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In the News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Police Guidance Fails Sexual Abuse Victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In September 2013, further guidance was given;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alibi There For You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Long Can the Police Detain You? Part 4

In my last blog post, I wrote about how a perfectly lawful detention can become unlawful (and therefore constitute false imprisonment) and lead to a payment of compensation. Equally, an initially unlawful arrest can lead to a period of lawful detention thus reducing the level of compensation payable.

By way of example, I recently concluded a claim on behalf of my client Helen Broughton who was unlawfully arrested and then detained at a Police Station, but whose detention ultimately became lawful.

My client attended a rave taking place in a barn at a farm in rural Northamptonshire in the early hours of the morning.

Helen drove to the farm in company with a number of friends and parked her vehicle in an adjacent field.

Over the course of a number of hours, Helen attended the party and consumed an amount of alcohol.

At approximately 07.42h, officers of the Northamptonshire Police Force attended at the scene of the party.

At approximately 09.10h Helen was approached by officers who instructed her to move her vehicle, or advised it would be seized.  Helen explained that she could not drive her vehicle as she had been drinking, and requested that she be allowed to sober up first.

Officers then accompanied Helen as she went to her vehicle and opened it so that her friends could remove their possessions.  Helen then sat in the front passenger seat with the keys to her vehicle on a chain around her neck.

Whilst still sitting in the front passenger seat, Helen then attempted to close the passenger side door. She had refused the officer’s requests to exit the vehicle but had no intention of driving it.  She simply wanted to be left alone to ‘sober up’ and was intimidated by the presence of multiple officers.

One officer prevented Helen from closing the door and then, on instruction from his Sergeant arrested her for being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle!

The officer then attempted to remove Helen from the vehicle, by grabbing her left arm and pulling her. Helen, in a state of fear and panic, attempted to remain in her vehicle. Notwithstanding her efforts, she was pulled out of the car and on to the ground.

Three burly officers then pinned Helen down, during the course of which action, one of them stepped on Helen’s leg.

Helen was handcuffed and placed in leg restraints before being escorted to a nearby Police vehicle.

Helen was thereafter transported to and detained at Northampton Criminal Justice Centre.  According to the Custody Record,  the time of Helen’s arrest was 09.30h and her arrival time at 10.32h.

At approximately 10.55h Helen was then brought before the Custody Officer who refused to authorise her detention in relation to the offences for which she had been arrested.

An entry in the Custody Record timed at 11.58h read as follows –

“The event was described as a RAVE although the Sgt at the scene tells me no Supt gave direction I do not believe we had the power, that said DP was present and arrested because officers feared she would drive away.  As such I cannot see how she ‘refused to leave’ in a manner that would then allow the removal of her car.  I have discussed with the Sgt at the scene briefly and will reconsider if he recontacts with an explanation as to what offences this DP may have committed.  At this time all these offences are NFA”

That said, Helen’s detention continued because it was deemed that Helen was in breach of pre-existing bail conditions to live and sleep each night at a specified address.

The entry continued –

However officer advises DP on bail to reside and sleep at an address.  PNC was ‘down’ this morning for while however DP admits attending Rave about midnight and was arrested there stating she could not go home because she knew she needed to wait until the alcohol wore off.  I am satisfied this is a sufficient admission to show she did not sleep each night at the specified location.”

Notwithstanding that her initial arrest was clearly unlawful, Helen was detained thereafter for the purpose of production at Court in respect of the alleged offence of breach of bail.

In due course, Northamptonshire Police accepted that Helen’s initial arrest had been wrong and that her detention until the time she was arrested for breach of bail was unlawful, a period of about 2.5 hours.

Furthermore, whether the force used against Helen was excessive or not, Northamptonshire Police was also now liable for assault/battery given that Helen had been initially unlawfully arrested.

Following a personal recommendation, Helen contacted me and asked that I pursue a claim on her behalf against Northamptonshire Police for false imprisonment and assault/battery.

Although liability was admitted (for the initial arrest and detention and use of force), it was not possible to agree financial terms.  In the circumstances, it was necessary to issue  Court proceedings, after which settlement terms were agreed, my client ultimately receiving a five-figure sum of compensation.  That sum would have been greater had the Police not been able to show a valid reason for detaining her after the initial 2 ½ hours.

ALL NAMES CHANGED

How Long Can the Police Detain You? Part 3

In my last two blogs (which you can read here and here), I focused on Section 37 of Police and Criminal Evidence Act which sets out Police grounds for continued detention before charge and how failure to comply with the same can lead to a claim for false imprisonment.

What about post-charge?  Here, the police are obliged to bring the individual before a Magistrates’ Court in the local justice area in which the Police Station at which he was charged is situated “as soon as is practicable”, per Section 46 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

One would assume that this would not be difficult to comply with, but mistakes do happen as my client, David Burdett will confirm.

David was arrested by Nottinghamshire Police in respect of an allegation of assault which was being investigated by Lincolnshire Police.  He was taken to Nottingham Bridewell Custody Suite.

Following process, David was interviewed and an evidential/charging review was then carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service.  The Crown Prosecution Service determined that the threshold test (evidential and public interest) had been satisfied and accordingly, at 21.56, my client was charged.

The Custody Officer considered the question of bail and at 22.16 decided that bail would be refused and that my client would be kept in custody overnight and appear before the Magistrates the next day.

The remand file (including advanced disclosure) stated that David would be appearing at Lincoln Magistrates’ Court.

The next day David was released into the custody of Geo Amey for transport and appearance at Court. However, David was transported not to Lincolnshire Magistrates’ court but to Nottingham Magistrates’ Court. Nottingham Magistrates’ Court then refused to accept David, ostensibly because they did not have ‘jurisdiction’ to deal with a Lincolnshire matter. There is, in fact, no basis for this in law: any Magistrates’ Court can deal with any matter, notwithstanding the geographical ‘origin’.

David was then returned to Custody at Nottingham Bridewell, where his detention was authorised by the Custody Officer. The reasons endorsed on the Custody Record were that David had been “ locked out” of Court.

The detention of  David was authorised at 13.29 and he remained in Custody until the following day when he was again transferred into the custody of Geo Amey to appear at Lincoln Magistrates’ Court.

When ultimately presented before Lincolnshire Magistrates’ Court, the case was adjourned and David was finally  released at approximately 1.00pm.

Section 46 of PACE states as follows;

(1)    Where a person –

  1. is charged with an offence, and
  2. after being charged-
  3.          is kept in police detention or he shall be brought before a Magistrates’ court in accordance with the provisions of this section. 

(2)    If he is to be brought before a Magistrates’ court in the local justice area in which the police station at which he was charged is situated, he shall be brought before such a court as soon as is practicable and in any event not later than the first sitting after he is charged with the offence. 

(3)    If the person charged is to be brought before a Magistrates’ court in a local justice area other than that in which the police station at which he was charged is situated, he shall be removed to that area as soon as is practicable and brought before such a court as soon as is practicable after his arrival in the area and in any event not later than the first sitting of a Magistrates’ court in that area after his arrival in the area. 

Here the Police had complied with s.46 by surrendering David to Geo Amey for transport to Court. The failure of the Police was in accepting David back into their custody after the Nottingham Magistrates had refused to deal with his case. The Police had no power to detain him after he had been to Court, notwithstanding the bizarre decision of Nottingham Magistrates.

As a result, David was unnecessarily kept in custody for nearly 39 hours.

Once I intimated a claim, East Midlands Legal Services (quickly on behalf of Nottinghamshire Police) agreed to settle up and David received £3000 in compensation.

ALL NAMES CHANGED

How Long Can the Police Detain You? Part Two

In my last blog, I wrote about how the police may become liable for false imprisonment if they do not comply with the detailed rules set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984  and specifically fail to comply with Section 37, i.e. the grounds upon which a suspect is held.

Another basis for how a perfectly lawful detention may become unlawful is where statutory reviews of detention are not undertaken.

PACE requires that a suspect’s detention should be reviewed at periodic intervals and consideration given as to whether continued detention is necessary to secure or preserve evidence relating to an offence for which he is under arrest or to obtain evidence by questioning him.  If the review is not properly carried out, then the person’s continued detention from the time of the review will become unlawful.  This is the case even if the police can argue that if the review had been carried out, further detention would have been authorised.

I recently had cause to argue this point in a claim against Avon & Somerset Constabulary for my client John Smith.  Mr. Smith was arrested for the theft of a bag belonging to his ex-girlfriend.  Although I am satisfied that he was wholly innocent, the Police had justifiable grounds to arrest and investigate based on reasonable suspicion.

The alleged theft occurred in Bath and John’s ex-girlfriend reported the incident to Avon & Somerset Constabulary.

By the time of his arrest, John was living at his parent’s house and at 21.45 one night he was arrested in Doncaster and taken to the local Police Station where he arrived at 22.25 and his detention authorised at 22.30.

At 02.40 early the next morning John was awoken and informed that two officers from Avon & Somerset Constabulary had come to collect him to take him to Bath Police Station to be interviewed.

Upon arrival at Bath Police Station, John’s detention was processed by the Custody Sergeant who authorised detention at 05.41 to enable evidence to e obtained by questioning.

At 11.35, John’s detention was reviewed by the Duty Inspector who authorised further detention to obtain evidence by questioning.

Later that morning John was interviewed, during which he denied the allegation.  Eventually, at 14.45,  John was informed that no further action was to be taken against him and he was released.

In accordance with section 40 of PACE 1984, prior to a person being charged, the first review of detention by an officer of at least the rank of Inspector should take place at no later than six hours after detention was first authorised.  The second review should take place not later than nine hours after the first review and subsequent reviews at nine-hour intervals.

In Roberts v Chief Constable of Cheshire Police  [1999] 1 WLR 662, the Court of Appeal upheld a finding of false imprisonment where there had been a failure to carry out a review of the Claimant’s detention in accordance with section 40 of PACE 1984, which rendered the period between when the review should have been carried out and when the review was actually carried out, a period of unlawful detention.

John’s detention was authorised at 22.30.  In accordance with section 40 of PACE 1984, his detention ought to have been reviewed by an Inspector no later than 04.30.  John left Doncaster Custody Suite at 02.25 and his detention was not reviewed when he was en route to Bath Custody Suite and although the Custody Sergeant authorised his continued detention at 05.41, an Inspector did not review his detention until 11.35.  Applying the requirements of section 40 of PACE 1984 and the case of Roberts, this failure rendered John’s detention between 04.30 and 11.35 unlawful.

On that basis, John was unlawfully detained for nearly 8 hours.

I am pleased to confirm that once I had intimated a claim, Avon & Somerset agreed to compensate my client and he recovered £2,000.00 damages.

This sort of claim should not be thought of as the exploitation of a mere technicality or ‘loophole’. Rather it is another example of how the Civil Justice System in this country is used to ensure the proper functioning of the Criminal Justice System.  Cases such as this, as the Court of Appeal was no doubt well aware in Roberts, serve as timely reminders for the Police not to overlook the obligations they have to those who they are holding prisoner against their will.  It is right and proper that independent, experienced senior officers should review each and every person’s continued detention at regular intervals.  To do otherwise would be to chip away at one of the pillars that supports the liberal democratic society that presumably we all wish to live in.

How long can the police detain you? Part one

By Iain Gould, solicitor and specialist in civil actions against the police

Following an arrest, even if the initial grounds for a valid lawful arrest are satisfied, the law requires that the Police must justify detention minute-by-minute. A perfectly lawful detention can become unlawful (and therefore constitute false imprisonment) if the Police exceed their Statutory Powers set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, for example, if a person is detained for an excessive amount of time or if statutory reviews of detention are not undertaken.

I recently concluded a claim on behalf of my client “Tracy Wilkes” (name changed) where an initially lawful arrest ultimately led to a payment for false imprisonment.

My client had been involved in a dispute with a neighbour and the Police were called.

In response 3 officers of Gloucestershire Constabulary attended. My client reported to the officers that she had been assaulted by a female neighbour.

My client’s neighbour made a counter allegation of assault against my client, supported by her partner.

In the circumstances, the officers arrested both women on suspicion of assault and both were then transported to the local Police Station.

Upon her presentation to the Custody Officer, the detention of my client was authorised for the purposes of carrying out enquiries into the offence, conducting an interview and for statements to be obtained, there being insufficient evidence at that time to justify a charge immediately.

By 14.00h, (several hours after Tracy’s arrest) conduct of the investigation was passed to a Police Sergeant.

As a result of a review of the investigation, the Sergeant determined that a prosecution was not appropriate and that a ‘Restorative Justice’ disposal would be sufficient.

During the early evening, my client reluctantly engaged in a ‘Restorative Justice’ meeting, together with her neighbour.

My client was not requested to sign any documentation related to the Restorative Justice meeting and was ultimately released from Custody at 18.45h.

Whilst the initial period of her detention was lawful, it was clear to me that the overall length of detention was unnecessarily and unreasonably prolonged.

Section 37 of PACE is clear that further detention can only be authorised if there are reasonable grounds for believing that detention without charge is necessary

  • to secure or preserve evidence relating to an offence for which the suspect under arrest or
  • to obtain evidence by questioning to secure/preserve evidence.

In this case, the Custody Sergeant assessed that a prosecution was not appropriate and that further detention was necessary to complete the ‘Restorative Justice process’.

Given that it was not anticipated that further evidence was to be acquired, the continued detention of my client to achieve the ‘Restorative Justice process’ was unlawful and on that basis she was awarded compensation.

It is clear that the Police had grossly exceeded their powers of detention. The function of detention in police custody is to allow a proper investigation if a suspected crime to be carried out. Here the Custody Sergeant and his colleagues had taken it upon themselves to go beyond police functions of investigation into setting up a quasi-court in the police station, and setting themselves in the rule of Judges, detaining Tracy (and her neighbour) for the purposes of passing judgement on them, which in this case was the enforced ‘restorative justice’ meeting.