Ben Joynes’ fight against the Police ‘Code of Silence’

The IOPC – National Stop and Search Learning Report April 2022 (page 19) states as follows  –

The Code of Ethics describes an expectation that Officers will report, challenge or take action against the conduct of colleagues which is formed below the standards of professional behaviour. Officers must never ignore unethical or unprofessional behaviour by a policing colleague, irrespective of the person’s rank, grade or role (College of Policing 2014) and Forces should be encouraging and supporting supervisors and peers to fulfil their obligation under this standard when they can see things are going wrong.

All too often however, the Code of Ethics seems to be trumped by the Code of Silence i.e. Officers operating under an implicit ‘Us versus them’ mentality failing to challenge or report unlawful conduct by their comrades.

I have previously blogged about the case of my client Ben Joynes who was viciously assaulted by (now ex) PC Mark Knights of Derbyshire Police in November 2019.  Following a minor disagreement about moving a car, PC Knights called my client a “fat cunt” and when Ben tried to complain about this, PC Knights headbutted him, pushed him to the ground, handcuffed and imprisoned him (thankfully temporarily) in the back of a Police van.

Ben found his initial official complaint to Derbyshire Police falling on deaf ears – despite the seriousness of his allegations – to such an extent that anti- corruption campaigner Rob Warner of Crimebodge stepped in to initiate a private prosecution against PC Knights in order to avoid the statutory 6 month time limit for criminal charges expiring whilst the Police erected their usual barriers of delay and prevarication.

Mark Knights was subsequently found guilty of common assault against Ben and dismissed from the Police for gross misconduct.

I am now pleased to confirm that I have settled Ben’s claim for damages arising from the incident for a substantial sum. 

Although Derbyshire Police had to accept liability for the actions of PC Knights, they initially sought to absolve themselves of institutional responsibility for what was done to Ben – blaming this on the actions of one rogue Officer. After all, the lawyers acting on behalf of the Chief Constable argued, Derbyshire Police had (ultimately) dealt robustly with PC Knights who was prosecuted and convicted of criminal assault and then dismissed from the Force for gross misconduct.

They therefore contended that Ben’s claim for damages should be relatively modest – reflecting only what PC Knights had directly done to him.

However, I strongly felt that this case wasn’t just about the actions of one rogue Officer but rather the complicity through inaction of numerous other Derbyshire Officers who witnessed what PC Knights did to Ben, but who then failed to intervene whether to assist my client, to arrest PC Knights himself or to report PC Knights’ conduct to their Professional Standards Department. 

  • At the Trial of PC Knights at Derbyshire Magistrates Court in December 2020 PC Jennifer Salmon confirmed that she witnessed the headbutt but in her answers to the Court refused to describe such action by PC Knights as being either surprising or unacceptable. 
  • PC David Naylor likewise told the Court that he heard Ben’s son state that his father had been verbally abused and headbutted by PC Knights, but PC Naylor took no action in response to this information.  Furthermore, body camera footage played to the Court demonstrated that PC Naylor attempted to justify/excuse PC Knights’ use of a headbutt against Ben. PC Naylor asserted to Ben’s son “Trust me, none of us just headbutt somebody for the sake of it”
  • Likewise, PC Nixon (in his written statement of events) confirmed that he was aware at the scene of Ben and his son’s allegations as to PC Knights’ conduct, and yet he also took no action in regards to these complaints.

In summary, not one of the five other Police Officers who were present at the scene of this incident took any action against PC Knights at the time, nor subsequently reported his conduct, and both of the Officers who attended the Magistrates Court trial were equivocal in their evidence and refused to be drawn into criticism of their colleague. 

In my opinion, it is likely to have been the lukewarm evidence of the other Police Officers, set out in their post incident statements, which led to the Crown Prosecution Service initially refusing to prosecute PC Knights on the basis of “no realistic prospect of conviction” – a decision which Ben had to appeal under the Victims Right to Review. 

The actions of PC Knights himself were undoubtedly arbitrary, oppressive and unconstitutional – demonstrating a complete disregard for the importance of the rule of law and liberty of the person- and undoubtedly gave rise to a claim for damages; but to me it was also clear that the conduct of the other Officers present at the scene – which can best be summarised as ‘looking the other way’ in the moral sense of that phrase – was worthy of sanction by the Court, as being indicative of a Policing culture which tends to look after its own and in which Officers routinely overlook unlawful actions by their colleagues (in this case something as grossly obvious as a brutal headbutt followed by handcuffing and detention without the slightest shred of a reasonable explanation by the Officer) and/or attempt to discourage legitimate complaints. 

The other Officers at the scene uniformly failed to intervene despite flagrant criminal conduct by PC Knights – which was apparently manifest to all non- Police witnesses at the scene – not only including Ben’s son but also independent witness Simon Thompson. Nor did any of these Officers even retrospectively report PC Knights’ act of misconduct, or ever offer any frank condemnation of the same – whether when asked to provide a witness statement of the events, when interviewed by their Professional Standards Department, or in the case of two of them, during sworn testimony at Court.

It was after reflecting upon the submissions that I made on this particular issue that the Police agreed to a final damages amount of £19,950, plus legal costs, a sum which I believe to be commensurate with the wider scale of Police wrongdoing in this case. 

I trust that this outcome may also lead the Police to reflect on the much bigger picture here.  This isn’t just about the quantification of Ben’s claim for damages, but about addressing the ambient level of ‘soft’ corruption which pervades the Police profession in the form of pro-police bias and defensive tribalism and manifests all too often in Officers either failing to intervene to stop another Officer’s wrongdoing, or to report or criticise that wrongdoing afterwards. 

Ben’s faith and trust in the Police, and the rule of law in general, was severely shaken by his brutal treatment at the hands of PC Knights and this had a profound psychological impact upon him.  A psychological impact which would have been substantially minimised if other Officers had come to Ben’s immediate assistance and the handcuffs that day had ended up around PC Knights’ wrists, rather than Ben’s.

Likewise, the damage to Ben and to our society as a whole, would have been minimised had the Police led a pro-active and prompt investigation and prosecution of this ‘rogue’ Officer – rather than delaying, prevaricating and only belatedly getting behind the criminal prosecution process which had not been initiated by them, but rather Rob Warner (Crimebodge).

In other words, the Police must ensure that they Police their own ranks as diligently as they do the streets.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.

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