Legal Aid and Claims Against the Police

Concerns have rightly been raised this week about the quality and coverage of Legal Aid provision in England and Wales by a cross party group of MPs known as the Westminster Commission on Legal Aid.  They have published a 95 page report identifying major concerns as to the sustainability of this country’s Legal Aid sector.

The Report opens with a rallying call to the authors’ fellow MPs and other stakeholders to help preserve the health and integrity of what the UK can rightly call “One of the best Justice systems in the world” and sounds the following important warning –

“The Legal Aid sector is an essential part of our High Streets.  Many Legal Aid firms and organisations are small businesses employing local people and servicing the local communities. The sector as a whole is in desperate need of revitalisation and investment if it is to meet public demand in the years to come.  Successive Governments over the past two decades have taken measures to reduce the cost of the Legal Aid system and the proportion of the population that it is able to help is becoming increasingly small.”

Certainly these concerns are borne out by my own experience.  Over the decades I have witnessed the Government cutting the Legal Aid budget and drastically reducing its scope/coverage, so that less and less people are able to use it as a means to access true justice.

In the words of the Westminster Commission – “There were significant issues around individuals accessing the Justice system….  In some areas, this led to a worrying inequality of arms for those unable to access legal advice or representation in the most emotive and challenging of cases.”

The Legal Aid Agency is, in my opinion, in dire need of reinvestment and reinvigoration – so that it truly begins to function again as a gatekeeper facilitating access to justice for the less wealthy/fortunate in our society, rather than acting as a ‘bouncer’ whose apparent job is to keep people out of the club, not let them in.

Let me give a demonstrative example of how I believe the current Legal Aid regime is failing the public, and is not fit for purpose, by reference to the case of my client David White.

Mr White, a gentleman of entirely good character and aged in his 60’s, was making his way home through his local area  when he was made the victim of disturbingly heavy handed and unconstitutional actions by two West Mercia Police Officers  who stopped him on his journey home and bundled him into the back of a car against his will – and all without any suggestion that he had committed the slightest criminal offence.

The incident began at approximately 10.30pm with a report from an off-duty PCSO (Mr Barlow) who reported that he had seen Mr White on the pavement of a road bridge and he was concerned because Mr White was standing still and was refusing to engage with Mr Barlow when questioned.  To be clear, there was no suggestion from Mr Barlow that my client was putting himself in any physical jeopardy – Mr White was simply on the pavement, on the correct side of the railings.  Nevertheless, notwithstanding the fact that Mr White then continued his journey over the bridge and along the pavement of the road in normal fashion (he was walking home) Mr Barlow chose to ‘phone in’ the incident to his Police Headquarters on the basis that “I just had a bad feeling about it…..  it just didn’t sit right with me.”

Whilst I am sure that Mr Barlow’s concern was genuine, and his call made in good faith, it is a huge leap to go from having a ‘bad feeling’ about another person – who is not in fact saying or doing anything which puts themselves, or any other person, in jeopardy –  to deciding that they have a mental disorder “requiring care and control.”

However, within minutes of PCSO Barlow’s phone call, a pair of Police Officers (PC Masters and PC Smith) had stopped my client as he continued his journey home, and physically forced him into the back of their vehicle, demanding that he identify himself and answer questions about what he was doing. The officers (at least after the event) asserted that they believed that Mr White was suffering from a mental disorder and that they were therefore entitled to detain him using the powers granted by Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

If the unspoken implication was that the mental disorder Mr White was ‘suspected’ by the officers from suffering, was suicidal or self-harm inclinations then that was in my opinion a shocking judgment to make, indicative of lack of reasonable care and consideration of the true facts, as there was simply no evidence whatsoever before the officers that Mr White was contemplating, let alone attempting self-harm or suicide.

Mr White’s first ‘misdemeanour’ it seemed was to refuse to talk to an apparently civilian motorist (Barlow) who approached him out of nowhere in the middle of the night, and his second ‘crime’ to refuse to answer demands for his personal details/ purpose of journey from PC Masters.

I repeat again, that there was no suggestion whatsoever that any criminal offence had been committed. Mr White refusing to answer the officer’s questions is not of course an offence, and certainly not a justification for a person to be taken into a Police car from the public street and then driven away against their will under the justification of  ‘mental health’ concerns.

Analysis of the Incident

PC Masters asked Mr White what he was “up to” in a very intimidating matter, even though it should have been clear that Mr White was not ‘up to’ anything, but merely walking along a public path.  The officer then claimed that Mr White was drunk, despite the fact that he was completely sober, and when Mr White protested that PC Masters should not treat him this way, because Mr White had committed no crime, the officer replied facetiously “Well none we’re aware of yet…” PC Masters asked for Mr White’s name and address, but had been so rude and aggressive in his approach from the start, that Mr White felt he had to stand up for his rights and politely – and correctly – asserted that  he was not obliged to give that information, as he had done nothing wrong.

Then, without warning, PC Masters grabbed Mr White’s arm, put him into the restraint position, and forced him into the back of the Police car.  He told Mr White that he and his colleague would keep Mr White in their custody until he cooperated – even if it took all night. He then threatened to take Mr White to the Police Station, which finally scared him into giving PC Masters what he wanted.

It was in these circumstances, in a state of fear and duress, that Mr White reluctantly provided his name and address and the officers then – against Mr White’s will – drove him to the vicinity of his home address, where he was finally released from the Police vehicle and allowed to go on his way.

As Mr White entered the flats where he lives, he noticed a  neighbour was outside and was ashamed to think that she may have seen him alighting the Police vehicle.

It is also notable that despite the fact that the officers were later to assert that they were acting under Mental  Health powers out of a concern for Mr White’s welfare – once having extracted his name and address, and thereby asserted their ‘authority’ over him, they did not even accompany him to the door of his home, but simply released him into the street and drove away.  This is hardly indicative of a genuine concern for Mr White’s mental health, which would surely have resulted in the officers taking Mr White to a hospital. Indeed, the entire purpose of the powers granted under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act is to allow officers to take a person into protective custody and convey them into a “place of safety” – i.e. a Police Station or Mental Health Hospital where they can be assessed by appropriately qualified Medical Practitioners – and being dropped back outside a person’s home is not in that context, a place of safety in accordance with the Act.

Furthermore neither PC Masters nor his colleague attempted to consult a Medical Practitioner/Mental Health Professional prior to or during the exercise of their alleged powers under the Mental Health Act.

It is my view that the conduct of PC Masters demonstrated that the officer was acting in bad faith towards Mr White – motivated not by genuine concern about Mr White’s health, but rather by animus arising from Mr White’s perceived disrespect for the officer’s authority (his refusal to answer the officer’s questions) and that what PC Masters in fact did was to misuse the powers conveyed by the Mental Health Act so as to pressure Mr White into answering his questions – which effectively having been kidnapped by the officers, he was duly browbeaten and cowed into doing.

Mr White was understandably outraged by what had been done to him and made a formal complaint.  His complaint was (as is usually the case) rejected by West Mercia’s Professional Standards Department and it was on reading the Complaint Report that Mr White first learned that PC Masters and his colleague were claiming that Mr White had appeared to be mentally ill and that they were using Section 136 of the Mental Health Act to excuse their actions. Mr White was confident that absolutely nothing about his appearance or behaviour that night could have reasonably caused anyone to suspect that he was mentally ill, and he was shocked at the lies which the officers had apparently told to the Complaint Investigator.  In particular, PC Masters had denied grabbing and forcing Mr White into the car – claiming that he had got in voluntarily, but that the officer might have put  his hand on Mr White’s arm simply to ‘guide’ him as he did so.

In  my opinion, Mr White was quite right to feel extremely aggrieved at the response he had received to his legitimate complaint.  On reading the Complaint Report it was obvious that there were numerous issues tending to suggest that the officers’ accounts were not accurate, and that their exercise of their powers was not in fact lawful – but all of these contradictions were air-brushed over with the typical pro- Police bias which is commonplace amongst PSD Investigators.

Here are just a few of the issues which should have given an open-minded Complaint Investigator pause for thought before he chose to exonerate the officers and reject the complaint –

·        The Police incident log at 22. 48 tersely records ‘male is not cooperative, not giving his details’. It is then recorded at 23.00 that Mr White had been taken to his home address. There is no suggestion there in the incident log that PC Masters or his colleague had encountered a person whom they reasonably believed to be suffering from a mental health disorder.

·        PC Master’s Pocket Notebook for the night in question contained no reference to this incident (which one would have assumed a MHA intervention upon a ‘mentally disordered’ person, detained and driven from one place to another against his will, would have required). This speaks to a real possibility the officer’s actions were not in compliance with the Act, either being done in bad faith and/or without reasonable care. Why else would he not reference the use of his powers?

·        In response to the subsequent Complaint, the two officers gave accounts highly contradictory as to whether Mr White was actually detained under MHA powers or not. PC Smith indicated he was not; whereas PC Masters stated that he did so detain Mr White, but did not say that any explanation of these powers was given to Mr White.

·        The account of PCs Smith and Masters that Mr White ‘voluntarily’ got into their vehicle without threat or physical force was inherently unlikely in the context of the officers’ own accounts– they repeatedly labour the point of his non-cooperation, obstructiveness, and refusal to answer questions – why on Earth would he then voluntarily have got inside the police car, when he obviously wanted to be allowed to go about his business?

·        Furthermore, PC White attempted to justify his purported use of the Mental Health Act powers by saying that a member of the public was concerned that Mr White might ‘throw himself off the bridge’ – well, Mr Barlow’s concern was actually couched in terms of a ‘gut feeling’ and we know from the incident log that there were no specific details which suggested a self-  harm act was actually about to occur. Yet further, it was not disputed that Mr White was no longer in the vicinity of the bridge; the two Officers had stopped him around a mile away, with Mr White’s direction of travel being away from the bridge.  Therefore PC Master’s only real reliance was on the fact that Mr White “would not facilitate communication with us” which again, I submit, could simply not in the context be a basis for bona fide use of mental health detention powers.

A Quest for Justice

Having been badly let down by the lack of impartiality of our Police Complaints system, Mr White, who was of limited financial means, first approached a local Solicitor in the hope that his case could be taken on a no win, no fee basis – but the Solicitor declined to do so.

Mr White was then prepared to bring an action in the County Court against West Mercia Police as a litigant in person, seeking damages for assault and false imprisonment – only to learn whilst he attempted to draft the letter of claim that Section 139 of the Mental Health Act requires all potential Claimants who have been subject to a purported detention under the Act to obtain permission from the High Court before they can commence their claim, and in doing so to demonstrate that the actions taken towards them by (in this case) the Police were done in bad faith and/or without reasonable care.

Mr White was dismayed at the prospect of having to navigate the tortuous  process of bringing and succeeding with such an application in the High Court itself, and knew that he could not do so without specialist legal advice – but also that he lacked the means to pay for the same.

Following a personal recommendation, Mr White then approached me.

Having assessed Mr White’s case as meritorious, and noting that he was of limited financial means, I made an application on his behalf to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) seeking public funding for the case.

Regretfully, the LAA rejected Mr White’s request for Legal Aid on the following basis –

“It is unreasonable for Legal Aid to be granted as the prospects of obtaining a successful outcome in the proceedings, assuming the case were determined at Trial or other final hearing are poor. Having read the Complaint Investigation Report, I cannot see that the prospects would be better than poor.  In any event, this case would not meet the proportionality test.  There is no reason to consider that either aggravated or exemplary damages would be awarded even if your case were successful. The value of the claim would be no more than £1,000.”

The institutional negativity displayed by the LAA in that assessment of Mr White’s case demonstrates in a nutshell why our current Legal Aid system is not fit for purpose and in urgent need of investment and reform.

·        To assess Mr White’s prospects as being ‘poor’ (i.e. less than 50%) demonstrates an unacceptable inability to cogently assess the evidence and understand the law – not least the fact that where the detention of a person is admitted (which it was here) the burden of proof rests firmly on the Police to justify at all times the lawfulness of their actions and the Complaint Report itself (as highlighted above) was littered with contradictions and apparent inaccuracies by the officers which would tend to suggest that they would fail to meet that burden.

·        Likewise, either naively or cynically, the Legal Aid Assessor has accepted the outcome of the complaint investigation as if it were ‘Gospel’ likely to be determinative of the proposed civil proceedings. Anyone at all familiar with the Police Complaints process would know that the regular rejection of meritorious complaints is par for the course, and that the limited and biased complaint investigation process is in no way comparable to the full, fair and rigorous process of a County Court claim.  The findings of complaint investigations are not binding on subsequent civil proceedings; which indeed, as my own personal experience will amply testify, frequently come to the reverse conclusion following the initial exoneration of officers by their own PSD colleagues.

·        Finally, there was a demonstrable failure by the LAA to properly consider and apply the proportionality test i.e. the weighing up of the costs of bringing a legal action against the potential rewards which are available.  Firstly, it was inaccurate to assert that no more than £1,000 damages could be recovered.  The outcome of this case will speak for itself (see below) but even at the initial assessment stage it was clear that although Mr White’s detention was fortunately no longer than around  20 minutes, the physical assault that he suffered, combined with his understandable alarm and distress and the arrogance and unconstitutional behaviour of the officers (particularly PC Masters) should have made it obvious to any competent assessor that the range of damages were certainly significantly in excess of £1,000 and that aggravated and exemplary damages were potentially recoverable.

·        Even more importantly, there were also issues of personal and civic justice over and above the ‘pounds and pence’ amount of the actual compensation award which should have been taken into account by the Legal Aid Agency as a crucial factor when assessing the ‘costs v benefits’ criteria for funding this case.  The case was never just about the recovery of damages, as if Mr White was merely seeking recompense for a broken dishwasher – rather it engaged important issues of civil liberty and the accountability of Police actions.

In summary, this was a proposed claim involving a man who had committed no crime – who indeed was not at any point under suspicion of any crime – nevertheless being bundled into the back of a Police car on the flimsiest of pretexts.  Mr White had been assaulted, intimidated and deprived of his liberty and this was a case that deserved the full investigation that substantive civil proceedings would allow. 

Surely it is in the public interest to hold the Police to account in such circumstances? I feel it would certainly be of concern if police officers were regularly invoking ‘mental health concerns’ simply because a person who they approached on a public street was refusing the officer’s request for personal information. A British citizen has the right to refuse to talk to a police officer who approaches him in all but the rarest of circumstances, and none of those circumstances applied here. I repeat that there was simply no evidence of mental disorder, or mental disorder requiring immediate care and control.

Sadly, the LAA did not agree and maintained their rejection of Mr White’s request for funding.

I am convinced that many hundreds, if not indeed thousands of persons with meritorious claims such as Mr White’s, are being left high and dry and without access to justice by the current Legal Aid system for a whole variety of reasons  – but certainly including a negative culture within the LAA and a basic failure to understand fundamental points of law and the assessment of evidence.

The current civil Legal Aid system is anaemic and in real need of a transfusion not only of funding but also of new leadership and the adoption of an ethos more dedicated to facilitating rather than frustrating access to justice for those with limited financial means.

Mr White wrote to me in the following eloquent terms following the final rejection of his appeal for funding by the LAA –

“I believe very strongly that the Police should be held to account when they mistreat a member of the public, and that if people like me just shrug their shoulders and think ‘it’s too much work to do anything about this’, that makes it more likely that others will be mistreated in the future. I feel it is my civic duty to try to bring this case to court, so I hope you will continue to help me…….”

I am pleased to confirm that I did indeed agree to continue to assist Mr White, agreeing to act by way of a Conditional Fee or No win, No fee Agreement as the only means of funding which remained available.  Mr White was not in a  position to be able to pay me, and so I agreed to take on the case which the LAA had deemed as ‘poor’ with the risk that I would not be paid a penny if it did not succeed. 

Furthermore, Mr White was also having to shoulder the burden of having to pay the Police legal costs if his claim failed, because without Legal Aid a losing Claimant is directly exposed to those costs, which could, at worst, result in bankruptcy/seizure of assets.

Nevertheless, both I and Mr White were prepared to take these risks in the interests of the justice of his cause and to do what the LAA seemed uninterested in doing – which was to hold the Police properly to account after their abusive mistreatment of Mr White and shambolic/cynical rejection of his legitimate complaint.

I am pleased to confirm that the subsequent application which I made on behalf of Mr White to the High Court was granted, and thereafter, shortly after the commencement of full civil proceedings against the Chief Constable of West Mercia Police, Mr White’s claim was settled for damages in the sum of £1,200 plus an agreement by the Chief Constable to pay the costs of both the High Court application and subsequent civil proceedings.

Mr White’s sense of satisfaction in the vindication of his claim was worth far, far more than the mere monetary damages in this case but it is not right that he had to shoulder such a burden of risk in order to achieve justice.

We need to see a significant improvement in both the funding and culture of the Legal Aid Agency so that many more people like Mr White are not left wandering in the desert, without a lawyer to guide them or any hope of accessing justice.

After all, there is no point in having one of the best justice systems in the world if people cannot use it to hold to account abuses of power, and to expose evidence of corrupt character, amongst agents of the state. 

Names have been changed.

Devon & Cornwall Police Forced To Pay The Price For Coin Fiasco

Can you be lawfully arrested on a charge of ‘making off without payment’ when you are in fact-

  1. Not making off, but remaining on the premises where payment is expected; AND
  2. Offering to pay your debt for goods/ services in full with legal tender?

The answer to that question is of course NO, but that didn’t stop Devon & Cornwall Police arresting my client Brett Chamberlain in exactly those circumstances…

On 27 July 2020 Brett filled up his car with £60 worth of diesel at a Tesco Petrol Station in Exeter, and offered payment by way of a £100 coin to the cashier.

A £100 coin is legal tender in accordance with the Coinage Act 1971.

The manager of the petrol station refused to accept payment in this form, despite the fact that there was no notice or advertisement on the fuel pumps warning potential customers that certain denominations of otherwise legal tender would not be accepted in payment of the goods being offered for sale i.e the petrol/ diesel fuel.

Indeed, Brett had previously received a letter from the Tesco Customer Engagement Centre (dated 16 January 2020) which confirmed that Tesco did accept payment in its petrol stations by means of ‘commemorative’ coins including the £100 denomination.

The manager of the petrol station refused to accept payment by way of Brett’s £100 coin, and instead called the Police.  Sergeant Attwood of Devon and Cornwall Police attended at the scene and spoke to Brett, who was waiting patiently in his motor car by the fuel pump.

Brett had not attempted to ‘make off’ in any way, although he had offered to move his car to a different area of the forecourt so as not to block access to the fuel pump – but this had been refused by the Tesco manager.

Embedded below in this blog, are videos of Brett’s interactions with Sergeant Attwood.  

As the videos show, Brett politely explained the situation to Sergeant Attwood, including showing the officer the £100 coin, and explaining the relevant stipulations of the Coinage Act 1971 (although Brett was under no obligation to explain the law to a Police Officer).

Sergeant Attwood accepted that the £100 coin was perfectly legal tender, but nevertheless threatened Brett with arrest for “bilking, on the alleged grounds that it was the preference of the Tesco manager that Brett not pay his debt with the £100 coin.

Brett correctly asserted that he was not acting dishonestly; he had not attempted to drive off;  he had waited for the officer to attend and had then engaged in a lengthy and civil discussion with him as to the issue.

Brett further correctly asserted that the officer should not be threatening arrest simply because of the Tesco manager’s ‘preference’ as to what type of cash payment he was willing to accept after the event of the fuel being pumped. As with all self-service petrol stations, the pumps are made available for prospective customers such as Brett to ‘help themselves’ to vehicle fuel, and the station owner, in this case Tesco, would only have been able to refuse payment in a given denomination of otherwise legal tender cash/coinage had they clearly advised the fact with signage upon their pumps in advance. In the absence of any such signage (and, indeed, given the actual written assurance that Brett had previously received from Tesco that such coinage was acceptable payment) Tesco were obliged to accept any legal tender in Sterling which was offered to them and could not ‘pick and choose’ the method of such payment after the fuel had been pumped into the car, and the transaction was therefore irreversible. The same situation would also apply in, say, a restaurant after a customer had eaten a meal – if he had not been given advance notice that there were types of statutorily legal tender which this particular business would not accept.   

Nevertheless, Sergeant Attwood then placed Brett under arrest on suspicion of “making off without payment”, at which point the officer reached through the open driver’s door window of Brett’s vehicle (through which the two men had been talking) and without warning simultaneously took hold of Brett’s right arm – which act was in itself an assault and battery-  and attempted to extract his keys from the ignition (although the engine of the car was already switched off).

Brett reasonably requested that the officer let go of him, and when this was done, peaceably exited his vehicle and complied with the officer’s instructions to accompany him to a nearby Police vehicle.

Brett was then required to get into the rear of a Police car and two different officers then transported him to Exeter Police station where he was detained in custody for over 4 hours.

During his time in custody, Brett was interviewed as to the alleged ‘offence’ and had his fingerprints, DNA, and photograph taken under duress. He was subsequently released “under investigation” with the Police retaining the £100 coin, despite there never being any suspicion that this was anything other than a wholly legitimate coin, properly issued by the Royal Mint and confirmed as legal tender by the Coinage Act.

Brett subsequently received a letter from Devon and Cornwall Police confirming that the alleged crime had now been filed as “undetected”, with an outcome of “not proceeded with”.

Heads & Tails

It was ridiculous that this chain of events had gone so far. As Brett cogently observed during his Police interview, he simply shouldn’t have had to explain the contents of the UK Coinage Act to the UK’s biggest retailer, nor law and legislation to a Police Officer – an agent of the Crown. He had been arrested, and was then investigated with a view to his being criminally prosecuted for the ‘offence’ of … attempting to use Royal Mint coinage?

Plainly and simply, the Officer was using his power of arrest to attempt to bully Brett into doing what the Tesco manager wanted, despite the wishes of that manager having no force in law.

This self-same officer then added insult to injury by repeatedly accusing Brett of being “dishonest” during his interview under caution – despite at no point being able to articulate what was dishonest about using an appropriate amount of legal tender to pay a legal debt. During the interview, it quickly became clear that the officer lacked any reasonable basis for arresting Brett, but appeared unable to back down from his self- appointed position as Tesco’s “Big Brother” despite the cogency, coherency and clarity of Brett’s argument.  

In the aftermath of these wholly unjust events, Brett initially attempted to set the record straight by pursuing an official complaint with Devon & Cornwall Police, only to run up against the usual pro-Police bias of ‘local’ complaint investigations. In his case, Brett received a letter from Sergeant Balsdon of Exeter Police Station dated 16 December 2020, which was almost nakedly bristling with hostility – rather than offer any sort of apology, Sergeant Balsdon asserted that the “crime” had happened, and the only reason Brett was not being prosecuted was because the victim (that is Tesco PLC) had not provided any evidence. The Sergeant then asserted that “shops and businesses are not expected to accept comenberative (sic) coins as a method of payment and have every right to refuse”…which is both entirely correct and entirely irrelevant, because businesses cannot ring fence certain types of coinage as unacceptable once the transaction has irreversibly commenced – and would instead have to have given advance notice of their special terms as to payment e.g by posting clear signs on their fuel pumps. Of course here, the officer’s argument was all the more fallacious because Tesco had actually done the opposite – they had written to Brett and assured him they would accept commemorative coins of that denomination; and this very fact was known to the Police throughout the time of Brett’s detention and their subsequent ‘investigation.’

In effect, the Police letter was saying to Brett – ‘Thanks for your complaint – but in our view you are a criminal, and we’re just disappointed we can’t prove it.’ This letter was accompanied by a telephone call from another officer who stressed the view that Brett was dishonest, and just lucky that Tesco were not ‘pressing charges’– a call which Brett quite rightly found to oppressive and threatening. So much for a considerate or conciliatory response – though as long experience tells me, hardly surprising; this type of combativeness is ingrained in policing complaint culture.

Brett was therefore left with no remedy but a legal claim for compensation, and that was when he instructed myself in January 2021.

In the meantime, Brett had received another letter from Sergeant Balsdon insisting that “the crime was recorded accurately” and that “the crime remains”. Outrageously, Brett was now facing the prospect of being life-long smeared by association with an offence he could never have committed, as a result of the Police refusal to delete the arrest from his PNC record. And what exactly was this “crime” that the Police deemed should remain forever more on his record? Brett summed this up very well, when in a classic example of British irony he phrased it thus – “The crime of using Her Majesty’s legal tender coins at the country’s largest retailer, who had already agreed to accept them in writing…”

I am pleased to confirm that we have now successfully held Devon & Cornwall Police to account. Faced with the threat of legal action, the Force has not only agreed to pay Brett £5,000 damages (rather more than £100) for his wrongful arrest but also to offer a full apology – which in itself gives the lie to any suggestion that Brett’s initial complaint was handled fairly or impartially.

We can look at this case from the negative angle of what a shameful waste of public money it was by the Police to have both arrested Brett in the manner they did, and then failed to apologise when first given the opportunity to do so – and all for what? Pride in their own power it seems, and a willingness to side with the ‘big boys’ Tesco against the common man.

For that seems to me to be the real problem here – that Sergeant Attwood clearly felt that Tesco had to be in the right and that Brett must be dishonest – he just didn’t know why.

And when Brett then raised a wholly legitimate complaint, Sergeant Attwood’s colleagues clearly felt that their colleague must be right, and Brett must be a criminal – they just didn’t know why, either.

The role of the Police is to uphold the law, not to use it as a tool to bully or browbeat those who disagree with them, or with the corporate kings of the country…

But we can also look at the positive result: that Brett was able to take the Police to task and expose both their incompetence and abuse of power – to remind the Police, and us all, that their job is to uphold the letter of the law, not the hierarchies of society; not to have a default position of siding with commercial entities/ corporations against the private citizen; and not to let themselves be used as the fist of the big organisation that’s punching down.

After all, the Police swear an oath to well and truly serve the Queen whose head is on our coins, not to Tesco PLC, who simply bank so many of them…

Vulnerable Victims of Crime and Police Sexploitation

Last week I published a blog regarding Police officers who exploit vulnerable victims of crime for sex, and expressed concerns as to whether a general culture of what we might call ‘institutional misogyny’ exists within the Policing profession which has led to too many abusers finding a home there, and being able to get away with their crimes for far too long.

That this is a very real problem within the Police has been recognised by numerous official communiqués from chief officers over the last decade, such as this from the then Deputy Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police John Robbins in July 2017 (now Chief Constable) –

“I know this doesn’t apply to the vast majority of you but some of you and some of your colleagues are continuing to abuse your position for sexual purposes.

As employees of West Yorkshire Police you hold a privileged public position. It is vital we all understand and respect this position at all times and maintain professional boundaries with members of the public that we come into contact with as a result of our job.

A national strategy has just been launched by the National Police Chiefs’ Council making it clear what is expected of everyone when dealing with members of the public. A key focus of this is the abuse of position for a sexual purpose and improper emotional relationshipsSuch an abuse is now clearly defined as corruption and therefore allegations will always be treated and investigated as corruption. This is not just the abuse of position with vulnerable people, it is any relationship with a member of the public that you have cultivated through your position in West Yorkshire Police.

So let me make this really clear – it is your professional obligation and duty to neither abuse or use your position for sexual and emotional relationship purposes.”

Even earlier than this, Dorset Police had, in 2013, published a policy entitled “Maintaining Professional Boundaries and Standards of Behaviour” which stated the following-

·         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 through powers of office) and that an attempt to establish a relationship beyond the purely professional may constitute an abuse of that power.

·         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.

·         You must protect all people from the risk of harm posed by another colleague’s conduct. The safety of the public must come first at all times. If you have concerns that a colleague may be involved in an inappropriate relationship, you must report this matter to a supervisor or line manager without delay in order that the concerns can be investigated and the necessary protective arrangements are put in place.

But how much real difference has a decade of such guidance and messaging made to the prevalence of such predatory behaviour within our Police Forces?  IOPC statistics show that the Police watchdog has received no less than 394 referrals in the last 2 years for abuse of power for sexual gain by Police officers/ staff, 106 of which were deemed serious enough to warrant direct investigation by the IOPC (bearing in mind that the vast majority of misconduct investigations are conducted by the local Forces themselves).

In the same week that Police investigator Alan Butler was sentenced to prison for his exploitation of my clients Julia and Alison, yet another abusive officer, PC Sean Ford (of the same Dorset Force that set out those apparently clear ‘commandments’ about sexual propriety in 2013 that I have cited above) faced a misconduct panel in relation to his relationship with a domestic abuse victim whose case he was investigating.

The panel heard how the relationship began in 2019 when the woman (Ms A) was referred to the Police feeling suicidal and in a state of fear about her ex-husband.

Mere days after visiting Ms A’s house to take a statement from her about the abuse, PC Ford entered into a sexual relationship with her. This was at a time when Ms A was both an alleged victim and suspect in the investigation, as her ex-partner had made counter-allegations of emotional and physical abuse against her.

As is very common in such cases, PC Ford was able to play the part of the “Knight in Shining Armour” to Ms A – flagrantly conducting an illicit relationship with her by night, whilst by day he made entries regarding criminal allegations about her in the Police investigation log. In this regard, PC Ford was putting the integrity of the whole criminal investigation process at risk, as well as exploiting his position for sex.

This was nothing short of contemptible behaviour, but rather than disclose his relationship at the time, or even accept full responsibility once it was discovered, PC Ford contested the charge of gross misconduct brought against him, arguing that he had not abused his position to have a relationship with Ms A.

Quite properly, the misconduct panel rejected PC Ford’s arguments, and on 30 September 2021 dismissed him from the force for having conducted an inappropriate sexual relationship with such a clearly vulnerable woman.

Whilst ex-PC Ford will now be placed on the Policing barred list, questions remain as to Policing culture and the prevalence of this problem, at the intersection of machismo and ingrained misogyny. Bear in mind that PC Ford felt entitled to admit his affair with the woman, and argue that he should be allowed to keep his job. How many other officers really think likewise about this form of misconduct, and therefore is the profession as a whole only paying ‘lip service’ to the full extent of the problem?

In further news this week, Patsy Stevenson, one of the women manhandled and handcuffed by Metropolitan Police officers as they broke up the peaceful Clapham Common vigil in memory of Sarah Everard in March of this year, has spoken of her fear after dozens of Police officers ‘liked’ her profile on the Tinder dating app. The Met have said that they are now investigating whether any officer in so doing has committed misconduct.

An independent review into not merely the Metropolitan Police, but all Police Forces standards and culture on these issues is long, long overdue.

A Betrayal of Trust: Police Officers Who Exploit Victims of Crime

Amidst revelations in the last few days that the murderer and rapist Wayne Couzens was a member of a “Whats App” group involving other Metropolitan Police officers that is now under investigation for its sharing of misogynistic, racist and homophobic content, and the Met themselves advising the public not to trust plainclothes officers who are acting alone, the confidence and trust that women can have in the Police is at an all time low; and I have been given further reason to reflect on this by discussions with two of my clients regarding abuse that they suffered at the hands of another criminal Police officer – Alan Butler, who was convicted for crimes against them in August of this year.

Here are their stories.

Julia’s Story

My client Julia was raped by her ex-partner in February 2017, when he was staying as a guest at her home; she sought medical assistance and counselling, but initially avoided contacting the Police.  However, Julia subsequently found that her ex- partner had left his gmail account logged on to a computer in her home, and had been viewing disturbing websites.

Julia notified her daughter in law (as her ex-partner had contact with Julia’s granddaughter) and Social Services were informed. As a result, the Police became involved and in March 2017, two officers from Warwickshire Police attended Julia’s home. One of these officers was Alan Butler, a former Detective Constable, who had retired from that position but who continued to work for the Force as a “Police Staff Investigator”.

Butler arranged to visit Julia on a later occasion, ostensibly to discuss the case, and this time he came unaccompanied. Julia was reluctant to give a statement about the attack she had suffered from her ex-partner, and Butler’s purported reason for visiting her was to support/ encourage her to do so. However, he quickly became overly familiar and flirtatious towards Julia, complimenting her on her looks, and taking hold of her hands.

On the pretext of making welfare checks/ discussing the case, Butler then started calling at Julia’s house frequently, during which visits he adopted the persona of a ‘friend’ paying a social visit rather than maintaining the professional demeanour/ distance which his role as a representative of the Police should have required. He made lewd remarks and direct references to wanting to have sex with her.

By now, at Butler’s encouragement, Julia had provided a formal ABE interview to the Police about the rape. Butler continued to visit her and to pester/ harass her, with flirtatious remarks and compliments now turning into physical contact. Butler became increasingly forward, going as far as to touch Julia on the backside, and to kiss her. Julia was caught in a difficult emotional trap, not wanting to hurt Butler’s feelings even though his attentions were unwanted, and also worried about how a rejection of him would affect her case/ potentially endanger her.

Julia explained that since the rape, she was not interested in physical contact, but Butler continued his despicable ‘pursuit’ of her regardless. It seems that he was shamelessly trying to exploit Julia’s vulnerability from the sexual assault she had suffered, in order to take advantage for his own personal gain.

Julia was feeling so harassed by Butler, that she set up CCTV monitoring of her front door, in the hope that it would dissuade him from coming around; sadly it did not. He also bombarded Julia with phone calls and text messages.

Fortunately, Julia had been put in touch with an IVSA counsellor, as part of the rape investigation, and she was eventually able to open up to her counsellor not only about the rape but about Butler’s pestering/ pursuit of her. The Anti- Corruption Unit of Warwickshire Police became involved, and Julia now had to provide an ABE interview detailing all of Butler’s contact with her; this led to Butler’s arrest and prosecution for misconduct in public office.

Alison’s Story

Julia, however, was not the only victim of Alan Butler’s grooming/ attempted sexual exploitation.

I also represent Alison, another woman who disclosed past sexual abuse, only to have the misfortune of having Alan Butler allocated to her case.

Alison had been abused by her adoptive father as a child; as a result of this she developed a psychiatric disorder.

As an adult, and indeed a parent now herself, Alison was eventually able to face up to the abuse she had suffered, and report her adoptive father to the Police; because he lived in Warwickshire at the time, the case was handled by that Force.

Alan Butler, in his role as Police Staff Investigator on the case, invited Alison into Nuneaton Police Station to discuss the case.

Just as he did with Julia, Butler then inveigled his way more and more into Alison’s life, abusing his privileged position as a Police investigator to groom her. Butler praised her appearance, flirted with her, called and visited her at home repeatedly.  He encouraged Alison to apply for a compensation payment from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority in respect of the historic abuse she had suffered, although this had initially not been on her mind at all; in this respect Butler was able to pose as a mentor/ protector in regards to Alison’s journey through the criminal justice system, purportedly there to look out for her welfare, whilst combining this with conduct which can only be described as the sleazy behaviour of a man ‘on the pull’ in a singles bar – including unwanted physical contact, such as touching Alison on the knee when they were talking.

Butler continued to pursue Alison during this very vulnerable time in her life – the prosecution of her adoptive father eventually resulted in his conviction, but the time was one of understandable stress and emotional turmoil for Alison. Butler continued to exploit this by posing as Alison’s ‘Knight in Shining Armour’; he told her there had been another occasion when he had failed to protect a vulnerable woman from suicide, and that he would not let this happen again – he would always be there if she needed him.

For a time, Alison and Butler entered into a sexual relationship. Alison then ended the relationship, but had to continue to deal with Butler as part of the ongoing criminal case against her adoptive father, and he obsessively pestered her and bombarded her with calls, trying to get her to sleep with him again.

Despicably, Butler even used the excuse of having to take another ‘Victim Impact Statement’ from Alison to get her to see him; he was exploiting the fact of her abuse as a child to try to advance his own sexual desires upon her.

Eventually, in the Summer of 2017 Alan Butler came under investigation by Warwickshire’s Professional Standards department following the report made by Julia about his behaviour towards her. At first Butler thought it might have been Alison who had reported him, and went as far as to threaten her with the words “I hope you haven’t said anything, because your Dad would walk if you have.” He then ranted that it must have been the ‘other woman’ who had shopped him.

On hearing this, Alison realised that it was time for her to come forwards and tell the Police about what Butler had done to her; she didn’t know Julia, but could well imagine how Butler had exploited her as well. Alison felt that if Julia’s voice was alone, she might not be believed; she knew that by telling her own story she would be supporting and helping Julia.

Julia herself has since told me that learning that another woman (Alison) had come forwards gave her the strength to see through the difficult process of confronting her own abuse by Butler. Without meeting, the two women were there for one another, and together would ensure that justice would be done – though each now, after having faced the trauma of one criminal investigation process as the victims of sexual abuse, now had to face a second such ordeal brought about by the Police themselves, in the person of Alan Butler.

Butler was charged with Misconduct in Public Office in relation to both Alison and Julia, and initially pleaded not guilty on both counts in January 2019. The case was a long drawn out and stressful process for both of my clients; Butler claimed ill health and managed to have his first trial, listed for September 2019 adjourned. The Pandemic then intervened and the trial re-listed for June 2020 was also cancelled.

The case finally came to trial at Warwick Crown Court in July 2021, and on 2 and 3 August 2021, Butler was convicted of both charges. By pleading not guilty however, and refusing to face up to responsibilities for his crimes, he had perpetuated the suffering of both Alison and Julia, as they were required to attend the trial and give evidence about what he had done to them.

Butler is now due for sentencing at the beginning of next week (4 October 2021) and I trust that he will receive a lengthy prison sentence, properly reflective of his shameful abuse of public office for his own sexual gratification and the harm that he caused to both Julia and Alison’s mental health as a result.

Superintendant Daf Goddard, head of Warwickshire PSD, had these words to say after Butler’s conviction-

“Butler used his position of trust to take advantage of a vulnerable woman and attempted to take advantage of another vulnerable woman.

People often come into contact with Police when they are at their most vulnerable and it is important that our communities trust they will not be taken advantage of.

I hope the public are reassured by the action we took when these offences came to light and that Butler has been brought to justice. I would like to thank the two victims in this case for bringing Butler’s offending to our attention and supporting the investigation and trial. I hope they take some comfort from this conviction.”

What I would like to say in response to that, on behalf of both Julia and Alison, is that my clients don’t want “thanks” from the Police; rather what they, and the public at large, deserve is an apology from a Policing profession which has for far, far too long been failing to Police itself and root out the abusers and criminals in its own ranks. Why did the responsibility fall upon Julia and Alison’s shoulders to “bring Butler’s offending to [Police] attention”? The man had served with the Force as an officer for over 30 years, before then retiring and becoming a CID investigator; did none of his Police colleagues through those long decades have any awareness of his true character and predilections? Were Alison and Julia really his first victims? Did none of the trained investigators of crime working alongside Butler on a daily basis have any suspicions about him and his behaviour (often committed whilst he was on duty)?

Or did they look the other way?

It is only in providing honest answers to those questions, that Warwickshire, and the Police profession as a whole, can genuinely begin to win back the trust of our communities.

My clients’ names have been changed.

Necessity Criteria: Why Failure To Consider Alternatives to Arrest is a Police Abuse of Power

It is now over 15 years since the statutory basis of a lawful arrest (if carried out by a Police Officer not acting under a warrant for arrest – which of course, is the vast majority of cases)  was fundamentally altered by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. This Act amended Section 24 of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE – the ‘statutory bible’ of modern day Policing) to require Police Constables to consider in each and every case of potential arrest, not only whether there is objectively reasonable suspicion that a criminal offence has been committed, but also whether arrest is objectively necessary for at least one of a number of specified reasons, as set out in Section 24 (5), which are as follows-

The Necessity Criteria

(a)to enable the name of the person in question to be ascertained (in the case where the constable does not know, and cannot readily ascertain, the person’s name, or has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given by the person as his name is his real name);

(b)correspondingly as regards the person’s address;

(c)to prevent the person in question—

(i)causing physical injury to himself or any other person;

(ii)suffering physical injury;

(iii)causing loss of or damage to property;

(iv)committing an offence against public decency (subject to subsection (6)); or

(v)causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway;

(d)to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the person in question;

(e)to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question;

(f)to prevent any prosecution for the offence from being hindered by the disappearance of the person in question.

I have highlighted reason “e” above because it is something of a ‘catch all’ and the most common justification from the list which is relied upon by Officers effecting an arrest.

The major consideration arising from these ‘necessity criteria’ is therefore whether or not inviting the ‘suspect’ to attend a voluntary interview at a Police station is a reasonable alternative; if it is, then arrest can and should be avoided. If there is little or no doubt as to the identity of the suspect and his or her permanent address, and no risk of a continuance or repeat of the alleged offence, or destruction of key evidence, then the objectively reasonable step would be to avoid arrest by inviting the person to voluntary interview.

Ever since 2006 however, Police Officers have repeatedly failed to properly apply the necessity criteria, and have ‘jumped the gun’ to arrest in circumstances where a voluntary attendance would have been a totally appropriate option – one which would have struck the balance between not unduly endangering/ delaying the investigation, and at the same time saving the individual the ignominy, harm to reputation (digital and/or public in this era of data profiling and data sharing) and loss of liberty which arrest entails.

Such actions can therefore render an arrest entirely unlawful on the grounds of lack of necessity, even if it is arguable that reasonable grounds for suspicion exist.

As can be seen, whether an arrest is necessary, as opposed to, say, a voluntary attendance will depend in large part on the identity and character of the person being investigated, as well as the circumstances of the alleged offence. In this regard, I think most of us would consider a retired senior Police Officer suspected of a very minor offence to be a perfect candidate for a ‘voluntary interview’ rather than an immediate arrest; Essex Police, however, evidently did not, leading to the unfolding of the following unfortunate and wholly avoidable sequence of events.

The Unlawful Arrest of Roy Ramm

During a 26 year career with the Metropolitan Police, Roy Ramm rose to be a Commander of Specialist Operations.  The Specialist Ops command included the force firearms branch (then SO19) and Roy trained and worked extensively with the UK Special Forces in the UK and overseas.  In the circumstances, he was very familiar with firearms and ammunition. In 1996 Roy retired from the Police at the rank of Commander (ACPO rank) and with an exemplary certificate of conduct and numerous commendations. 

Following his retirement, Roy pursued a career in the private sector based on his experience of security and regulatory compliance.  He is currently the chairman of two companies in the security sector and advisor to several other organisations on regulatory compliance, as well as being a regular contributor to the BBC, Sky TV and many other local and international broadcasters on law and order issues.

Roy has for several years had issues with people trespassing from a public footpath adjacent to his property, and causing damage/ theft. Accordingly, Roy fitted his garden gate with a ‘Henry Krank’ intruder alarm.  The alarm comprised an aluminium frame which holds a spring in a pin and a slide for a ‘blank’ half shotgun cartridge.  If the gate was opened without removing the half cartridge, this would cause a loud bang.  This alarm was purchased by Roy from the online retailer Amazon along with two others and some cartridges in approximately 2012, and was entirely legal.  No firearms license or shot gun certificate was required to purchase the device or cartridges.

In 2019 the footpath near to Roy’s property was deemed dangerous by reason of erosion, and was the subject of closure orders imposed by Essex County Council, to remain in force until 2020.  An extensive number of clearly-marked signs made the closure of the footpath entirely clear, but unfortunately this did not deter every traveller who had intended to use it.

Early on the morning of 30 December 2019, a man whom I will identify as “Mr P” called at Roy’s house. It transpired that Mr P had ran along the closed section of the footpath, and then chosen to deviate from the footpath and onto Roy’s property.  Mr P had then attempted to open the gate in order to gain (illegal) entry to Roy’s garden, and the Henry Krank alarm had detonated. 

Mr P demanded to know if the alarm was legal, and my client assured him that it was, and that he could purchase one on Amazon himself if he wanted.  Roy also pointed out that Mr P should not have been on the path in any event because it was closed, and that once he left the path he was trespassing.  Mr P indicated that he knew this, but didn’t seem to care.  He complained that the gate device might have caused him “tinnitus”, although on further questioning confirmed that he did not in fact have any signs of tinnitus and that he was just complaining about the ‘shock’ of the loud bang.  Roy and Mr P then parted company, with Roy not thinking too much about it.

However, at approximately11.50 am, no less than four officers of Essex Police arrived at the premises. Roy’s wife invited the officers in and then, as Roy himself came in from the garden, PC Munson immediately informed him that he was under arrest for “assault causing actual bodily harm”. The alleged victim was the trespassing Mr P who it transpired, had telephoned the Police complaining that the gate alarm had caused “ringing” in his ears.

PC Munson then announced that the Officers would be carrying out a search of the premises under Section 32 of PACE.  When asked what the Officers were looking for,  PC Munson replied, “guns or any other ammunition’.  One of the other officers then added, “It would be better for you if you told us where they are.”

Roy explained that the only ammunition he had was a few legal, blank cartridges and another such alarm which was in his workshop in the garden.  Though somewhat flabbergasted by the approach of the officers, he did not attempt to ‘pull rank’ or identify himself as a former Police Commander.

At this point, Mrs Ramm collapsed in a state of distress. Roy lay on the floor with his wife and tried to comfort her, but she appeared to be in some kind of catatonic or comatose condition and would not respond. 

The officers then called an ambulance, and Roy was permitted to telephone his son to come and help care for his mother.

Roy made it clear to PC Munson that he considered her actions to be completely disproportionate to the circumstances. PC Munson’s reaction was uncompromising, and after Roy’s son had arrived to care for Mrs Ramm, and Roy had been required to hand over to the Officers the boxed and unused Henry Krank alarm which was in his workshop, he was marched to a Police car and taken to his nearest Police Station under arrest.

On Roy’s arrival at the station, the reason for arrest was recorded as “Assault – ABH”.  The circumstances of arrest were recorded as “DP suspected of rigging a cartridge to his gate and when the victim opened the gate it went off causing  ringing to his ears”.

The Custody Sergeant at any Police Station plays a very important role as a ‘gatekeeper’ who is required to consider the legality of the arrest of any detainees who are brought before him (in this case Roy).  As highlighted above, one of the key factors in determining whether an arrest is lawful, and hence whether or not detention should be authorised, is, regardless of suspicion of an offence, whether it was in fact actually necessary for the suspect to be arrested.  In Roy’s case, the necessity to arrest was noted as follows –  “To prevent the person in question causing physical injury to themselves or any other person … Prompt and effective investigation – to interview – as thought unlikely person would attend voluntarily”.

There was simply no basis for the assertion that Roy was “unlikely” to voluntarily co-operate with the investigation – indeed the opposite was obviously true, but the Sergeant appears to have failed in his duty to critically question the justification for Roy’s arrest; operating it seems from the mind-set of a ‘jailer’ rather than the safeguarder/ custodian of liberty that he is supposed to be.

In a state of considerable stress as he worried about his wife’s condition, Roy was obliged to provide his fingerprints, a DNA sample and to be photographed.  He was then subjected to a search, and led to a cell where he was incarcerated. Throughout his detention, Roy remained very anxious regarding his wife’s welfare and was understandably distressed that he could not be with her.

Roy spent all afternoon/early evening in the cell, apart from a brief consultation with his solicitor.  Roy’s detention was reviewed by Inspector Smith, who then came to see Roy and advised him in the clearest possible language – ‘Mr Ramm I don’t know why you‘re here.

It seems that common sense had finally broken out; sadly some 7 hours too late, and notwithstanding the Inspector’s comments, Roy was then interviewed under caution, during which he gave a full account of himself and quite correctly denied any unlawful conduct.

Police Sergeant Moye (not the original Custody Sergeant) then recorded the following in the Custody Record –

The DP has been arrested on suspicion of causing ACTUAL BODILY HARM. The custody record shows that arrest was necessary in order to interview because it was believed the DP would not have agreed to being interviewed voluntarily.

I have spoken with the interviewing officer who tells me the following:

* The DP lives on land in a rural area.

* The DP has suffered a number of previous burglaries. As a result he has established certain security measures to alert intruders on his land.

* The victim was out running and his normal route was blocked due to floods and so decided to take a shortcut through the DP’s land. He had no permission to enter the DP’s land.

* As the victim opened a gate on the DP’s land, they activated one of the devices which made a loud bang.

* The victim called police because his ears were ringing.

* Officers have attended and ascertained that the device is a “Henry Krank” brand “Alarm Mine”, which is sold openly on their website, and similar devices are sold by other manufacturers. The noise is caused by setting off a 12-bore saluting blank cartridge which is approximately 1” in length.

* The DP is an expert in security and firearms and consults and advises on the subject.

* The BWV footage of the police attendance at the incident confirms that he fully co-operated with the officers and said that he was happy to be interviewed.

Henry Krank & Co is a reputable firearms dealer and manufacturer….. The devices are easily available by mail order from their website…No firearms licence or shotgun certificate is required to buy either the device or the cartridges.

No Shotgun certificate is required to purchase or possess ‘normal’ live shotgun cartridges.


The DP has now been interviewed. There is no evidence of any intention to cause injury to any person- the device was set up to alert him and his family to intruders on their land. When he installed the device he and his wife tested it by opening the gate. The neighbour and their son have set it off a number of times opening the gate to collect stray tennis balls.

I do not know whether any permanent damage has been caused to the victim’s hearing. However, for this to constitute a criminal assault there must be a degree of mens rea on the part of the DP. This is absent in this case. So, even if the victim’s hearing is permanently damaged I do not see that this is a criminal matter. In those circumstances there might be a civil claim but I am not trained in civil law and i believe the victim was trespassing on private land at the time.

I am therefore of the opinion that there has been no criminal assault, damage, firearms or other criminal offence committed. The DP will therefore be released without charge.”

Roy’s property was returned to him and he was at last released shortly before 9.00pm that evening, after having endured 9 hours in Police custody. Following his release, an Officer commented to Roy that-

“Most people in this police station think you should never have been here at all.” 

Furthermore, in the presence of Roy’s solicitor, Inspector Smith said to Roy-

You have been badly let down by Essex Police.  You should never have been arrested in the first place.  I think you have legitimate grounds for a complaint.  I apologise.  We are better than this.”

Commentary

Police Forces as institutions with massive power over people’s lives should indeed be “better than this” but sadly all too often are not. The Policing profession has had almost an entire generation to get used to the ‘new’ law of necessity – indeed all current officers with anything less than 16 years of service should not have ever known anything different and would have been trained from the start to consider the question of “necessity” as being at the heart of any lawful arrest; but that training it seems, falls too often by the wayside.

None of the four officers who attended at Roy’s home that morning, nor even the (likely far more experienced) Custody Sergeant appear to have allowed the question of necessity to properly cross their minds – for if they had done so in a properly thorough and honest manner, they would surely have come quickly to the same conclusion as the apparently rather flabbergasted Inspector Smith and diligent Sergeant Moye did on the self-same facts – that Roy should never have been arrested.

Instead, Roy was deprived of his liberty and suffered psychological scars which will probably persist for the rest of his life; as well as the Police themselves wasting considerable time and money over at entirely unnecessary arrest. Along with Roy, we may all be questioning ‘How did this happen?’ Was it because of a lack of properly trained officers, or because a certain type of Police officer has always enjoyed the exercise of their power a little too much, and sets about their business with a mind-set geared to ‘arrest first, think later.’

Roy was deeply shaken by his experience, the ‘unreality’ he felt at first turning later to understandable anger. He has described how he now suffers a visceral anxiety reaction on seeing Police officers or vehicles – deeply sad given his own commendable career – and feels that the injustice of the incident has irreparably fractured his belief system as far as the Police and Policing are concerned, and he has lost his faith in the system he had dedicated most of his working life to diligently supporting. He told me that there have been many occasions in the past when he had defended his former profession against criticism, but he no longer feels able to do this. Furthermore, the incident unfortunately occurred only a day after Roy’s birthday and he feels that the anniversary of it will always now hang over and impinge upon what would otherwise be happy celebrations for his family at that time of year.

Initially, Roy sought to pursue his complaint against Essex Police in the assumption that his own background in the profession would help him to navigate the process unaided. He was quickly disabused of that notion, falling foul – as so many have before him, from all walks of life – of the obstructiveness, pro- Police bias, negativity and delays of all such ‘internal’ complaint investigations. Information he had reasonably requested was only drip-fed to him, and he felt that it took forever even to secure a simple agreement from Essex to delete his fingerprints. After around 9 months of this experience, feeling that all his efforts were failing, and that this was compounding the trauma of the original event, Roy reached out to me for assistance.

I am pleased to confirm that the claim which I subsequently pursued on behalf of Roy and his wife – who was equally a victim of the unlawful Police trespass into their home, at the time of Roy’s arrest – was successful and resulted in the couple receiving not only damages in excess of £20,000 but also a letter of apology in the following terms-

Essex Police unreservedly accept that your arrest on 30 December 2019 was unnecessary and as such unlawful. In the circumstances as they were presented you should have been afforded the opportunity to attend a voluntary interview.

It is further accepted that the grounds for your arrest and detention were not challenged and properly established by the custody officer at Colchester Police Station which led to a further unnecessary period of unlawful detention.

Having investigated the matter we can confirm that no offences were committed by you. Essex Police are extremely sorry for the distress caused to you and also to Mrs Ramm which resulted in her collapse and need for continuing treatment.

Given your professional background in the police service and standing in the local community, we accept that the distress caused to you and your wife was both increased and avoidable.

Both Roy and I have been caused to reflect on the old adage that “Sorry is the hardest word”, however – as the said apology was not properly signed by the Deputy Chief Constable in whose name it was written, but simply and rather flippantly, endorsed with her initials. This naturally tends to detract from the seriousness and gravitas of the sentiment expressed, and to undermine the wholehearted language of the apology – which may, sadly, have been her intention.

For it seems that all too often, Police understanding of the true meaning of the word “apology” is about as weak as their understanding of “necessity” – leading only to toil, trouble and unnecessary heartache and expense, both for themselves and the communities they are tasked with serving.

How Tesco’s Private Police Force Unlawfully Imprisoned My Client

I have blogged before about how arrogant, aggressive, and/or ill trained security staff can all too easily turn retail shops into their own private fiefdoms, meting out ‘law and order’ as they see fit, as if they were the sheriffs of some Wild West Town.

This kind of behaviour is present across the sector, including amongst security guards at ‘blue chip’ supermarkets, as demonstrated by the case of my client John Coulson, who suffered shockingly at the hands of Tesco staff in April 2021.

At approximately 10pm on the evening in question, John entered a Tesco Extra Store in London to purchase medicine and other items for his 5-year-old daughter, who was unwell.

This was just a routine shopping trip.  John selected a number of items and paid for them at the self service tills. As required by the Coronavirus regulations, John and all other adult shoppers were wearing face masks, and carefully observing the rules.


However, just before John reached the exit from the store, an unmasked security guard approached him and blocked his route, demanding that John hand over his shopping bag and receipt.  John was a little taken aback, but immediately complied.  The security guard did indeed take John’s bag, which also contained his receipt, but strangely did not bother to examine its contents.  Instead, the security guard stated that John had previously stolen from the store. John was shocked, and briefly dropped his mask to show his face in the assumption that the security guard would realise his mistake – but this made no difference. The security guard was then joined by several other members of Tesco staff, who made John empty his pockets whereupon his phones (work and personal), wallet and car keys were seized.  He was then escorted through the store and into a back office.

Once in the office, John’s exit was blocked by staff members and he was effectively held prisoner in the small room.  John’s jacket was thoroughly searched and John was obliged to empty his pockets and lift his t-shirt to allow the staff to see his waist band. 

Understandably, John was objecting to this outrageous treatment and repeatedly told the Tesco staff that he had stolen nothing and asserted that if they thought he was a thief, they should call the Police.

However this offer was ignored, and instead the security guard now used his own mobile phone to take a photograph of John.

All of these events were captured on the store’s CCTV system, and they make disturbing viewing.  The Tesco staff had taken John prisoner and were effectively behaving as a private police force – abrogating to themselves the right and prerogatives which actual Police Officers are only entitled to utilise in accordance with the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE 1984) – such as detaining a person in a ‘cell’ searching him, confiscating his belongings and photographing him. 

Another member of staff then entered the room and identified himself as the night manager of the store.  The manager claimed that he too had encountered John before and accused John of having stolen alcohol.  John disputed this (never having met this man, or committed any criminal offence) and again asserted his complete innocence.  However, it seemed increasingly certain that the Tesco staff had decided to ‘round’ John up because of a mistaken identification of him with someone else (during a time when all of the population were required to wear masks in public!), and not because of any evidence/suspicion he was attempting to ‘shoplift’ on this occasion.

Furthermore, just like the original security guard, the manager himself was not wearing a mask, but seemingly regardless of this, got very close to John, causing John to fear possible Covid infection.  John had been instructed to remove his own mask before he was photographed. This was sadly yet another example of the Tesco staff being a law unto themselves.

The Tesco staff then left the room and John was locked in.

After several minutes, the Tesco manager returned and handed John a letter, stating that he was banned from the store for 12 months.  His possessions were then returned to him and he was allowed to leave. 

John, a man of entirely good character, was shocked and deeply upset at the way he had been treated and the accusations with which he had been smeared.  He made a complaint to Tesco Head Office the same night and some 2 months later John received a letter offering a lukewarm apology – stating that the incident was as a result of ‘mistaken identity’ and accepting that John should never have been stopped.  No mention was made in the letter however, as to what had been done with the photograph which the security guard had taken of John without his consent.  Does it now decorate a wall of ‘Tesco’s most wanted?’

After fully acknowledging that John should neither have been stopped or ‘banned’ from the store, the writer of the letter then seemingly went out of her way to bury any apology beneath the most soulless type of corporate double-speak she could come up with – “We aim to provide the best customer experience possible at all times and it is very disappointing to hear that wasn’t the case on this occasion”.

I think most of us would agree that being taken prisoner, locked in a room, photographed, put at risk of Covid infection and then banned from your local store, is not particularly close to the top of ‘best customer experiences possible’ but the writer of the Tesco letter then went on to add further insult to injury by enclosing the derisory sum of £75 by way of Tesco vouchers ‘as a gesture of goodwill’. John had, in fact, already incurred significantly more than that amount obtaining counselling to address the anxiety and distress this incident has caused to him.

You will not therefore be surprised to learn that John was not satisfied by Tesco’s mealy-mouthed retraction of their ban, or paltry offer of financial compensation. He has instructed me to pursue a civil claim against Tesco Plc, which is ongoing, although I’m pleased to confirm that Tesco have admitted liability.

Of more long term concern, however, is the fact that a significant number of Tesco employees – including security guards and managers, and presumably not just confined to a single store in London – clearly believe that they have a power to search a person and confiscate his property without any evidence of an act of shoplifting, and furthermore they likewise have a power to detain a person whilst they issue him with a ‘banning letter’ (compounded in John’s case by the gross error of the ‘mistaken identity’, of course). 

Not only did the Tesco staff in John’s case set themselves up as a kind of private Police Force, but also, it seems, as Judge and Jury of their own kangaroo Court – incarcerating John and then handing down a ‘banning letter’ as his ‘sentence’; and at no point feeling any duty to involve the real Metropolitan Police (quite probably because they knew that they lacked any evidence which could have convinced a Police officer to arrest John).

There is no doubt that Tesco are entitled to refuse individuals entry onto their premises, but even when it is not a case of mistaken identity, such power would only extend to using reasonable force (often merely words) to eject a trespasser from their premises – not to take him prisoner, which is what they did to John.

Likewise, any action to detain and search a shoplifter depends on the staff having an objectively reasonable suspicion that an act of shoplifting is in progress which would involve their ‘target’ having been witnessed taking an item without paying for it, or otherwise behaving in a suspicious manner – and not simply because they don’t like his face.

Sadly, the lawless acts of security staff who have too much power without enough responsibility have spiralled on other occasions into tragedy .  Fortunately, that was not the case with John, but he has nevertheless been significantly traumatised by his experience and I trust that by pursuing this claim on his behalf to the maximum extent available to us, John and I will be teaching Tesco Plc a salutary lesson about properly training and supervising their staff. 

Bringing a civil claim for restitution, is the only way to rein in such abuses by security staff who clearly have no proper understanding of how the law works.

Individual claims may not seem to have the power to make a monolithic corporation like Tesco change its staff culture, but the cumulative effect of such cases can make a big difference and, as they say – Every Little Helps. 

My client’s name has been changed.

Why the Offence of Assaulting an Emergency Worker is an Assault on Civil Liberty

The words and actions of those who wear the uniform of the state, as Police Officers, already carry more weight than those of ordinary members of the public, who are wise to be wary about challenging them, for authority and arrogance so often go hand in hand.

It is in this context that I am increasingly worried about the criminal courts interpretation of a relatively new law on the statute books, which could lead to a further imbalance of power between the Police and the public, shield abusive officers from accountability for their actions and risk the criminalisation of innocent people.

The offence of “Assaulting an Emergency Worker in the Exercise of their Functions” came into force in November 2018, under Section 1 of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018.

The 2018 Act is a piece of legislation designed to allow more stringent penalties for “aggravated” common assault/ battery – though crucially the aggravation at which the new law takes aim is not defined by the seriousness of the injury (the infliction of serious injury being  covered by the existing offences of ABH/ GBH – Actual or Grievous Bodily Harm), but rather who the victim is.

In the criminal law, a ‘common assault and battery’ is one which results in little or no injury to the victim (injuries such as grazes, scratches and bruises are covered), and is an offence triable only in the Magistrates Court (as opposed to the Crown Court) and which carries a maximum custodial penalty of 6 months.

The new offence of ‘assaulting an emergency worker’ is triable in the Crown Court (as well as the Magistrates) and carries a much more severe maximum sentence of 12 months imprisonment.

The definition of ‘emergency worker’ includes agents of the state such as firemen, paramedics, doctors, and prison officers – but also, of course, Police Officers.

A special law addressing common assaults upon Police Officers has in fact long been in existence, that is the offence of “Assaulting a Police Officer in the Execution of their Duty”. Under Section 89 of the Police Act 1996, this offence remains triable only in the Magistrates Court and carries a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment.

But a crucial difference exists between the offences regulated by the 1996 Act on the one hand and the 2018 Act on the other – the fact that the 1996 offence could only be committed if the officer was “acting in the course of his duty” i.e he was not exceeding his lawful powers.

If a Police officer, for example, trespassed in someone’s house, assaulted, or attempted to unlawfully arrest them, then they could not be said to be ‘acting in the course of their duty’.

The new law, it seems quite deliberately, has changed the definition of its applicability from “the course of duty” to the much more vague and general “exercise of functions”.  

A lot of lawyers such as myself who practice in the field of civil liberties and/or criminal law, were greatly concerned that the new definition meant that the 2018 Act would apply even to officers who were not acting in the proper execution of their duty i.e an officer could be doing an unlawful act, and yet a person resisting the officer could nevertheless be criminalised.  

Indeed, this very intention – to give Police officers extra layers of legal protection even when they are exceeding the bounds of their powers – appears to have been what the wording of the Act was designed to bring about. CPS guidance is now that all offences which would have been prosecuted under the 1996 law, should be brought under the 2018 offence – and this is because it is easier to secure a conviction for the new offence (and potentially a much longer sentence). Strikingly, it has been reported that during the first year following the introduction of the Emergency Workers Act, 90% of the 20,000 prosecutions brought under it have related to alleged assaults upon Police officers, and only 10% to the other Emergency professions – such as paramedics, nursing staff etc.

Our concerns crystallised in the case of Campbell v CPS [2020]EWHC 3868 (Admin), which came before the High Court of England & Wales on appeal.

The case concerned the arrest of Tonique Campbell by officers of the Metropolitan Police for alleged drunk and disorderly behaviour in March 2019. Ms Campbell was alleged to have scratched PC Regan’s thumb as the officer attempted to handcuff her, and then later to have kicked PC Young and PC Regan.

The case went on appeal from the Magistrates Court to the High Court with the following questions-

1.      Were we right to conclude that a defendant can be convicted of assaulting an emergency worker contrary to section 1 of the [2018 Act] even where the officer may not have been acting in the execution of his duty?

2.      Were we right to conclude, even on the facts of this case, that even if PC Regan was acting unlawfully when she took hold of Ms Campbell to handcuff her, this would not prevent us finding her guilty of the subsequent assaults at the police station?

3.      Were we right to conclude that the case law pertaining to assault police officer in execution of his duty contrary to section 89 of the Police Act 1996 did not apply to offences brought under section 1 of the [2018 Act]?

Chillingly, from the point of view of all who are concerned with preserving and safe guarding our civil liberties, and constraining or remedying Police abuses of power, the answer from the High Court to all three questions was “Yes.”

A law that is designed to reduce acts of violence, by strengthening criminal sanctions so as to make police officers ever more ‘untouchable’, may have the opposite effect, by encouraging those who can already too easily fall into the roles of bullies or abusers i.e certain Police officers, to believe they have greater impunity to overstep the mark; and they may hesitate less in using force on members of the public than they did in the ‘good old days’ when – quite properly – their special protection under the law was stripped away if they were in dereliction of their duty by exceeding or abusing their power.

If ‘functionality’ is thereby detached from the clear rights and wrongs of constitutional duty, then the new law is, in effect, giving Officers licence to rush into a situation in an ever more hot-headed and aggressive manner, to deliberately or recklessly act unlawfully.

Whilst the argument of ‘lawful self defence’ remains for those who face charges under the Emergency Workers Act, there can be no doubt that the new law will make it harder for people who have been the victims of unlawful police acts, and who have responded with some measure of force – even something as minor as a push or a shove without injury – to escape the stigma and trauma of conviction. Such individuals would then be facing an uphill struggle to seek redress in the civil courts because of that pre- existing conviction.

We should also never forget that some people who are accusing of assaulting a Police Officer haven’t in fact laid a finger upon him at all – indeed my client Mark Bamber was first accused of this very offence, before the tables were turned on the four ‘Emergency Workers’ who had criminally conspired against him (but only because of the unimpeachable testimony of video evidence that even in the modern era, does not exist in many cases).

Do we really want it to become easier for people to be framed for a Police assault? This is one of the potential effects of the new law; a law which from its title may seem designed primarily to protect front line health care workers, but which is really a shot in the arm for Police to act with greater impunity, greater immunity, arrogance and in excess of the true limits of their authority.

Here is the mission statement of the new law, as set out by the Ministry of Justice –

An assault on any individual or citizen in our society is a terrible thing, but an assault on an Emergency Worker is an assault on us all. These people are our constituted representatives. They protect society and deliver services on our behalf. Therefore, an attack on them is an attack on us and on the state, and it should be punished more severely than an attack simply on an individual victim.”

Those words are not ones which sit easily with me, and I feel compelled to contest the principle behind them. Police officers already have enough extra powers and protections invested in them through their office as constables and the support of the monolithic institutions of the Police Force and its sibling organisation the CPS, without being further elevated. All citizens should be treated equally, and no legal ‘caste’ system introduced on the basis of a person’s profession; particularly not the profession which is the muscular right arm of government.

This is an insidious law, and I trust that judges and juries will do all they can to rein in its misapplication; and may wiser council prevail next time such a case comes before the appeal courts. Otherwise, it may, over time, chip away at our hard- earned civil liberties, and give ever greater licence to Police abuses of power.

Electronic Monitoring Mistakes: Playing Tag with People’s Liberty?

In 1989 England and Wales became the first European jurisdiction to start using Electronic Monitoring equipment and its use has expanded significantly in three decades since. By way of illustration, the number of adults subject to EM as part of either bail conditions, a community sentence or early-release Home Detention Curfew, as at 31 March 2021 was 13,963.

Since 2019, two types of electronic ankle tags have been in use in England and Wales-

  • Curfew tags
  • Location tags

The former are commonly deployed for Home Detention Curfews (e.g ensuring the compliance of early release prisoners with what are generally 12 hour overnight curfews). A fixed monitoring unit in the home will send an alert if the tagged person is not present in that location during their hours of curfew.

Location tags are more sophisticated devices which allow GPS tracking, and can therefore be used to monitor not just whether a person is keeping to their own home during specified hours, but also to track where exactly they go outside the home, allowing – for example – an exclusion zone to be set up around a particular locality, such as the victim – or alleged victim’s – home address. Should the person wearing the tag come within a specified distance of the victim’s home, then the Electronic Monitoring Service (EMS) would be alerted and could call the Police to intervene.

Day to day monitoring of electronic tags (EMS)  is something which has been out-sourced to the private company Capita, who were reported in a 2016 review by the University of Leeds, to be working on a ‘call centre model’ with staff who are generally lacking in probation, social work or other criminal justice sector training or experience.

This is a point of obvious concern to me, and one which I have reflected on before when considering the debacle of the previous part- privatisation of Probation services in this country.

No matter how sophisticated the technology, electronic monitoring is only as good as the people who are interpreting and acting upon the data. People’s liberty can be put at risk by human error and carelessness, and that is sadly what befell my client, Noel Brown.

Noel was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife on 7 February 2020. Whilst awaiting trial he was bailed by Nottinghamshire Magistrates Court to his daughter’ s address, 15 Elstree Road with an electronically tagged bail condition not to attend the marital home, 3 Highfield Avenue, or contact his wife.

At approximately 06:00 on 13 February 2020, officers of Nottinghamshire Police attended 15 Elstree Road and arrested Noel in the presence of his daughter for “breach of bail conditions”. It was alleged that Noel had breached his conditions on 11 February by being out of his bail address between 20.54 – 20.58 and then 23.02 – 23.43. Noel was conveyed to Mansfield Custody Suite and placed into a cell.

At approximately 08:30 Noel was taken to Nottingham Magistrates Court. After waiting in the cells for several hours, he was brought before the Court at approximately 15:00. There it was determined that there had not, in fact, been a breach of any bail condition and Noel was immediately released.

It appears that EMS (Capita) staff had misinterpreted Noel’s bail condition not to attend the marital home as a bail condition to remain within the confines of his daughter’s home, which is not at all the same thing. He was in fact free to come and go as he pleased, provided he did not change his residential address from 15 Elstree Road and he did not approach 3 Highfield Avenue. The monitoring staff had ‘breached’ Noel, and caused the Police to arrest him, simply because he had left 15 Elstree at night, despite this not being a violation of his bail. As a result, Police and Court service time and resources were wasted and Noel underwent a very unpleasant experience, being wrongly deprived of his liberty for over 9 hours.

As a common condition of electronically monitored community sentences or early release from prison is that the ‘tagged’ individual has to observe a night time curfew, it is likely that the EMS staff were wrongly assuming Noel was under such a restriction: but he was not, as a simple check of the Bail Notice issued by the Court would have confirmed – sadly this was not properly undertaken/ understood until Noel himself was at Court.

Capita have now settled Noel’s claim for compensation and have agreed to pay his legal fees. I note that their current contract with the Ministry of Justice is worth £114 million over 3 years, and I would humbly suggest that they invest a more significant proportion of their profits in properly training their staff so that easily avoidable errors such as this do not incur in the future, causing unnecessary heartache and expense for all concerned; otherwise they are ‘playing tag’ with people’s liberty and risk bringing the Electronic Monitoring Service into the same disrepute as the recently abolished private probation companies did with that service.

Names & addresses have been changed.

Why an Acquittal Does Not Equate to a Guaranteed Claim Against the Police

Many of my clients who have been the victims of Police abuse of power – often having been assaulted/ battered by the Police during the course of a wrongful arrest – come to me shortly after they have been found ‘not guilty’ of the criminal charges brought against them arising from the incident. Typically, in these cases, the victim of Police violence has been accused of obstructing/assaulting a police officer or resisting arrest, and the first hurdle they face is avoiding conviction in the Magistrates or Crown Court.

Often when such clients instruct me, they are understandably relieved –not to say elated- that the ordeal of their prosecution is over, and are keen to turn the tables on those who they say have falsely accused them. However, my first job is to disabuse them of any assumption – however understandable this might be on a ‘common sense’ basis – that the fact of their acquittal (which might be accompanied by harsh criticism of one or more of the Police Officers by the judge or magistrates, in terms of the officers’ use of force or honesty and integrity) – equates to a judgement by the Court that the Police actions were unlawful, or that criminal judicial findings can be relied upon as evidence in support of a civil claim for compensation.

Whilst a conviction for an offence can be relied upon as evidence in civil proceedings (see Section 11 of the Civil Evidence Act 1968) – which is why attempting to sue the Police in the civil courts after you have been found guilty in the criminal court is generally a non-starter – the opposite does not apply. A ‘not guilty’ verdict only means that there is no blemish against the claimant’s character, it does not equate to a vice-versa ‘conviction’ of the officers for any offence, and the comments of the judge or magistrates, along with their findings of fact, are not admissible evidence in any other court.

The rule from Hollington v Hewthorn [1943] KB 857 restated in Rogers v Hoyle [2014] EWCA Civ 257 confirms that the findings of a previous tribunal (including the Magistrates Court and Crown Court) are not admissible in future civil proceedings (with the exception of convictions, as noted above). Of course, this makes sense when you consider that the burden of proof test in the criminal and civil justice systems is very different: in the former, the prosecution must prove their case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, whereas in the latter, the person bringing the claim merely has to prove that their version of events is likely to be true ‘on the balance of probabilities’ i.e more likely than not, no matter how slim the difference, or how finely balanced the evidence is for each side. Furthermore, the role of a judge at any court or tribunal is to come to an independent decision based on the facts presented before them – not based on the opinions of a different judge in another case, albeit one which may have been dealing with the very same incident.

If a person is accused of assaulting a Police officer, and found not guilty, that is in legal terms the Magistrates or Crown court finding that the prosecution case has not been proven beyond all reasonable doubt – it certainly does not automatically follow that the County Court will then find that person was a victim of unlawful arrest or assault and battery. In other words, if the Police officer can persuade the Court that it is 60% likely that he was in the right, and my client was in the wrong – that is not high enough to secure a criminal conviction – but it is high enough to defeat a civil claim arising from the same facts.

Take for example the case of my client Paul Ponting. Paul was arrested and charged with the following offences-

  1. Use of threatening/ abusive words or disorderly behavior likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress, contrary to S.5 Public Order Act 1986.
  2. That he assaulted PS H___ with intent to resist arrest.

Paul was subsequently formally acquitted of all charges following trial at Chorley Magistrates’ Court, at which the following findings were reached-

  1. In regards to the allegation of a Section 5 Public Order offence, the Court found that whilst Paul’s language towards PS H___ and PC W_____  may have been intemperate, he posed no threat to himself or any others including the Police Officers.  His behaviour was not disorderly.  In the view of the Court there was no-one present on this occasion, or nearby, who would have been alarmed or distressed at Paul’s behaviour prior to the moment PS H____ decided to arrest him. Therefore there was no Public Order offence.
  1. That in regards to the charge of assaulting a Police Constable (PS H___) in the execution of his duty, that the Officer when the struggle between himself and Paul occurred was not acting in the execution of his duty as the Officer did not have reasonable grounds for believing that he must immediately arrest Paul, as Paul’s behaviour was not threatening.  In this regard it was noted that in his evidence PS H____ had admitted that he did not ask Paul to go back indoors prior to arrest, nor did he warn him that if he continued in his perceived behaviour he would be arrested.

Notwithstanding these findings, it was entirely open for Lancashire Police to dispute the civil claim which I subsequently presented on behalf of Paul and to argue that, under the civil test, Paul’s arrest and the uses of force against him by the officers, were entirely lawful.

Paul was not able to rely upon the statements of the Magistrates as evidence in support of his claim – they were the findings of a ‘previous tribunal’. Therefore, the whole case had to be re-fought and all of the evidence and witnesses tested again in the new forum of County Court proceedings. The outcome in the Magistrates court only allowed Paul to pursue a civil claim with some prospects of success – it certainly did not guarantee success, as evidenced by the fervor with which Lancashire Police disputed his claim, before ultimately settling Paul’s claim after several years of litigation for damages of £35,000 (and an apology).

A person who has been found not guilty therefore, in a case where logic would lead one to conclude that if they did not act unlawfully, then the Police officers accusing them did, cannot rest on their laurels at the conclusion of the criminal process, or rely upon the warm words of the Judge discharging them. In terms of a claim for compensation the battle is not half won, but remains to be won in its entirety, from scratch; fortunately, those are battles in which I enjoy every cut and thrust!

No Justice without “No win, No fee”!

Reflecting on the recent victory of my client Sharon Binks over Greater Manchester Police at trial at Manchester County Court, as well as that of my client Paul Peters over Merseyside Police at Liverpool County Court, brings home to me the importance of the no win, no fee system we have in this country and – frankly – the importance of lawyers such as myself who are prepared to run such cases all the way to trial in the face of significant financial risk and all the opposition which the well-resourced and publically funded institutions of the Police can marshal against us.

Up until the late 1990s Legal Aid was widely available for low and middle- income clients – the vast majority of litigants of course – for both personal injury actions and claims against the Police.

From 1999 the availability of public funding for the individual citizen (as opposed, of course, to institutions such as the Police who are directly funded by the public purse) was drastically reduced, and although it remains available for claims against detaining authorities such as the Police, that availability is essentially limited to people who are either unemployed or of very low income, and even then, only when the Legal Aid Agency consider that the merits of the claim justify proceedings by reference to the likely costs and damages of the same: a clinical assessment by a risk-adverse bureaucracy which very often results in a refusal to fund the case.

As paying a lawyer to pursue compensation claims against the Police involves outlays of thousands of pounds, this –  combined with the limited availability of Legal Aid –  means that without ‘no win, no fee’ specialists such as myself – willing to put our money where our clients’ mouths are – access to justice for the majority of the population would be egregiously limited. In effect, we have to be willing to potentially work for free, all the way to and including the lengthy trial process, staking hundreds of hours of work in the process, otherwise our clients would not see justice – and the meritorious claims of many, many victims of abuse of power by agents of the state would go unheard by the Court. Justice would indeed be blind to their fate.

In effect, the reforms of the UK legal system over the last three decades have outsourced the funding of justice – particularly in the fields of personal injury and actions against the Police – from the State purse (Legal Aid) to the private purses of those solicitors and barristers who have both the confidence to fight these cases, and the competence to not to go out of business in the process! Not only do no win, no fee lawyers such as myself need to have the ability to identify and win meritorious cases – acting as gatekeepers to the justice system who must often bear the brunt of the dissatisfaction of those with unreasonable or fanciful claims – we must also be prepared to operate within the highly unpredictable timescales of litigation, where there is no guarantee when we will be paid (even assuming the case we are championing is successful). Complex legal claims against the Police can run for years, and there is no mechanism for no win, no fee lawyers to receive payments on account – unlike the vast majority of businesses, we cannot impose any ‘deadline’ of guaranteed payment for the work we do.

No win, no fee lawyers have often been derided – largely by those either lucky or wealthy enough not to have to require their services, or by the corporations who end up having to pay their clients’ damages – as ‘ambulance chasers’ and some kind of blight on society.

But in so many cases, without no win, no fee arrangements the doors of Court would effectively remain locked in the faces of individuals who have often suffered horrendous wrongs at the hands of much more powerful groups or institutions, and justice, locked up in an ivory tower, is no justice at all.

I am proud to have been able to fight cases for Sharon and Paul on a no win, no fee basis, and will continue to do so for all cases that I consider meritorious and deserving of the access to justice that they would otherwise be denied.

Taser, Taser, Taser!

Only a few short months following the conviction of taser-wielding PC Benjamin Monk for causing the death of 48-year-old former footballer Dalian Atkinson, there is increasingly concerning evidence that, year on year, taser violence by Britain’s Police Officers is growing.

Home Office data reveals that the Police Forces of England and Wales recorded 3,300 incidents during 2019/20 in which Officers discharged tasers – an increase of 22% on the previous year (2700 incidents) and no less than 65% higher than 2017/18 (2,000 incidents).

A recent Sky News investigation into this data disturbingly revealed that the age range of the victims of Police taserings over the last 3 years is from as low as 10 years old to as high as 87. 

The bare facts of the data alone indicate that Police Officers are becoming more ‘trigger happy’ with taser weapons – resorting to them as a short cut to resolving a conflict situation, without properly considering or exhausting less violent means of resolution – and indeed this is borne out by my own professional experience of such cases.

Whilst in response to media attention upon this issue, Police Forces often provide a roster of examples of taser use which highlight the most violent situations their Officers are confronted with – generally those involving aggressive adult individuals armed with bladed weapons – the fact is that a great many taser incidents involve entirely unarmed individuals.

For example, I have a current case in which a man having been woken by a Police welfare visit to his home was, during the course of an unlawful arrest, tasered in the chest whilst in a state of undress and doing nothing more than verbally protesting.  Body Camera footage reveals that the taser-wielding Officer gave my client an instruction to place his hands behind his back, and then when my client failed to immediately comply, tasered him (literally) within 2 seconds.

I am therefore left with real concern that Officers resort far too frequently to their taser guns – whilst I am not disputing that there are certain incidents where taser use is entirely appropriate in the interests and safety of all concerned.  Such incidents which threaten extreme violence towards Police Officers or members of the public however, can certainly not have increased by 65% over the last 3 years (manifestly that is not true) which suggests not that there is a rising tide of violence but rather that taser weapons are being deployed by the Police prematurely and inappropriately in ever more low-level incidents and against increasingly younger/vulnerable people.

Indeed, I happen to represent one of the youngest victims of Police tasering whose case is highlighted in the Sky report – the 10 year old girl tasered by the Metropolitan Police in January of this year.

In the interest of confidentiality, I shall simply refer to my client by the pseudonym of Amy. 

On the account of Amy’s father, Amy was not warned before the taser was fired at her, and she was not moving towards the Police Officers when it was fired.  Following the incident she required treatment in Kings College Hospital, London.  A formal complaint has been filed and is presently ongoing. 

I am frankly flabbergasted by the suggestion that Police Officers deemed it necessary to taser a 10-year- old girl, even if she was ‘armed with garden shears’ and I am pleased that the investigation currently being conducted by the Independent Office for Police Conduct has assessed that there is an indication that the Officer who tasered Amy has committed a criminal offence and behaved in a manner which would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings due to an indication of excessive use of force.  This Officer is now under investigation for a criminal assault upon Amy (by use of his taser), and also on suspicion of gross professional misconduct.

I strongly echo the  warning of Amnesty International that there is evidence of  “enormous mission creep” in regards to Police taser use in the UK i.e. that it is becoming normalised as a Police  response for any failure to comply with their authority, and Officers are reaching for these weapons rather than attempting to de-escalate a situation, or considering other uses of force that do not involve discharging a firearm which launches barbs designed to penetrate the skin, delivers a horrendous (although generally shortlived) burst of pain, which poses a real risk of cardiac arrhythmia (particularly in younger and more vulnerable individuals) and which – even when not fired – can leave long-term mental scars which long outlast the physical effects.

The IOPC investigation into Amy’s case presently continues, but regardless of its findings I will remain committed to doing what I can to reverse what might well be described as a rising epidemic of Police taser violence.

Greater Manchester Police brought to account at Trial

The right to participate in a peaceful public rally or political protest is, quite rightly, one of the most cherished hallmarks of a liberal democratic society, and it is quite proper that the right to public assembly be preserved from encroachment by heavy-handed agents of the state who either do not know what the law is, or who are abusing their privileged position of law enforcement.

One such victim of heavy handed and unconstitutional policing was my client Sharon Binks who on 19 May 2018 had travelled from the North-East to Manchester in order to participate in a remembrance march for the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing which had occurred on 22 May 2017.  Sharon was a single mother and grandmother, then aged 48, and was then, as she is now, of entirely good character.

At no point did Sharon engage or attempt to engage in anything which could be remotely described as anti-social or disorderly behaviour, but she was nevertheless assaulted and battered by officers of Greater Manchester Police – principally PC Ben Rigby.

Sharon had been unable to find friends who she was due to meet up with, but did bump into a male acquaintance and with this man and some others made her way peaceably  to St Peter’s Square in Manchester. There, the small group that Sharon was with found their route blocked by Police officers who stated that a group conducting a ‘counter protest’ had also congregated in St Peter’s Square.

Sharon had with her at the time a non-alcoholic drink, namely a plastic cup containing lime and soda.  Sharon and her companions were approached by the police officers, and Sharon was questioned by an officer as to the contents of her drink, and she allowed the officer to confirm by smell that it contained no alcohol. A peaceful discussion took place between the officers and some of the men whom Sharon had been walking with; no disorder was taking place, and other members of the public were freely coming and going around them.  

Sharon then heard an officer giving instructions for “Section 35” notices to be issued, to ‘disperse’ Sharon and her companions from the area.

At this point, Sharon decided that as she was unfamiliar with her surroundings in Manchester and had been unable to find the friends with whom she had originally intended to meet up, she would return to Piccadilly railway station and go home.

However, she was then accosted by PC Rigby who demanded her name and address on the basis that he wanted to issue her with a Section 35 notice.

In response Sharon, who had done nothing wrong, and who could not reasonably have been suspected of having done anything wrong, stated that she was leaving the area in any event. However PC Rigby was insistent that he wanted to issue her with a Section 35 notice and that she must give him her details.

Sharon correctly believed that she had no obligation to give the officer her personal details and therefore declined to do so.

Another officer then approached and requested that Sharon surrender her drink (not withstanding that it was not alcoholic), which she did.

Sharon then attempted to walk away (in order to return to the railway station – in the opposite direction to the ‘counter protest’) only to find PC Rigby taking hold of her by the arm and pulling her backwards. 

PC Rigby then further seized hold of Sharon’s wrist and informed her that she was under arrest. He and his colleague then marched her towards a nearby police van, in which she was required to sit.

Sharon, who was understandably shocked and disturbed by what was happening to her, began to record events on her mobile phone.  She maintained that there had been no basis for arrest to which PC Rigby replied “I have arrested you for failing to provide your details on request.”

PC Rigby, displaying an arrogant and uncaring attitude, ignored Sharon’s reasonable protests that she had been arrested for doing nothing more than standing on the street, and repeatedly requested Sharon’s surname. When she refused to give it, PC Rigby then suddenly lunged forwards in an attempt to seize Sharon’s mobile phone, thereby interrupting the recording, which then ceased.

When Sharon attempted to stop PC Rigby from taking her phone, PC O’Connell joined his colleague and the two officers brutally handcuffed Sharon behind her back. During this process, PC Rigby punched Sharon twice in the back with his clenched fist – an act of unjustified aggression which would constitute criminal behaviour if perpetrated by a member of the public, but which when perpetrated by police officers is often disguised behind the euphemism of “distraction strikes” (as indeed PC Rigby maintained was the case here).

The force used by the two officers against Sharon caused her to scream out in distress. It is notable that when PC O’Connell then exited the van, the scene outside was entirely peaceful. The only ‘anti-social behaviour’ was that which had been perpetrated against a helpless woman in the back of the Police van by the two male officers.

Watch some video footage the incident here:

Sharon was then removed to a transport vehicle where she was searched and told that she was now further under arrest for allegedly assaulting PCs Rigby and O’Connell – which was in fact the reverse of the truth and a most outrageous falsehood, but which is in my experience a sadly common tactic of officers who know or suspect that they have in fact committed an assault upon a member of the public.

Due to the extreme tightness of the handcuffs, Sharon’s wrists started bleeding, which led to the handcuffs being removed, and she was transported to a police station where her detention was authorised and she was humiliatingly required to provide fingerprints and a DNA sample and to be photographed. Sharon was so distressed by what was happening to her that she suffered a panic attack whilst in the police cell, shaking uncontrollably and having difficulty breathing.  She was still shaking when a solicitor attended upon her.

Sharon was interviewed under caution following which she was charged with assaulting both PC Rigby and PC O’Connell in the execution of their duty.

As an innocent person of entirely good character it was extremely distressing  for Sharon to face these false charges, which she fully believed to arise from police manipulation and lies, but she had to live with them hanging over her head until her first appearance before the Magistrates  court on 26 June 2018, when she discovered that, only the night before, the Crown Prosecution Service had discontinued the proceedings due to lack of evidence.

Sharon subsequently made a formal Police complaint, which was investigated by GMP’s Professional Standards Department and, in due course, as happens with the majority of even meritorious complaints, rejected by them.

Fortunately, that was not the end of the matter, as Sharon approached me in order to pursue a claim for infringement of her civil rights against GMP.

Dispersal Orders

Section 35 of the Anti –Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduced what are commonly known as “Dispersal Orders”.  These Section 35 Orders may only be issued provided an authorisation has first been granted under Section 34 of the same Act by a senior police officer.  Furthermore and very importantly –

·         Directions given under Section 35 Orders do not require a person to provide their details on request, contrary to PC Rigby’s asserted belief; and

·         No offence is committed where a person simply fails to provide details for the purposes of a Section 35 Notice.

The Section 34 authority had been given by Superintendent Chris Hall to empower officers to disperse anyone within a designated zone of the city centre, for the alleged purpose of averting disorder between two ‘rival’  protest groups, who were both otherwise lawfully present in the city centre.

A dispersal authority takes effect when the officer issues to any person in the designated locality a notice entitled ‘Direction To Leave’.

There is no requirement in law for the recipient of such a notice to have to provide their name, address or personal details before or when the notice is issued to them.

For PC Rigby to arrest Sharon for a failure to provide her personal details was therefore entirely unlawful under the provisions of Section 35 of the 2014 Act.

PC Rigby subsequently sought to rely upon Section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002 which does require a person to provide their name and address to a police constable “If a constable in uniform has reason to believe that a person has been acting or is acting in an anti-social manner……”

However, the case which I and Sharon’s barrister Nick Stanage successfully argued at the trial of her case was that the provisions of Section 50 did not apply in this situation, as Sharon could not be described as acting in an anti-social manner – she had done nothing other than to stand and talk (in a reasonable and polite manner) in the street whilst holding a non-alcoholic drink, and indeed she had then attempted to walk away from St Peter’s Square (not towards any protest) immediately before PC Rigby grabbed hold of her.

It was also notable that when PC Rigby first arrested Sharon he did not, as the law requires, explain the grounds for her arrest, and did not do so at all until she was in the police van when he stated “I have arrested you for failing to provide your details upon request.”

As explained above, given that Sharon was not, and could not reasonably have presumed to have been, committing any anti-social activity at the time of her arrest the assertion that she could be arrested for failing to provide her details can only have arisen as a result of a misunderstanding (whether deliberate or not) by PC Rigby of Section 35 powers and a confusion of those powers with the separate powers granted by Section 50 of the PRA 2002.

The crucial distinction is that Section 35 is a ‘pre-emptive’ power to disperse, whereas Section 50 requires anti-social behaviour (causing harassment, alarm or distress to any person) to have already been committed; it cannot be used in ‘anticipation’ of anti-social behaviour by a person.  

I issued court proceedings on behalf of Sharon, which were strenuously contested by Greater Manchester Police  and the matter proceeded to a three-day trial at Manchester County Court in July 2021 where, after incisive and compelling advocacy from Mr Stanage, Her Honour Judge Evans ultimately gave judgment in Sharon’s favour.

Under rigorous cross examination by Sharon’s barrister, PC Rigby admitted –

·         Sharon was not harassing or distressing anyone;

·         Her actions in walking down the street in the company of other protesters were NOT enough to arrest her, but only to issue a Section 35 notice;

·         The rival protest group were so far away from where PC Rigby was at the time, that he couldn’t actually see them.

Judge Evans went on to quite correctly identify that the evidence did not suggest that PC Rigby (or his superiors) believed that Sharon had or might have already engaged in anti-social behaviour, and the written statement PC Rigby subsequently made to attempt to justify Sharon’s arrest did not show any appreciation that theoretical ‘future’ anti-social behaviour is not a justification for a Section 50 demand for details.

The Judge’s ultimate conclusion was that PC Rigby had applied a Section 35 test to the exercise of Section 50 powers and had thereby unlawfully arrested Sharon, who was not committing any anti-social behaviour. Sharon was therefore successful in her claims for both false imprisonment and assault and battery.

The Judge also found that PC Rigby was “mistaken and ignorant” as to what powers he had under Section 35 and Section 50 of the respective Acts, but that in her opinion he did not act maliciously or take a deliberate decision to effect a wrongful arrest.

As the Judge quite rightly stated however, it is not reasonable for a police constable to be mistaken as to the law.

It is my opinion that the consequences of such ‘mistakes’ – often borne out of the arrogance of power, and for which apology is very rarely offered by the police (and still has not been in this case) – are extremely harmful to the health of a liberal and democratic society, tending at once to cause real damage to innocent peoples’ lives, to curtail the liberty of society as a whole (by the ‘chipping away’ of long established rights), and to engender public mistrust in the institution of policing.

HHJ Evans ultimately made a significant award of damages in Sharon’s favour, including aggravated damages to reflect the distressing circumstances of this arrest of a woman of good character, which took place in public by an ignorant and high-handed officer who through that ignorance (or I might say arrogance) over-rode Sharon’s exercise of her lawful right not to have to give her personal details to the police, by means of both an unlawful arrest and battery.

Whether the police will learn lessons from this verdict, in terms of future policing of public protests and the education of their officers in the understanding and application of their powers remains  to be seen, although my suspicion is that in PC Rigby’s case the problem arose from one of mindset rather than a lack of technical knowledge of the law i.e. he is one of the significant number of police officers who take great, and often aggressive, umbrage at their self-perceived authority/ability to dispense orders to the public  being ‘flouted’ and he reacted accordingly in an ill-judged and intemperate manner, grabbing hold of Sharon and unlawfully arresting her.

Rather than with PC Rigby however, I would like my final words on this case to be about Sharon herself. She showed bravery and determination in bringing her case, despite having been subject to the trauma of first a criminal prosecution, and then the rejection of her legitimate complaint by Greater Manchester Police PSD.  Sharon had to deal with the police continuing to contest her claim and had ultimately to sit through a three-day trial, during which she was extensively cross examined by the police barrister, and suffered numerous baseless attacks on her character and conduct. Sharon was, in my opinion, quite right to declare PC Rigby and PC O’Connell ‘bullies’ when they assaulted her; and she had the great courage to stand up to those bullies, and the institution which protected them.

Ultimately, just over three years after her unlawful arrest, Sharon was able to hear the court uphold her rights and declare judgment in her favour. I applaud her strength and spirit in seeing this case through to the end for the benefit of all concerned – including the officers of Greater Manchester Police and those members of the public who will in future come into contact with them in similar situations.

PC Declan Jones convicted of assaulting my client

Many of you may have read the blog I published in May 2020 which highlighted the case of a 15 year old boy whom I represent and who was the victim of a vicious and unprovoked assault from a West Midlands Police Officer.

The officer in question, PC Declan Jones, was caught in the act of assaulting my client – including kicking the boy as he lay on the floor – by a CCTV camera on a nearby house; the footage helping to expose the lies told by PC Jones to my client’s mother, when he pretended that the boy had assaulted him, rather than vice-versa.

I am pleased to confirm that at Birmingham Magistrates Court today,  PC Jones was convicted of assaulting not only my client, but another individual in a separate incident which had occurred only the previous day. District Judge Qureshi when delivering the verdict expressed grave concerns that PC Jones was in the first place guilty of misusing his stop and search powers and “racially profiling” my client (who is a black youth). Matters then escalated when, with my client standing in a ‘surrender pose’, PC Jones punched him to the ground, ordered him to roll over, and then delivered what the Judge wincingly described as a “football free kick” to my client’s torso. This vicious action was perpetrated by a Police officer against a child who at the time was in a defenceless position upon the ground, and it is utterly reprehensible. To add insult to injury, PC Jones tried to claim that his act of kicking my client was a “legitimate distraction strike” because he feared for his safety in a high crime area – and called evidence in his support from a self-styled ‘use of force’ expert, Mr Mills, a retired Police officer. The Judge in fact had no hesitation in identifying bias and a lack of impartiality on behalf of the ‘expert’ and quite rightly rejected Mr Mills’ attempt to legitimise PC Jones’s criminal actions. Indeed, the Judge expressed concern that witnessing the ‘expert’ Mr Mills ‘closing his eyes to the obvious’ in order to attempt to exonerate Jones, was liable to make people lose faith in the Police, and I very much echo that sentiment.

The criminal charges in this case arose after a speedy investigation into these events by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, who passed a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Whilst I of course applaud the outcome in this case (the laying of criminal charges against PC Jones) I have to highlight how rare it is, in my experience, to see the IOPC ‘showing some teeth’ rather than behaving like a ‘paper tiger’; grandiose in title and appearance, but really paper-thin when it comes to taking the side of victims of Police misconduct and highly reluctant to engage in combative disputes with the Police. All too often, it seems to me, both the IOPC and the CPS seem to see Police Officers as ‘allies’ or colleagues and approach Police misdemeanours from a place of bias in favour of and sympathy for the Officers.

It is good news that this dishonest and predatory Officer appears to have been stopped in his tracks, but where was the IOPC (and its forerunner the IPCC) in the past for so many people who deserved their robust support, but were let down by fudged conclusions or lukewarm findings of minor misconduct – as in the case of Bryan Allden, where West Midlands officer PC Knowles received the sanction of being sent on a first aid training course for crippling Bryan’s hand in a completely unprovoked assault?

All too often the Police tendency to ‘circle the wagons’ and protect their Officers from criticism and complaint – even where real scrutiny would likely identify criminal violence by the Officers – is tacitly endorsed by the IOPC and the CPS in the soft approach the former takes to holding the Police to account, and the reluctance the latter shows to lead prosecutions against its Police compatriots.

I firmly believe that we need to see more robust, independent investigations by the IOPC of officer misconduct leading to prosecutions like this to bolster public faith in and support for the Police; and to give to victims of Police violence that sense of justice that money just can’t buy.

Sexual Predators Among the Police Force

Many different types of people are drawn to join the Police service; some are heroes; some are dedicated civil servants, or community-spirited individuals; others, frankly, are bullies, but worst of all are those sexual predators who seek to exploit the uniform and authority of a Police officer, in order to gain access to their victims, or to conceal their crimes. Tragically, we now know that Wayne Couzens, the Police Officer who murdered Sarah Everard, had three times since 2015 been suspected of sexual crimes and the IOPC is currently investigating whether the Metropolitan Police failed to properly investigate allegations of indecent exposure which were made against Couzens only days before Sarah Everard was abducted by him.


As public awareness of the culture of toxic masculinity (which has lingered in the Police Force far longer than it has in other professions) has grown, many more victims of Police sexual abuse have come forwards, and, thankfully, more and more predators in uniform are being rooted out and brought to justice. One such brave victim was my client Sally (name changed), who suffered at the hands of an officer from the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary.

In 2008, Sally (then 22 years old) was assaulted by her then partner.  Sally called the emergency services and four Police Officers, including PCSO Peter Bunyan  and 2 paramedics attended.

By the time the Officers had attended, Sally’s partner had fled. Sally had obvious injuries and required treatment by the paramedics. The Officers decided that Sally’s partner should be traced and arrested. Although it was suggested that PCSO Bunyan be one of the Officers to assist with the arrest, he instead insisted that he stay with Sally, in order to take her statement. What he in fact intended to do, was to take advantage of Sally’s vulnerability and his apparent role as a ‘white knight’ saviour in order to groom her for sexual exploitation.

The other three Officers having left, PCSO Bunyan then spoke to Sally at length and took a detailed witness statement.  During this process, PCSO Bunyan appeared to be very caring and attentive as well as complimentary to Sally.
PCSO Bunyan eventually left, but not before giving Sally his mobile phone number. Thereafter, PCSO Bunyan began to text Sally repeatedly and call around to see her on the pretext of carrying out “welfare checks”.  A relationship developed.

Sally was naïve, young and vulnerable.  PCSO Bunyan was approximately 35 years old.  For a time, Sally became besotted with him. PCSO Bunyan would call round to see Sally three or four times a week and when he did so, Sally and PCSO Bunyan would have sex.

On every occasion PCSO Bunyan attended, he was in full uniform and to the best of Sally’s knowledge, on duty.  On occasion, PCSO Bunyan’s Police radio would go off and he would either turn it down and ignore it, or respond and say that he was busy.

The timing of PCSO Bunyan’s visits was always controlled by PCSO Bunyan.
Further, Sally increasingly found sexual intercourse abusive, in that PCSO would manoeuvre her into positions where she could not move or where her hands were held behind her back.

During the course of the relationship, PCSO Bunyan also made it clear to Sally that he had accessed her data on the Police National Database.
Furthermore, during the course of the relationship, PCSO Bunyan made it clear that he was in a position of power and would ask Sally, “Who is going to protect you from me?”.

All of this behaviour can easily be recognised from a distance to have been the disturbing hallmarks of an abuser, but Sally at the time was emotionally vulnerable and confused; ‘easy prey’ for a domineering man like PSCO Bunyan, who so heinously and shamelessly was exploiting his Police authority.

Then, on or about 5 November 2009, PCSO Bunyan invited Sally to a Neighbourhood Policing Unit, where Sally states that PCSO Bunyan raped her.
In the weeks and months subsequent to this incident, Sally tried to call and message PCSO Bunyan but he failed to respond. With a view to eliciting a response, Sally messaged to say that the relationship was over.

In mid 2010, PCSO Bunyan then attended Sally’s home address out of the blue.

 He advised that there was a dangerous man in the neighbourhood and that Sally should keep an eye on her young children.  PCSO Bunyan went on to say that he had lost his phone and that his Facebook page had been hacked.

Further, that if anyone came round ‘asking questions’, Sally was to deny that she had had a relationship with him and to assert that he had attended at her home on a few occasions only for a ‘welfare check.’ 
Several weeks later, Police Officers from the Anti-Corruption Unit did indeed come to visit Sally.  She was advised that PCSO Bunyan was under investigation for Misconduct in Public Office. It appears that during his time with the Force, since 2003, Bunyan had exploited a number of vulnerable women for sex, and tragically Sally was far from being his only victim.

Sally gave a video interview and subsequently, and very bravely, gave evidence at PCSO Bunyan’s criminal trial in March 2013. Bunyan had quite properly been charged with the criminal offence of Misfeasance in Public Office, although sadly the prosecutors chose not to additionally charge him with the rape of Sally.

Following trial, PCSO Bunyan was found guilty of Misconduct in Public Office and sentenced to 7 years in prison.

Sally was already a vulnerable individual when she first met PCSO Bunyan.   PCSO Bunyan blatantly exploited her for  his own sexual pleasure.  His actions left Sally psychologically traumatised to such an extent that it was only in 2019 that Sally felt mentally strong enough to take action, and approached me for advice as to her legal rights.

I was immediately aware, that Devon and Cornwall technically had a defence to Sally’s claim under the Limitation Act 1980, which provides that an action for personal injury (whether physical or psychiatric harm) should be brought within three years of the events giving rise to it.

In fact, some 10 years had elapsed since PCSO Bunyan’s abuse and rape of Sally.
However, this did not mean that Sally’s claim was “time barred”. Section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980 allows personal injury claims to be brought after the three year deadline, provided that there was a good reason for the delay in bringing the claim, which of course in Sally’s case there was.

The very acts which PCSO Bunyan had committed against Sally were themselves causes of her delay in coming forwards; his emotional and physical abuse of her had left Sally with high levels of anxiety and depression, including feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness, which reduced her motivation to seek proper redress for the wrongs committed against her. Sally also suffered from panic attacks and fears that PCSO Bunyan might seek revenge against her.

Finally, her trust of people in authority and particularly the Police themselves had been badly damaged, not only by the actions of Bunyan himself but the subsequent conduct of Devon & Cornwall generally. In the lead up to the criminal case in 2013 Sally had been promised by the Police that she would receive victim support counselling but this failed to materialise and she felt that once the court case was concluded, she was “dropped” by the Police who were no longer interested in her plight.

Then, in 2019 Sally had been contacted by a TV production company who invited her to participate in a documentary about her experiences. Several other women who were victims of PCSO Bunyan were also participants in the documentary, and to her shock, Sally discovered during this process that PCSO Bunyan’s Police colleagues had been aware of his proclivities, but had not reported him. This had made her angry and fuelled her desire to seek proper redress for what had been done to her, by PCSO Bunyan as an individual and the Police as an institution.

Furthermore, from a legal point of view, I was able to demonstrate that no ‘prejudice’ was caused to the Police by the late presentation of Sally’s claim, as they already had full details of PCSO Bunyan’s misconduct, gathered during their internal investigation and the subsequent prosecution; this was not a claim which came ‘out of the blue’ or in regards to which the Police lacked crucial evidence/ documents because of the passage of time.

Armed with these arguments, I was able to convince the Police to pay damages for their former officer’s abuse of Sally, notwithstanding the claim being brought some seven years after the expiry of the limitation period.

Sally ultimately received damages of £45,000 plus an apology from the Force in the following fulsome terms by the Deputy Chief Constable-

“I was sorry to learn of the physical and emotional pain which you suffered at the hands of PCSO Bunyan which should not have occurred. The actions of ex-PCSO Bunyan were unacceptable and it is with genuine regret that he was able to obtain and misuse such a such a trusted role in the community…since this case Devon and Cornwall Police has ensured that every officer and staff member has been comprehensively vetted to both the 2012 national police vetting standard and the new vetting code of practice…We have developed methods through which officers and staff can report potential wrongdoing and concerns as well as the support we provide to them. We have issued guidance to supervisors on the potential signs to look out for and we regularly repeat internal communications to reinforce our expectations”.

I think it is highly important that other victims of sexually abusive/ exploitative Police officers are made aware of cases like Sally’s and understand that it is never too late to seek legal advice and assistance in relation to the harm which has been caused to them, which may be life-long. The clock cannot be set back, but justice can be done, even if it is ten years late.

As the strong words of the Deputy Chief Constable’s apology prove – women like Sally who bring such claims are playing a very significant role in dragging the old, misogynistic culture which long prevailed amongst Police Officers out into the light of the 21st century day, and helping to banish the demons of toxic masculinity from amongst its ranks; though that battle is far from won.  

Can police officers detain you whilst deciding whether or not to arrest you?

The answer to this question is simple: unless they are exercising statutorily defined stop-and-search powers, the Police are not allowed to detain you whilst deciding whether to arrest you or not. Rather outrageously however, officers often try to give people the impression that they do have such a power (which does not in fact exist either under statute or in the common law).

One such scenario befell my client Alan Sanditon in a busy Trafalgar Square in early March 2018. The whole incident was caught in a great deal of detail by the body cameras of the two rather hapless Metropolitan Police officers who accosted Alan whilst he was taking photographs in that iconic location.

What subsequently transpired, was frankly nothing less than a case of the Police detaining Alan whilst trying to find a reason to arrest him.

As the two officers, who I shall call PC Hurley and PC Jeremy stopped Alan, he had been taking photos on his camera of the ‘crowd scenes’ around him, which as usual at that location included Lord Nelson on his column, tourists and political/ oddball campaigners; the full flavour of human experience we might say!

If it needs spelling out, there is no law preventing the taking of pictures in public, unless so doing is making a specific individual feel harassed. Here there was no complaint by any of the subjects of Alan’s photos but rather one of the security guards perched at the top of the steps to the National Gallery, who in the words of the officers had reported “a man taking a lot of pictures for about an hour.”

Alan understandably felt a little uneasy being asked intrusive questions about matters that were his own business, and knowing he had done nothing wrong, sought to disengage from the two officers and walk away. He was under no obligation to talk to the officers, as they evidently had no basis to detain him either on suspicion of committing an offence, or for the purposes of a stop/search, but as Alan went to put his camera away and walk away, PCs Hurley and Jeremy immediately seized hold of him and despite his pleas, immediately handcuffed him and forced him down into a humiliating kneeling position directly in front of the Gallery (causing a cut to Alan’s head in the process). Handcuffed behind his back, Alan was now the subject of photographs being taken by bystanders, although the officers seemed supremely unconcerned by this.

Instead, the officers, evidently having decided that Alan was “suspicious”, though not knowing what they suspected him of (other than “looking very nervous” – which was understandable in the circumstances), now started to scratch their heads as to what exactly they were detaining him for; whilst this farcical process was undertaken, the officers illegally handled Alan’s possessions – including his camera – and kept Alan prisoner, in handcuffs, in full public view.

From the conversation recorded on their body cameras, it was clear that the officers evidently felt it was wrong of Alan to have taken photographs of ‘females’, although they were uncertain as to in what way this was actually illegal (a rather important point, you might think, before they detain someone, particularly in such a violent fashion).

The officers debated between themselves whether they were allowed to look through the photos on Alan’s camera without having arrested him (they weren’t) and admitted that there was no reason to suspect that Alan had been taking ‘indecent’ photographs. In PC Jeremy’s words “Is there an offence, ‘taking pictures of women’? I don’t know if they’re indecent or not, I shouldn’t think so…”

Nevertheless, Alan’s humiliating and painful detention continued. The officers debated whether Alan could be guilty of ‘voyeurism’ and decided to look up the definition of this online to satisfy their curiosity; of course, such an offence relates to the observation or recording of private acts for sexual gratification, and was totally inapplicable to the situation at hand.

Continuing to draw a blank on a reason to arrest Alan (and hence his unlawful detention continuing) the officers then decided to “phone a friend” in the form a speculative call to a colleague in CID to see if he could give them any suggestions. The conversation began like this: “Hello CID, PC Jeremy here from Team…We are just at a call outside the National Gallery and we are all a little bit stuck for offences…” (Those of us who remember the classic game show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ might wonder why PC Jeremy didn’t get Chris Tarrant to make this call for him…)

With CID unable to assist, the officers then tried to dredge up a reason to start fishing through the images on Alan’s camera; they knew they had no power to investigate his private property (yet) because they had been unable to arrest him. Speculating aloud, one of the officers bemoaned the fact that there was “no aspect of Terrorism” as otherwise they could have searched his camera (or so they presumed) under S.43 of the Terrorism Act.

One of the most unusual features of this case, is that contrary to the normal course of events – where Police Officers do not hesitate to loudly and clearly announce what offence a person is being accused of (even if many of my clients will testify to the falsity of those accusations!) – this was a situation, entirely evidenced by body camera recording, in which 27 minutes after they had taken Alan prisoner and handcuffed him, all the officers had done was to list all the reasons why they couldn’t arrest him for various offences!

Despite having discussed with his colleague the illegality of looking at the photographs on Alan’s camera, PC Jeremy now decided that was exactly what he was going to do, and started to cycle through what he described as ‘hundreds’ of images on the camera, describing them to PC Hurley (this was entirely unlawful, and a trespass to Alan’s property – but it is of note that none of the photographs were claimed by the officer during this exercise to be of a ‘voyeuristic’ nature). Whilst he was doing this, a more senior officer (believed to be a Sergeant) had arrived at the scene and the Sergeant specifically challenged PC Jeremy with the words “Dave…you’re not going through stuff are you?”  – which PC Jeremy falsely denied.

Finally, some 30 minutes after Alan had been initially ‘detained’ the Sergeant who had attended at the scene informed PC Hurley and PC Jeremy that they could now arrest Alan on suspicion of possession of indecent images of children. Where on Earth had this ‘suspicion’, which was completely untrue, come from? It appears that one of the many officers now present ‘looking for an offence’ had had a conversation with the security guard who had initially phoned the Police, and that man was now apparently suggesting that Alan’s photography of the crowds could have included ‘up skirt’ images of a young girl. The allegation was weak even to begin with, as the security guard wasn’t suggesting that Alan had been close to the unknown girl, but was somehow suggesting he was taking ‘up skirt’ photos from several dozen yards away; however the Police evidently seized upon this vague suggestion as an attempt to retrospectively justify PC Hurley and PC Jeremy’s unlawful actions.

Of course, PC Jeremy would have had every reason to know this new allegation wasn’t true – he had just been looking through Alan’s photographs and would have seen any ‘up skirt’ images that existed – but I suppose he found himself in somewhat of a ‘bind’ as he knew he shouldn’t have being doing that prior to arrest. Therefore, rather than come clean, and get himself into trouble, PC Jeremy evidently decided to keep quiet and instead now formally arrested Alan “on suspicion of taking indecent images of children”, to which an utterly appalled Alan could only reply “Ridiculous!”.

Alan was absolutely shocked, and quickly became very concerned as the implications of what he was being accused of began to sink in – he knew that even if you are entirely innocent, even an arrest (without charge) for this type of offence can affect the rest of your life.

So finally, some 30 minutes after he had initially been assaulted and handcuffed, Alan was placed under arrest and led away to a Police vehicle which transported him to a further 12 hours of custody at Westminster Police Station.

As if in order to further demonstrate the bad faith on the part of the Police towards Alan i.e knowing that their officers had unlawfully laid hands on him in the first place, they were now determined to ‘get’ him for something, Alan was re-arrested several hours into his detention for “GBH” upon PC Hurley. Once again, this was a totally trumped up allegation; it arose from the fact that as the officers were handcuffing Alan and taking him to the ground in Trafalgar Square, Alan had inadvertently landed on PC Hurley’s arm. The officer had subsequently gone to hospital and had been advised he had suffered a fracture. It appears that on this information being relayed to the Station, the powers that be decided to accuse Alan of GBH; although after PC Hurley came out of hospital he informed his colleagues that he fully accepted the injury was an accident, and not as a result of any assault upon him by Alan. Sadly, this sorry sequence of events just demonstrates how desperate the Police were becoming to find an offence to ‘pin’ on Alan, as a smokescreen to hide, or mitigate, their own officers unlawful acts towards him.

Ultimately, Alan was not, of course, charged with any offence, and his good character was upheld – although for several months he had to live with the possibility of these charges, no matter how bogus, being brought against him. Alan was particularly distressed at his risk of being wrongly labelled a sex offender.

Fortunately, justice was eventually done, and the court proceedings which I subsequently brought on behalf of Alan for false imprisonment and assault and battery, have recently been settled by the Metropolitan Police for substantial damages. Alan is now also using this settlement as a basis to seek deletion of the records of his arrest; which is quite correct – Alan should never have been arrested on this grossly offensive and frankly ‘manufactured’ charge, stemming from the arrogance, aggression and/or incompetence of the original pair of officers, and all such references to this event on the Police National Computer should rightly be expunged.

Whilst this was a good outcome for Alan, I remain concerned, when considering other similar cases I have handled – particularly involving the Metropolitan Police – that too many officers either don’t understand the limits of their own powers, and believe that a person can be detained whilst grounds for arrest are ‘investigated’, or else are wilfully and regularly exceeding those limits and taking advantage of the fact that members of the public are generally unaware of the difference between being told they are ‘being detained’ (which is prima facie unlawful unless formal arrest and/or stop search powers are clearly invoked by the Police) and being arrested. This is an abuse of power by the Police which needs to be highlighted when it occurs, and each case of it pursued to the full extent of the redress that the civil law can provide; or else we might fall into a dangerous and unconstitutional situation wherein Police detention powers, rising like a river in flood, overflow their carefully designated boundaries – and never go back.

Recall Notice: Why It’s Right That Time Is Up for Private Probation Companies

Making headlines this week was the long-awaited re-nationalisation of the probation system in England and Wales, following on from a 2018 “consultation”.

From 26 June 2021 the new Probation Service has come into effect, with responsibility for managing all offenders on a community order or licence following their release from prison. The jurisdiction (England & Wales) will be split into 12 probation areas, each overseen by a Regional Probation Director to ensure effective delivery of and a unified approach to probation services across the country.

This dramatic shake up was largely spurred by the incompetency, inefficiency and multiple failings of the previous probation regime, in place since 2014, which was a quasi-privatised service involving 21 commercial companies running local probation services under names such as “Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company” and supervising 150,000 “low to medium risk” offenders, whilst the government’s own (civil service) National Probation Service handled the management of the smaller number of “high risk” criminals.

This previous decentralised system created, in my opinion, a ‘Wild West’ environment in the provision of probation services, wherein ex-offenders – some of the most vulnerable people in our society in terms of their mental health problems and risk profiles – were haphazardly supervised by companies whose track record (in my experience) of inefficiency, incompetence and indeed outright negligence was likely a product of commercial concerns leading them to cut corners in terms of proper record keeping, management supervision, staff recruitment and training i.e putting profits before people, at public expense.

I have written before (Can I sue the Probation Service and Are Probation Companies wrongly sending people to prison?) about clients I have represented who, attempting to make the most of the second chance society had offered them after they had ‘paid their dues’/ served their time in prison, had their rehabilitation, and often mental health, very badly derailed through no fault of their own but rather (for want of a more appropriate legal term) probation company “cock-ups.”

Another such example is that of my client Mark Edwards, whose case I have recently settled.

On 20th December 2017, Mark was released from prison on license (which was due to expire in June 2020).

Upon release, Mark was supervised by Kelly Brown, a Probation Officer employed by the London Community Rehabilitation Community.  Mark maintained contact via telephone and personal attendance  with his probation officer, and did everything required of him.

Mark had concerns as regards the hostel in Croydon which was his first  post release accommodation (owing to the proximity it put him in regards to other ex-offenders, who might try and tempt him off the ‘straight and narrow’), and therefore with the assistance and full knowledge of Ms Brown obtained transfer to a new address in Wembley in April 2018. Ms Brown was obviously well aware of this relocation and Mark’s new address.

Mark was now living a significant distance from the Lewisham Probation Office, where Ms Brown was based.  Ms Brown advised that there were difficulties in transferring Mark to a more local Probation Office.  In the circumstances, Ms Brown advised Mark that from hereon, future contact with her would be by phone only (and not face to face).  Accordingly, Mark then kept in contact via phone and kept Ms Brown fully updated as regards any changes in his circumstances (i.e. employment). 

On 13th December 2019 Mark was subjected to a random stop and search by Police Officers; I will add here in passing that Mark is black, which might account for the search – he had not been doing anything untoward. However, to Mark’s shock, when he provided his personal details to the Police Officers searching him, he was advised that he was wanted for recall to prison, and, indeed, that he had been “at large” for 2 ½ months.

Mark was accordingly arrested and taken to Brixton Police Station; the next day he was brought before Camberwell Magistrates’ Court and from there re-consigned to incarceration in HMP Thameside.

Whilst in custody, on or about 17th December 2019, Mark contacted Lewisham Probation to protest about his recall.  His complaints fell on deaf ears, however, and Mark was obliged to serve a full 28 days in prison.

Following his release on 9th January 2020, Mark received documents from Lewisham Probation Service regarding his license arrangements.   In these documents, Mark noticed that in August 2019, he had been appointed a new Probation Officer, Stella Darcy and that on 7th August 2019, Ms Darcy had purportedly written to Mark at his previous address in Croydon, inviting him to attend an appointment on 19th August 2019.  By this time, of course, Mark was living in Wembley (and had been for over a year).  He had never, of course, received that letter from Ms Darcy.

It appears that in light of Mark’s (innocent) non-attendance, further correspondence was sent to him on19 August, 21st August and 28th August 2019 – all letters going to his old address. 

London Community Rehabilitation Company then notified the ‘Post Release’ Sector that Mark had, in effect, ‘gone AWOL’ which then led to his arrest and subsequent incarceration.

Mark had never received any of this incorrectly addressed correspondence.  Yet further, Ms Darcy had apparently made no effort to contact Mark by phone (his number remained the same) nor his emergency contact (whose number also remained the same).

It was clear that something had gone badly wrong, and when Mark instructed me I immediately suspected that the shoddy record keeping, which was a hallmark of the now gladly defunct private probation companies, would prove to be the culprit.

This was indeed the case; the recall report prepared by London CRC in September 2019 (completely unbeknownst to Mark) contained the following ‘information’-

·         Mr Edwards failed to attend his probation office appointments on the 19/08/2019, 21/08/2019 and 28/08/19 as instructed and has not made contact to give an explanation for his absence.

Further, the recall report stated;

·         Mr Edwards  was last seen at probation on the 16/01/19.  Attempts have been made to re-engage with Mr Edwards after the re-allocation of his case to a different officer.  However, Mr Edwards has failed to respond or update the Probation Services as to his whereabouts.

·         The recall report left Section 6 (“last recorded address where s/he may be contacted.  This must be provided …….”) blank.

·         The recall report also stated “Any other possible address: No.”

Yet further, the recall report stated;

·         Mr Edwards has failed to report as instructed on his licence.  There has been gaps in his being instructed on his licence prior to his case being re-allocated to the current OM. He has since been offered a number of appointments which he has failed to attend.  He has not made any contact with probation which he would be fully aware he is required to do so.  In view of his continued non-compliance with the conditions of his licence, this has placed him in breach of licence condition 5.iii.  On this basis, I endorse recall.

Further investigations revealed that (as expected) Mark’s original supervisor, Ms Brown had failed to update his new address on her company’s case management computer system and had likewise failed to record Mark’s telephone number thereon. 

I pursued civil proceedings on behalf of Mark alleging negligence and breach of his rights under Articles 5 (the right to liberty) and 8 (the right to family and private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mark had suffered severely as a result of the probation company’s errors, and not only in regards to the ‘lost Christmas’ which he had to spend in jail because of the Recall notice. Mark had been getting on with his life, had secured an enjoyable job as a football coach and was actually on his way to a Christmas lunch with work colleagues when he was wrongfully arrested. He was proud at what he had managed to achieve since coming out of prison and couldn’t believe he was being denigrated and labelled as a criminal again, in his words – “By force I had been put back into a life I didn’t want to lead anymore and had put behind me.” He was deeply upset at the thought of what his family would think of him, particularly his mother. Although he had been in prison for a much longer time before his initial release, Mark found the 28 days he had to serve from December 2019- January 2020 felt like a “lifetime” because he knew every minute of it was wrong and unjust, and was potentially undoing all the good work he had done on reshaping his life over the previous 2 years.

Mark got his liberty back when he was released in January 2020, but not his job, nor his mental health. He started to suffer anxiety attacks, he felt he had lost stability in his life and struggled to sleep; a psychiatrist diagnosed Mark as suffering from an Adjustment Disorder in the form of a prolonged depressive reaction (which was sadly understandable in the circumstances).

I am pleased to confirm that Mark is making progress with his recovery, and has since secured new employment; but he is still haunted by the injustice of the incarceration that was inflicted upon him by the negligence of the probation company’s staff. 

I have recently secured a financial settlement of £10,000 for Mark, which will hopefully go a long way to compensating him for his suffering and helping him push on to a brighter future.

The elementary mistakes made by the London CRC in Mark’s case, and the general culture of corporate mismanagement that they speak of, would not be acceptable in a mail order company, let alone one which was allowed such power over peoples’ lives and liberty, putting their fundamental well-being at stake.

So I for one am glad to see the back of the era of private operators in probation services; let us hope that the regime that replaces it will properly deliver what its vulnerable users, and the rest of society, demand and deserve. 

Names have been changed.

Did the Police arrest a stabbing victim to force him to name his attacker?

This is a guest post by my colleague and fellow solicitor John Hagan.

Handcuffs image

My colleague Iain Gould wrote last week about his experience of the Police misusing their power of arrest in relation to two women who were never under suspicion of committing any crime themselves, but whom the attending officers accused of ‘obstruction’ for failing to answer questions about a third party.

Even more shocking than that scenario however, is the situation in which a victim of violent crime is himself arrested, for, in effect, failing to confirm the identity of his attacker…

Sadly, this situation is exactly what befell my client David.

David was enjoying a quiet night out with two friends, Alex and Tom, in a local pub. In the early evening, the three of them left the pub, with David intending to go home to his wife and young children. However, as they crossed the pub’s car park they noticed a group of males jumping over a nearby fence. David did not know who these men were, although he was aware that one of his friends, Alex, had earlier received a telephone call from someone with whom Alex had been arguing, possibly in relation to money. The group of males approached and shouted at David, Alex and Tom before, without provocation, suddenly assaulting them. This assault was caught on the pub’s CCTV.

During the course of the assault David was stabbed in the right hand and to the right side of his head/ neck. David immediately retreated back into the pub and was soon joined by Tom and Alex who had sustained similar injuries. Whilst our client was in the pub he received first aid from the bar staff.

Two of the attackers then entered the pub and shouted further threats before leaving.

As David was understandably shocked and distressed at the assault and concerned about his and his friends’ injuries, they decided not to wait for an ambulance but rather to walk to their local Hospital A&E, as it was less than 15 minutes by foot.

En route to the hospital, David and his friends were passing through a park when a darkly dressed individual shouted at them to stop. Fearing that they might be assaulted again, they briefly ran away from this individual before realising he was a police officer, and stopped. Shortly after stopping they were surrounded by several more officers.

David and his friends provided their details and informed the officers that they were the victims of an assault. Their injuries were obvious for the officers to see; indeed, two of them were bleeding from stab wounds. Alex and Tom were searched, although David was not. The officers informed David he was free to go, but suggested that he remain with them and await an ambulance. However, due to the close proximity to the hospital David and Tom instead walked to the A&E department.

David was seen by the A&E staff, who cleaned and dressed his wounds, including four staples for his head wound. Shortly after arriving at the hospital Alex also attended having been released by the officers. Due to his injuries Alex remained in hospital for several days, whereas David was released the same night.

At approximately 23.00 the same evening David telephoned the Police to ensure that they had his details in the event that they needed to contact him further. Around an hour later officers attended David’s home and took a statement from him regarding the incident.

The officers disclosed to David that having reviewed CCTV footage from the pub, they believed that one of the attackers was an individual, known to David by reputation, who was associated with organised crime in the area. On hearing this, David refused to ‘press charges’ for fear of reprisals. The officers asked to take David’s blood stained clothing, but as he did not wish to assist the investigation, he refused.

In the early hours of the morning, two days later the Police returned unannounced to David’s home, rudely awaking David and his young family. This time however, they had not come in their capacity as ‘protectors’, but rather as ‘interrogators’ – with a search warrant authorising them to seize David’s mobile phone and the clothes he was wearing during the assault. To his disbelief, David was arrested on suspicion of affray and conveyed to a local Police Station.

David was interviewed later that day and provided a full account, reaffirming that he and his friends were the victims of the assault. During his interview, David was played the CCTV footage of the assault, from which it was clear that he was a victim and not acting in an aggressive manner in any way.

David was released at 17:21 pending further investigation. This horrible matter hung over him for over 6 months before he was finally informed that he was to face no further action. Following his release David learnt that Tom had been arrested as well, and a week later Alex was asked to attend a voluntary interview. Neither Tom nor Alex were charged with any offences arising from this matter, but one of the males who had attacked them was later convicted of affray.

David subsequently instructed me to pursue a claim for wrongful arrest against the Police and after submitting a letter of claim on his behalf, I was able to obtain from the Police full disclosure of all the evidential material they had relied upon in their investigation.

The question was, did the Police have a justifiable basis for suspecting David of affray; or was this a case of draconian misuse of their powers, targeted so as to encourage David to ‘co- operate’ with their investigation into the real perpetrator, a local gangster?

The incident in question was reported to have occurred at approximately 18.40 and as early as 21.01 on the night in question (i.e. less than 3 hours later) it was noted that a Police patrol had viewed the pub’s CCTV footage of the incident and in a later entry timed as 01.58 the following day, David was correctly identified as a victim, and noted to be in fear of repercussions.

A more detailed summary of the CCTV footage from the pub was entered into the Incident Log at 07.48 on the day after the incident and stated as follows –

  • Officers had reviewed CCTV footage, which captured the incident in full, which occurred in the Pub car park.
  • The footage clearly showed a large disturbance, which commenced with the three victims (David, Alex and Tom) being approached by five males (identities unknown at this time).  The five males commenced to set about the three victims, with numerous blows being delivered, and a large melee erupting. 
  • One of the victims (believed to be Alex) was knocked to the ground and appears to be kicked to the head. 
  • Thereafter, David, Alex and Tom entered the pub, and the offenders made off.

It is was therefore already clear from the CCTV footage, which captured the incident in full – and from all the subsequent statements made by Officers who viewed the said footage – that David was a victim of the assault, with he and his companions being ‘ambushed’ as they walked across the car park of the pub, and at no point did Daivd himself commit any acts of violence, not even in what would have been entirely legitimate self-defence.

Statements from officers investigating the incident also confirmed that the staff at the pub had identified David and his companions as the victims of the assault, who were simply attempting to ‘get away’ from their attackers.

However, notwithstanding the weight of the evidence demonstrating that David was in no way an aggressor, and was clearly a victim of the incident,  the Police decided to apply for a Search Warrant for David’s home from the Magistrates’ Court. The information which the Police chose to lay before the Court misleadingly referred to the CCTV footage as showing “a large scale fight involving a number of people” without making any distinction between the aggressors and the victims in the incident, or confirming that David himself committed no acts of violence during the incident.  The Magistrate considering the Warrant Application, on reading that summary, would no doubt have formed the view that David had actively participated in the fight, which could not in fact be further from the truth. 

A further misleading description of the incident was given in the Wanted Person Report which was then generated in regards to David (prior to the execution of the Search Warrant at his address that night).

The description given in that report of the incident is as follows – [David] named as taking part in serious Affray in [Public House] car park.   CCTV shows a number of males involved in violent altercation which results in persons being taken to hospital.

Anybody reading such a description would no doubt immediately form the impression that David was a participant in a fight (and quite possibly had caused injury to other people), whereas anyone actually viewing the CCTV footage , which numerous Officers had access to  prior to the Wanted Persons Report being generated, would know full well that David had not participated in any fighting, and rather after being assaulted – clearly unexpectedly- had immediately fled the car park, and taken refuge inside the pub.

In my opinion it was not only disingenuous, but in fact actually malicious, for a Police officer to describe a victim as “taking part” in the assault perpetrated upon him. 

Despite the fact that the Search Warrant Application stated that the material being sought included “blood- stained weapons” the Officers on attendance at David’s home address  –

  • Made no attempt to search the property for the alleged “blood stained weapons”, strongly indicating that the Police did not in fact expect to find any such weapons on the property at all despite the statement to the contrary in the Search Warrant  Application.  This would hardly have been surprising because the Police were of course in possession of the CCTV footage which demonstrated that David was not an aggressor and at no point had produced or wielded any ‘weapon’.
  • The premises search record confirmed that the search (such as it was) commenced at 00.25 and terminated at 00.54 and consisted of nothing more than David being requested to, and then providing to Officers his mobile phone and the clothing he had been wearing at the time of the incident.  It is specifically noted that the Officers remained throughout in the hallway and rear living room of the house and made no attempt to search elsewhere, making it manifestly clear that no Officer present believed for one moment that “blood- stained weapons” were anywhere on the premises.

·         Nevertheless, David was arrested on “suspicion of Affray” in front of his wife and children, and taken away to custody.

I repeat the point that the CCTV footage was available to Officers on the night of the incident, over 24 hours prior to David’s arrest, and it simply cannot be disputed that David, indeed, “offered no violence” and simply tried to flee from the scene of the assault.  This was reinforced by the Police’s own “resume” of the pub CCTV footage which correctly describes David and his two companions as being “intercepted” by the five aggressors (i.e. there is no suggestion that they were looking for or intending to confront the group of aggressors). David was described in that document only in terms which make it manifest he was a victim i.e. “backing away” and “chased around the car” and “running towards the bottom of the screen …..  holding his right hand to the right hand side of his head.”

At no point had David committed any act which could possibly constitute Affray (S.3 Public Order Act 1986) which is defined as –

Using or threatening unlawful violence towards another…causing a person present at the scene  to fear for his personal safety.

For all the reasons above I identified that David had strong prospects of succeeding in claims for assault and battery, false imprisonment and trespass to land and goods (or alternatively, malicious procurement of a Search Warrant) and I rejected the initial denial of liability which the Police put forwards.

There was no reasonable, objective basis for any Officer to believe that David was guilty of the offence of Affray arising from this incident.  To suggest otherwise was nothing more than a perverse manipulation of the truth, and in my opinion the Police were guilty of a gross misuse of their powers of arrest and misleading the Magistrates Court with histrionic language about “blood stained weapons” and a blatant omission of key facts about the attack. The truth of the matter was that the Police were frustrated by David’s refusal to assist the criminal investigation of the actual perpetrator, and therefore started to treat David as a ‘suspect’ simply to get him to talk.

Faced with the threat of Court proceedings, I am pleased to report that the Police backed down, and settled David’s claim for a substantial damages payment.

Together, David and I were able to hold the Police to account for their abuse of power, and far more important than the financial settlement for David was his sense of justice being done. In David’s kind words to me-

Thank you for believing in me and taking on my case.”

I am just happy to have played my part, hopefully helping to prevent ‘tactics’ such as this becoming part of the Police playbook.

The Right to Refuse: Why Non co-operation with the Police is not Obstruction

One of the bastions of freedom under the law of England and Wales, is the right of an individual to refuse to answer a Police Officer’s demand for information save in certain limited circumstances (such as during a traffic stop, or if the individual is themselves under suspicion of a criminal offence). 

In particular, there is no requirement in law to co-operate with Officers by answering their questions and a simple refusal to answer those questions, or a denial of knowledge of the subject matter of the questions does not render the person themselves liable for “obstructing the investigation”. Actual obstruction would involve a positive and intentional attempt to deceive e.g by giving the officers wilfully false/ misleading information. This is the principle enshrined in the 1966 High Court judgment of Rice v Connolly, summarised as follows-

“Although every citizen had a moral or social duty to assist the police, there was no relevant legal duty to that effect in the circumstances

of the present case, and the appellant had been entitled to decline to answer the questions put to him and (prior to his arrest) to accompany

the Police officer on request to the Police box to establish identity; accordingly, in the circumstances, “wilful obstruction” by the appellant was

not established, although he had been obstructive, because no obstruction without lawful excuse had been established.”

In a Police Officer’s ideal world, no doubt all individuals would answer all questions put to them – whether there was reason to suspect them of criminal behaviour or not – and Officers do regularly push at the boundaries of this particular law by asking people to provide information without explaining that they do not have to respond. Examples of this behaviour are the regular requests made by officers to people stopped on the street to confirm their ‘arrest history’, or the draconian interrogations as to a person’s comings and goings which some individuals were subjected to by Officers exploiting (or misunderstanding the extent of) the recent Coronavirus legislation. 

This form of behaviour by Officers has similarities with the way Police will sometimes exploit their powers to pressure a person into providing information – such as the notorious tactic of ordering a detainee who is not co-operating with ‘check in’ at the Custody Desk to be taken to a cell and stripped naked – ostensibly for ‘safeguarding’ reasons, but often, in my experience, to punish that person for their refusal to answer questions, and thereby humiliate/ scare them into a more ‘co-operative frame of mind.’

Both of those tropes of unconstitutional Policing were, in my opinion, present in a case I handled on behalf of two young women, Evie and Claire. 

One evening in July 2020,  Evie was at home, putting her bins out, when she was approached by a woman who alleged that her sister had been taken into our client’s house by a man known as “Matthew”.  Evie knew that this was untrue and told the girl that she was mistaken.

A few minutes later, at approximately 22.00, uniformed Police Officers attended at Evie’s house. The Officers asked if “Matthew” was in the house.  Evie denied any knowledge of him

The Officers entered the house without invitation and ushered Evie and her friend Claire into the living room.  Two Officers continued to quiz both Evie and Claire as regards Matthew and his whereabouts, whilst other Officers searched the premises.

Evie maintained that no person called Matthew lived at the address.  The Officers repeatedly accused Evie of lying and threatened to arrest her for ‘obstructing a kidnap investigation’.  Evie maintained that she was telling the truth. The Officers likewise accused Claire of lying, and shamefully threatened to take her 8 month old son (who was present in the house) into Social Services care. 

A Sergeant then arrived at the house and after discussion directed that Evie and Claire be arrested for “obstruction”.

Evie and Claire were placed in handcuffs and then led out of the house to a Police vehicle (humiliatingly, Evie was only wearing her pyjamas). 

Both women were then transported to a local Police Station and presented to the Custody Sergeant.  

The circumstances of arrest were recorded on the Custody Record as follows;

“Obstruct a PC in execution of duty – patrols respond to a possible domestic at DP’s HA [Home Address]; female has been seen getting dragged into address by a new partner called ‘Matthew’.  Patrols have met the informant who states the female was dragged into the HA of the DP.  Patrols have knocked on and DP has answered the door; DP has been questioned re knowing a male called ‘Matthew’.  DP denies knowing a male called ‘Matthew’.  The severity of the situation has been explained to the DP who still denies knowing a male called ‘Matthew’.  PNC enquiries the suspect ‘Matthew’ has links to the address and links to the DP.  The original person who was dragged into address has not been traced.  DP. C & A no reply”.

The arrest necessity reason was given as “allow the prompt and effective investigation; Prevent the disappearance of the person; Protect a child or other vulnerable person.”

Upon review, the Custody Sergeant refused to authorise further detention given that “From the arrest circumstances presented to me I failed to see how the PC had been obstructed in her duty as she had just asked the DP a question and not got an answer.  The offence under consideration was Section 89 of the Police Act 1996 creates the offences of assaulting, resisting or wilfully obstructing a Constable, or a person assisting a Constable, whilst he/she is acting in the execution of his duty.

The key for this offence is the deliberate nature of the obstruction.

PNLD is clear and I quote, ‘The obstruction must be wilful.  The Defendant must intend to behave in such a way as to make it more difficult for the Constable to carry out their duties’.

For the act to be ‘wilful’ in this context it has to be deliberate.

I fail to see how the offence is made out as such DETENTION IS NOT AUTHORISED. 

The Custody Sergeant further recorded that “After the circumstances were given to myself the DP was placed in the glassroom to discuss the matter further with the Officer.

I explained the offence of Obstruct Police to the Officer who agreed with my rationale and stated that it was to do with the seriousness of the offence and the fact that they didn’t answer the questions of the Police.  OIC confirmed that there was no blood or signs of a disturbance at the premises.”  

In the circumstances and quite correctly, at 01.44, Evie and Claire were released from Custody. 

(For the avoidance of any doubt, the woman who had been reported missing was found safe and well in another location later that night, and no further action was taken).

I have recently settled the claims of Evie and Claire; although the Police Force in question denied liability for false imprisonment of my clients, as usual they let their money speak louder than their words. 

The “right to remain silent” is enshrined as one of the fundamental underpinnings of the rights of privacy and autonomy which a person in Police custody is entitled to; it is important that we do not let the general right of witnesses and members of the public to remain silent in the face of Police questions, should they so choose, be infringed or encroached upon by over-zealous or heavy-handed Policing, particularly in these times when personal liberty has been extraordinarily delineated by the public health emergency of the past year. Let us hope that any encroachments into our liberties in this regard/ increase in Police perceptions of the boundaries of their authority fully recede with the retreat of the virus and that cases such as Connolly v Rice, and claims such as those brought by Evie and Claire, act as continuing vaccines in our system, keeping our liberal democracy in boisterous good health. 

In this respect, I also point to the fact that for once both I and a Custody Sergeant seem to have been singing from the same hymn sheet, and that can only be a good sign. 

Names have been changed.

Partners in Crime: Why Bedfordshire and Surrey Police both had to pay for wrongful arrest

“Mr Gould, words fail me in adequately expressing my sincere appreciation for all you have done for me. It is beyond belief that after 30 years I can now close this chapter of my life.”

Receiving a testimony like that from one of my clients is absolutely priceless, and is one of the reasons why I love doing the job that I do; giving a person, beyond the simple monetary amount of their compensation, a sense of true satisfaction that they have been listened to, and justice has been done, in defiance of the abuses of the powerful – most usually, Police Forces.

Those words were written this week by my client Gordon Matthews, at the conclusion of two overlapping claims which I pursued on his behalf against Bedfordshire and Surrey Police. The background of Mr Matthews’ claims are as follows.

It is surely one of the hallmarks of a modern, democratic society that individuals have a right of complaint, and a right to request explanation and redress against much bigger and more powerful entities which may have wronged them – be they commercial corporations or agents of the State. Individuals, such as Mr Matthews, should be able to pursue their legitimate complaints without fear that the institution they are complaining about will lash out to punish or frighten them off, by abusing the financial or public power which that institution may possess.

On 26 April 2016, Mr Matthews wrote to the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police by recorded delivery.  The subject of the letter was ‘ MURDER OF A POLICEMAN’ .

In the letter, Mr Matthews wrote the following;

“ If I were to advise you that I wished to MURDER A POLICEMAN what action would you take?”

Mr Matthews suggested that the Chief Constable take legal advice and that if the Chief Constable did not reply within 21 days, he would report the response to a number of interested parties including the national press.

The letter openly provided Mr Matthews’ home address, name and signature and was written against a background of historic correspondence and proceedings between my client and Bedfordshire Police, arising from my client’s dispute of what he believed to have been an improperly imposed penalty ticket for a road traffic matter some 26 years earlier by an officer named PC Maxey. During the course of that dispute, Mr Matthews had submitted a DPA request and in response received a redacted email from Bedfordshire Police Legal Services (dated 25 May 2010) in which it was falsely stated that Mr Matthews had threatened to kill PC Maxey; this ‘mistake’ was subsequently acknowledged as such by the Police in an internal memo created after 28 April 2016. Mr Matthews had, understandably, been utterly appalled by the suggestion he had threatened to kill anyone, and had for many years been seeking an apology for this falsehood, but had been continually rebuffed by Bedfordshire – who indeed had gone as far in July 2015 as taking out a 2-year restraining order, preventing Mr Matthews from taking further legal action against the Chief Constable.

It was in this context, frustrated by the deliberately deaf ears of the Force, that Mr Matthews had written to them in April 2016 to try to elicit some form of proper response.

The said letter was received by the Chief Constable’s Personal Assistant on 28 April 2016 who emailed a copy of the letter to (the then Bedfordshire Police Legal Services Manager) Ms Hall that same day. Ms Hall wrote that by sending the letter, Mr Matthews intended “to cause alarm and distress to staff and Police Officers at Bedfordshire Police” and that it was a “malicious communication”  intended “to cause harm” .

Ms Hall then prepared a witness statement regarding the letter dated 28 April 2016.  She requested that the communication be “crimed as malicious communication” and that Mr Matthews be “arrested” .

According to Ms Hall’s witness account, she then spoke to Inspector Cotton and PC Birch of Bedfordshire Police Force Control Room.  It was decided that the matter would be farmed out to Surrey Police, as that was where the letter had been posted.

At 17.05 on 28 April 2016, Ms Hall then sent an email to PC Birch with her witness statement attached stating that she was “hopeful that this is sufficient should he be eligible for a caution” .

At 17.41 PC Birch sent an email to PC Rogers asking Mr Rogers to “create an incident for Surrey to arrest the suspect for malicious communications”.

At 18.25 on the same day, PC Rogers emailed the Force Control at Surrey Police and requested “a unit be assigned to conduct an arrest enquiry to arrest Gordon Matthews for malicious communications” .

The email continued; 

“The grounds for arrest will be:

On the 26 th April 2016 Mr Mathews sent a letter to Bedfordshire Police stating that “If I were to advise you that I wished to MURDER A POLICEMAN what action would you take?”  with the intent to cause harassment, alarm and distress to Police Officers and staff at Bedfordshire Police.

As you will see from a number of attachments Mr Matthews has been communicating with Bedfordshire Police for approximately 26 years after disputing a fixed penalty ticket for a road traffic offence and this letter is not a one off incident.

The OIC for this case will be Tracy Hall?????????  should you have any questions.  If out of hours please contact Bedfordshire Police control room and ask for Oscar 1 or 2, the direct line being ????????  

There are comments in respect of the risk assessment for this male and in that regard he is essentially unknown to us and should be dealt with as such.”

On the afternoon of 29 April 2016, Mr Matthews was arrested by Surrey Police Officers and conveyed to Salford Police Station, Redhill, Surrey.  He was at the time 74 years old, a man of exemplary character who had never previously had any experience of Police custody. He was utterly shocked and bewildered at what was happening to him; furthermore, to his distress and embarrassment, Gordon was arrested in front of his wife and neighbours. 

According to an email subsequently written by PS Freeman of Surrey Police, “Enroute to custody, the arresting officer contacted Beds Police, he spoke to Ms Hall who stated that Beds Police would not be dealing, she added that Matthews had been sending letters to them since receiving a ticket in 1990 but that they had been ignoring his letters but she felt that this letter had more punch than previous ones.  As a result of this Surrey Officers had to interview Matthews” .

According to Ms Hall, at about this time, “She received a very abusive telephone call from Bedfordshire PS Night who said Surrey Police had arrested someone and were asking for him to be picked up.”  She “apologised and tried to explain that a mistake had been made”.  She had been “expecting a call from Surrey Police to talk about the case”. She “was shouted at again and then given a telephone number to call and told to deal with it.”

Essentially, now having committed the act of arrest ‘in haste’ both Bedfordshire and Surrey were trying to pass the buck to one another, each disclaiming responsibility. Bedfordshire (in the person of Ms Hall) were claiming they had been expecting a call from Surrey to discuss arrest or other options before they were carried out, whilst Surrey clearly thought they were ‘under orders’ from Bedfordshire to simply arrest (no questions asked) – and wanted to hand the ‘prisoner’ over to Bedfordshire as soon as possible, thereby washing their hands of the matter.

Whilst Mr Matthews was in custody, the investigation was assigned to Officers PC Hawes and PC Turner.

PC Hawes’ understanding was that upon arrest, Mr Matthews would be collected by Bedfordshire Officers and processed by Bedfordshire Police.

On notification of arrest however, PC Hawes reported that he contacted Bedfordshire and was told that they would not deal with the matter.  Yet further, that Bedfordshire Police claimed they had not in fact made an arrest request but had merely notified Surrey Police of the ‘issue’.

On further investigation, PC Hawes read the letter Mr Matthews had sent.  In a subsequent email dated 29 April 2016 PC Hawes stated that “I struggled to find that it contained enough to make out the offence as described” and that “the letter in and of itself did not fulfil the offence” .

Notwithstanding PC Hawes’ (correct) assessment, he and PC Turner interviewed Mr Matthews under caution. Mr Matthews confirmed that he had sent the letter but had no intention of causing any alarm or anxiety.

PC Hawes then contacted Ms Hall for clarification.  Ms Hall now denied that anyone at Bedfordshire had requested the arrest and asserted that they had merely passed the letter on “for information”.

PC Hawes added that Ms Hall was “very keen” for Mr Matthews “to have been charged for any offence that came to mind”.  Further, that on review, PC Hawes was “left with the impression that Ms Hall had become tired of dealing with Matthews, and had either generated the arrest request herself or had arranged for it to be done, to mislead Surrey Police into arresting Matthews for an offence which was not really made out.”  PC Hawes concluded that Surrey Police had been used by persons within Bedfordshire Police to arrest Matthews “for the purpose of teaching him a lesson.”

I personally believe that analysis was entirely correct.

PC Hawes reported to his Custody Sergeant, PS Freeman who reviewed the matter and due to the lack of any evidence decided to immediately release Mr Matthews, with no further action. He had been wrongfully detained for approximately 6 hours, and had been obliged to provide his fingerprints and a DNA sample: all part of the degrading and dehumanising process of being in Police Custody which makes even innocent people feel like ‘criminals’.

Mr Matthews subsequently brought a complaint to the Professional Standards Department of Bedfordshire Police, regarding his arrest and incarceration.

·         The Complaint Investigating Officer David Bird concluded that there was insufficient evidence to have ever justified arresting Gordon.

·         Further, Chief Inspector Donna Pierce, Bird’s Supervisor in a subsequent review of the complaint,  concluded that the arresting officer had failed to make his own assessment of the threshold for arrest prior to taking any action.

·         Furthermore, that in all likelihood, the “arrest request” of Ms Hall as Bedfordshire Legal Services Manager, was implemented unequivocally because of the perceived seniority of Ms Hall’s position.

·         Yet further, that in any event, as a Civilian Member of staff, Ms Hall had no authority to instruct any Police Officer to arrest a person.

Partners in Crime

A lawful arrest essentially requires two elements:

  1. Objectively reasonable suspicion of a person’s involvement or suspected involvement or attempted involvement in the commission of a criminal offence;

AND

2. Objectively reasonable grounds for believing that the person’s arrest is necessary.

Both elements must be satisfied, and, simply put, neither were in Mr Matthew’s case.

As is clear from the accounts of various Officers as cited above, both Forces in the aftermath of the intemperate and grossly heavy-handed arrest of Gordon Matthews, sought to put the blame on one another. Their conduct in this regard could almost be described as a ‘comedy of errors’, but Gordon’s arrest was no laughing matter, and he quite rightly wanted both Forces held to account for what they had done – Bedfordshire for the instigation of his arrest (as an abuse of power, designed to teach a person they labelled as a ‘serial complainant’ a lesson) and Surrey for putting the wishes of another Police Force ahead of the actual law of the land, without any question – until it was already too late.

Both Police Forces were partners in this particular ‘crime’.

When I was instructed by Gordon, I first pursued Surrey Police as the Force whose Officers had physically arrested and detained him.

Surrey’s insurers soon came to the negotiating table and following the institution of Court proceedings, a settlement for substantial compensation and costs to be paid, was agreed. 

Gordon was very pleased with this outcome – not least because the payment clearly represented an admission that Surrey knew they had acted illegally. He told me how much easier he could now sleep, given the sense of ‘justice done’ which he had received, which was very gratifying to hear.

What still rankled for Mr Matthews however was that, at this point (December 2019), Bedfordshire Police were apparently getting away ‘scot free’ for their original ‘deceit’ which had led Surrey to arrest him.

He and I therefore turned our attentions to Bedfordshire.

Misfeasance in Public Office

Although it was not possible to claim against Bedfordshire Police damages for assault or false imprisonment (given that his arrest was carried out by Surrey officers), I identified that Mr Matthews had valid claims against Bedfordshire for damages arising from Misfeasance in Public Office and Breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

At first, and perhaps unsurprisingly, given their cowardly attempt to disavow responsibility for Mr Matthew’s arrest in the immediate aftermath of that event, Bedfordshire sought to dispute the claim – and once again, to hide behind the actions of Surrey as the ‘frontline’ Force who had carried out the arrest.

Mr Matthews however possessed the strength of character and conviction in the righteousness of his cause not to be dissuaded by the Police denial, but to authorise me to take the fight to Bedfordshire through Court proceedings.

He was determined that not only those who unthinkingly arrested him, but those whose malice and vindictiveness had sparked that arrest, should pay the price, and thereby reset the scales of justice.

Following review, Bedfordshire changed tack and a settlement for the payment of additional compensation and costs was agreed. 

As stated at the beginning of this blog, for both Mr Matthews and myself, this claim – particularly the second claim against Bedfordshire was always about principle rather than monetary amounts.

Mr Matthews had vented his frustration with Bedfordshire Police by writing them a letter whose worst ‘offence’ was a spirit of sarcasm, expressing his feelings about the false accusation they had recorded about him. In response, Bedfordshire Police’s high echelons took out their frustration at Mr Matthews by setting him up for arrest – here was a gross imbalance of power and manifest abuse of that power by the Police.

The bravery and endeavour of people such as Mr Matthews, who refuse to be cowed in the face of Police denials and threats of legal costs are essential in ensuring that our Police services operate according to the proper rule of law, for the good of all in our society, including the Policing institutions themselves.

How Lancashire Constabulary Used my Client as Bait to Catch a Corrupt Officer and Paid the Price

In a report on corruption within the Police service published in 2012, the then police watchdog, the IPCC, identified the abuse of authority by officers for sexual gain as a key corruption threat that needed urgent attention. The enquiry had been prompted by the case of the Northumbria Police Constable, Stephen Mitchell, who was jailed for life in January 2011 for carrying out sex attacks on vulnerable women, including prostitutes and heroin addicts, whilst he was on duty. Claire Philipson, a director of Wearside Women In Need, who supported some of Mitchell’s victims, said at the time-

What you have here is the untouched tip of an iceberg in terms of sexually questionable behaviour and attitudes. The police service, in my experience, has an incredibly macho culture and women are seen as sexual objects”. 

Ms Phillipson’s assessment was particularly prescient; although it has taken repeated criticism by both the new Police watchdog, the IOPC and Her Majesties Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (see their 2019 report, Shining A Light On Betrayal: Abuse of Position for a Sexual Purpose) it appears that this type of Police corruption is at last being tackled head on and rooted out. You only need to trawl through recent media reports and the IOPC website to identify case after case of an officer disciplined or sacked for inappropriate contact or seeking to establish a relationship with a victim of crime or other vulnerable person.

Many women who have been abused by corrupt Police officers are reluctant to step forward and report their abuser. I have written about this previously. There are many reasons for this, including low self-esteem, shame, denial and fear of the consequences (see my blog post: Why It’s Crucial to Expose Sexual Misconduct by Police Officers). Another factor can be ignorance; a failure by the victim to realise that they have been exploited (Read: Consenting Adults? Police Officers Exploiting Female Victims).

On further reflection, there is yet another reason; why would a woman who has been taken advantage of by a Police officer when at her most vulnerable, then turn to that organisation to report that officer and have any hope or confidence in gaining justice? That in turn creates a difficulty for a Police Force who suspect that an officer is abusing his position, are anxious to take action and yet can’t prove criminality or misconduct without the victim’s cooperation. This was apparently the case for Lancashire Constabulary in November 2016.

Senior officers suspected that PC Ihsan Ali was grooming vulnerable women he had met in his role as an “immediate response officer” in Blackburn and Burnley, for a sexual purpose. Officers in the Anti-corruption unit had approached several women with whom PC Ali had previously had contact because of his role, and yet none were willing to cooperate.

By this stage, PC Ali had been under investigation for five months. Communication data from his mobile phone (between July – December 2016) revealed that he was in contact with a number of potentially vulnerable female victims of domestic violence. This contact was described as “disproportionate” and “extremely concerning”. Senior Police leaders decided, however, that available evidence at that time was not sufficiently compelling to bring criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings. In the circumstances, the Anti-corruption unit set up a “safeguarding strategy” whereby the officer was placed under covert surveillance and his mobile phone, email and computer systems use was monitored on a daily basis.

Notwithstanding these concerns and reservations about PC Ali,  he was nonetheless allowed to continue to act as an immediate response officer and it was in this capacity that he met my client, Laura on the 26 March 2017.

In 2014/15, Laura had been in an abusive relationship. She had been obliged to contact Lancashire Constabulary on a number of occasions. Her ex- partner was arrested and in June 2016 given a restraining order.

On the 26 March 2017, Laura was confronted/harassed by her ex- partner’s parents, which was a potential breach of the restraining order. Laura was scared and reported the incident to the Police.

Later that day, PC Ali was deployed to Laura’s parents’ home address. Laura gave a full report of what had happened. She found PC Ali to be professional, attentive and caring. He took a detailed statement and advised that he would take necessary action.

After a few days, Laura began to receive texts from PC Ali providing updates as regards the investigation.

A short time later, she received a text from PC Ali from a different phone mobile phone number (PC Ali’s personal number). He advised that “It would have been frowned upon” if he continued to use his work phone to communicate with Laura and “As long as you don’t grass me, I’ll be alright”. 

PC Ali then sent multiple inappropriate texts with the clear intention of developing a sexual relationship with Laura. Ultimately, Laura invited PC Ali to attend her home address on the evening of 7 April 2017, less than 2 weeks after he had first responded to her distress call. 

PC Ali arrived late and when he did, he parked some distance from the house. He explained that he knew of Police colleagues who lived in the area and he wanted to keep his affairs private. Laura made PC Ali a drink and they spent time talking. After about 15 minutes, there was a knock at the door. Laura established that Police officers were at her door. They entered and arrested PC Ali for misconduct in public office.

Lancashire Police now had concrete evidence of wrongdoing and it appears that they were now able to persuade three other women who had been groomed by Ali to cooperate and give evidence. 

PC Ali was subsequently prosecuted for misconduct in public office. He pleaded not guilty and the case proceeded to trial in January 2018. Laura and three other women who PC Ali had abused were obliged to give evidence. On the 6 February 2018, PC Ali was found guilty and was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment, and subsequently dismissed by Lancashire Constabulary.

Laura realised that PC Ali must have already been under investigation in the days before his arrest; how else could the officers have tracked PC Ali to her home? What she did not know was the scale of that operation and how long it had been going on for.

I intimated a claim on behalf of Laura seeking compensation for misfeasance in public office. 

In response, Lancashire Constabulary surprisingly denied liability, arguing that PC Ali had at all material times engaged solely in pursuing his own private interests for which they were not liable. Certain documents were disclosed that made it clear that Laura was effectively hung out as bait in order to allow the Police to catch PC Ali “in the act”. Senior officers in Lancashire Constabulary knew, or at the very least suspected, that PC Ali was taking advantage of vulnerable women whom  he had met in his capacity as a police officer, yet permitted him to investigate Laura’s case and come into contact with her.

Lancashire Constabulary had allowed PC Ali to manipulate and pursue a sexual relationship with Laura for the benefit of proving his misconduct rather than seeking to protect Laura from this harm. They were aware of the danger that PC Ali posed, yet continued to allow him the opportunity to continue with that behaviour and/or decided that it was better to allow him to prey on yet another vulnerable woman in order to catch him ‘red handed’ rather than seeking to protect Laura by warning her or preventing PC Ali from following through on his nefarious arrangements. 

On Laura’s behalf, I was obliged to issue court proceedings. Lancashire Constabulary initially maintained their denial and the case was soon listed for trial in the High Court. However, I’m pleased to report that on review, Lancashire Constabulary have backed down and agreed to pay my client substantial damages and issue an apology. The case has recently been highlighted in a BBC news report, and Laura welcomes the spotlight which has thereby been shone on this important issue.

I accept that Police Forces across England and Wales are now prioritising allegations of sexual misconduct by police officers and doing much more than ever before to root out such corrupt officers. In doing so however they must not lose sight of the victim, and in particular they must not, as they did in Laura’s case, risk making her additionally a victim of their own misconduct and breach of trust by disregarding her safety and welfare, in their pursuit of the abuser.