Met Police Apologise for Unlawful Search and Handcuffing of Mixed-Race Child

In a week in which Police Chiefs have come closer to acknowledging institutional racism in their profession, I reflect upon yet another case involving a non-white child subjected to unlawful force and detention by Metropolitan Police officers.

The February 2021 report of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary highlighted the following grave concerns-

“Over 35 years on from the introduction of stop and search legislation, no force fully understands the impact of the use of these powers. Disproportionality persists and no force can satisfactorily explain why. In 2019/20, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people were over 4 times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people; for Black people specifically, this was almost 9 times more likely. In some forces, the likelihood was much higher. Black people were also 18 times more likely than White people to be searched under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This gives Officers time-limited powers to search any individuals in an area, without requiring reasonable grounds, in order to recover offensive weapons or dangerous instruments in anticipation of serious violence”.

My client, who for the purposes of this blog I will call Daniel, is of mixed-race heritage and was only 13 years old at the time of the incident in September 2018.

Daniel, his brother and a friend were cycling home after having their hair cut at the barbers, when suddenly a Police patrol car drove up dangerously close behind them. The boys feared being run over.

Two male Metropolitan Police Officers alighted from the vehicle and one of them grabbed hold of Daniel, pushing him against a wall, handcuffing him tightly and then pushing him against the rear of the Police car. Daniel’s requests that the cuffs be loosened were ignored.

The Officer who had taken hold of him then searched Daniel – allegedly, and apparently ‘speculatively’, for drugs – without providing Daniel with his details or, indeed, any grounds for the search. The officer also failed to issue a written record of the search – all of this amounting to a gross breach of the requirements of Code A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) which are designed to prevent abuses of Police power in ‘street search’ situations.

Another safeguard to which people – especially children – who are being subjected to Police stop/search powers are entitled, is for the Officer to record the interaction on body worn video; but at no point did the Officer dealing with Daniel do so.

Daniel later described the behaviour of the Officer towards him as being like that of an “aggressive bully”.

The second Officer had also grabbed hold of and detained Daniel’s friend, although Daniel’s brother was not apprehended.

After approximately 10 minutes detention the boys were released. Prior to them being released the second Officer – the one who had taken hold of Daniel’s friend – repeatedly told both boys that neither of them had been “detained or searched” despite the fact that this was manifestly untrue, and Daniel was actually in handcuffs whilst these assertions were being made by the Officer.

It is my view that the Officer’s assertions to Daniel and his friend to the effect that neither of them had been ‘detained or searched’ when they certainly had been, was nothing less than a mendacious attempt to mislead both boys, who were minors, as to their rights and thereby for the Officers to escape proper scrutiny/accountability for this wholly unjustified stop.

The incident may only have lasted for 10 minutes in real time, but it felt a lot longer to a 13 year old boy subjected to such overwhelming and terrifying use of force by adults. These events left Daniel not only with pain and bruising to his wrists from the handcuffing – which was in itself an utterly unnecessary and degrading act of assault perpetrated upon a frightened and compliant child – but also a severe psychological impact, later diagnosed as an Adjustment Disorder. Daniel understandably felt that he had been targeted and subjected to excessive force because of his ethnicity. He suffered significantly disturbed sleep for around 6 months after the incident, including frequent nightmares, and his tiredness and fears about the incident also adversely effected his schooling.

We can only hope that like the physical marks, the mental trauma of this incident will fade completely over time – but simply put, Daniel should never have been subjected to this ordeal at all.

The Officers involved in this incident gave a hodgepodge of excuses to attempt to justify their treatment of the boys. They lazily alluded to past reports of thefts from cars in the area, although they were not responding to any current crime report and could not explain why they ‘reasonably’ thought the boys might be involved in such thefts. Furthermore, on taking hold of Daniel, the officer who handcuffed him first claimed he thought Daniel had a weapon, and then purported to search him for ‘drugs’. Daniel also remembers the officer noticing that there was broken glass on the road nearby, after he had handcuffed Daniel, and asking him if he was responsible for it.

What on earth was the suspected offence here? Theft – drugs – weapons – criminal damage? In truth, this appears to have been a classic example of the ‘round up the usual suspects’ methodology of lazy, corrupt policing. The officers’ ‘suspicion’ of Daniel and his companions appears to have been simply plucked from thin air on the basis of their age and/or ethnicity – in other words a totally speculative stop and search of a group of youths simply because of who they were, rather than what they were doing.

The failure of the Officer who apprehended Daniel to activate his body camera, plus the other Officer’s attempt to convince Daniel and his friends that they had not been subjected to use of Police stop/search powers, can be seen in this context as an attempt by those Officers to avoid scrutiny for what they must have known was a blatant misuse of their powers.

The Defence document later filed by the MPS in relation to this matter sought to place great reliance on the fact that shortly before the incident, there had been a theft of a bag from a car in that area and there was also smashed glass on the road near to where the incident took place, consistent with a vehicle having been broken into – but then took the wind out of its own sails by admitting ‘The Defendant’s Officers were not specifically aware of either of these facts prior to the incident…’

Fortunately, Daniel’s mother – who is herself a serving Police Officer – fully understood the rights to which her son should have been entitled and also how to tackle the often obstructive mechanisms of the Police complaint system. An investigation into the incident by the MPS Professional Standards Unit concluded as follows:-

• There was no justification for handcuffing Daniel.
• In regards to carrying out the search, the Officer failed to comply with any of the requirements of PACE.
• The Officer failed to comply with Metropolitan Police policy by not recording any of his actions on his body worn video.
• The Officer failed to properly consider Daniel’s welfare and behaved in an aggressive manner towards him, especially considering Daniel’s age.

The Officer was found to have a case to answer and was ultimately found guilty of misconduct in relation to his use of force upon Daniel, although for this he received only the lowly sanction of ‘Management Advice’.

I subsequently brought Civil Court proceedings on behalf of Daniel against the MPS, and Daniel’s claim has now been settled for a substantial amount of damages (currently pending Court approval as Daniel is a child) and a formal letter of apology from the MPS – albeit not until after we had won a contested Court hearing to confirm Daniel’s right to have his damages claim heard before a Judge and Jury, rather than a Judge alone which is what the MPS wanted.

The apology letter written by Chief Inspector O’Connor acknowledged that the Officers’ actions were unlawful and that this was a deeply unpleasant experience for a 13 year old to undergo. Furthermore, the Chief Inspector wrote:-

The Metropolitan Police Service is committed to ensuring that it provides the highest quality of service from its Officers. It is clear that in this instance that the MPS fell well below that standard. Therefore, on behalf of the MPS, I apologise to you and also to your family who were indirectly impacted.

It is of note however, that the letter of apology contained no acknowledgement of the issue of race – or even of Daniel’s legitimate perception of his aggressive mistreatment and handcuffing by a white Officer.

Daniel and his companions were simply young boys cycling home, not doing anything untoward or suspicious. If the Metropolitan Police Service continue to behave in such a manner – namely stopping, assaulting and frankly terrorising youths without any proper grounds for detaining them – then the culture of Police mistrust and poor community relations is bound to continue. Earlier this month the National Police Chief’s Council and College of Policing announced a new race plan which will accept that policing still contains racism, discrimination and bias for which the Police Chiefs of England and Wales are ashamed, apologise, and are determined to change.

This is a welcome start, albeit long overdue – but we need to see change in the actions of Officers on the street and not just in boardroom policy speak.

Otherwise more young children will suffer the mental scars caused by abusive and authoritarian policing, further distorted by racial bias.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.

%d bloggers like this: