Has the National Probation Service failed to protect you?

One of the primary roles of the National Probation Service is public protection.  To ensure the public are protected from offenders who present a high risk of serious harm to other people, the National Probation Service has the authority to recall offenders from the community back to prison where they are in breach of the terms of their release or when it seems that the risk they pose can no longer be safely managed in the community.

I have previously blogged about situations when probation companies have got it wrong and have by mistake recalled prisoners who have not in fact breached their licence conditions, see here and here.

But Probation can also get it wrong in failing to ensure that prisoners who do breach their licence conditions are recalled to prison, allowing those individuals the opportunity to harm others.

A particularly high profile case is that of Joseph McCann who whilst on release from prison committed multiple violent and sexual offences in April and May 2019.  His case was the subject of significant media scrutiny and ultimately a review by the Chief Inspector of Probation who identified significant failings in McCann’s supervision by Probation Staff, as well as policy failures at a higher level.

Sadly, the McCann case is not a one off.

I am currently acting on behalf of Helen Roberts.

In early 2016, Helen met Simon Dorset and after a few months of dating, moved in with him.

When she first met Mr Dorset, he identified himself as Simon John North. He told her that he had been in prison for armed robbery offences and that he was subject to stringent licence conditions.

Whilst Simon was indeed on licence, in fact his sentence did not relate to armed robbery but rather multiple rapes, kidnap, attempted kidnap, wounding, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and false imprisonment; all offences which had been committed against Simon’s former partner.  He had been sentenced in his real name, Simon Dorset to a discretionary life sentence at Liverpool Crown Court in September 2004. His tariff was set at 7.5 years which expired in 2011, and he was released in July 2015 at the discretion of the Parole Board.

Mr Dorset was released with standard licence conditions together with additional conditions as follows;

  • To reside at an Approved Premises (AP),
  • Not to approach his victim,
  • To observe a curfew at the AP from 19.00 to 07.00,
  • Daily AP reporting,
  • To inform his Probation Officer of any intimate relationships,
  • To observe an exclusion zone.

Helen quickly established that Mr Dorset was a controlling, manipulative, possessive and violent man. She was kept prisoner in her home and beaten and raped by him on multiple occasions.  She was, in short, trapped in a mentally and physically abusive relationship and was unable to extricate herself. 

In May 2017, Helen became pregnant.

In August 2017, Merseyside Police received a report that Mr Dorset was committing domestic abuse against Helen, and yet no action was taken.

In September 2017, Mr Dorset told Helen that they would be relocating to Huddersfield.

Upon relocation, the level of emotional and physical abuse Helen suffered escalated.

On several occasions,  Helen was able to briefly escape to a Women’s Refuge.

In January 2018, Helen gave birth 6 weeks prematurely. Several days after doing so, on or about 23 January 2018 and after having visited the baby in hospital, Helen managed to escape from Mr Dorset and alert the Police.

Mr  Dorset was soon arrested and following investigation, he was finally recalled to prison.

Mr Dorset was subsequently prosecuted for various offences relating to his abusive relationship with Helen and – remarkably – another woman and in June 2019 was found guilty of multiple counts of rape, controlling and coercive behaviour, threats to kill and false imprisonment. He was given a further life sentence with a minimum of 32 years in prison.

Following the conclusion of the criminal case, the National Probation Service carried out a review of Mr Dorset’s probation. 

Prior to his release in 2015, an Offender Assessment System (OASys) assessment was carried out and Mr Dorset was assessed as high risk of serious harm to others.

The National Probation Service (NPS) was responsible for Mr Dorset’s supervision whilst on licence.  In October 2015, management of Mr Dorset was transferred from Probation Officer OM2 to OM3.

In a Victim Summary Report (VSR) prepared by the NPS in March 2020, OM3’s management of Mr Dorset was found to be far from satisfactory and lacking in a number of respects. In October 2016, Mr Dorset’s risk of serious harm was reduced to “medium”, but without proper analysis or approval.  Further, OM3’s supervision of Mr Dorset was found to be “superficial” with;

  • Insufficient attention paid to his mental health;
  • Insufficient focus on his specific risk factors and offending behaviour and in particular his lifestyle by reference to disclosures and changes in his circumstances; and
  • Insufficient regard paid to his lack of engagement.

Yet further, the VSR also stated that there had been insufficient higher management oversight of OM3’s management of Mr Dorset (and later OM4’s management of Mr Dorset) such that OM3’s failures went unnoticed.

In March 2017, management of Mr Dorset was transferred from OM3 to OM4.

Once again, the VSR found OM4’s management of Mr Dorset to be “superficial” with records not being filed contemporaneously and when records were  filed, as being “incorrect and not factual” such that the reviewer had “little confidence in his recording.” Again, the VSR established that there had been insufficient management of Mr Dorset, such that OM4’s failures went unnoticed.

My client is now bringing a claim against the Ministry of Justice for negligence and violation of her human rights in that had NPS properly supervised Mr Dorset, he would not have been in a position to abuse Helen mentally and physically from March 2015 until his recall in January 2018.

I am pleased to report that in response the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) – the governmental parent body of the NPS-  have confirmed that they are willing to negotiate settlement and I am in the process commissioning medical evidence and investigating the value of the claim.

The public needs to have confidence that violent and dangerous offenders when released from prison will be properly monitored and the risks that they pose minimised, and I am pleased that the MOJ appears to recognise this; although hopefully in the next such scenario it will be preventative measures rather than damage limitation which we see the NPS performing.

All names changed.  

Power and Irresponsibility: Wrongful Arrest for breach of a Non-Molestation Order

When a relationship breaks down and there is an allegation of abuse, it is common for either one or both parties to apply to the Family Court for either a Non-Molestation Order and/ or an Occupation Order.

A Non-Molestation Order is essentially an injunction aimed at stopping one ex-partner from taking certain abusive actions, for example harassing or pestering the other. It is a Civil Order that is granted by a Judge or Magistrate and typically lasts 12 months.

Occupation Orders often go hand in hand with Non-Molestation Orders and are used where the home is jointly owned or rented and it is necessary to restrict or exclude access. 

Often, either the Non-Molestation Order or the Occupation Order will carry a power of arrest in the event of a breach.

The precise stipulation of these Non-Molestation Orders or Occupation Orders can often be incredibly complicated especially when young children and/or a family pet is involved, and arrangements for “access” are required so that people still get on with living their lives whilst observing certain restrictions about contact and location etc.

In my experience, Police Officers routinely misunderstand and misinterpret such Orders and this can have terrible consequences.

Take for example my client Elaine Webber. As at October 2019, Elaine and her husband were living together in the matrimonial home whilst in the midst of an acrimonious separation and divorce.

To try and accommodate both parties and their children, elaborate Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders were drafted and agreed by which Elaine and her estranged husband were forbidden from ‘molesting’ the other and by which they each had access to certain sections of their home at set times.

The agreement was ratified by a Court Order and the relevant sections were as follows;

Applicant:  Wife

Respondent: Husband

Non Molestation Order

The following non-molestation orders are made against both parties

  1. Neither party shall harass or pester the other or encourage any other person to do so.
  1. Neither party shall cause or threaten physical harm to the other or encourage any other person to do so.
  1. Neither party shall remove or restrict or otherwise obstruct the other’s use of their personal chattels including cars.
  1. Neither party shall denigrate the other or display verbal abuse to one another, particularly in the presence of the children.
  1. The family dog shall not be permitted into the family home save when the respondent is allowed access to the property.  For the avoidance of doubt the dog shall be permitted in the basement flat with the respondent at all times.

The following non-molestation order is made against the applicant only;

  1. The applicant shall not remove, hide or otherwise meddle with the respondent’s medication.

The following non-molestation order is made against the respondent only;

  1. In the event that funds that are not joint funds, have been removed by the respondent as of today’s date as accepted by the respondent…….. and insofar as they have not already been returned, the respondent shall return those funds to the account from which they were debited.

Occupation Order

The occupation of the family home shall be regulated as follows:

  1. The respondent shall occupy the downstairs separately-accessed self-contained flat from ……. (hereon) and must not occupy the family home and its surrounding gardens, land and outbuildings save as follows:
  1. On week 1 from 7am until 8.30am on Tuesdays and Fridays and from 3.45pm until 10pm on Wednesdays and Fridays;
  • On week 2 from 7am until 8.30am on Mondays and Wednesdays and from 3.45pm until 10pm on Mondays and Thursdays;
  • On week 1 from 7am until 11.30am and from 3.45pm until 10pm on Saturdays and on Week 2 from 7am until 11.30am and from 4pm until 10pm on Sundays.
  • At all times when the applicant is abroad on holiday – the applicant shall give the respondent no less than one week’s written notice of her trips abroad.
  1. While the respondent has access to the family home as set out above, he must not enter or attempt to enter the marital bedroom or the office or the upstairs flat.
  1. While the respondent has access to the family home as set out above, the applicant shall be permitted to use the marital bedroom, office and lounge, but shall not use other parts of the property save for access.
  1. The applicant shall not enter the basement flat during the respondent’s occupation of it as per the terms of this order above.

The Order was to remain in place until financial matters had been agreed between the parties or by one year ahead whichever was later.

The Order ended with the following;

Note to Arresting Officer:

Under section 42A of the Family Law Act 1996, breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.  It is an arrestable offence and it is not necessary to obtain a warrant.

“A person who without reasonable excuse does anything that he is prohibited from doing by a non-molestation order is guilty of an offence.”

Family Law Act 1996, section 42A(1).

So, the Court Order made it plain that the Non Molestation Order carried with it a power of arrest,  but the Occupation Order did not.

About three weeks after this Order was drawn up, Elaine went out with a friend for the evening.  She returned to the premises at approximately 21.30.

Upon arrival, Elaine found the front door wide open and the premises in darkness.

Elaine was concerned for the welfare of her youngest son and so entered the basement flat.

Such entry was in breach of the Occupation Order but not the Non-Molestation Order.

Elaine found her children watching TV.  Her youngest child was due in school the next day and she reminded him of his pending bedtime.

At this, Elaine became aware that her estranged husband was filming her on his mobile phone and whilst doing so reciting the terms of the Court Order.

Satisfied that her son was well and would be going to bed shortly, Elaine left, thinking nothing more of the situation and she then retired for the evening

In the early hours of the next morning Elaine was woken to loud knocking and shouting on her bedroom door.

Elaine opened the door and established that two Police Officers had gained entry to the house.

Elaine was advised by the Officers that she had breached the terms of the Court Order and that she was to be arrested.

Elaine was confused but immediately felt that she had been ‘set up’ by her husband.

Elaine  was allowed to dress and was then obliged to accompany the Officers to a nearby parked car. 

Elaine was then transported to her local Police Station where she was processed and placed in a cell.

In due course, Elaine was interviewed where she answered all questions.

Elaine was then returned to her cell.  Eventually, she was charged with breaching the Non Molestation Order and kept in custody overnight to attend Court the next day.

The next day, Elaine was taken in handcuffs from the Police Station to a waiting van and then on to her local Magistrates Court.  On arrival, Elaine was again placed in handcuffs and taken to the cells beneath Court.

Eventually, Elaine appeared before the Magistrates and was represented by the Duty Solicitor. On advice, she pleaded not guilty.

Elaine was granted bail and was released.

Elaine was subsequently obliged to attend Court on two further occasions.  At the later hearing, she was advised that proceedings were discontinued. 

What a travesty. Elaine had breached the Occupation Order because of concern for her youngest child, but was not in breach of the Non-Molestation Order. There was no power of arrest attached to the Occupation Order and yet she was arrested, detained for 32 hours, transported to Court and then obliged to attend Court on two further occasions.

Elaine is now pursuing a claim for compensation for her unlawful arrest and I anticipate recovering a five figure sum on her behalf.

Relationship breakdowns can be stressful enough without the Police wading in heavy-handed, failing to act objectively and misunderstanding and misinterpreting key documents.

All too often Police Officers seem to operate under a mind-set of ‘arrest first, ask questions later’ rather than properly considering whether there are alternatives to arrest and, indeed, whether there is actually a power of arrest at all.  The onus on the Police to exercise intelligence, discretion and caution when it comes to arresting a party to a messy and complex matrimonial family dispute should be all the greater.

All names changed.

Assaulted by Security Staff: the Threat Posed by ‘Private Policemen’

Many of you may have read the disturbing story of the death of Jack Barnes at the hands of Manchester Metrolink staff in October 2016, following the verdict of unlawful killing pronounced by the Coroner’s Court last month.

Jack, aged 29, had been on a night out with friends in Manchester when the group had become involved in a dispute with Metrolink staff. Jack foolishly but harmlessly swung a drawstring bag at the Metrolink workers, causing four of them to “take the law into their own hands”. Four Metrolink CSRs (Customer Service Representatives) breached all of their training and policies by pursuing Jack from the station, before catching him almost a mile away, and holding him down on the ground outside a restaurant on Deansgate.

Body camera footage captured one of the Metrolink ‘posse’ – Stephen Rowlands, a former Police Officer – threatening to put Jack ‘to sleep’. The camera then recorded Jack on eight separate occasions telling the men who were holding him down that he couldn’t breathe but –  in a scene shockingly reminiscent of what happened in the last few moments of George Floyd’s life – his desperate pleas for them to ease the pressure on his neck were ignored. Within moments, Jack suffered a cardiac arrest and although an ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital, he never left it, dying there some seven weeks’ later from his injuries.

Jack’s grieving mother told the BBC that in her view the Metrolink staff had hunted her son down like an animal.

Greater Manchester Police had initially arrested the 4 Metrolink CSRs, including Mr Rowlands, who gave evidence to the Coroner’s Court about his 13 years of experience with that self-same force and the ‘restraint techniques’ he had learned as an Officer, but released them without charge.

Metrolink’s explicit policy for situations such as this was for their staff to ‘walk away’ – not give chase to somebody for a mile, and then assault him as if they were some kind of private Police force, administering their own ‘rough justice’.

Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour by private company staff with security or quasi- security roles, acting out what we might consider to be Police or paramilitary fantasies, or just their own anger and aggression, is all too common.

I am currently acting on behalf of David Roberts (name changed), who in October 2020 was shopping in a well-known chain store in London.

David was challenged by a security guard as he was on his way out of the store, having just purchased an umbrella. Because the item had only cost £4, David had declined a ‘paper receipt’ from the cashier, as he was entitled to do. David told the security guard that all he needed to do was radio the cashier and she would confirm that his umbrella was ‘legitimate’ but the man was unhappy with this and tried to drag David physically back to the cash desk, breaking the umbrella in the process…when David then demanded the man’s name so he could make a complaint, the security guard refused.

The cashier had now corroborated that David’s (now broken) umbrella had indeed been purchased by him, and so he was begrudgingly offered a replacement for the one their colleague had broken – however, a stand-off then developed when the security personnel refused to tell David the name of their colleague who had first been aggressive with him, and even threatened to ‘call the Police’ on him – clearly all designed to frustrate his attempt to complain, and to intimidate him into going away.

When David refused to do so (until he knew the man’s name) 3 of the security guards commenced a vicious assault upon him – apparently continuing the argument in the only language they understood: David was dragged to a ‘back room’, being struck by the security guards along the way, and subjected to a tirade of abusive language.

In the back room, whilst one of the security guards took David’s phone (with which he had been recording their interactions on the shop floor) others pinned David down on the ground. His arms were held down, and one of the men knelt on his neck/chest; once again this is an incident which raises the unavoidable spectre of George Floyd in our minds. It could all have ended in tragedy, though fortunately, unlike George Floyd or Jack Barnes, David would escape with his life.

The assault ended when the Metropolitan Police – called by a third party – arrived, and not a moment too soon, in my opinion.

Now the tables have been turned and the men who assaulted David are facing investigation, and hopefully prosecution, by the Police and CPS; but David is still left with the physical and mental scars of what happened to him, and the thought of how much worse it might have been.

Far too many security staff, it seems, are itching for the slightest excuse to flex their muscles, power- fantasies or whatever other urge drives them. One of the most shocking aspects of the incident was how complacently the security guards, bullies in uniform, apparently thought they could get away with this.

As soon as the criminal process is over, I will be instituting civil proceedings on behalf of David against the security guard’s employer for the loss and damage they have caused to him, and both David and I hope this will teach a retailer which boasts one of the most well known ‘high street’ business names in the UK a valuable lesson about the quality and calibre of men whom they employ and supervise.

We don’t live in the ‘Wild West’ – that era of hair-trigger violence and vigilante ‘justice’ – but it, unfortunately, seems to live in the  hearts and minds of too many security staff, employed at high profile businesses and venues, whose behaviour threatens the life and limb of anyone these cowboys take a dislike to.

Know Your Rights When It Comes To Police Traffic Stops

“What is the offence I’ve committed?

I’ve stopped you under Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act.

What is Section 163?

Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act gives me the power to stop you.

What is your suspicion on me first of all?

I don’t have any suspicion, it’s Section 163.

Well if you don’t have suspicion, I’m sorry you can’t stop me for no reason. I’m insured, taxed, I’m a very old driver.”

This was my client’s reaction to being stopped by the police whilst driving his car. Is the driver right to assert that the officer cannot stop him without suspicion? Or is the officer correct to state that that he doesn’t need any suspicion of an offence to lawfully pull the driver over?

In America, for a traffic stop to be lawful the officer must have “probable cause”; i.e. a strong, unbiased reason for suspecting that the driver had committed a traffic violation.

But in this context, probable or reasonable cause does not apply in England and Wales, there is no requirement for an officer to have any reason – let alone reasonable grounds or suspicion –  to stop a person when driving.

Under Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988, a constable in uniform has the power to stop any vehicle that is being driven on the road. If required to stop, a person must do so, otherwise they will be guilty of an offence.

This means that the power can be exercised ‘completely at random’, but nevertheless entirely lawfully. For example, a constable in uniform can stop every third car he sees, or every red car –  and if required to stop and the driver fails to do so, then they are guilty of an offence.

Given that there is a power to stop a vehicle on the road and non-compliance potentially results in a criminal sanction, it must be the case that the police have a power to detain (not arrest, unless of course the person fails to comply) a person for the purposes specified under the RTA 1988.

Section 164 of RTA 1988 provides that on being required to do so by a constable in uniform, a person must produce his licence for examination, so as to enable the constable to ascertain the person’s name and address, the date of issue of the licence and the authority by which it was issued. Further, the person must, on being required to produce his licence by a constable in uniform, be able to state his date of birth. Again, a failure to produce the licence may result in the person being found guilty of an offence, unless certain circumstances apply. It is a defence to such a charge for the person to show, for example, that he produced his licence at a specified time at a police station, within seven days of being required to produce it (known colloquially as ‘being given a producer’).

Section 165 of RTA 1988 requires that a person must give his name and address, and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle and produce documents such as the insurance certificate or a test certificate or goods vehicle test certificate.

Thus, so far in the encounter with my client the Police Officer had acted lawfully.  The conversation continued;

“Prove it, (i.e. that the driver was insured, taxed) get out of the car”.

“No I’ll give you my ID.  I don’t have to get out of my car, that’s the law, I don’t have to get out of my car.  There’s my ID (my client handed over his driving licence at this point) and check it.  I didn’t refuse to comply with the rules…”

“Hand me your keys”.

“I’m not going to hand you my keys”.

“Give me your keys because I don’t want you to start driving away”.

“I’m not driving away anywhere.  That’s why I pulled in a secure location”.

“Do you want to be done for obstruct police because that’s where we are at the moment.  I’m trying to do a road traffic check on you”.

“Go check it, go check it”.

“Once you’ve given me your keys”.

This is where it now gets interesting.

There is no obligation on the part of the driver to get out, or hand over his keys (although the Police Federation are campaigning for an amendment to the law which would give Police Officers the authority to require drivers to turn off their engine when stopped and also to demand, where appropriate, that all occupants leave a vehicle).  

Given that my client refused to hand over his keys, the Police Officer now grabbed and handcuffed his right hand and sought to extract him from the car.  Somewhat belatedly, the Officer told my client he was under arrest for obstruction, notwithstanding that my client had stopped the vehicle and had handed over his driving licence.

Eventually, by reason of the force applied, my client released his seatbelt and got out whereupon he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back.  My client was then ushered into the back of the Officer’s car and his details were checked.  Having verified his details, the Officer then de-arrested my client and released the handcuffs.

My client is now bringing a claim against the Police.  Liability is denied on the basis that my client’s actions prevented the Officer from safely confirming my client’s information in accordance with the Road Traffic Act.  The trial is scheduled for later this year.

I believe that this encounter escalated because both parties failed to fully understand the law governing traffic stops – a mistake far more reprehensible on the part of the Police Officer as it resulted in his assault upon and arrest of my client.

I would advise all drivers to understand their obligations under the Road Traffic Act; but I also call upon our Chief Constables to ensure as a matter of urgency that their officers understand – and respect – the limits of their own authority under that Act.

Do Police Officers Uphold the Law, or Are They Above The Law?

I was pleased to report on Friday that PC Mark Knights, who assaulted my client Ben Joynes by head-butting and handcuffing him when Ben attempted to complain about the officer calling him a “fat cunt”, has now been dismissed from Derbyshire Police for gross misconduct and placed upon the Police Barred List.

This is a measure more of justice for Ben, after the officer had escaped a custodial sentence, being punished by Derby Magistrates Court with only a 6 month ‘curfew’ order – at a time when the country is in any event ‘locked down’ by the ongoing Coronavirus restrictions –  and a minor costs/ compensation fine.

This type of ‘slap on the wrist’ punishment for (ex) PC Knights from the criminal court, was mirrored by the equally light sentence handed out to West Midlands PC Oliver Banfield by Leicester Magistrates Court last week. CCTV footage captured the drunken Banfield calling Emma Homer a “fucking slag” as she walked home at night, then grabbing Emma by her neck and forcing her to the ground. As Banfield repeatedly shouted at Emma to “get on the ground” he also started quoting “The Police and Criminal Evidence Act” (PACE).  Emma later described the assault as seeming as if Banfield was “fulfilling a violent cop movie fantasy.”

After Banfield’s lawyer persuaded the Court not to impose a community service order on the rogue officer – because it would be difficult for Banfield to have to “work with criminals” (perhaps the word “other” should be inserted in that sentence) – he was punished with only a 3 month night-time curfew. Hardly a difficult burden to bear at this particular time, and quite shocking given the physical and verbal aggression displayed by yet another man who needs to be stripped of his warrant card as soon as possible.

These cases are perfect examples of how Police Officers, in my experience, seemed to be ‘insulated’ against custodial sentences in situations where ordinary members of the public would probably be facing jail time. The judge in sentencing PC Knights for his assault upon my client reflected on how the verdict would inevitably lead to the loss of Knights’ Police career (not that he went quietly – rather contesting the misconduct charges in an aggressively unrepentant manner) and I personally believe that such thinking weighs heavily in judicial decisions regarding criminal Police Officers i.e almost as though the loss of their job was going to be ‘punishment enough’. To my mind, this is not right, and is akin to giving Police Officers an extra video game ‘life’ – allowing them to ‘get away’ with a criminal offence that would send other people to prison.

And even that is only when the officer is actually charged with a criminal offence for their egregious actions – in this respect PC Knowles of West Midlands Police got away ‘scot free’ after crippling my client Bryan Allden’s hand in a completely unprovoked attack, whilst the justice which was achieved for Ben Joynes was with no particular thanks to either Derbyshire Police or the Crown Prosecution Service. It is salutary to recall that the prosecution of PC Knights was not, in fact, instituted by the CPS – despite the weight of evidence against the Officer – but by Rob Warner, Crimebodge’s crusader against Police abuses and corruption. The private prosecution was then adopted by the CPS and brought to a successful conclusion, but the fact is that the CPS initially refused to ‘run’ the case (the CPS have the power to assume conduct of a private prosecution and then ‘kill’ it, as many people have found out to their frustration and disappointment).

Ultimately, if we want the answer to the question which is the title of this blog to be the correct one, then we need to see both more rogue officers being prosecuted in the criminal courts (rather than dealt with behind the closed doors of the complaint investigation process) and officers receiving fit and proper sentences for their crimes and misdemeanours.

Protesting the Police Bill

When lawyers such as myself who fight for justice on behalf of victims of Police misconduct, find former Chief Constables adding their voices to ours in warning how the new Police Bill is an encroachment too far upon our civil liberties, then I think that is a sign for the rest of society to pay attention.

As reported in the Independent, Sir Peter Fahy (former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester) gave an interview to Times Radio this week, in which he castigated the Bill. Stressing how “the right to protest, the right to gather, the right to have a voice is fundamental to our democracy and particularly British democracy” Sir Peter highlighted how the proposed legislation was “putting in some really dodgy definitions which the Police are supposed to make sense of…This weekend has shown the crucial importance of the right to protest and you’ve got to be really wary of more legislation being rushed through, just because certain politicians didn’t like certain demonstrations in the Summer.”

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed its second reading in the House of Commons this week, grants the Police stronger powers to control, restrict, and even criminalise those taking part in non-violent protests which the Police decide to designate as causing “a serious disruption” to the public or to organisations – by super-charging sections of the Public Order Act 1986. I am particularly concerned about how the discretionary element which is inevitable in interpreting such legislation may allow the Police to infringe our rights of freedom to assemble, of expression and of civil protest which are essential to the existence and proper functioning of a liberal democracy. The Public Order Act is already notorious for being the origin of many an unlawful arrest in my experience, owing to the vagueness of its definitions in relation to “threatening, abusive and disorderly” behaviour and the discretion this gives Police Officers to arrest an individual where no other definable crime may have been committed.

The bill also includes proposals to make the defacing of statues and monuments an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail; a draconian range of sentence, presumably designed to protect Edward Colston from another impromptu dip in those same waters of Bristol Harbour which once gave float to his slave-ships.

The dangers of Police overreach of powers have been amply demonstrated over the last 12 months in terms of the relish with which many officers seemed to seize their ability to enforce curfew upon the streets of “Lockdown Britain” – issuing unnecessary fines, interrogating individuals in a “papers please” style of dictatorial policing, and making numerous unlawful arrests and interferences in people’s lives. Sadly this came to a head with the Police action against the peaceful vigil being held by women on Clapham Common last week, in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard.

I would say that the existing culture of “toxic masculinity” which exists within the Police service, does not need another shot in the arm from the authoritarian tendencies of this Police bill.

I would urge people to read up on the proposed Police powers which will flow from this bill, and to consider adding their voices to those who have already spoken up against it. Please also consider signing the petition which has been created by the Human Rights campaign group Liberty, through the link below. Public protests and assemblies are the very bedrock of democracy.

Dear Jane,

NO MORE POLICE POWERS

I’m getting in touch today to ask you to take urgent action against the Government’s dangerous new Policing Bill. 

It will give police more powers to shut down protest, stop and search without suspicion, and criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities. 

SIGN OUR PETITION 

Protest isn’t a gift from the State – it’s our fundamental right and under human rights law, States have an obligation to facilitate protest, not suppress it. 

Yet this is exactly what the Government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to achieve. 

Not content with all but banning protest during the pandemic, the Government is now using this public health crisis as cover to make emergency measures permanent. Its new Policing Bill is an all-out assault on basic civil liberties

The anti-protest Bill will:

  • Give police the choice on where, when and how people can protest 
  • Potentially criminalise the entire way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities 
  • Create new stop and search powers that will exacerbate discriminatory over-policing of people of colour. 

We cannot allow these powers to pass. Now is the time for us to come together to stand up to this aggressive and egregious power grab. 

Please sign our petition today

Best wishes,

Emmanuelle Andrews

Policy and Campaigns Officer

Can the Police be trusted to Police their own?

Most of the UK has this week been following the harrowing story of the disappearance of Sarah Everard, a young woman walking home through the streets of London, who vanished on the evening of 3 March.

PC Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police Officer, has now been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Sarah, and it is believed that her body has been found.

There are much wider issues here for the whole of society to address in terms of how we make our streets safer for women; we cannot allow it to be only the right of men to walk home alone without fear of the dark. The historical injustice of men and women having to live in two separate worlds, where one sex can take the safety of the streets for granted, and the other cannot, must be overturned and it is encouraging to see the complex conversations which we must have about this subject beginning already. Hopefully the spotlight will not be allowed to fade from this ever-present threat to the lives of women, just as issues of racism have remained under close scrutiny and focus since the killing of George Floyd almost 12 months ago.

As a lawyer who specialises in dealing with cases involving Police misconduct however, I feel I have to address in particular the comments of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, who stated that she was “shocked and deeply disturbed” to learn that the suspect in Sarah’s murder was a Police officer, in light of subsequent developments which have led the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) to start an independent investigation.

The IOPC have announced that they are investigating whether Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) officers responded appropriately to a report of an incident of indecent exposure, believed to have involved Wayne Couzens, which occurred on 28 February, three days prior to Sarah’s disappearance.

The Commissioner’s reference to “shock”, coupled with the inference we may take from the IOPC involvement that there are concerns that Couzens may not have been dealt with appropriately for his offending because he was a Police officer rings a tragically familiar note in my experience.

I have recently concluded a claim brought by a young woman suffering from mental health issues, who was subject to abuse at the hands of PC Scott Johnson, then a serving officer in the MPS. Johnson and a colleague were called to the flat of my client (whom I will identify as Helen) after she had taken an overdose of drugs. They escorted her to hospital to receive emergency medical treatment, and whilst she was there, in a hospital bed, Johnson sexually assaulted her by making her touch his penis, and touching her breasts and vagina. Johnson claimed that such contact was ‘consensual’ but there can be no doubt that he must have known that Helen was in no position to give ‘consent’ in the circumstances; he not only knew that she had mental health problems, but that she had only recently taken an overdose of medication and alcohol and was manifestly still under the influence of the same. What he did was a terrible and predatory exploitation of a most vulnerable woman – a hospital patient no less.

Johnson is no longer a Police officer, and was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for the crime of misconduct in public office; but that charge of misconduct related only to the fact that Johnson subsequently entered into a relationship with my vulnerable client, arranging to meet her on several occasions for sex. He was specifically not charged with any offence of sexual assault despite admitting to the sexual contact between himself and Helen in the hospital room. I personally feel that failing to ensure such a charge was brought against Johnson was a dereliction of duty by the MPS officers investigating the case, and it leaves you with the nasty feeling that Johnson may have been ‘let off the hook’ because of his uniform.

Another victim of a predatory Police officer whom I represent is a young woman who was raped by Cheshire Police Officer Ian Naude when she was only 13 years old. Naude was able to use his position as a Police officer to gain access to my client and to “groom” her before carrying out the rape. He is now serving a long sentence of imprisonment; but my client is going to have to live with what he did to her for the rest of her life. Although the full force of the justice system was eventually brought to bear on Naude to make him pay for his crime, this was not before the investigating officers had ‘tipped’ Naude off about the investigation (allowing him to hide/ destroy evidence). It also came to light that Naude had been allowed to pass Cheshire Police’s “vetting” process when he applied to become a constable, despite the fact that Naude had previously been accused of rape by a woman in Staffordshire. He was admitted to the honourable rank and position of Police Constable, and raped my 13 year old client 7 months later.

All of this is why I would censure Cressida Dick’s comments regarding “shock”, as they speak of a dangerous institutional attitude amongst the Police regarding the calibre of the men who make up their ranks. If the Police are ‘shocked’ to uncover predators amongst their number, is that because they have a default assumption that Police officers are of greater moral fibre than the average person – is that why they fail to take seriously accusations against ‘one of their own’ in so many cases?

In such a situation, can we trust the Police to properly police themselves, or are they too often turning a blind eye to misconduct, whether criminal or otherwise, committed by their colleagues, out of a belief that the ‘greater good’ is served by Police loyalty towards their ‘brothers in arms’. Such an attitude would explain the pro-Police bias displayed by their professional complaints system, which I have blogged about on many previous occasions.

The reality is that being a Police officer endows an individual with considerable power over others, and opportunities to exploit that power. Predators, abusers, bullies and manipulators are naturally drawn towards sources of and opportunities to weld such power over the lives of others. Cressida Dick, and the Policing profession as a whole, needs to lose any default assumption that the men in its ranks have hands any cleaner than the rest of society.

Jury Selection and Police Deception

The world will be watching today as the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police Officer accused of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, begins. The distressing footage of Mr Floyd’s death was seen by millions of people and sparked huge protests on both sides of the Atlantic against structural racism and Police brutality. In the US, those protests often turned violent and episodes of looting occurred in several cities.

In those circumstances, the rigorous US procedure of jury selection, designed to weed out any bias or prejudice amongst the Jury towards one side or the other, will be even more complicated and fraught with difficulties. Potential jurors will have to complete a 16-page questionnaire including such questions as how many times they viewed the video of George Floyd’s death and whether they personally participated in any of the sweeping “Black Lives Matter” protests – or, indeed, had homes or businesses damaged during the riots associated with the same.

The jury selection process is therefore likely to be a highly contested ‘battlefield’ between the legal teams for Prosecution and Defence; with each set of lawyers entitled to ask the Trial Judge to dismiss potential jurors on the basis of perceived bias – or even, in a limited number of cases, for no specified reason at all (but what, we might imagine would be bias which is not explicit/ admitted to, but which the lawyers perceive on the basis of a juror’s racial/social/gender profile). Those latter dismissals are themselves open to challenge on the grounds of racial or sexual discrimination.

The selection of the 16 people who will make up the final Jury is therefore likely to take weeks to be completed, before the Trial proper commences. It is not at all uncommon in high stakes cases such as this for each party’s lawyers to bring in specialist ‘jury selection’ consultants who will help them analyse the background of the potential jurors, their questionnaire responses and decide how best to deploy their “peremptory challenges.”

Here in the UK the selection of the 12 members of a Crown Court Jury, to hear criminal cases, is more randomised and subject to much less proactive – or partisan – vetting. UK lawyers, for example, have no right of “peremptory challenge” (to request a juror be dismissed without specifying a reason), and there are no mechanisms designed to ‘balance’ the makeup of the jury on the grounds of race or gender.

Nevertheless, it goes without saying that UK law does require people to recuse themselves, or to be removed by the Judge from a Jury panel, if they are obviously biased or have a personal connection to the parties involved in a Trial (which might mean knowing not only a victim, defendant or witness but one of the lawyers or Police officers involved in the case).

That type of bias/ potential prejudice – close connection with a Police Officer who was part of the criminal investigation – reared its head in a particularly shocking way following the conviction of three men for the murder of Lynford Brewster, a Cardiff man, in June 2016. The three accused men went to trial in December 2016 at Cardiff Crown Court, and were duly convicted by the jury and each sentenced to life imprisonment.

Tragically, one of the members of that Jury was Lauren Jones, the girlfriend of the son of DC Rebecca Bryant of South Wales Police – who shortly after Lynford’s murder had been assigned as Family Liaison Officer to Lynford’s grieving mother, June Whittaker. DC Bryant had been in regular contact with June and other members of Lynford’s family during the investigation, and indeed it was DC Bryant who had accompanied June to the mortuary to identify her son’s body. DC Bryant had also prepared witness statements and was actually present at Court, with Lynford’s family, when the jury including her son’s girlfriend was empanelled.

During the empanelling process a number of potential jurors quite properly ‘disqualified’ themselves by confirming connections with the case – one being the mother-in-law of Lynford’s brother, the other knowing a witness who was a friend of one of the men accused of the murder. Both of these jurors were excused. There can have been no doubt, therefore, that all of the potential jurors were aware of the duty to declare such ‘conflicts of interest’ – but not only did Lauren Jones fail to declare her connection with one of the key officers involved in the criminal investigation, in a terrible dereliction of her duty, so did that officer herself.

In fact, to make things worse, text messages that were later discovered, revealed that DC Bryant actively encouraged Lauren Jones to keep their relationship ‘secret’ –

Don’t tell any of them who u r to me in case they think I’ve told u about it although u know I haven’t xxx.”

The messages also revealed that Ms Jones had another potentially prejudicial connection to the case, as she was a teacher at the school attended by one of Lynford Brewster’s nephews and therefore saw Lynford’s sister on a regular basis as one of the school parents. Ms Jones failed to declare this interest as well, and DC Bryant said nothing about it either.

It subsequently became clear that throughout the weeks of the murder trial, DC Bryant and Lauren Jones (or, as we might say, the Family Liaison Officer for the murdered man’s relatives and a Juror in whose hands rested the fate of the accused) were in regular contact with one another –  engaging in socialising together, sharing lifts home from Court, exchanging texts and telephone calls and – most callously- discussing lying to the Court about Ms Jones having an unavoidable appointment because the Trial dates were putting in jeopardy her pre-Christmas trip to the hairdressers…

When this sordid state of affairs inevitably came to light in February 2017 – someone evidently ‘tipped off’ the Defence lawyers that Ms Jones had a connection with DC Bryant – Lynford’s mother was contacted by South Wales Police with the awful news that DC Bryant’s conduct was being investigated and there was a real prospect of this leading to her son’s killers having their convictions quashed. The devastating effect which this news had upon a grieving mother who at that time was trying to come to terms with the brutal loss of her son can well be imagined. June felt utterly betrayed by DC Bryant, and the mounting ‘nightmare’ of the original verdict being quashed, which would lead to a re-trial and the possibility that the killers might ultimately escape justice, led June to attempt to take her own life in July 2017.  June was discovered by one of her daughters after taking a deliberate overdose of medication, and rushed to hospital, where fortunately the doctors were able to save her life. A terrible double-tragedy for her family had narrowly been averted.

As was sadly anticipated, the Court of Appeal in July 2018 quashed the convictions of the three men accused of murdering Lynford Brewster, and spoke in the following terms about DC Bryant’s reprehensible conduct-

The police inquiry’s dealings with the officer reveal that she lied in the initial stages to two officers about having had any relationship with the juror, leading to the inference that she realized that her connections with the juror were improper in the circumstances. It also appears that she was not truthful about the point at which she knew that the juror was involved in this murder trial.

This material reveals a shocking state of affairs. We have no hesitation in holding that the clearest case of bias on the part of the juror is established. Any fair-minded and informed observer would conclude from the facts that there was a real possibility or danger that the juror was biased. Despite ample opportunity, she failed to declare either her connection with an officer whom she knew was closely connected with the victim’s family or her connection with the deceased’s sister or her concerns about how that person might react if they met following a not guilty verdict. Moreover, the juror had shown herself willing to participate in a deception of the court in order to pursue relatively trivial arrangements for her own private satisfaction. Both parties failed utterly in their civic duty as citizens and both of them must have known that at the time.

Since the officer’s disciplinary proceedings have yet to take place, we say nothing further as to the outcome of them. However, it is crystal clear that this juror should never have sat on this trial and that the assertion of objective bias is fully made out.

In the circumstances, this trial was fatally flawed and the safety of the convictions is totally undermined. The folly of the juror and the police officer have wasted vast amounts of time and cost the public a great deal of money. Moreover, the agony for the victim’s family is inevitably prolonged. We very much regret that fact.

However, there has not been a fair and proper trial because of the conduct of the officer and the juror and in those circumstances it is our duty to act…

The silver lining to these terrible events, is that the three men were eventually convicted, for a second and final time, of Lynford’s murder and their life- sentences re-imposed, in March 2019, whilst DC Bryant was convicted of gross misconduct in June 2019 and dismissed without notice from the Police service.

None of those facts could soften the blow for June, and the other members of Lynford’s close family, of having to live for a second time through the trial re-counting in graphic detail Lynford’s murder, or of having to come to terms with DC Bryant’s betrayal. As June said, after learning of the contents of the text messages between DC Bryant and Lauren Jones – it was as if Lynford’s life didn’t matter to DC Bryant, as if it were all a joke to her.

If ever there was a story to reinforce the importance of Jury members being honest about potential prejudice in a case, this is it. I am currently acting on behalf of June is seeking compensation from South Wales Police for the mental trauma she continues to experience as a result of these events. It was clearly with much regret, and sympathy for June and her family, that the Judges of the Criminal Court of Appeal had to do their duty; it is a profound pity that DC Bryant apparently considered that entertaining her son’s girlfriend and helping her to arrange hair-appointments were of greater importance than her own duty as a Police Officer.

Justice Turns a Blind Eye: When Police Fail to Turn on Their Body Cameras (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog I reflected on the issue of Police Officers carrying out searches and arrests, whilst failing to record these events on their body worn cameras; I expressed my concerns by reference to two cases I am currently bringing against Merseyside Police, but I am aware of the same failings amongst many other Forces including the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands. It is clearly a wide-spread problem, and one which is likely aided and abetted by the apparent reluctance of Professional Standards departments within the Police to treat it with the gravity it deserves. Sadly, I think this is born out of the ingrained attitude of Professional Standards officers who presume – either naïvely or cynically – that Body Worn Video will invariably substantiate the account of the Police who are being complained about, rather than that of the complainant. This type of bias thinking was certainly betrayed by the comments of the complaint investigatior in the case of my client Connor, who seemed to feel that the only reason for bemoaning the failure of the Officers in that case to activate their cameras was because it “could have negated much of the complaint.” No consideration was given to how much of the complaint it could have upheld, of course…

So if this is the problem we are faced with, what is the best solution – does it lie in better training and  “culture change” amongst the Police; harsher disciplinary sanctions for defaulting Officers; a change in evidential law (presumptions in favour of those who have been denied video capture); better application of science and technology –  or perhaps a combination of all of these methods?

Tackling the first issue – Police perceptions of what Body Worn video is actually there for – would be a good starting point. We should ask the question: what is the purpose of the now near- universal deployment of body cameras to all ‘front line’ Officers? Surely the Police have not gone to such great public expense for ‘selfish’ reasons – the cameras should not be there for the protection and purposes of Officers alone, but for the protection of everyone – Police, public, suspects and victims alike – and should not therefore be treated as the ‘property’ of individual Officers to be operated at their discretion (whether actual or in effect, by a failure to properly punish ‘lax’ recording practices).

Moving on from this point, the consequences of not recording the full sequence of stop/search and arrest events should be made clear to Officers and should be far more serious than they currently are, in order to inculcate a culture of compliance amongst Officers who are often choosing to record only half of the picture – or indeed, none at all – thereby undermining both public trust and the efficiency and accuracy of the justice system.

I must say that I am personally in favour of a system of automatic activation of body camera recording modes, as has been suggested by some, to eliminate both innocent ‘human error’ and wilful non- compliance by negligent or actively abusive Officers. Body cameras could be keyed to switch on automatically if certain key words or level of voices/shouting are heard (in a manner similar to mobile phones). It has also been proposed that technology could be introduced to cause a ‘domino effect’ activation of nearby Officers’ cameras when the first goes into automatic record mode, so as to provide a fuller picture/ better angle upon events (experience has shown me that a more accurate view of an interaction often comes from the camera of an Officer standing at a distance, rather than the Officer who is immediately involved in a heated confrontation or tussle). At such a stroke, I believe, a great many of the ‘one person’s word against others’ credibility contests which currently ‘clog up’ the Police complaints process and the civil and criminal courts could be , if not ‘instantly’ resolved, certainly more speedily and equitably dealt with.

I would echo here the words of Mary Fan, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law, who in 2017 published a paper on the problem of missing Police body camera videos, and asserted –

Selective recording and non-recording poses the risk of subverting the promise that led communities across the nation to embrace more surveillance by police body cameras in exchange for improved accountability and transparency. If the problem is left unchecked, rather than being a tool of police accountability, body camera recordings could amplify the problems of a gross imbalance of power.

If the public’s half of the ‘social contract’ in this regard is to accept more intrusive surveillance of themselves by ‘Big Brother’ than ever before – then the surveillance has to flow in both directions, and there should be major questions asked of any assertion made by an Officer which is not backed up by his camera. The Courts, both civil and criminal can play an important part in this; although of course not every such incident actually gets to the stage of judicial scrutiny, for a wide variety of reasons.

Perhaps the acronym GOWISELY should become GOWISER, with the “R” establishing “recording” as an essential criterion of a legitimate stop & search.  

In terms of a search, or indeed an arrest, an inference to resolve any factual dispute in favour of the detained/ arrested person could be adopted by both Police Professional Standards units, Misconduct Panels and the Courts if there is a failure by the Officers on the scene to have recorded events, in the absence of a good reason. And this would not be denying, of course, that ‘good reasons’ do exist in fast-paced, high-stress situations where it is entirely legitimate than none of the Officers involved could pause to operate their recording devices (unless this is circumnavigated by technology, as suggested above).

If in actuality the Officers initiate contact/ dictate the pace of events – as the Merseyside officers certainly did in the two case studies I have provided in my previous blog – then there would almost always be no excuse for non-recording and real disciplinary sanctions should follow for the officers concerned, along with ‘the benefit of the doubt’ being bestowed upon the civilian side of the interaction, in terms of any future complaint, claim or court process; not a wholesale upsetting of the ‘scales of justice’ but as Professor Fan put it, in her 2017 article “a thumb on the scale of inferences” in favour of the member of the public – in the interests of re-setting an imbalance power, for the good of all society.

Some combination of those solutions I feel, is necessary to improve the standards and fairness of UK Policing, and to increase public faith in the same way. You may not agree, but it is certainly a debate which it is essential for us to have, in my opinion.

Read part 1 of this blog post here.

Justice Turns a Blind Eye: When Police Fail to Turn on Their Body Cameras

The Problem

Given the prevalence of Police body-worn cameras on our modern-day streets, what duty should Officers be under to ensure that they activate these cameras during all confrontations/ investigations, to ensure the protection, and equal treatment under the law, of both officers and civilians? Do we need more robust disciplinary treatment of officers who fail to record such crucial interactions as a search or arrest, given that policies requiring the filming of such events seem only to be paid ‘lip service’ by Professional Standards investigations when officers fail to comply without a good reason? And do we indeed need better technology to eliminate human error/ misfeasance and ensure that Body Worn Videos don’t just show half of the picture, and aren’t used simply to serve the interests of Police Officers?

Although I have been aware of this problem for a long time, two cases I am currently dealing with involving Merseyside Police have focused my mind on the issue. Let me outline some of the facts for you.

Connor’s Case

Connor, then aged 19, was on a night out with friends in Liverpool City Centre in January 2020.

Connor was standing on Fleet Street talking to a friend when he was suddenly seized from behind by a Police Officer (PC Graves) who marched him over to a Police van, where other Officers were assembled. 

Three Officers – believed to be Police Sergeant Downes and Police Constables Graves and Wallace – then subjected Connor to a body search, allegedly on suspicion of possession of drugs.  Connor was entirely innocent, and the search was naturally negative, although the Officers repeatedly asserted that Connor must have drugs on him and demanded that he ‘give them up’.  Connor felt that the Officers were treating him in an unprofessional, contemptuous and demeaning way.

The Officers allowed Connor to leave but as he walked away, he used the word “dick head” once, towards the Officers. His loss of temper in this regard was largely caused by the Officers’ repeated, false accusations that he was in possession of drugs.

Connor was immediately overpowered by the Officers, who took him to the ground, handcuffed him and now placed him under arrest for allegedly being ‘drunk and disorderly’ (although Connor says the Officers failed to explain the basis of the arrest at the time, despite the fact they were legally obliged to do so).

It is notable that when the Officers had first approached and searched Connor only minutes before, there had been no suggestion by any of them that Connor was behaving in a ‘disorderly’ manner. The decision to arrest Connor appears to have been an impulsive and vindictive act by the Officers simply because he had expressed his frustration towards them, at what he legitimately believed to be an unlawful stop and search, with a single swear word (and not one, it need hardly be added, likely to make most experienced Police Officers blush or bat an eyelid).

Nevertheless, Connor was taken into Custody and detained for several hours for allegedly “offending public decency”.

Connor naturally brought a complaint in regards to the offence of that evening, which resulted in an admission by the Police that PC Wallace had conducted an improper stop and search of Connor as she had (at the very least) failed to complete a Stop and Search Form until 4 February 2020, over 2 weeks after the event.  Merseyside Police ultimately accepted “No [search] record existed and in the absence of a complaint would likely never have existed.”

Not only had PC Wallace not completed the correct paperwork (which should have been filled out at the time, whether electronically or in writing, and a copy provided to Connor) but on Connor’s account she had also failed to deliver the “GOWISELY” information identifying herself and explaining the powers and the purpose for which she was subjecting Connor to temporary detention and search, which I have discussed at length in a previous Blog.

Furthermore, and of great significance, was the fact that all of the Officers who interacted with Connor were wearing the now standard issue body cameras, and yet none of them activated those cameras despite the fact that the Officers initiated the incident –  i.e. they were not ‘taken by surprise’ by a fast moving chain of events outwith their control.  It was the Officers who made the decision to approach and search Connor, and then to arrest him, and they manifestly would have had time to activate their cameras. 

Their failure to do so has robbed Connor of crucial evidence which could have helped to establish his innocence in the face of the charge of drunk and disorderly behaviour, and would certainly have catalogued the full extent of PC Wallace’s illegal Stop and Search upon him. It would have verified one way or the other the allegations which Connor is now pursuing through the Complaint and civil Claim process against Merseyside Police – including the Officers’ rude and arrogant demeanour and their use of force upon Connor.

In other words, it would have saved a lot of time and money, and potentially a lot of heartache, for everybody involved – Connor and all of the Police Officers.

Despite the fact that the Complaint investigation by Merseyside Police unequivocally established that PCs Graves and Wallace had breached Police Policy by failing to activate their body worn cameras, this was criticised only in the mildest of terms by the Professional Standards Department who simply identified it as requiring a “learning outcome” for the Officers. The PSD investigator gave no consideration at all to how the Officers apparently wilful failure in this regard had undermined Connor’s ability to hold them to account for their alleged misconduct.

Take for example the Complaint investigator’s assertion that “There is no evidence to support the allegation that officers have used inappropriate comments or in any way goaded or antagonised [Connor] which has led to his arrest…”. In fact, if the Officers had complied with Merseyside Police Policy there would have been video footage to conclusively prove or disprove the same; it was the Officers who were the ‘gatekeepers’ of that potential gold mine of evidence, and they who were now benefiting – on Connor’s account – from keeping the door firmly shut upon it.

I personally think it is outrageous that Police Officers are not disciplined, in any meaningful way, for failing to active their cameras in these scenarios.  There is simply no excuse.  The activation of a body camera is the work of split seconds.  I would go as far as to say that in this day and age, any Stop & Search –  and, indeed, arguably arrest – which is not catalogued by a body camera recording should be deemed prima facie unlawful unless there is a very good reason why at least one of the Officers involved (and it is rare for a single Officer to have to deal with such events on their own) did not activate their camera.

Jack’s case

Another very similar matter involving a flagrant breach by Merseyside Police Officers of their own policies and procedures is the case of my client Jack.

As has been highlighted above, Merseyside Police have a written Policy which states that Officers MUST record stop & search encounters (unless an intimate search is involved) and that this is done in pursuit of the laudable objectives of “capturing the best possible evidence” and “promoting public reassurance.” What punishment was handed out in yet another case where Officers failed to do so…? You can probably guess the answer!


Jack, then aged 16 years old, was cycling home when an unmarked vehicle pulled up alongside him and a woman exited the vehicle and grabbed hold of Jack.

A man then also exited the vehicle and joined the woman, and in a state of shock, Jack realised that they were Police Officers.

Jack before had never had any dealings with the Police, and especially in view of his young age, felt intimidated and overwhelmed. 

The male and female Officers subjected Jack to a ‘pat down search’ and then allowed him to go on his way – although failed to issue the obligatory stop/search form to him.

Jack’s mother subsequently lodged a complaint on his behalf regarding this incident and was provided with a copy of the Stop/Search Record which turned out to be entirely inaccurate – it falsely suggested that Jack rather than being on his bicycle, had been a passenger in a vehicle that smelt of cannabis, and that Jack himself had been found in possession of cannabis. 

When Jack’s mother, who thankfully believed her son’s account rather than that of ‘official’ Police documentation, challenged this – Merseyside Police held their hands up and admitted that the record was entirely inaccurate and stated that Jack’s details had been inadvertently mixed up with those of another individual who had been subjected to a Stop/Search by the same Officers.

Clearly however, it was deeply distressing for Jack and his mother to have to live for a period of time with these false allegations hanging over Jack, and for them to continue to have to deal with the persistent concern that perhaps not all of this wholly inaccurate record, associating Jack with criminal drug use, has been properly rectified and removed from all Police systems and records. 

Once again, neither of the Officers who interacted with this teenage boy had seen fit to operate their body cameras. PC Green claimed that she had lost her body camera and was awaiting another one; PC Gregory accepted that he had his camera on him at the time of the Stop of Jack, but asserted that he could not activate it because it was in his pocket – you will be reassured to know that the Officer has since “reflected” on this and decided it may be more “appropriate” for him to wear his camera on his lanyard from now on. He faced no disciplinary sanction for this, although it was noted that the Officer’s line manager would “review and monitor” PC Gregory’s “future performance in the area of stop and search” – a statement of the type of appraisal that I would presume all Officers are supposed to be subject to in any event! The tone of the Police’s response to the complaint on this issue suggested that this clear breach of Policy was, to those tasked with governing Merseyside Police’s standards of professional behaviour – ‘no big deal’.

Once again, this is evidence of a casual disregard by the Police of both their own rules and of Jack’s rights and dignity as a citizen (and a child at that) who was being subjected to the Police’s extraordinary powers of detention/imprisonment, even if only temporarily.

Incidents such as this lead me to suspect that Merseyside Police (and in all probability Police Forces generally) have many Officers who are routinely failing to record Stop and Search interactions with members of the public.  This might of course be hard to prove on a statistical analysis, as it also appears that on such occasions there is a risk not only of the Police not activating their body cameras, but of them also failing to complete Stop and Search Forms – accurately or at all.

How many other individuals have been subject to ‘ghost’ searches in such a manner? 

The Police have in their personal body cameras a  simple tool which, by giving Professional Standards investigators, lawyers, judges and juries ‘eyes’ on the interactions through which these Officers police our streets, can enlighten and raise the standards and fairness of the entire Policing system.

Provided they turn it on.

(All names have been changed).

This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2 to follow next week.

Devon and Cornwall Police Officers Sacked for Dishonesty

In the news this week is what is, frankly, a rare outcome for a Police complaint investigation: two Officers of Devon and Cornwall Police (PCs Kenneth Anscombe and Daniel Care) were sacked for dishonesty.

The two officers were found guilty of gross misconduct after making false statements, and in the case of PC Anscombe lying under oath, apparently in order to secure the conviction of an innocent man. There are few more serious abuses of the particular power and authority of a Police Officer that can be imagined, than using that power to ‘frame’ someone for a crime, and it is entirely right that these Officers were immediately dismissed.

It appears that PCs Anscombe and Care gave false evidence leading to the (wrongful) conviction of a man for the offence of ‘drunk and disorderly’ behaviour, after an incident in Penzance in 2018. Crucially, the man was able to overturn his conviction because of footage of the incident which he had filmed on his mobile phone, and which proved that the Officers were lying.

The Misconduct panel which dismissed the two Officers found that they had made false statements about the man swearing and being aggressive, which were simply not true and were evidently not ‘mistakes’ on the part of the (now ex) Officers, but deliberate mistruths designed to secure a false conviction.

A sadly similar matter was the case of my client Richard Roberts who was the victim of lies told by PC David Norman an Officer of Dyfed & Powys Police, which led to Richard’s unlawful arrest and prosecution.

Richard had been the victim of an assault from an abusive neighbour, who had also committed criminal damage against Richard’s car, causing Richard to telephone ‘999’ for the protection of himself and his family.

Outrageously, it was Richard who then ended up being arrested for a  “Public Order offence“ by PC Norman who made a statement falsely alleging that Richard was shouting, screaming, swearing and using foul language in the Officer’s presence.

Because of previous problems with his neighbour, Richard had set up a CCTV camera (with audio) at the front of his property and the video from that device incontrovertibly demonstrated that Richard had not been shouting or swearing and that the numerous allegations contained in PC Norman’s official statement were patently false.

Although Richard was confident that eventually the CCTV footage would exonerative him, the Police made no attempt to immediately review it, and therefore it did not save Richard the trauma of being detained in police cells for over 44 hours.  

To make matters worse, Richard was subject to a further arrest which considerably prolonged his detention, because PC Norman’s false evidence suggested that Richard had breached an Anti-social Behaviour injunction which was in place regarding his dispute with his neighbour. Richard was so angry and upset at the injustice of what he was being put through, that he started punching the walls of his cell such was his frustration and distress.

It was a few days after Richard’s release from custody that he was contacted by a Sergeant from the Professional Standards Department who had now viewed the CCTV footage and she encouraged Richard to bring a formal complaint against PC Norman, on the basis of what she had seen. The following day, the criminal proceedings for the public order offence against Richard, and the allegation that he had breached the terms of the injunction were also both withdrawn/ discontinued.

It is highly concerning of course, to consider what would happened if the CCTV had not been available and this had been a case of Richard’s word alone against that of PC Norman…the inescapable conclusion is that Richard would have been wrongfully convicted of a criminal offence.

In fact, PC Norman was subsequently arrested for perverting the course of justice and with the ‘tables turned’ in this manner it was Richard who was called as a witness for the prosecution at the Officer’s trial.

Sadly, PC Norman was – despite the weight of evidence – acquitted of any criminal offences. Subsequent police disciplinary action against PC Norman quite rightly found him guilty of misconduct –  but he received a sanction of only a “final written warning“ rather than being dismissed from the Force.

Richard suffered psychiatric injury as a result of these events, and his recovery from the same was not aided by the way that he was subsequently let down by the system – PC Norman ‘wriggled off the hook’ and was able to continue in his career as a police officer despite the clear evidence of his dishonesty. What signal did that send to PC Norman and other officers like him? I would suggest that the message appeared to be that PC Norman’s conduct had no ultimately meaningful consequences, and Dyfed & Powys were prepared to tolerate such behaviour to the extent of keeping this Officer amongst their ranks.

Thankfully, Richard was able to achieve some measure of justice through the civil courts. I pursued a claim on his behalf against Dyfed & Powys Police and Richard was ultimately awarded £40,000 compensation.

I have blogged before about how modern technology in the form of mobile phones and CCTV cameras can prove a great ‘leveller’ in correcting the imbalance of power between ordinary citizens and Police Officers, particularly in counteracting the historical bias which the Courts tend to have in favour of the evidence of our ‘upstanding boys in blue’ and this is yet another salutary example of this phenomenon.

However, the lingering bad taste in the mouth which I am sure most of us are left with after reflecting a little further on this and similar stories, is caused by the realisation of how often in the past Police Officers were able to get away with this sort of flagrant dishonesty and abuse of power, before they were made subject to the era of CCTV and mobile phone ‘surveillance’ from all we Little Brothers (and Sisters)…

In relation to the Devon & Cornwall case, the regional director of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Catrin Evans told the BBC –

The public must have confidence in police officers who have a duty to be honest, act with integrity, and not compromise or abuse their position.”

I absolutely endorse those sentiments; it is just a pity that so often rooting out dishonesty from our Police profession depends on the public catching them at it…

Unlawful arrests and the RSPCA

The RSPCA announced last week that it has decided to abandon its policy of bringing private criminal prosecutions for alleged animal abuse in order to avoid “further reputational damage”, arising from a string of high-profile failures at Court and criticism of how its over-zealous approach was leading to the persecution of innocent and vulnerable individuals.

I myself have experience of misguided attempts by the RSPCA to interfere in the Criminal Justice process, resulting in emotional distress and economic loss for all concerned; after all, if so many Police Officers don’t properly understand the law when it comes to necessity of arrest, can we really expect an animal welfare charity to do better when its staff starts ‘directing’ Police operations?

Take for example my client Courton Green, a Lincolnshire farmer who was subject to arrest in January 2018 on allegations of animal cruelty.

Mr Green ran a farm with approximately 3,000 sheep and 400 cattle.  He was shocked to receive an early morning visit by two Officers of Lincolnshire Police who informed him he was under arrest; handcuffed him despite the fact that he was entirely compliant with their instructions, and whisked him away to Grantham Police Station without even allowing him the time to collect his glasses from a nearby truck.

At the Police Station my client was processed, searched and detained in a cell for several hours. During detention, he was obliged to provide his fingerprints, DNA sample and be photographed – all part of the degrading ‘prisoner’ process which can make even innocent people feel as though they are guilty in some way, or being labelled as criminals.

Mr Green had never previously been arrested and found it all to be a devastating experience. 

In fact, his state of mental distress was such that the Police became concerned about his well-being, had him assessed by a doctor and he was then taken to Lincoln Hospital for a full mental health assessment.

Following the mental health assessment Mr Green was then allowed to return to his farm – primarily because of his responsibility for his livestock – in a state of ‘shell shock’;  indeed Mr Green’s distress continued at such an intense level that over the next few days he experienced stark suicidal thoughts.  Fortunately, he was able to overcome these feelings, but the experience of his arrest and detention (first in a Police Station, and then in a mental health ward) had left him in a very dark place.

Approximately 5 months later, Mr Green received a summons to attend court.  He filed a plea of not guilty to the charges of animal cruelty against him, and his case proceeded to trial in January 2020, where he was indeed found not guilty.

At the trial, Judge Peter Veits ruled that my client’s arrest was unlawful, in the following terms –

“…  the arrest had been unlawful as there had been no attempt … to invite [Mr Green] for interview, he had merely been arrested.  Had he been so invited and refused then the necessity of arrest would have been established…”

Following his vindication at trial, Courton Green instructed me to pursue a claim for false imprisonment on his behalf against Lincolnshire Police.

Mr Green’s arrest and detention had taken place at the behest of the RSPCA, who suspected my client of mistreating an animal, and Police facilities were put fully at the disposal of the RSPCA to allow their inspector to conduct the interview of Mr Green, and then to detain him further whilst the RSPCA inspector consulted with her prosecution unit for a “charging decision.”

The evidence against my client centered around the testimony of an inexperienced farmhand who in January 2018 had witnessed what he believed to be Mr Green using a tractor to ‘behead’ a sick sheep; in fact the sheep was already dead, and Mr Green was carrying out a method of breaking its neck prior to skinning the animal (as the carcass was intended for use as dog food).

Judge Peter Veits at the criminal trial was scathing about the standard of evidence presented by the RSPCA against my client; they were entirely unable to offer evidence to establish “beyond reasonable doubt” that the sheep was not already dead when Mr Green used the tractor as described, and the charges against him were dismissed.

Not only was this a prosecution which should not have been pursued (costing Mr Green £70,000 in legal fees to defend himself), my client should never have been arrested in the first place. Sadly, Lincolnshire Police allowed themselves to be used in furtherance of the RSPCA’s agenda, in dereliction of their own duty to make an independent assessment of the evidence and circumstances, in order to decide whether there was sufficient reasonable suspicion and the requisite necessity to arrest (rather than, for example, arranging a voluntary interview for Mr Green to respond to the charges – which is what should have occured).

Whilst the CPS correctly declined to become involved in the misguided and ill-founded RSPCA prosecution of Mr Green, the Police regrettably allowed themselves to be used as unthinking pawns by an animal welfare charity seeking to operate in the style of a law enforcement agency, causing considerable hardship and suffering to my client as a result.

There have long been concerns that the RSPCA regards itself as  ‘the Constabulary of animal welfare’, and projects a misleading image to the public through its use of quasi- Police uniforms, the ‘right to remain silent’ caution for ‘suspects’, and a policy of bestowing upon its staff titles of rank such as ‘Inspector’ and ‘Superintendent’ – despite the fact that it is entirely a private charitable organization with no special law enforcement powers at all. However, this approach may have historically contributed towards our actual Police Forces adopting a ‘collegiate’ relationship with the prestigious charity; a relationship which is often far too cosy and deferential on the part of the Police.

In 2016 the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee highlighted the “conflict of interest” between the RSPCA’s adopted role of prosecuting animal welfare cases, and its role of campaigning for animal welfare, fundraising and investigating these issues.

The MPs on the Select Committee called for the charity to cease pursuing private prosecutions in cases of animal cruelty, after a report into its activities, but unfortunately this recommendation, and numerous criticisms by members of the judiciary deeply unimpressed by the standard of RSPCA-led prosecutions, fell on deaf ears, and was not enough to save Mr Green from being put through the ordeal of wrongful arrest, detention and prosecution.  

As Mr Green’s Defence barrister, Sara-Lise Howe, said after his Trial “the RSPCA cannot be trusted to fairly and proportionately interpret farming legislation.”

Of greater concern to me however, is the fact that our Police Forces can often not be trusted to fairly and proportionately interpret policing legislation. On ‘necessity’ grounds alone, Lincolnshire Police should have refused to arrest and detain Courton Green, and then a great deal of the pain of this sorry saga would have been avoided.

Having brought a claim on behalf of Mr Green, I have secured an admission of liability from the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, and settlement negotiations are ongoing.

Perhaps this process, combined with the RSPCA’s declared change of policy, will finally get the message through to the Police that they would be well advised to treat RSPCA requests to facilitate a person’s arrest with the same level of detachment and skepticism with which they would approach that of any other group of private campaigners.

IOPC Failures : Watchdogs, Wolves, or Paper Tigers?

Some stark statistics made headlines in the Guardian newspaper recently: Fewer than 1 in 10 Police officers found to have a case to answer for gross misconduct actually end up being dismissed from the service.

Out of 641 officers in England & Wales ‘charged’ with gross misconduct between 2015 – 2020 following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), a mere 54 (8.4%) were dismissed.

Out of a further 848 officers whom the IOPC held had a case to answer for the less serious charge of misconduct, less than half (363) were ultimately found guilty.

Out of 391 cases over the same 5-year period in which the IOPC felt that criminal prosecution of an Officer was warranted, only 69 individuals were actually prosecuted and a mere 22 found guilty (with 4 receiving custodial sentences).

One of the key drivers of this disparity between IOPC findings and eventual outcomes is, in my opinion, the fact that the IOPC is in practice little more than an ‘advisory’ body – they are certainly not ‘judge or jury’ when it comes to Police misconduct; that role falls on the shoulders of internal Police disciplinary panels (if the recommended charges actually get to a Hearing, as there are numerous methods by which Police officers, assisted by their union – the Police Federation – and/or by the support, tacit or otherwise, of their Force’s Professional Standards unit can avoid or delay hearings, or even have the level of charge recommended by the IOPC ‘watered down’).

I have long sounded the alarm that the IOPC, despite its grandiose title, is often just a paper tiger in practice, without the authority – or indeed, in many cases the desire – to truly hold rogue Officers to account. My views were echoed last week by Katrina Ffrench, former CEO of StopWatch, an organisation campaigning for fair policing, who told the Guardian that the figures were “indicative of the IOPC’s inability to hold the police to account in any meaningful way.”

This has very damaging consequences on the ability of individuals and communities to trust that ‘the system’ is on their side when it comes to Police misbehaviour – reinforcing the belief that the Police often have divided loyalties between enforcing the law and protecting their brothers-in-arms from legitimate criticism, all too often skewed in favour of the latter – and perpetuating a sense of anger and unresolved grievance in those who have faced injustice at the hands of the Police.

Also quoted in the Guardian report was a former Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent, Victoria Olisa, who observed that police officers can often “run rings around IOPC investigators”.

Ms Olisa’s experience with the IOPC is mirrored by my own.

  • Take, for example, the case of my client Bryan Allden. As I highlighted in my blog reporting on the £358K damages award I won for Bryan in November last year, the IPCC (forerunner of the IOPC, but don’t be fooled by the change of name into thinking there is any fundamental difference between the current ‘watchdog’ and its predecessor: they basically just re-arranged the letters of its acronym) concluded that the gratuitous overhead baton strike unleashed by PC Knowles upon Bryan, which caused a severe fracture to Bryan’s hand “could just as easily have…resulted in a fatal injury.” Yet West Midlands Police were allowed by the IPCC to let the officer off the hook, by ‘sanctioning’ him only with ‘management action’ in the form of a ‘first aid course’, rather than charging him with gross misconduct. It was exactly this behaviour by the IPCC/ West Midlands Police, rather than the incident itself, which caused Bryan the most mental anxiety and upset over the years that followed – in Bryan’s own words “the savage attacker was protected, not punished for his actions.”
  • Or alternatively, another case involving West Midlands Police ‘calling the shots’ with the IPCC; my client Haydn (aged 12 years old) was assaulted by an Officer, who threw him to the ground, causing  him to injure his back on a concrete surface. The officer denied this allegation, saying that he had reached out to take hold of Haydn, but that Haydn had (coincidentally) fallen spontaneously at that point. It appeared that the Officer may then have threatened Haydn with arrest, possibly as a way of intimidating him into not making a complaint prior to his mother arriving on the scene. The IPCC recommended that the officer involved should attend a misconduct hearing, however West Midlands Police unilaterally rejected this, and proposed to sanction the officer with ‘management action’ only…again the IPCC backed down, and complied with the wishes of the Force. It appeared to me that this was largely because the IPCC were fearful that if they insisted on a misconduct hearing without the co-operation of the Force, then it was very likely the officer would simply get off ‘scot free’ at the hearing, and hence they chose the lesser sanction, that would at least put some marker on the officer’s record. It is very regrettable that the Police watchdog should have to make such a compromise, but is sadly far from unusual.
  • Or the case of my client Susan who suffered the indignity of an officer trespassing in her home, and using force against her during a dispute with bailiffs that frankly, the officer should have stayed out of. The officer in question, a Sergeant with Nottinghamshire Police was originally referred to a meeting for ‘misconduct’ by his Force’s Professional Standards Department but the IOPC upheld my client’s appeal that his actions surely equated to ‘gross misconduct’, and in May 2018 directed that the Sergeant face a misconduct hearing. At that hearing, in early 2019, the Sergeant was found guilty of gross misconduct and sacked; unfortunately, he appealed and, after his appeal, was granted a second misconduct hearing in November 2019. Once again the verdict was gross misconduct and dismissal from the Police service; however, that still wasn’t the end of the matter – the Sergeant appealed again, and was successfully reinstated to the Force, albeit with a “final written warning” on his disciplinary record. In disciplinary terms it seems that some Police Officers have more lives than a cat, no matter how strong the evidence against them, and irrespective of the findings and directions of the IOPC. In response to the claim which I have subsequently brought against Nottinghamshire Police on behalf of Susan, the Force have admitted liability for the trespass, false imprisonment and assault and battery perpetrated upon Susan by the Sergeant – but he nevertheless remains at this time a serving Police Officer.

These problems are exacerbated, in my opinion, by the fact that the so-called ‘Independent’ Office of Police Conduct is far too cosy and intermeshed in its relationship with the Police; almost 30% of all IOPC staff come from a Police background and an even greater proportion of senior investigators (40%) were former Officers.

And the disappointing statistics highlighted above do not include all those misconduct investigations – the vast majority in fact – which are not conducted directly by the IOPC, but are rather ‘delegated’ to the local Professional Standards Department (almost invariably the Professional Standards Department of the Force complained about, not even an ‘independent’ Force). Investigations of which the IOPC ‘washes its hands’  can in fact include such serious matters as broken limbs, life-changing dog bite injuries and armed Police raids on the home of an innocent family.

Interestingly, this very week the IOPC has also come in for scathing criticism from Stu Berry, the chair of the Police Federation of Greater Manchester Police – which represents the ‘best interests’ of serving officers. Mr Berry condemned the IOPC in the following strident terms –

“The IOPC is a state- sanctioned risk to the welfare of police officers and their families in its current form, despite the new name. It was previously the Independent Police Complaints Commission and nothing has altered. This rampant and unchecked misuse of power must change. It has to change.”

His criticism was echoed by Police Federation National Conduct and Performance Lead Phil Matthews, who speaking to the Police Oracle stated “Public trust in the system will erode if people do not think that complaints will be dealt with quickly.”

It appears that the major gripe which Mr Berry and Mr Matthews were expressing, was the length of time for which officers can remain ‘under investigation’, with accusations of misconduct potentially hanging over them for years – although I must call into question the histrionic language (“state sanctioned risk to officers and their families”) with which Mr Berry, in particular, makes his case. Such language from those whose job it is, as Police Federation representatives, to play ‘defence’ for officers accused of misconduct, suggests to me that their criticism is really designed to undermine and weaken the standing of the IOPC, and warn the Government off from bolstering IOPC powers.   

And whilst of course my clients want misconduct investigations to be concluded quickly – I know of one involving the Metropolitan Police in which a legitimate complaint of racial profiling and wrongful detention dragged on for no less than 6 years – their greatest wish is for cases to be dealt with fairly; and all too often, as highlighted above, that is not at all their experience at the end of the process, no matter how long it takes.But the Police Federation, concentrating only on ‘looking after its own’, seem as deaf to the hurt and anger of ordinary people abused, mistreated and violated by the Police as was ex-PC, now convicted criminal Nick Musto, who when unleashing his third, gratuitous baton strike against my client Robert’s shattered leg bone, could apparently only hear the colleague whom Robert had inadvertently fallen upon ‘calling out for help’, and not Robert’s own screams of pain (which for the rest of us with ears to hear, were captured on a phone video made by a shocked member of the public).

So it seems that I and the Police Fed agree that ‘root and branch’ reform is essential for the IOPC; but our reasons why are totally polarised. Whereas many of my clients see an organisation which might as well bear the title “I Excuse PC”, Mr Berry and the Police Fed apparently see the IOPC as ‘wolves at the door’ of innocent officers and their families.

The purpose of the Police complaint system, as defined by the College of Policing in its 2017 guidelines is threefold –

  1. To maintain public confidence in and the reputation of the Police service
  1. To uphold high standards in policing and deter misconduct
  1. To protect the public

It is clear that to achieve such goals, although the speed of the process is a relevant factor, the key is to ensure fairness and transparency of the complaint investigation and a truly impartial outcome. It is my firm opinion that the current misconduct regime falls very far short of such a standard, far too many times.

My answer to this problem would be in the first instance, in opposition to the view of Stu Berry, to grant the IOPC more power (and commensurate funding) to allow it to have initial oversight of all Police complaints (rather than them being filtered through the local Forces) and to rest the final adjudication process in panels convened and supervised by the IOPC itself. Secondly, and of equal importance, I would dilute the links between the IOPC and the Police profession by ensuring that the IOPC recruited staff, investigators and advisors heavily from those communities which do not have such a cosy relationship with the Police as retired officers, and those such as myself who have experience as advocates for justice on behalf of the victims of Police misconduct.

Then, perhaps, we might hit a hat-trick.

Merseyside Police Unrepentant After Wrongful Arrest

I blogged recently about my victory at Liverpool County Court on behalf of my client, Paul Peters, a plumber wrongly accused of theft and arrested unlawfully by DC Mitchell of Merseyside Police.

Paul’s name was finally and fully cleared at the Trial in early January when lawyers on behalf of the Police finally accepted in open Court that Paul was an innocent man – despite the fact they had fought his false imprisonment claim for 6 years – and the Judge awarded substantial damages & legal costs against the Police in respect of Paul’s 2013 arrest.

The story was widely reported in the media, and it came as some disappointment for me to read that rather than striking a humble and contrite tone, and properly apologising for all of the stress and anxiety they had put Paul through for all these years (beginning with his arrest, but continuing in their rejection of his legitimate complaint and the tooth and nail way in which they contested his claim in the County Court, putting Paul at risk of having to pay the Police substantial legal costs should he lose) Merseyside Police seemed utterly unrepentant, telling the Daily Mirror that although they ‘accepted’ the findings of the Court, the claim had been won on a ‘technicality’ only.

This couldn’t be further from the truth and wrongly suggests that the claim was won simply because DC Mitchell failed to fill in the right form, or to say the right words when effecting the arrest; in fact the Judge made a clear finding that DC Mitchell had not believed that it was necessary to arrest Paul, but had done so anyway, probably as a way of utilising the power of search that accompanies an arrest (in a situation where the Officer clearly did not feel he could legitimately persuade the Court to issue a Search Warrant).

That a Police Officer must have necessity to arrest a suspect is the second limb of the test of a lawful arrest, and carries equal weight with the requirement that there be reasonable suspicion of that person; it is therefore absolutely not a ‘technicality’ and for Merseyside Police to describe it in such terms is very concerning.

It would seem that rather than doing the right thing – apologising to Paul, reflecting on the lessons learned and actively ensuring that Officers do not repeat DC Mitchell’s misuse of arrest powers for the wrong reasons – Merseyside Police through their media statement are signalling to DC Mitchell and his colleagues that they stand by the Officer’s actions, and seem closer to condoning than ever condemning them.

The law of this land requires that for any of us to be deprived of our liberty through the Police power of arrest, there must be clear, objective evidence – as well as an honest belief by the Officer – that the arrest is actually necessary; unlike Merseyside Police, I fail to see such an important bedrock of our civil rights as a mere ‘technicality’… and sadly, for as long as the Police continue to display this type of attitude, more people like Paul are going to fall prey to wrongful arrests.

Justice delayed is Justice denied

This week, the Inspectorates for policing, prisons, probation and prosecutions published a joint report highlighting the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Criminal Justice System.  They conclude that the greatest risk to criminal justice comes from the “unprecedented and very serious” backlogs in Courts and in particular the Crown Courts.

The number of ongoing cases in Crown Courts was 44% higher in December 2020 compared to February of the same year.  Latest figures reveal a backlog of 54,000 cases.

The legal system can be bewildering for any victim of crime; and doubly so for those who have suffered serious police misconduct, who  are in reality victims, but who first may face the trauma of being the alleged ‘criminal’ before they have the opportunity to turn the tables on their accusers.

Last June, I highlighted the case of my client John, who in June 2019 was violently assaulted by a Police Officer –  but then falsely arrested for assaulting that same Officer.

Fortunately the Officer and his colleagues were (for the most part) recording events on their body worn cameras and the incriminating footage was preserved.

When John was subsequently interviewed by an independent officer, the footage was watched and the truth of what happened was laid bare.  John was quickly released and advised soon after that no further action would be taken against him.

The original officers’ conduct, however, was now the subject of an internal enquiry and thereafter a formal complaint investigation. Following that investigation, the CPS reviewed the evidence and determined that the officers should be prosecuted for assault and conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

The officers pleaded not guilty and the case was listed to be heard in the Crown Court, with trial to take place in September 2020.

Unfortunately because of the Covid pandemic, the trial was adjourned.  John  has just received notification that the trial has been rescheduled  to take place in September 2021, 2 years and 3 months after the incident…

The outstanding trial is just one of the 54,000  unheard cases stuck in the Crown Court backlog referred to above.

I called John to give him the news.  He  told me that given the passage of time, he’d struggle to remember what happened and then, of more concern said  “I may not bother (attending)”.

This loss of faith in the Justice system is exactly what concerns the Inspectorates who have called for Criminal Justice agencies to work closely together and for the Government to provide national directions as well as the funding, time and access to expertise to help recovery.

As US Chief Justice Warren E. Burger stated in 1970, “A sense of confidence in the Courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty for a free people.”

Maintaining the overall health of a society is of course not just about people’s physical well-being, but also the mental aspects of us all as citizens being able to witness impartial justice swiftly and fearlessly delivered; in this respect the Government needs to prioritise and resource the criminal justice system as vigorously as if it were a limb of the National Health Service itself.

Police Data Breach Disasters

The country awoke this morning to news that a processing error had caused 150,000 records to be deleted from the Police National Computer system (PNC) – along with highly sensitive information including fingerprint and DNA profiles and individual’s arrest histories. The PNC is essential for modern day policing to function efficiently, as it is the means by which criminal justice information and records are shared between the country’s disparate Police Forces.

The Home Secretary clearly has major questions to answer as to how such an error was allowed to occur, one which caused the UK’s visa approval system to be suspended for 2 days, in addition to the obvious constraints it placed on ‘real time’ Policing duties, especially in the context of British Police Forces having lost access to European criminal databases following Brexit.

Whilst the obvious concern arising from this story is the lack of relevant information being available to Police officers who may need it, proper data management of criminal justice records must include not only the preservation of essential information but also the accurate and timely deletion of false or wrongfully obtained records, which by their presence can cause an individual as much trouble as the lack of relevant records can in another context.

Many of my clients quite rightly hold key objectives both winning compensatory damages from the Police for wrongs committed against them and also ‘clearing their name’ – not only in the sense of the moral vindication of receiving an admission of liability, payment of damages or apology, but also the deletion of their sensitive personal data from the PNC, including biometric information and the facts relating to their wrongful arrest/ prosecution, which if not deleted could cause untold grief in terms of future job or travel visa applications.

Often, it seems to me that the Police system of reviewing and deleting such records is subject to far too much human error itself in the form of vast amounts of delay and a lack of clarity as to the circumstances in which records will be deleted, giving Forces a wide discretion to refuse deletion or to take far too long to carry it out.

Take for example the case of my client “Richard Knight” (name changed), who applied for deletion of his records via the Criminal Records Office (ACRO) following a successful claim for damages for false imprisonment, settled after the issue of Court proceedings. Richard is  man of good character, and was especially concerned to have his records for this wrongful arrest deleted, as they related to a false allegation that he had attempted to solicit a woman for sex.

I submitted his request via ACRO in March 2019, with the following grounds providing multiple justifications for immediate deletion/ destruction of not only his biometric data but also the record of the arrest and the allegations accompanying it –

  • The PNC entry/record was entirely in consequence of an unlawful arrest.  Court proceedings were instituted against the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. As a result of the legal claim, settlement terms were agreed in the form of  compensatory damages.  Whilst formal liability was not admitted, the payment of damages at all was indicative of the merits which attached to that claim.  Further, the value of the damages agreed corresponded to the value of the claim, had it been admitted or otherwise resolved by formal judgment.  The Police were also liable for all legal costs arising from the claim.  As a general principal, it would be utterly perverse if a PNC entry was retained in such circumstances.
  • No crime –  Mr Knight had manifestly not engaged in any form of criminal misconduct.
  • Malicious/false allegation – Mr Knight maintained that the account provided by the complainant was untrue and wholly unreliable. 
  • Public interest –   The presence of an arrest record was wholly incompatible with the guaranteed presumption of innocence under the Common Law and the associated guaranteed rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.  Any PNC entry in this particular instance would be a perversity, given the outcome of the civil proceedings brought against the Police. 

ACRO are, in reality, little more than a ‘post box’ organisation (you might say – nothing more than an ‘ACROnym’) whose role is to forward deletion requests to and from the relevant Police Forces. Mr Knight’s application was passed to the Metropolitan Police but it took over 18 months before, in November 2020, his request was finally approved on the grounds of ‘Public Interest’ and the PNC record was deleted.

Until that time, Mr Knight had to live with the knowledge that any Police or other governmental service checks against his name might throw up the stigma of his arrest for a ‘sex crime’ despite his vindication through the civil courts.

Thankfully the situation is now resolved, but perhaps after the Home Secretary has repaired the damage caused by this week’s data loss, she should focus on her equally important responsibility to ensure that inaccurate data, especially concerning false allegations of crime, is not retained for one day longer than is necessary, let alone for years.

Police Apology, or Excuse?

I recently highlighted the case of my client Yvonne Farrell who was wrongfully arrested by Hertfordshire Constabulary, and during her detention stripped and left naked in a cell for hours. The Police rejected Yvonne’s subsequent complaint, but have been brought to book by the claim I commenced on her behalf, which has resulted in a settlement of  £45,000 damages and a formal apology from the Deputy Chief Constable, as set out below:

I am of course delighted with the terms of the settlement, which reflects the serious wrongdoing committed against Yvonne, and the fact of the apology – however, I made the point in my previous blog that Police pride often comes before a full apology, and I am disappointed that whilst DCC Dunn accepts that Yvonne should never have been arrested, and that Hertfordshire Constabulary have lessons to learn as a result, she really doesn’t apologise for the most egregious and distressing thing done to Yvonne, namely her being stripped naked.

I continue to believe that this was nothing less than an act of coercion and humiliation deliberately committed against Yvonne (at the command of a male Custody Sergeant) for the purpose of forcing her to give the Police her personal details, which she was refusing as part of her legitimate protest against an entirely unlawful arrest. DCC Dunn however goes out of her way to assert that the decision to strip Yvonne of her clothes was an act of ‘safeguarding’ – and devotes the longest section of her letter to justifying this.

In this respect therefore, the letter contains at its heart not an apology but an excuse – suggesting that Yvonne has misunderstood the Police’s ‘good intentions’ – and hence, with that failure to accept blame for the worst abuse of Police power perpetrated against Yvonne, does not go nearly far enough.

As I wrote previously, senior officers and force management are often content to put money where their mouth should be; and it is hard to believe that all the right lessons will in fact be learned, when the Police still seek to deny the most serious wrong.

Police Exploitation of the Power of Arrest

Police officers are invested with many extra-ordinary powers vis- a- vis their fellow citizens, and no doubt the greatest of these is the power of arrest pursuant to a criminal investigation: to deprive a person of his or her liberty and make them into a prisoner for the purposes of Police interrogation.

Such a power, which would subject most of us to one of the most onerous and stressful situations we have ever experienced in our lives, must of course be exercised with the utmost discretion by Police officers, and only used when absolutely necessary, in accordance with Code G of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). This is not least because the harm caused to a person by arrest does not end with their release from the Police station: the psychological effects can persist for months, if not years afterwards. Furthermore, in today’s digital and interconnected world of databases, even an entirely innocent person leaving Police custody without charge cannot simply and completely ‘shut the door’ on these events. The fact of their arrest, and their personal and biometric information will in many cases be retained by the Police indefinitely, an electronic ‘ghost in the machine’ which could potentially haunt a person of good character for the rest of their lives, showing up on future Police database checks – including by the Disclosure & Barring Service in respect of employment and by national and foreign Border control agencies in regards to travel. By way of example, an arrest for certain offences, even without conviction and on the flimsiest of grounds, can present major problems for a person from the UK wishing to enter the United States.

In light of the above, it is always very satisfying when I am able to use the civil justice system to set right for one of my clients a wrong committed against them by a Police Officer’s misuse – or even deliberate exploitation – of the power of arrest, arising from that Officer’s misunderstanding – or manipulation – of the “necessity to arrest” criteria.

The most recent such case I have concluded, was that of my client Paul Peters, who was successful in his action against Merseyside Police following a multi-day Trial at Liverpool County Court, which concluded on 8 January.

Paul is a man of entirely good character and a self-employed plumber. In June 2013 he attended the home of a woman I shall identify as AM in order to carry out plumbing works, along with his son, who worked for him. During this work, it was necessary for him to move a wardrobe; nothing untoward occurred.

Subsequently, in mid-July 2013, (apparently 2 weeks after noticing that the cash was missing) AM reported missing money to the police. She gave a statement, in which she said the cash in question (£10,000) was being stored in the bottom of the wardrobe which Paul and his son had moved. However, the statement also made it clear that AM had not in fact seen/ checked on the money since January 2013 and that in the intervening months, before Paul came to work for her, she had numerous other workmen in the house, some of whom had been left un-supervised whilst she was away from the property.

DC Mitchell of Merseyside Police was assigned to lead the investigation and went to speak to AM. AM pointed a finger of suspicion at Paul and his son, though it seemed her only real basis for this was that she felt that Paul had been “indignant” when challenged about whether he had taken the money. Of course, most people wrongly accused of theft would very likely respond in the same way!

DC Mitchell recorded the key problem in the case: the money could have gone missing at any point between January and July. He also apparently questioned whether the money had gone missing at all, and this was part of an insurance scam on the part of AM; or whether her partner, who had access to the house, might have taken it. Despite this, as the investigation continued, DC Mitchell at no point chose to question AM’s partner, even when it appeared that he was taking steps to avoid coming into contact with the Officer.

As noted above, our client and his son were only two in a long ‘roster’ of potential suspects in the form of the dozens of workmen who had been in and out of the house during the half year in question, since the money had last been accounted for. I will, however, pause here to note that of all the workmen who had visited the house, Paul and his son were the only ones who were Black.

DC Mitchell made the following entries in the investigation log –

  • 14/7/13  She has confirmed that she has withdrawn £10K from her bank and placed it in her child’s wardrobe for safe keeping whilst having work done on the property. A number of trades have been in the house both whilst she was in attendance and also not at home. She last saw the cash at the start of Jan 2013. She has only realised it was gone after she had gone into the room and checked the wardrobe and found the cash has gone. With not seeing the cash herself since Jan it cannot be confirmed who has taken the money that was kept in the wardrobe.
  • 5/8/13 Research is required on both Peters. It was my intention to complete this research over the weekend and then be in a position to make a decision about a warrant.
  • 5/8/13  I have considered financial investigations in relation to … Paul Peters and his son…the Criminal Assets Team…They have advised that a Judges Production Order  (JPO). May be a viable means of obtaining financial information… Based on the results of my intelligence research a warrant to search the home address of Peters for the cash in question and anything associated with the case (receipt, red money bands) may be sought.
  • 12/8/13 Prior to my leave I was unable to complete my financial checks with the financial intelligence unit. Information from them is required prior to any JPO. Should they be unable to provide me with the information I will consider making a visit to the home address of … Paul Peters and asking him for the information directly. I am considering this actions carefully as it will alert him to the fact that I suspect that he or his son is responsible for the theft. If one or other of them is responsible, they will have ample time to move or hide the money. Without the information however it may be unlikely that a warrant will be granted.
  • 22/8/13 I have been unable to consult with the financial investigators so far over this case.
  • 27/8/13 The information at this time is not sufficient to apply for a warrant [against PETERS].
  • 3/9/13 I am now looking at completing a Judges Production Order and have sought advice in respect of form completion…
  • 13/9/13 I have been unable to progress this investigation as I have been dealing with[REDACTED]
  • 17/9/13 Unable to progress this investigation today, as I have been tasked with[REDACTED]
  • 19/9/13 Call from AM – I have also advised her…that after looking at the information held about the suspects, there is not enough to proceed at this time against Paul PETERS…there is not enough in PETERS’ background to support the notion that he has taken the money. [A further note on the same day indicates that DC Mitchell had now received and was reviewing the financial accounts of AM and her partner – to consider any wrongdoing on their part]
  • 20/9/13 I am unable to progress this case further today as I have been tasked with [REDACTED].
  • 25/9/13 Unable to progress this matter further today as dealing[REDACTED]
  • 28/9/13 I have been unable to progress this matter today as I have been tasked with prisoner [REDACTED]
  • 8/10/13 PETERS was arrested this morning and his house searched. Nothing of evidential value was found.

Paul was understandably shocked and surprised by his arrest, which DC Mitchell stated in official documentation was necessary “to prevent loss or damage to property” – notwithstanding the obvious fact that if Paul had taken the money this event occurred over 3 months previously.

Paul was bailed to return to the station in December 2013, but when he presented himself there was informed that he was (unsurprisingly) being given an outcome of ‘No Further Action’.

Paul was incensed by what had been done to him, and made a complaint to his MP and to the Professional Standards Department of Merseyside Police – the latter of which was, predictably, rejected by PSD who went out of their way to support and excuse the actions of DC Mitchell and the “necessity” of Paul’s arrest.

The chronology of the investigation, as summarised above, leads to the conclusion, in my firm opinion, that DC Mitchell – having run out of ‘leads’ and now contrary to his own earlier analysis of the evidence (which was that there simply wasn’t sufficient evidence to suspect Paul) – acted on 8 October to arrest the Paul simply in order to kick some life into an investigation that was apparently drifting. He may well have felt under pressure to ‘do something’.

DC Mitchell appeared to have unreasonably abandoned his earlier attempts to progress the matter without arresting Paul, which he had previously accepted was not justified. The only thing that happened between 19 September and the date of Paul’s arrest was that financial information relating to the complainant AM and her partner had been received; logically this cannot have changed the grounds or necessity for arresting Paul Peters and notably there was no attempt to obtain a search warrant of Paul’s address (which requires authorisation by a Magistrate). Presumably this was because DC Mitchell’s view was really still that which he had given in August – that it was unlikely a search warrant would be granted given the paucity of evidence/ grounds for suspicion. Therefore, this was, in my opinion, an arrest which was attempted in order to obtain grounds of suspicion rather than vice versa.

The information available to DC Mitchell was in his own words not sufficient to apply for a warrant. How then did it generate reasonable suspicion that Paul was guilty of theft? In reality it appears that DC Mitchell, realising that he hadn’t enough to apply for a search warrant of Paul’s premises, decided to overcome, or rather circumvent, that legal obstacle by contriving an arrest in order to procure entry to the Paul’s premises. This is precisely the tactic which was deprecated by Eady J in Hanningfield v The Chief Constable of Essex Police EWHC [2013].

Note the following statement in the written response provided by DC Mitchell in early 2014 to the initial complaint brought by Paul – Necessity criterion was to secure and preserve evidence and protect property (the cash). The arrest also enabled a search of the premises under section 32 of PACE.

A wish to search premises under section 32 PACE 1984 is not a statutory justification for the necessity of arrest. At all times there was against Paul only a tenuous deduction made from incomplete information. At most Paul should have been offered a voluntary Police interview. There was no basis for an arrest and detention and the reasons stated on the custody record for the necessity of arrest simply do not bear scrutiny.

When I presented a civil claim to Merseyside Police on behalf of Paul, it was met not with humility or apology but by a very combative attitude from the Force, and in particular DC Mitchell, who appeared to be under the impression that my firm should be reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for having the temerity to question his actions.

DC Mitchell and his superiors attempted to justify his arrest of Paul in October 2013 on the basis that it was necessary to protect/ preserve the missing cash…Despite the fact, acknowledged in the following words by DC Mitchell, that in July 2013 –

“Since there was a two week delay in reporting the cash missing, I concluded there was no immediate need to search the homes of any potential suspects. Had the report being taken on the day of the cash being found missing, then it would have been imperative to conduct searches immediately to try to find the cash.”

How can this square at all with the Officer’s subsequent assertion that at a point in time over 3 months later, it somehow once again became imperative to conduct searches to find the cash?

DC Mitchell stated that his reasoning was that the ‘suspect’ would now feel safe enough to spend the money… This is somewhat obscure and bizarre reasoning to say the least, and DC Mitchell’s assertion that the money was now at risk at 3 months after the alleged event but was not, presumably, at risk 2 months after the event, and equally was going to have disappeared by 4 months after the event, appears to be an entirely random and arbitrary assertion, entirely disconnected from either common sense or objective or specific facts about this case.

Furthermore, it would appear to directly contradict the reason the Officer gave (above) for not feeling it was necessary to enter the premises of the suspect when the crime was first reported 2 weeks after the alleged theft, presumably because it was by then already too late to ‘protect and preserve’ the money as it would have been spent or hidden elsewhere. DC Mitchell was in effect arguing that he thought all along that the money would be in the possession of the suspect (Paul), and he was content to leave it there until such a time as he decided (apparently October, over 3 months after the event) that it was now suddenly at risk of being spent.

At the conclusion of the Trial on 8 January, in which I instructed Mr Nick Stanage of Doughty Street Chambers, one of the country’s leading actions-against-the-police barristers to act on behalf of Paul, His Honour Judge Cadwallader accepted our arguments in regards to the glaring obvious facts set out above regarding the lack of any necessity to arrest and Judgment was granted in favour of Paul for false imprisonment, and he was awarded £8,000 compensation. He will now also be able to use this judgment to assist him in getting Merseyside Police to expunge all records of his wrongful arrest so that it will not besmirch his character in the future or hamper his ability to work and travel where he choses. The importance of this victory goes far beyond the counting of ‘pounds and pence’.

Indeed, it was only half way through the Police barrister’s closing speech that Merseyside Police finally conceded that they now accepted that Paul had no involvement whatsoever with the alleged theft. This was in marked contrast to their response to his complaint and his claim over the preceding 6 years, when not only were the Police offering neither an apology nor even an acknowledgement of Paul’s innocence, but DC Mitchell (in a 2014 statement made in response to Paul’s complaint) actually “doubled-down” by insisting that he personally believed Paul was a thief – despite having absolutely no evidence to support this. Neither the Officer nor his Force showed any humility or contrition until – thanks to Paul’s courageous decision to see this case through to Trial despite all the financial and emotional risks entailed – they were finally brought to book in front of a Judge.

In my opinion, DC Mitchell and those in the Force who clearly supported him in their denial of both Paul’s legitimate complaint and legitimate claim were ‘clutching at straws’ to justify Paul’s arrest…but that did not prevent them using those straws to contest the claim for over 6 years and spend tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayer’s money in doing so.

Holding DC Mitchell and his enablers within Merseyside Police to account over this misuse of their powers against Paul  was absolutely necessary in order not only to enable Paul to achieve a personal sense of vindication, and restore his damaged faith in our law & justice system, but also to teach the Police that we will not as a society accept or tolerate abuses of authority – whether careless, reckless or deliberate.

Violence in Police Custody: When Gatekeepers become Rulebreakers.

When a person is arrested and taken to a Police station, it is required that they be brought as soon as possible before the Custody Sergeant, who presiding behind the desk of the custody suite, will determine whether the suspect should or should not be detained. His role is to establish the grounds and necessity for arrest, decide if they are lawful, and ‘interview’ the detained person to establish (in particular) their personal details and whether they have any requirement for medical treatment.

Although in the circumstances a person under arrest – brought before the custody desk like a prisoner before the king – might not see it that way, the Custody Sergeant’s primary function is to ensure the well-being of that person; to order their immediate release if they have been wrongly arrested (a rare, but not unheard of event), to determine if they are at risk of self harm and to arrange any necessary medical treatment. But they also exercise a great deal of power over the detained person, in particular having the authority to ‘sentence’ a person to the degradation of a strip- search.

The ‘job description’ for a Custody Sergeant is defined by the College of Policing to include the following key responsibilities –

  • Upholding the care & welfare of detained persons
  • Ensuring that all Police staff have due regard to the rights and treatment of persons arrested
  • Maintaining high standards of security and safety within the Custody Suite
  • Recognising at all times the dignity and wellbeing of detainees

Whether Custody Sergeants always act in the best interests of the detainees brought before them is open to question. They are only human, and no doubt have to put up with a lot of ‘aggro’ from people under arrest. This can lead to many Custody Sergeants coming across to detainees as cold, uncaring or arrogant – even sometimes actively antagonistic, as one of my clients found when she was brought into a Middlesbrough custody suite by Cleveland Police officers for allegedly refusing a roadside ‘breath test’ in December 2019.

My client, Catherine, was brought before the Custody Sergeant and what then occurred is fully evidenced by the video and audio recording of the CCTV cameras in the custody suite (which is often the only part of a Police station to have constant audio recording, rather than just ‘silent’ movie footage). This is because, as I have indicated above, the Custody suite is almost like the ‘court room’ of the Police station where the Custody Sergeant (in the role of a quasi- judge) determines whether a person should be detained or released and ‘sentences’ them to detention in a cell, strip –search, or calls for medical treatment etc.

Catherine was extremely unhappy about her arrest, and was letting her feelings be known. A scuffle occurred between Catherine and the Officers escorting her, during which a female officer pushed Catherine’s head down so that it almost connected with the custody desk. It is evident that the Custody Sergeant at this point lost his temper, and he leaned across the desk, waving his pen in Catherine’s face and shouted –

Shut your fucking mouth, you drunken little slut.”

Unsurprisingly, this did nothing to defuse the situation and in my opinion it is reprehensible that the senior officer in this situation, whose role as the ‘gatekeeper’ of the Police station is to be a fair arbitrator and is to ensure the welfare and safety of detainees, should speak to someone in such a hostile and deliberately demeaning and degrading way. This particular Officer was certainly not meeting the College of Policing’s definition of the ideal Custody Sergeant as someone “resolute and compassionate…able to set out logical arguments clearly, adapting language , form and message to meet the needs of different people/ audiences” – although perhaps he thought he was…

A similar dereliction of duty by a Custody Sergeant was that in the recently reported case of Gareth Starr, who was found guilty of gross misconduct for mocking and making fun of a drunken detainee who was staggering around his cell, and who slipped and fell in his own urine. What made this even worse, as Starr laughed at the man and failed to go to his aid, was that he did this in the presence of junior colleagues, setting a terrible example of disrespect for human dignity. Starr apparently “actively discouraged” another Officer from going to give aid to the detainee, because watching him was more “amusing”.  Avon & Somerset Constabulary made it clear that Starr would have been immediately dismissed from the Force, had he not already retired.

Sometimes however, inappropriate behaviour from Custody Sergeants towards the detainees in their ‘trust’ goes beyond disrespect or incivility into actual physical violence. Such was the experience of another of my clients, Kevin who had been arrested by the Metropolitan Police. Kevin did not dispute that his arrest was lawful, and throughout his time in custody was calm and compliant with Police instructions, save for a minor incident when he threw a paper cup, half filled with water on the floor, in frustration at not being given appropriate medication for discomfort that he was suffering. This fairly trivial act of ‘rebellion’ by Kevin seems to have caught the eye of, and riled, the Custody Sergeant behind the desk, who I will identify by the name of Brown.

During his time in detention, Kevin requested permission to brush his teeth, and was accordingly escorted to the ‘shower room’ by an officer. Whilst he was brushing his teeth, Sergeant Brown, entered the shower room and ordered Kevin to “fucking” get back to his cell. Kevin quite reasonably protested about this, on the basis that the other officer had given him permission to be there, but Sergeant Brown ignored him, grabbed Kevin’s arm and started to march him back down the corridor to his cell. A second Officer took hold of Kevin’s other arm during this process, and so he was completely under the control of two Officers. Kevin again protested, saying that there was no need to manhandle him, and that he would walk back to the cell on his own, but was again ignored.

When they reached the door of the cell, Kevin turned to Sergeant Brown and asked him “What’s your fucking problem ? I had permission to brush my teeth. I didn’t refuse to go back into my cell.”

In response to this, Sergeant Brown said nothing, but stepped back and then with his clenched fist, punched Kevin in the face. As blood poured from Kevin’s nose, he was pushed into the cell and the door was slammed shut. His nose quickly became swollen and he was in immediate pain, shock and distress. Nevertheless, despite being well aware of the injury he had just inflicted upon this detained person, Custody Sergeant Brown waited over half an hour before calling for medical assistance for Kevin.

Shortly before calling for the Healthcare Professional to attend upon Kevin, Sergeant Brown made the entry in the Custody Record, which constituted, in my opinion, a clear attempt to cover up the unlawful force he had used upon my client (the abbreviation ‘DP’ stands for ‘detained person’; names have been changed) –

At approx 21:58h I walked down the male cell block to ensure that DP was in his cell as he had left FME’s room and became aggressive and thrown a cup of water over the custody floor, I saw DDO Harris near shower cubicle and I told him that DP needs to go into cell as custody was very busy and I needed him.  As I levelled with shower room I saw DP just standing there, I told him that he needed to go back to his cell as I needed DDO Harris, he just stood there staring at me, I entered the cubicle and took hold of DP’s arm to escort him as he became very vocal, swearing and threatening, he is a large built male, taller than myself.  PS Cartwright was behind me, DP leant down towards me pushing his forehead against mine, I feared he was about to assault me, I tried pushing him away with my left hand but he was tensing his body up, fearing for my personal safety I punched DP once in his face, this caused him to step backwards and away from me, PS Cartwright then pushed him into his cell, DP moved forward to get at us, PS Cartwright slammed the cell door shut.

At 23.08h it was recorded in the custody record by PC Purslow that Kevin wished to speak with an Inspector about the assault he had suffered.  It was clear from this, and subsequent entries in the custody record the staff at the station were well aware that Kevin (unsurprisingly) wanted to pursue a complaint in relation to what PS Brown had done to him.

At 00.18h it was recorded in the custody record by PS Cartwright that ICEFLO (photographs) had been taken of Kevin’s nose and the FME (Force Medical Examiner) had noted his injuries. 

Despite this the Metropolitan Police failed to open a complaint investigation and failed to preserve the CCTV footage which would have proved or disproved PS Brown’s account

When I subsequently commenced proceedings on behalf of Kevin, I invited the Court to draw the logical inference from this presumably wilful failure –

  1. PS Brown, in the entry in the custody record made at 22.29h falsely asserted that my client had pushed his forehead against that of PS Brown and falsely asserted that my client was tensing his body up;
  1. Despite being well aware that my client had initiated a complaint in relation to PS Brown’s actions against him, officers manifestly and presumably deliberately failed to record or action that complaint and failed to ensure that the CCTV footage was preserved; 
  1. The false assertions made in the custody record by PS Brown, and the failure of the Officers to action the complaint as set out above, added insult to injury and were an unconscionable attempt to mislead the Court to the detriment of my client and/or were done with the aim of concealing PS Brown’s unlawful conduct towards my client;

The injury sustained by Kevin was not a minor one; it was established that he had suffered a deviated nasal septum, for which a septo- rhinoplasty operation was required to improve his breathing and the shape of his nose.

Kevin’s mistreatment was all the more reprehensible because it came (literally) at the hands of the one Officer above all others whose duty was to ensure Kevin’s safety and wellbeing, which duty very much included making and preserving a proper record of everything that happened to Kevin during his time in detention – but who instead manipulated the Custody Record to disguise his own unlawful assault upon Kevin, tried to deny him his right to pursue a complaint and allowed to be deleted, the crucial video footage.

Although the Met initially filed a Defence denying liability (and endorsing Sergeant Brown’s version of events) they subsequently caved in and settled the claim well before Trial, agreeing to pay for the full cost of the operation Kevin required to fix his broken nose, and additional compensation on top of that for his pain and suffering, together with his legal fees.

The experiences of Catherine, Kevin and many of my clients are a warning that sometimes the real danger to a detained person, at a time when they are likely to be in a highly vulnerable and distressed state, can sadly come from the very person who is entrusted with responsibility for their care, the man whose ‘prisoner’ they are.

It is entirely right to expect the highest standards of behaviour from Custody Sergeants, and to hold them to account when they fall below those standards…sometimes far, far below.

(All names have been changed.)

Racial Profiling: Black Lives in Police Eyes

In the news this week were plenty of stories which did not bring any Christmas cheer, including a number of items highlighting the continued problem of racist attitudes within Police institutions, and how deeply ingrained this problem still seems to be.

The worst of these was the case of 6 “elite” Hampshire officers who were found guilty of gross misconduct after covert recordings of the Force’s Serious Organised Crime Unit captured a culture of regular racism – including officers wishing death on ‘foreigners’ and referring to the section where a black officer worked as “Africa corner” – in scenes reminiscent of the 1970s time-travel cop drama “Life on Mars.”

During the space of a mere 3 weeks, officers were recorded alluding to a black colleagues as mixed-breed dogs, plantation overseers and zoo animals; ‘jokes’ were told about illegal immigrants drowning in the sea, and killing Albanians with a nerve agent – and this is to say nothing about the sexism and homophobia which was also rife in the unit.

The officers await to hear their fates on 4 January, but they will surely all be dismissed from the Force.

The barrister leading the case against the officers, QC Jason Beer commented “When speaking to a black officer, a colleague puts on a fake Caribbean accent – in fact he was from Ghana. A detail like that doesn’t matter, he was a black man after all.”

This, I think, is getting near to the heart of the problem. The Hampshire officers are a gross example of the worst kind of ‘old school’ Police officers whose hideous attitudes towards everyone who is not a ‘straight, white male’ are the badge of membership of their ‘club’ (and apparently, like an awful broken record, the only form of ‘banter’ allowed in it). I do not for one moment think they represent the majority of officers in this respect, but they do – like the tip of an iceberg – hint at a less dramatic but bigger, wider problem of racial profiling generally, ‘below the surface’ of Police culture. Not overt racism perhaps, but racist assumptions leading to greater Police hostility and suspicion on all levels to ethnic minority groups.

We know, for example, that for a long time it has been evident that taser guns are used disproportionally against black people and likewise during the Covid Lockdown policing powers were used disproportionally against black and other people of ethnic minority appearance. Witness also the case of my client Dwight.

This is a problem which, of course, existed long before the recent Lockdown, and sadly, seems set to long outlast it. I have recently settled a claim for my client Brian Maddox, a black man who I believe was the victim of racial profiling in 2017.

On the day in question Brian was hurrying along a street in Brighton, late for an urgent appointment. He is a man of impeccable character. The only crime he could be accused of? “Running whilst Black” it sadly seems…

Suddenly Brian was accosted by a young white male, whom he now knows to have been a plain clothed officer of Sussex Police (PC Barton).  Coming out of nowhere the young male grabbed Brian’s jacket with both hands. Although it is true that he shouted the words “Stop, Police!” at Brian, in the context of this event Brian would have had every reason to think that he was in fact being mugged. He instinctively sought to extricate himself from the man’s grip.

However, within seconds the first man was joined by a second (also wearing ‘casual’ clothes, and only now known to be a Police Officer) who assisted the first male in tripping and bundling Brian to the ground, during which Brian dropped his mobile phone and continued to believe he was the victim of a robbery.

It is distressing to describe what happened next, but in a scene reminiscent of what happened to George Floyd in America earlier this year, Brian now found himself struggling to breathe, pinned down on a concrete road surface, with a knee in his back.

A female officer – the first person on the scene in uniform – then joined in the ‘pinning’ of Brian by sitting on his legs.

Brian was subjected to intensely tight handcuffing, with the metal biting into his wrists, and then pulled to his feet and searched “on suspicion of possession of marijuana with intent to supply”. He was incredulous and could not believe what was happening to him.

Despite the fact that nothing – of course – was found on him, Brian was kept in handcuffs and transported to Brighton Police station. All of this, humiliatingly, was played out in front of many members of the public on a busy high street. The Police justification for this was that Brian (in attempting to defend himself) had been “resisting” the first plain clothes officer who had accosted him.

Shortly after arrival at the station Brian was “de-arrested” and his handcuffs were finally removed. He was issued with a ‘stop and search’ form and released.

In response to the claim for false imprisonment and assault and battery that I subsequently brought on behalf of Brian, Sussex Police initially denied liability stating that the plain clothes officers had been involved in a drugs ‘sting’ and were seeking to arrest three black men who they suspected of dealing cannabis.

It seems that PC Barton had pursued one of the black men, lost sight of him, and had then fastened onto Brian, the next black man that he saw and given chase to him, believing him to be the drug dealer. PC Barton later admitted that he had only briefly seen the man he was originally pursuing, from a distance of 20 – 50 metres, and therefore couldn’t be sure that Brian was in fact the suspect; however, it seems that Brian’s blackness was enough to trigger an assumption in the officer that he was the ‘wanted’ man, in a way that I firmly believe whiteness alone would not have done.

I issued Court proceedings on behalf of Brian, and notwithstanding their denial of liability, Sussex Police soon came to the settlement table.  I am pleased to confirm that after rejecting their initial, derisory, offer of £1,100. I have now settled Brian’s claim against the police for a sum greatly enhanced.

We have to ask serious questions about how many rank and file Police officers fail to look past the ‘Blackness’ of a person’s appearance, acting as if it were that person’s overriding and most important characteristic, and using skin colour in the absence of any other distinquishing characteristic or mode of behaviour to ‘zone in’ on a black person in a way that ‘Whiteness’ alone would never be used against a white person.

Often, perhaps, is subconscious, but that does little to detract from its harmfulness and hurtfulness; taking a step back to look at the wider problem of ‘racial assumptions’ in the justice system, we can see that there has been yet another case of a black barrister being assumed by Court staff to be the defendant in a criminal case.

The type of attitude that leads to ‘racial profiling’ may not be as grossly barbaric as the behaviour of the ‘Life on Mars’ Hampshire officers, but because it is so prevelant is just as much as a problem and causes untold damage to community relations and the faith and trust that people of colour can have in the Police.

Police Forces need to work much harder to change the mind-sets of their officers generally, and ensure a truly healthy culture of non-racist policing; a task which begins, but certainly does not end, with the throwing out of the rotten apples of the Hampshire SOCU.

Names have been changed.