.”
Although Paul’s detention at the hands of PC Armstrong had only lasted a matter of minutes, it had a profound psychological impact on him, which went over and above the bruises on his arm: Paul found that his whole faith in the Police had been severely damaged and he now experienced anxiety on seeing Police officers.
I have now sued the Met on Paul’s behalf and recovered substantial damages for him: unfortunately, however, no amount of money can restore his trust in the Police as custodians of our law and order.
PC Armstrong may have initially thought he was being helpful to Paul by shouting a ‘warning’ – regrettably, he then let arrogance and aggression take over when he evidently thought Paul was being ‘ungrateful’ towards him, such that the only real risk of harm that Paul faced that day came not from the traffic, but from the officer.
Some Police officers may think that their uniform elevates them into the role of ‘teachers’ patrolling a playground where members of the public are too easily seen as ‘children’. Others of us may think, that same uniform turns those officers into nothing less than school bullies.
Paul might have found it easier to come to terms with what happened to him had the Police complaints system offered true accountability, but sadly it did not. The role of the Police in our communities is to maintain order and exert a calming influence; instead PC Armstrong single- handedly created a conflict out of nothing. Despite finding that PC Armstrong had unlawfully assaulted and detained Paul, the Professional Standards Department closed its eyes to the seriousness of the officer’s misconduct, and found that the appropriate ‘punishment’ was merely for PC Armstrong to “sit down with the Chief Inspector, review the Body Worn Video, discuss and reflect on this and take away valuable learning.”
I find it hard to believe that the Police would endorse such a friendly resolution for a member of the public who had reacted to one of their officers in the same way that PC Armstrong did to Paul.
Serious questions are raised by this incident as to whether PC Armstrong is fit to be a Police officer at all, but the MPS showed no interest in answering them. Changes to Policing culture in this regard, cannot come too soon. This week, Cressida Dick’s replacement, acting Commissioner Sir Stephen House, called for powers to allow Chief Constables to sack ‘bad’ officers faster. Alongside any such powers, however, would be required a significant change in the attitudes of the people who administer such powers i.e the PSD bureaucracy – which to many observers such as myself displays so much pro-Police bias that it is practically a wing of the Police Federation.
The names of the witnesses referred to in this blog have been changed.