Are Probation Companies wrongly sending people to prison?

The Chief Inspector of Probation this week declared that the privatisation of Probation Services is “irredeemably flawed”.  Dame Glenys Stacey concluded in her final annual report that it would be “safer” if the supervision of offenders was back in public ownership.

Back in 2014, Probation Services in England and Wales were split between the National Probation Service for serious offenders and 14 private Community Rehabilitation Companies or CRCs for low and medium risk offenders.  By the end of September 2018, more than 150,000 offenders on probation – more than half the total across England and Wales – were being managed by these private CRCs.

Dame Glenys Stacey told BBC Radio 4 that “In practice these Companies have understandably focused on meeting contractual requirements and targets” but in reality, professional probation work was so much more than simply a series of transactions, “it is skilled, with a large amount of professional judgment”.  The Chief Inspector highlighted a number of concerns;

  • Supervising offenders by telephone only, usually after an initial meeting.
  • Housing needs are met less often (54% of private cases compared with 70% of public cases).
  • Inadequate protection for victims and their children when domestic abusers return to their community.
  • 22% of offenders released without knowing where they were going to sleep that night.
  • High workloads and performance targets leading to professional standards being compromised.

I read Dame Glenys Stacey’s report with interest, particularly given that I am often asked to represent people who consider that they have been failed by the Probation Service.  One such individual is Neil Rogers whose claim against Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company exposed the mismanagement of probation services in respect of both simple monitoring and professional judgment.

Back in 2014, Neil was living at 403 Tiene Road, Liverpool.

In June 2014, Neil was sentenced to a determinate sentence of imprisonment of three years.

In or around late October 2015, it was arranged via Shelter, the housing charity, that, upon release from Prison, Neil would live at hostel accommodation at 10 St Jerome’s Street, Liverpool (“the hostel”).

On the morning of 30 November 2015, Neil was released from Prison on licence to serve the remainder of his sentence in the community under the supervision of Merseyside CRC, with a licence expiry date in May 2017.

Upon release, Neil attended the hostel and moved in, purchased a mobile telephone and then attended the office of Merseyside CRC as required, where he met Shirley Temperance who had responsibility for his supervision at that time.

At this meeting, Neil provided the address for the hostel to Shirley, as well as his new mobile telephone number.  Additionally, Neil provided Shirley with a further two addresses at which he could be contacted via friends.

Shirley informed Neil that if there were occasions when he was not staying at the hostel overnight that he should inform Merseyside CRC as to where he would be staying instead.

Unbeknownst to Neil at that time, and despite him having provided the address for the hostel as his current address to Shirley, (and, indeed, Shirley subsequently calling out to see him at the hostel), 403 Tiene Road, Liverpool was incorrectly recorded as Neil’s current address in the Company’s records.

On a number of occasions thereafter, Neil contacted Merseyside CRC to confirm that he would be staying at an address other than the hostel overnight.

In or around May 2016, Neil left the hostel and moved in with one of his friends and informed Merseyside CRC that he had moved.

Throughout this time, Neil attended all Probation appointments required of him.

Subsequently, Neil was due to attend an appointment at the Company’s Liverpool office on 8 November 2016, with Mr Bodger, who had taken over responsibility for Neil’s supervision.

Neil was unable to attend the appointment on 8 November 2016 and contacted Merseyside CRC in advance of the appointment in order to arrange an alternative date on which to attend the office.

Neil’s appointment with Mr Bodger was accordingly rescheduled for 11 November 2016.

On 11 November 2016, Neil duly attended his appointment with Mr Bodger at the office.

At the conclusion of the appointment, Mr Bodger provided Neil with a letter confirming that his next appointment would be at the office on 10 January 2017.

By this stage, Neil had retained the same mobile telephone number since November 2015. The mobile telephone number was active throughout this time, and able to receive telephone calls and text messages.

On or around 15 December 2016, unbeknown to Neil, another Merseyside CRC employee, Mr Senior, decided to request revocation of Neil’s licence.

Mr Senior’s “Recall Report” stated, inter alia:

Mr Neil Rogers has been managed by Merseyside CRC since his release on 30th November 2015. 

The terms and conditions of licence are:

 5.

i Be of good behaviour and not undermine the purpose of the licence period.

ii Not commit further offences 

iii Keep in touch with the Supervising Officer

iv Receive visits from the supervising Officer in accordance with instructions give by the supervising Officer 

v Resident permenantly (sic) at an address approved by the Supervising Officer and obtain the prior permission of the Supervising Officer for any stay of one or more nights at a different address. 

Since release on 30th November 2015 and up to 6th September 2016, Mr Rogers attended all scheduled appointments and complied fully with his licence conditions. 

Given he was assessed as Low Risk of Harm and fully compliant, Mr Rogers was on 8 weekly (2 monthly) reporting. 

He failed to attend his next appointment scheduled for 8th November 2016 and the requisite warning letter was sent which also instructed him to attend a further appointment. 

Neil Rogers’ case manager has also attempted contact via his registered mobile phone but again to no avail. 

On 5th December 2016, the case manager visited the registered address at 403 Tiene Road. 

It was clear that this address was occupied as it could br (sic) seen that festive lights were on in the property. Despite several attempts no person(s) answered. 

A note was subsequently pushed through the letterbox instructing Neil Rogers to urgently make contact. 

On 14th December 2016, the case manager revisited the address and again it was clear that the house was occupied. No response was received so a hand delivered letter signed by the case manager was posted through the letter box (sic) instructing Mr Rogers to make urgent contact by 4 pm 15th December 2016. If he made no contact then recall proceedings would be initiated. No such contact has been made.

Further, the recall report stated:

All requisite formal warnings have been sent. A number of attempts to contact via his registered mobile phone number both by text and call have also met with no response.

Two personal visits by the case manager to the registered address and hand delivered letters posted directly have failed to establish any re-engagement or contact with Merseyside CRC.

The recall report gave Neil’s last recorded address as 403 Tiene Road.

The recall report stated:

Any Other Possible Addresses: N/A

The recall report recorded no mobile telephone number for Neil.

The recall report was endorsed by Mr Senior’s manager, who recorded:

Report and recommendation supported. It is concerning that Mr Rogers has fallen out of contact and this frustrates the aims of supervision. Therefore at this time there is no alternative but to request revocation of his current licence.

On the same day, in direct response to the recall report, the Secretary of State for Justice revoked Neil’s licence and recalled him to prison under section 254 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

The revocation stated:

You have been recalled to prison because the Secretary of State is satisfied that you have breached the following conditions of your licence:

5iii Keep in touch with the supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by the supervising officer

Shortly after midnight on 31 December 2016, Neil was returning home when he was approached by Police officers who took his details.  To his shock he was informed that, according to the Police National Computer, he was wanted for recall to prison due to a breach of his licence conditions and accordingly he was arrested, taken to a nearby Police Station and then on to prison.

He was incarcerated for the next 28 days.

A few days prior to the date on which Neil was due to be released, he was able to speak to Mr Bodger and ask for an explanation as to why he had been recalled to prison.

Mr Bodger informed Neil that he was no longer responsible for his supervision and that the responsibility for his supervision had transferred to Mr Senior.

On 27 January 2017, Neil was released from prison.  The same day, Neil attended the office of Merseyside CRC and met with Mr Senior, who informed him that concerns had been raised about Mr Bodger’s recordkeeping and that Mr Bodger was no longer employed by the Company.

In all the circumstances, it appeared that Mr Bodger had failed to keep accurate and/or up to date records regarding Neil’s contact details or his attendance at appointments and that by reason of those failings, Neil had wrongfully spent 28 days in custody.  Specifically, Mr Bodger had failed to record Neil’s attendance at the office on 11 November 2016, leading his colleague Mr Senior to believe that Neil had breached the terms of his licence by going “AWOL”.

Although Mr Bodger was the real ‘villain’ of the piece , and it was his dereliction of duty/incompetence which lead to Neil being sent back to Prison, the situation was compounded by the failure of the other Probation staff who had dealt with Neil to record his proper address and telephone number.  This caused Mr Senior to attempt to contact Neil at an address where he had not been living for several years.  When I reviewed Neil’s probation file from Merseyside CRC I was shocked at the amount of errors and inaccuracies in it – not just mere ‘clerical errors’ but the kind of blatant mistakes which could, and did, lead to a man losing his liberty.  In my opinion, it should have been obvious to Mr Senior that the file was riddled with errors and that an out of date address was being used.

Being sent back to Prison in these circumstances was a real hammer blow to Neil’s confidence, mental health and the fragile relationship he had started to re-establish with his estranged family. Thinking that there was no smoke without fire, Neil’s family did not believe that he had been recalled to Prison through no fault of his own, and this destroyed their trust in him.  This really was a terrible injustice, as in reality Neil had done everything he could to get his life back on the ‘straight and narrow’ since coming out of Prison in 2015, including getting a job and complying with all of his Probation requirements.

Whether privatised or not, the Probation Service rarely put their hands up and admit fault and so it was no surprise that when I intimated a claim on behalf of Neil, liability was denied by Merseyside CRC.  I issued Court proceedings and the Company maintained its denial, asserting that Neil had failed to keep them informed of his changes of address.  It was not even admitted by them that Neil had indeed attended the pivotal appointment with Mr Bodger on 11 November 2016 – but fortunately Neil had the letter given to him on that occasion by Mr Bodger, to prove that he had.  Even in light of that letter, Merseyside CRC continued to try to deny and frustrate the claim.  However, I am pleased to confirm that shortly before trial, Solicitors representing the Company backed down and we agreed a five figure settlement plus costs.

More importantly than the money, I trust that the vindication brought by this Court settlement has gone a long way towards helping Neil rebuild his relationship with his family, who will now hopefully see that he was telling the truth about his recall to Prison – as well as serving as a wake-up call to Merseyside CRC and other Probation companies to invest properly in staff training, management and supervision. Though, if what I have uncovered in this case is anything to go by, it seems future Chief Inspectors of Probation are going to have their work cut out to make the service fit for purpose.

(Names and addresses changed.)

Adding Insult to Injury: How the Police Attempt to Criminalise Victims of Police Violence

Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.

This year’s derby game between Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United takes place tonight, Monday the 4 March. The decision to hold the game on a week night is said to be because of the cost to South Yorkshire Police; apparently previous derby games between the two teams held over a weekend have proved the most expensive fixture in England to police, paid for in large part by South Yorkshire Police themselves.

A main factor in this is the complex geography of Hillsborough which is a fair distance from the City Centre, and so requires a greater amount of policing for fans going to and from the ground.

One of the main routes to and from the ground is along Middlewood Road and it was along this route following the 2012 derby, that an incident occurred that added to South Yorkshire Police’s operation costs… but ultimately did far more to harm South Yorkshire Police’s reputation.

My client Robert and two friends had been to the match. As Robert proceeded down the road with thousands of other football fans, he suddenly felt pain to his right arm and looked down to see an Alsatian Police dog with its jaws locked onto his forearm. The dog was being handled by a female Police Officer.

Robert immediately asked the officer for her name and number because he wished to lodge a complaint.

The officer told Robert in no uncertain terms to move on.

Robert asked several more times for the officer’s details but she refused to give them.

A male uniformed officer approached Robert and also told him to move away and then physically pushed him away from the area.

Robert met up with a group of friends and told them what had happened. His friends encouraged him to return to find the female officer, to establish her details so as to lodge a complaint.

Robert decided to do so and returned to where the officer was positioned.

Once again Robert asked the officer for her details. Again she refused and simply said words to the effect of “I’m the only female dog handler working today, now go away.”

Robert began to walk away and came across an ambulance crew tending to another football supporter who had also been bitten by a police dog. Robert’s injuries were noted by the paramedics and other police officers on duty. A second ambulance was called.

Robert was then taken by ambulance to the Northern General Hospital where he received appropriate treatment.

Entrance to Hillsborough Stadium, home of Sheffield Wednesday.

On the following day, Robert attended a local police station in order to lodge a complaint.

Robert was subsequently contacted by an officer of South Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department (‘PSD’) and was advised that his complaint would be investigated.

Nearly two months later, two uniformed police officers attended out of the blue at Robert’s home address. Robert assumed that they had come so as to discuss his complaint. Instead they served him with a Fixed Penalty Notice which alleged that he had:

‘Committed a public order offence on Middlewood Road, Sheffield known as sec 5’.

His options were to either accept the Notice and pay a fine, or challenge the Notice whereupon he would be summonsed to attend Court.

The very next day, Robert received a letter from South Yorkshire Police Professional Standards Department with a response to his complaint.

The investigating officer had identified the female dog handler as PC W.

PC W responded to the complaint as follows;

I had the dog held as close to me as was possible and I was shouting verbal instructions throughout. Robert was behaving in an aggressive and disorderly manner. He appeared drunk and was verbally abusive. I do not consider the bite to be unprovoked. At the time Robert was bitten, he was in extremely close proximity to me. Robert did not leave the area until the horses forced him away.”

Robert was a man of good character and had had no previous dealings with the Police. He knew he had done no wrong; his only “crime” was to remonstrate about being bitten and to ask the officer for her details.

To all intents and purposes, it looked to me very much like South Yorkshire Police had decided to prosecute my client simply because he had had the temerity to lodge a complaint.

Robert lodged an appeal against the Fixed Penalty Notice, expecting to receive a Court Summons. As it was, South Yorkshire Police decided not to prosecute.

On Robert’s behalf, I then intimated a claim alleging among other heads of claim, assault and battery and misfeasance in public office.

In responding to the claim, South Yorkshire Police denied liability and provided disclosure including;

A Use of Force form completed by PC W which stated as follows;

“Police Dog dispersal tactics. Male in blue top committing Public Order offences. Bitten on arm by Police Dog and also had to be moved on by use of Police Horse” and “Male bitten on arm as a result of refusing to follow Police instruction”.

A dog bite report in which PC W reported the incident somewhat differently;

“As fans were leaving the ground, the trams quickly filled with supporters, namely SUFC fans travelling into city. At 1500 hours a flash point occurred whereby SWFC fans were on foot and ‘engaged’ the tram and occupants with insulting and abusive behaviour and a number of males were seen to be hammering on the doors and windows of the tram. This tram was some 20 yards in front of me and myself and PC A moved forward to conclude crowd dispersal tactics.

The serial in front of us were unprotected officers. I am aware that PC A was involved in the arrest of a male who had been banging the windows of the tram. At this point I was holding the roadway to immediately protect the tram and its occupants and as the dog was barking the crowd were being forced to use the pavement creating the desired effect of the dispersal tactic. I am aware that an elderly male stepped off the pavement into the path of Police Dog Rover and he briefly bit his left forearm and immediately released. I shouted to the male to go to the nearest Police Officer ahead of him. I was unable to immediately engage with this man directly as males were fighting immediately behind him and public disorder was continuing. Groups of males appeared heavily intoxicated offering aggression to opposing fans.

A fight ensured onto the roadway in front of me and I can recall a white male aged early 20’s wearing a blue tracksuit top, walking briefly against crowd flow towards the roadway. He was shouting at opposing fans on the trams and those behind me and his behaviour was inflammatory causing others around him to engage in similar behaviour. As I was conducting dispersal tactics the male was bitten on the arm. No officer was immediately able to come forward and arrest this male under the Public Order Act. He continued with disorderly behaviour. His eyes were glazed and he was unsteady on his feet and I did In fact believe he was drunk. His behaviour continued as such that mounted officers arrived and I can recall seeing the male having to be further dispersed by officers using mounted tactics. The male was repeatedly asked to move on and eventually only complied due to peer pressure from his friends.

I immediately reattended Shepperson Road where I saw the first male who had been bitten on the forearm. Officers were already performing first aid and I approached him to help and obtain details.

He was argumentative and whilst I explained that whilst he was not committing public order offences he had refused to follow police instruction and had stepped into the roadway that was being protected by police dogs. I advised him to make contact with Police once he had received medical attention. I am aware an ambulance was requested for the male.”

PC W subsequently prepared a witness statement in which she elaborated yet further;

As fans were leaving the ground, the trams quickly filled with supporters, namely SUFC fans travelling into city. At 1500 hours a flash point occurred whereby SWFC fans were on foot and ‘engaged’ the tram and occupants with insulting and abusive behaviour and a number of males were seen to be hammering on the doors and windows of the tram. The majority of these fans on foot were wearing blue and white Sheffield Wednesday clothing and were chanting to those persons on the tram ‘FUCK OFF BACK TO YOUR STY YOU PIGGY CUNTS. The tram was some 20 yards in front of me and myself and PC A moved forward to conduct crowd dispersal tactics.

The serial in front of us were unprotected officers. I am aware that PC A was involved in the arrest of a male who had been banging on the windows of the tram. At this point I was holding the roadway to immediately protect the tram and its occupants and as the dog was barking the crowd were being forced to use the pavement creating the desired effect of the dispersal tactic. Rover was as close to me as I could get him as I was actually holding him by the collar, and he was rearing up onto his two back legs. I was consistently shouting, ‘GET BACK, GET BACK’ and using my arms to indicate to people to get back onto the pavement away from the dog and the tram. Rover was barking constantly.

Groups of males appeared heavily intoxicated continued offering aggression to opposing fans. A fight ensued onto the roadway in front of me and I can recall a white male aged early 20’s wearing a blue tracksuit top, walking briefly against crowd flow towards the roadway. He was slim build with very short brown hair and slim build. He was shouting at opposing fans on the trams and those behind me and his behaviour was inflammatory causing others around him to engage in similar behaviour. I can recall him making signs with his hands that I believe were simulating masturbation and he continued moving against the crowd flow towards the tram shouting, ‘GET YOUR CATTLE WAGON AND SHOW US YOU’RE REALLY MADE OF BACON’.

I was clearly identifiable as a Police Officer, dressed in full police uniform. I believe I was identifiable as a Police Dog handler in charge at that time of a Police dog. Rover was barking and looked aggressive. I was stationary, standing my ground and also using my right arm to identify to people to get back, as well as shouting, ‘GET BACK, GET BACK, KEEP MOVING’. As I was conducting dispersal tactics the male who was stood in front of me waving his arms at the tram was bitten on the arm. The dog immediately released. Due to growing numbers of fans gathering in the locality and the hostility of pedestrians towards those people on the trams, I was unable to directly deal with this male, and my priority was to gain control of pedestrian activity and further disorder. I knew from the bite capabilities of Police Dog Rover that other than the likelihood a ripped sleeve, the male would have suffered only grazing and immediate medical assistance was not necessary.

No officer was immediately able to come forward and arrest this male under the Public Order Act. He continued with disorderly behaviour. His eyes were glazed and he was unsteady on his feet and I did in fact believe he was drunk. His behaviour continued as such that mounted officers arrived and I can recall seeing the male having to be further dispersed by officers using mounted tactics.

The male was repeatedly asked to move on and eventually only complied due to peer pressure from his friends.

CCTV footage from a Police spotter however showed the following;

At 15.08.06h PC W is seen to move to stand beside a lamppost struggling with Police dog Rover, which she was now holding by its lead.

At 15.08.12h Robert is seen with his face turned towards the tram, walking but not violent.

At 15.08.14h Robert walks past PC W and is bitten and thereafter does indeed remonstrate with the officer before being pushed away. There is however no suggestion of drunkenness or disorder on his part or anyone close to him.

The available evidence therefore suggested that;

• Police Dog Rover was not under control and in the space of a few minutes, Police Dog Rover had bitten both an elderly man and Robert.

• There had indeed been flash points of disorder, but Robert was not involved in any of them; rather, he was simply proceeding away from the stadium along with thousands of others.

In the face of no admission of liability from the Police, I issued County Court proceedings on behalf of Robert.

The solicitors appointed to represent South Yorkshire Police advised that their client intended to “robustly defend” the claim and that they were confident that their client would “establish a successful Defence”.

Indeed, their defence was robust, disputing the claim in its entirety and stating that Robert, immediately before he was bitten, “was shouting. His behaviour was inflammatory. He made signs with his hands that was simulating masturbation”. Further they alleged that he waved his arms and jumped around in front of PC W and Rover in very close proximity to Rover and that after he had been bitten, he “continued with his disorderly behaviour. His eyes were glazed, he was unsteady on his feet and appeared drunk”. He was repeatedly asked to move on but “was aggressive and abusive with the officers trying to move him on”.

The claim proceeded and then, just weeks before trial, the Police caved in. They agreed to compensate Robert with a five-figure award of damages and to pay his legal costs. The final settlement was in excess of £100,000.00. If this is the way South Yorkshire Police normally conduct their Police dog operations, and how, as I suspect, they routinely respond to legitimate claims and complaints against them, it might go a long way to showing why the policing of this football fixture has become so expensive.

Sadly, and of more significance, this is yet another example to add to my long experience of seeing Police Forces “trump up” criminal charges against innocent members of the public who have suffered at their hands (or, indeed, as in this case, teeth) in order to deflect from the Police’s own wrongdoing. This kind of utterly reprehensible and in my opinion quite deliberate behaviour, has become institutionalised in many, if not all, Forces; to callously and cynically attempt to criminalise people who have had the misfortune to fall foul of Police violence. All who are involved in this kind of cover-up should hang their heads in shame.

5Live Investigates Police Sexploitation

I recently contributed to another investigation led by the BBC Radio 5 Live team about police abuse of powers for sexual gain. Click here for details of their last investigation on this issue. Yesterday I was interviewed on the show to discuss the issue. Listen to my comments on the BBC 5Live programme (from 12 minutes onward) by clicking below.

The focus of the latest 5 Live investigation was the selection process of police officers and the ‘vetting’ methodology, an issue highlighted recently in the Ian Naude case, which you can read about here: Are the Police failing to stop sexual predators joining their ranks?

In particular, 5Live has established that thousands of serving police officers and civilian staff, taken on before 2006, have never undergone the stricter criminal record and background checks that were introduced that year. A Freedom of Information Request from the BBC established that, of the 36 police forces who replied, 16 had not performed retrospective background checks on their staff/ officers.

I welcome any media investigation that puts a spotlight on police officers abusing their position for sexual gain and helps bring perpetrators to account, but I suspect that the vetting process, no matter how rigorous and thorough, will not stop the majority of police ‘sexploitation’ cases. I say this because, in my experience, the majority of officers abusing their position are not dangerous paedophiles like Ian Naude, but rather, men who are tempted to take advantage of a situation for their own sexual benefit, and who probably have no visible history of this prior to joining the Police.

Here are some examples:

  • My client Yvonne who was a long-term victim of domestic violence and was groomed by a police officer assigned to her case and then encouraged to enter into a sexual relationship with him; hear her talking about her story on the BBC 5Live programme above at approximately 35 minutes in, or read about it here.
  • My client Josey, another domestic violence victim, received multiple texts of a sexual nature from the officer investigating her case, asking for intimate photographs (Read her story here).
  • My client Lisa, yet another domestic violence victim, who also received multiple texts of a sexual nature from her investigating officer, asking for naked photographs of herself (Read her story here).
  • My client Kate, a sex worker who reported her pimp to the police and who was then phoned and harassed by multiple, personal text messages from the investigating officer in her case, at all times of the day and night, when the officer was both on and off duty (see here)
  • My client Andrea, who called the police for help with a friend’s teenage son who had run away from home, and was visited by a police officer who flirted with her, tried to kiss her and then called and texted her multiple times.
  • My client Claire, yet another domestic violence victim who was groomed by the investigating police officer, and then encouraged to enter into a sexual relationship with him. (Read more here.)
  • My client Brian, whose personal information on the Police National Computer was accessed and then misused by a jealous police officer who had been seeing Brian‘s previous boyfriend and who then made an anonymous call to Brian’s employer making false accusations about him.
  • My client Collette, who was assigned a family liaison officer after her husband had tragically committed suicide; this married officer then bombarded Collette with personal visits, calls and texts (with a clearly sexual intention) and stalked her by obtaining data on her car from the Police’s Automatic Number Plate Recognition System (ANPR) including following her and using his emergency lights to pull her over on the motorway so he could take her for coffee.

The list goes on… And the fact is that I genuinely believe that the officers involved in all of these cases would have passed the police national vetting standard test, either on admission or subsequently. They are not dangerous paedophiles with a pre-existing history of criminality or suspicious behaviour, but rather sad men in a uniform who have abused their privileged position for their own sexual gain.

The IOPC, the HMIC, the National Police Chief’s Council and the College of Policing all recognise that the exploitation of victims of crime by officers overstepping professional boundaries and abusing their positions of authority, trust and access to those vulnerable victim’s often fragile and chaotic private lives is a long-standing problem, and one that only some police officers seem to recognise and respect.

In my opinion, although robust vetting standards are of course imperative, what is really required is a thorough and ongoing campaign throughout all Police forces to raise awareness of this problem (both so that officers who think that forming sexual relationships with victims of crime is okay are disabused of this notion, and so that all officers can be on the lookout for signs of such abuse amongst their colleagues) and above all uniformity in sanction to send the clearest and most robust of messages to those tempted to offend; imprisonment and immediate dismissal if misconduct in public office is proven.

Only then will we begin to see a change in what I suspect is a long-standing culture amongst certain types of Police Officers, one which is now coming ever more to light in an age when victims are more aware of their rights, police authorities are more willing to listen to them, and abusing officers often leave blatant evidence of their behaviour, like guilty fingerprints, all over electronic media.

Let’s Talk About Police Misconduct Investigations

I read in the news this week that the Police Federation has called for legislation to restrict the length of time which misconduct investigations are allowed to continue for.

Police Federation Conduct Lead Phill Matthews described the current regime in which investigations can drag on for years as “inhumane” and rather naively suggested that in no other profession can misconduct investigations drag on for so long.

He also described the current regime as “draconian” in its harshness towards Police Officers. Whilst I fully appreciate that Mr Matthews is doing his best to represent his members, I have to beg to differ with that characterisation. From my point of view, as a Solicitor who represents the victims of Police misconduct I have to say that my clients and I often find the complaint investigation process, led by each constabulary’s Professional Standards Department, to be almost laughably biased towards the Police officers, almost always favouring their version of events over that of members of the public, and tending towards awarding only the lowest level of sanction “Management Advice” even when misconduct is proven.

“Management advice” is a very minor reprimand; really only a slap on the wrist. Sometimes, in fact, I suspect it is really a slap on the back administered over a cup of coffee…or alternatively, not even given at all, as I established at a trial against West Midlands Police a few years ago.

So Mr Matthews and I approach the Police complaint/ disciplinary system from two very different vantage points; but one thing I certainly do agree with him about is that the whole process should be dramatically speeded up.

Whilst Mr Matthews lambasts the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) for the duration of its investigations, I can absolutely echo that criticism and direct it at the Professional Standards Departments which are staffed by his federation membership.

No doubt, Police officers accused of serious misconduct experience a lot of mental pressure and anxiety whilst awaiting the outcome of a complaint investigation, but then so do the victims of Police misconduct themselves, who often find insult added to injury as month after month the enquiry into their complaint drags on and on without resolution – and very often with what I consider to be a very unjust final outcome.

I have blogged previously about the high profile case of my client Paul Ponting – unlawfully arrested, assaulted, strip- searched and subjected to a wrongful prosecution – who after several years of litigation won £35,000 from Lancashire Constabulary.

Paul and his wife instituted a complaint about what had been done to him on the very night that he was arrested (19 June 2014). In February 2015 a report was sent which purported to conclude ‘no wrongdoing’ on the part of the Police, but in regards to which I lodged an appeal on Paul’s behalf as the investigation had not bothered to actually take a statement from Paul himself or the three members of his family who witnessed the events. In June 2015 Lancashire’s PSD indicated that the complaint was being “reviewed” and subsequently (July 2015) “errors” were admitted in regards to the handling of the complaint. Notwithstanding this, in September 2015, Lancashire PSD purported to dismiss the complaint for a second time!

Following further representations from myself on behalf of the Pontings, in June 2016 (2 years after the initial complaint was filed) Lancashire stated that the complaint would be handed over to an independent Force, namely Cumbria Constabulary, for re-investigation. But when in November of that year other complaints brought by Mr Ponting were indeed passed to Cumbria for review – this complaint relating to the events of June 2014 was not one of them.

At the present time, almost four and a half years later, the Pontings have still received no satisfactory resolution to their complaint, although thankfully their civil compensation claim has been successfully completed, as part of which the Chief Constable wrote a personal letter of apology to Mr Ponting. None of the Police officers involved in Paul’s arrest, assault and strip- search have faced any disciplinary action whatsoever.

This type of situation is far from unique. My client Mr E T  whose claim for unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and malicious prosecution against the Metropolitan Police I settled for £46,000 also brought a complaint against the officers involved, which took over 3 years to come to a disciplinary hearing, at which all allegations of misconduct against the officers were dismissed.

My client Zahi instituted a complaint, also against the Met Police, after he was subjected to an unlawful arrest (which we believe heavily influenced by the colour of his skin) and an aggressive assault involving the attacking officer choking him, and a subsequent humiliating strip- search. Whilst his claim for damages is presently ongoing, and likely to result in a substantial pay-out, the complaint that he brought took over 5 years to reach a resolution when, despite the IPCC (as then was) finding that the officer who had assaulted Zahi had a case to answer for misconduct, the chairperson conducting the misconduct meeting dismissed all allegations against him, finding in favour of the officer on every count.

A ‘draconian’, obtuse, frustrating and often glacially-paced process the current misconduct regime might be; but in my opinion, it is the public, not the Police who suffer most at its hands.

In the News

So, a new year is upon us, and can I take this opportunity to send my best wishes to all readers of this blog.

I was pleased over the Christmas period to have the opportunity to discuss my work and some recent cases with the Liverpool Echo, and you can read their article here.

Also in the news over Christmas, was a report highlighting the deplorable prevalence of sexual harassment in the Police. You can read the Guardian article here. The Guardian’s request for data under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that a total of 450 complaints of sexual harassment had been made across 28 Police Forces over the last 6 years; the other 15 British forces (including the largest Force, the Metropolitan) failed to provide data, meaning that the true number of complaints is likely to be considerably higher than 450. Disappointingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, only a fraction of the reported complaints resulted in an officer who perpetrated harassment being dismissed.

I have blogged before about this subject (here, here, and here) and have recently contributed to a TV documentary which will be aired in the coming months highlighting the plight of many unfortunate women who have been taken advantage of by predatory male Police officers, some of whom sadly seem to see their access to vulnerable female victims of crime, who can then be manipulated into sexual relationships with the officers who are supposed to be protecting and helping them, as a ‘perk of the job’.

It is clear that the culture of male-dominated Police forces needs to change, with more being done to root out predatory officers and to ensure that it is understood that victims of crime are not ‘fair game’ for seduction, harassment and other forms of sexual abuse.

Another issue which is garnering a lot of media attention at the moment, is the high level of reported assaults upon officers of the British Transport Police, especially in light of the stabbing of an officer, who has fortunately now been released from hospital, at Manchester Victoria station on New Year’s Eve.

Recently released statistics show that between October 2015 – October 2018 there were 1,939 reported assaults upon BTP officers, although only 230 resulted in injury. The word ‘assault’ covers a very broad category of incidents, and thankfully stabbings such as that which occurred in Manchester are at the rare end of the spectrum; simple scuffles involving pushing and shoving will also account for some of these figures.

Sadly, I am also well aware that some of these  ‘assaults’ upon officers will be false reports, put forward as a ‘smokescreen’ for acts of violence which Officers have wrongfully committed against members of the public. These are incidents such as I have discussed in previous blogs and case report which involved serious injuries being inflicted by the Police on my clients. It is far from uncommon for incidents in which officers have gone ‘over the top’ and assaulted an innocent person to then be reported as assaults upon the officers, by way of an attempted retrospective justification by the officer of the violence he has inflicted on a member of the public.

Whilst not in any way diminishing the bravery of officers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public and bring offenders to justice, I do have to question how many of those almost 2000 assaults were in fact incidents in which the aggressor was the Police officer, not the other way around.

How Police Guidance Fails Sexual Abuse Victims

A West Midlands Police Officer has recently been in the news having been disciplined for having had an “inappropriate relationship” with a “vulnerable” woman while on duty. (West Midlands Police Officer warned over improper relationship)

According to news reports, the Police watchdog, the IOPC established that PC Crowe came into contact with the woman in the course of his professional duties and gave her his personal mobile number.  A sexual relationship commenced soon after between April to October 2017.

The relationship only ended after PC Crowe disclosed the matter to a supervisor following a presentation on maintaining professional boundaries in October 2017.

The fact that PC Crowe only thought to disclose the relationship after the presentation suggests a lack of awareness on his part in the extent of his responsibilities under the Standards of Professional Behaviour and therefore failings by his supervisors to ensure he was fully aware.  That could perhaps explain why ultimately (and remarkably in my opinion) he was only given a written warning for his “gross misconduct”.

Given my experience as a specialist in this field however, I’m afraid that I just don’t buy PC Crowe’s protestations of ignorance and I thought I would share some details from a case I’m working on at this time to explain why.

My client was in an abusive marriage.  In July 2013, the Police were called and ultimately arrested my client’s husband for domestic violence.  One of the officers who attended was a “PC A” who my client recalls being very complimentary about her appearance.

The next day, PC A called my client’s mobile phone number and asked if he could attend her home to carry out a “welfare check”.  My client agreed.  On attendance, PC A again complimented her on her appearance.  Subsequently, PC A began to text and call my client on a regular basis and within a few weeks, a sexual relationship commenced.

PC A would send a text message to my client saying that he was going to call round for “a cup of tea” which became code for sexual intercourse.  The timing of this would always be controlled by PC A.

At some point in 2014, PC A informed my client that another officer at his station had been identified as having entered into a relationship with a vulnerable woman he had met on duty and that the officer was liable for dismissal.  PC A was worried that similar action could be taken against him and encouraged my client to send him a text message inviting him to a fictional housewarming party.  My client did as requested and sent PC A the text and he replied, advising that he could not attend as it would be inappropriate to do so.

The relationship continued but on PC A’s terms.  Although my client tried to progress the relationship beyond a merely sexual one, PC A rebuffed her.  Ultimately, my client began to realise that PC A was manipulating her for his own gratification and in 2015, my client resolved to and did end the relationship.

In 2017, the Anti Corruption Unit of the Police Force contacted my client and explained that a complaint had been made against PC A, specifically that a vulnerable member of the public had disclosed  that PC A had attended upon her as a domestic violence victim, had subsequently contacted her on a social basis and was trying to form a relationship.  In the circumstances, PC A was being investigated for misconduct and his phone was seized.  Upon review, it was established that PC A and my client had been in a relationship.  My client gave a full statement and misconduct proceedings were subsequently brought against PC A who was ultimately dismissed for gross misconduct.

PC A’s misconduct as regards my client began in July 2013 and continued until 2015. What information had been given to him as regards the propriety of his forming a relationship with a vulnerable victim of crime?

The start point was the Standards of Professional Behaviour expected by all officers;

  • Honesty and Integrity.
  • Authority, Respect and Courtesy.
  • Discreditable Conduct

In October 2011, PC A and other officers in his force were reminded “to maintain a professional boundary” when dealing with vulnerable victims (for example, victims of domestic abuse) and the dismissal of an officer in the force who had formed an inappropriate relationship with a vulnerable victim he had met on duty was highlighted.

In November 2012, the Police (Conduct) Regulations came into force.  Within the Regulations, a small amendment was made to the ‘Standards of Professional Behaviour’, specifically to ‘Authority, Respect and Courtesy’;  “Police Officers do not use their professional position to establish or pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a person they come into contact in the course of their duties and who is vulnerable to an abuse or trust of power”.

In January 2013, another warning was issued following yet another dismissal of a serving officer for abuse of position for sexual gain; “All officers ….. are reminded that when dealing with any vulnerable person, including victims of domestic violence, they should behave in a manner which does not discredit the Police Service or undermine public confidence”

In September 2013, further guidance was given;

“Trust is a critical component of the relationship between ………….  Police and the communities of……………. To ensure that this trust is maintained and communities protected, a professional boundary should exist between the relationships of members  of ………….. Police and victims, offenders and/or witnesses.  If this boundary is breached, it will undermine the trust of the communities of …….  in its officers and staff or, more widely, the police service.  In some circumstances the breach may even constitute a criminal offence of ‘Misconduct in Public Office”.

The Standards of Professional Behaviour for both police officers and police staff clearly identify that they should not abuse their powers, or authority, and respect the rights of individuals.  Officers and staff should be aware that in their dealings with victims, witnesses and offenders there is likely to be an imbalance of power (for example due to ongoing or situational vulnerability or though powers of office) and that an attempt to establish a relationship beyond the purely professional may constitute an abuse of that power.

To ensure that there can be no misunderstanding as to the professional standards  expected from all members of …………. Police in relation to maintaining boundaries, the following additional guidance must be adhered to.

You must not use your professional position to establish or pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any current or former victim, offender or witness, or use your contact with them to pursue a relationship with someone close to them.

In July 2014, further guidance was given highlighting the issues concerning inappropriate relationships commenced by an officer arising from his role as an officer.

In 2014, PC A was in a group of officers subject to random drug testing procedure.  Officers from the Anti Corruption Unit took the opportunity to then conduct discussions on topical issues including maintaining professional boundaries.

Also in 2014, an officer in the force was suspended from duty (and ultimately dismissed in December 2015) for entering into a relationship with a vulnerable woman.  A colleague sought to then give false evidence to defend the inappropriate relationship.  It was this investigation that prompted PC A to encourage my client to invite him to the fictional housewarming party in an attempt to cover up his wrongdoing.

In light of the wealth of information (and PC A’s own actions), it is crystal clear that PC A was aware of his responsibilities and yet chose to ignore the standards of Professional Behaviour and numerous warnings and guidance given.

PC A’s response to the issue when questioned is instructive; “It’s guidance and you can assess it.  It is made with the best intentions and you take the guidance from that.  Where you think it is appropriate you would follow it.  You can go left and right of guidance.  And again I make a judgment call on that and that would have been my choice.”

The issue of officers abusing their professional powers for sexual gain has attracted a significant amount of media attention of late.  My client’s case highlights that.  With the amount of instruction and guidance given to your average rank and file officer, it is inescapable that for an officer to have decided to enter into a relationship with a vulnerable victim of crime over the past 5 or 6 years is with full knowledge that it is wrong and if found out, likely to lead to disciplinary proceedings.

The fact that many officers continue regardless reveals that they have little regard if caught and/or for any likely punishment (either in the criminal courts for Misconduct in Public Office or via Misconduct Proceedings).

Police Forces across the Country must continue to close the net on rogue officers such as this by not only training and guidance but also more stringent methods of identifying and stopping such perpetrators.  It is quite clear, for example, that in PC A’s case he had ample guidance to warn him that what he was doing was an abuse of the special rule entrusted to him, but chose to see that guidance as ‘optional’.

Alibi There For You?

You may have seen the recent news story surrounding Lancashire Police’s hunt for a Blackpool shoplifter who resembled the actor David Schwimmer – most famous for his role as “Ross” in the ‘90s sitcom Friends. David Schwimmer humorously responded by posting an ‘alibi’ video of his own (which showed him ‘stealing’ beer from a shop in New York at the time of the Blackpool crime). The Ross look-alike was in the news again this week, when he failed to attend Court – looks although he is “on a break”perhaps?

Joking aside, however, this story makes me think of a current case I have involving Lancashire’s neighbouring Force, Cumbria Constabulary. Here, once again, the Police were in possession of a clear photograph, from a CCTV still, of a shoplifter; this man did not resemble any of the “Friends” cast, and equally did not at all resemble my client  James Connors who was nevertheless arrested on suspicion of being this very person…

It appears that the manager of the store which had suffered the theft in Barrow, Cumbria reported to the Police (as well as giving them the CCTV images) that the wanted man was known to him as “Jimmy Raymond”.

In a classic example of what I would call ‘lazy Policing’, an officer carried out a search on the Police National Computer and came up with the details of my client James Connors. Mr Connors (now aged 61) had a number of convictions for minor offences in his youth (going back to the 1970s) but had turned his life around, and settled down as a family man, and had no convictions more recent than 1991.

The officer appears to have identified Mr Connors as “Jimmy Raymond” because Mr Connors has the middle name ‘Raymond’. Neither James, Jimmy nor Raymond are unusual names, and it’s clear that the Police were told that the suspect’s surname, not middle name, was Raymond, so in my view it was a totally unreasonable decision for the Police to form the view that James Connors was Jimmy Raymond, and that James Connors should be arrested.

Any belief the Police may have held on this flimsy evidence should have been completely dismissed when they called at my client’s house on 22 September 2017. They were by that time in possession of the CCTV picture of the wanted man, which showed he was aged in his 20s/30s, was of slim build, clean shaven and with dark hair. He had no resemblance whatsoever to my client who was in his 60s, had grey hair and a beard and was (in his own words) overweight.

Nevertheless, the officers attending Mr Connor’s house, apparently focused unblinkingly – unthinkingly? – on their mission, arrested him, searched his home for the ‘stolen items’ and then transported him in a van to the Police station. My client describes how the van was driven at high speed to the station (it certainly wasn’t stuck in 2nd gear) causing him to be thrown and jolted about in the back, severely exacerbating his pre-existing arthritis.

My client could not believe what was happening to him; his ordinary day, during which he was due later to go to collect his children from school, had been unexpectedly and dramatically turned upside down. Life, as they say, sometimes really is a joke…but a very bad one from Mr Connor’s point of view at that moment.

At Barrow Police Station my client was incarcerated in a cold small cell, experiencing unpleasant flashbacks to a previous period of his life which he thought he had long since left behind. The bench in the cell was so low that Mr Connors could not sit on it because of his bad back; he had to sit on the toilet seat, as this was higher up, which was a very humiliating and undignified experience.

Mr Connors was then taken for an interview, during which the CCTV image was produced. My client at once pointed out that the man in the picture looked nothing like him; indeed, on the interview tape he can be heard laughing out loud in disbelief. It appears that the interviewing officers agreed with him; the interview lasted only 7 minutes, several minutes of which included general formalities (confirming the date and parties present, explanation of the interview caution etc), after which Mr Connors was taken back before the custody sergeant and released without bail.

Having studied the evidence in this case, I am as flabbergasted as my client that he was ever arrested in the first place; he clearly bore no resemblance to the man the Police were looking for.

I am currently in the process of pursuing Mr Connor’s claim through the County Court. The Police have sought to deny liability and justify their decision to arrest on the basis of the similarity of Mr Connor’s middle name and  the suspect’s surname, but in view of the incontrovertible evidence of the CCTV camera I do not believe for one moment that the Court will accept this argument, and I fully expect the Police to pay Mr Connors a handsome and proper award of damages before the case goes to Trial. If Cumbria Constabulary persists in their Defence, dare I say it, I expect them to be laughed out of Court…

And so I’ll sign off by wishing all readers of this Blog a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and remember – if you have a claim against the Police, I’ll be there for you…