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Police Body Camera Footage: Big Brother Turns A Blind Eye?

I was dismayed this week to read the comments of one of the country’s most senior Police Officers, the Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Sir Steve House, who was encouraging his fellow Officers at the Police Superintendents Association to be “more discriminating” when it comes to releasing Body Camera footage.

Whilst I will pause to applaud his honesty – Sir Steve admitted his motivation was to prevent the Police from “looking bad” – I am concerned that his calls for footage to be withheld except “in extremis” will only reinforce a culture of obstruction, delay and lack of transparency when it comes to legitimate requests for the release of this footage, whether that request comes from the general public, the media – or those individuals who have been on the ‘receiving end’ of Police violence.

As matters stand, a number of my clients involved in high-profile cases against the Met have had their very reasonable requests for early release of body camera footage frustrated and delayed by the Met’s Information Rights Unit, which displays a tendency to hide behind jargon rather than facts.

The automatic response of most Police Forces to a request for release of body camera footage by a person who is pursuing a complaint against the Force, is to claim exemption under Data Protection laws which allow refusal of a Subject Access request for data where such release would “prejudice an official or legal inquiry, investigation or procedure” – Section 44(4)(a)(b)(c)of the DPA 2018 (that’s a whole thicket of sub- clauses to hide behind isn’t it?).

How would the release of video footage to complainants in any way ‘prejudice’ the complaint investigation however? Would it not in fact assist in the investigation by allowing the complainant to see that footage and comment upon it early in the process? (It is hard to imagine the Police withholding video footage from a victim of crime until they had decided whether or not the criminal suspect should be charged). When the Met refuses to allow a mother access to the body camera footage of an armed police raid on her house (in which she and her children, including her 12 year old son had guns trained on them), they hide behind the ‘standard line’ of not wanting to cause prejudice to the complaint investigation, without being able to offer a single specific example of how allowing my client to see that footage would be ‘prejudicial’ to the fair outcome of her complaint. Rather, it is the Met’s defensive and obstructive conduct in this regard, which causes my client to – rightfully, in my opinion – fear that the investigation is, in fact, prejudiced against her and in favour of the Officers, from the outset.

Comments from Met leadership, like those of Sir Steve House, are not helping a culture of what I consider to be deliberate delay and obfuscation on the part of the Police – the exact opposite of what the Met should be doing in order to truly live up to its mission statement of “Earning the trust and confidence of every community…”

Or perhaps that mission statement is just ‘jargon’ as well?

In a world in which officers are routinely equipped with these cameras, there should be greater transparency and a greater willingness to show both the good and the bad, for the greater health of Policing culture and the trust people place in that essential institution. 

It is not right that the Police should selectively disclose only the camera footage that they want, allowing officers’s misdeeds to be hidden. This would be to throw away the benefits that would accrue from this technology if people can indeed trust that their interactions in Police encounters are being recorded and preserved on cameras, and will in the future be easily accessible. This helps Police Officers as much as members of the public: false complaints against officers will be easily quashed, and equally it offers protection to people from police violence and misuse of powers.

In my experience, a greater prevalence of Police body camera use is good for everybody. It helps to reassure the public as to Police accountability, and that there will be an objective record of matters which, in the past would have been the domain of ‘one person’s word against two (or more) officers’. This belief is borne out by statistics which show that the introduction of body camera use in recent years led to a dramatic reduction in –

        (a)   Taser use (or misuse): during 2017, the first year following the introduction of body cameras for their Officers, West Yorkshire Police recorded a 27% drop in the number of incidents in which tasers were discharged by their Officers (despite there also being a 26% increase in the number of incidents in which tasers were drawn/ aimed that year).

        (b) The overall number of complaints against Officers: a 2016 study by Cambridge University showed a 93% annual reduction in complaints following the roll out of body cameras (albeit the study involved both UK and US Police forces).

I think there is little doubt that these statistics indicate that Police officers are better at policing their own conduct, when they know that what they are doing and saying is being caught on camera. I would echo here the comments of the academic who led the Cambridge research highlighted above: that Officers “become more accountable” – surely a very good thing – “and modify their behaviour accordingly.”

(It was also of note during the study that ‘control groups’ of front line officers from each Force who patrolled without body cameras were also the subject of less complaints, something which Dr Ariel identified as “contagious accountability” – a sign that good practice and changes in policing culture were becoming embedded across each Force as the number of cameras increased, and Officers adapted to life under frequent, objective scrutiny).

Police leadership should therefore be encouraging greater use of these cameras, and greater transparency through ease of access to this footage, not a culture of keeping the footage under lock and key unless it suits Police purposes. Sadly, rather than learning the positive lessons from this, an officer of the seniority of Sir Steve House now seems to want to ‘turn the clock’ back on accountability, by keeping body camera footage for ‘Police eyes only’ in most cases. In my opinion, this would significantly undermine the benefits of ‘camera culture’ as it would lead some Officers to act more recklessly, rudely or violently, knowing that there was a much reduced likelihood of any incriminating footage seeing the light of day.

By way of example; one of the key features of the case of my client Anthony, highlighted in my previous blog – a black man subject to a negative stop and search which left him requiring an A&E visit after his elbow was fractured – is that none of the Officers, despite initiating the contact with Anthony on the basis that they apparently suspected him to be a drugs dealer, bothered to activate their cameras until after Anthony had been taken to the floor, his arm broken, and handcuffs applied. This in my view is completely unacceptable, the entire incident should have been recorded from the outset and my client allowed access to that footage from day one of his complaint (as it is, almost a year later, the Police are still refusing to release the footage). Surely everyone would agree that this case is a perfect example as to why there should be stricter rules governing Police conduct to require greater use of cameras coupled with greater ease of access to the resulting footage, in the interests of everyone’s safety and the essential maintenance of trust and respect in the Police. Selective, arbitrary use of cameras by front line officers, and then highly defensive comments, encouraging restrictive and secretive practices, like those of the Deputy Commissioner have the opposite effect.

As someone who has viewed hundreds of hours of Police camera footage during the course of my career, I also don’t buy the line Sir Steve House was pushing; that releasing footage may mislead the general public. People aren’t stupid; they know what they are looking at and if Officers’ behaviour on video looks “unnecessary or heavy handed” then the truth is, that it probably is just that.

I would urge the Police leadership to move in the opposite direction to that apparently advised by the Met’s Deputy Commissioner, and embrace this opportunity to be more transparent, fair and accountable in their dealings with the public, particularly those numerous members of  the public who often very legitimately believe they have been wronged by abusive, oppressive or heavy handed Police conduct.

Step into the future; don’t hide in the past.

The GOWISELY Procedure and Unlawful Stop and Search

A story which caught my eye last week –chiming very much with my own thoughts in recent months – was a report in the Guardian newspaper highlighting the fact that ‘stop and search’ procedures conducted by the Metropolitan Police had risen 40% during Lockdown (April – June 2020), equating to over 1,000 searches a day, and yet a lower proportion of these searches than normal (only 21%, down from 33%) led to arrests, fines or cautions. 

I believe this is strongly indicative of bored or otherwise at a ‘loose end’ Officers, with nothing better to do, indiscriminately targeting members of the public without the requisite legal suspicion of criminality. I would echo here the concerns expressed by Maurice Mcleod, chief executive of Race On The Agenda, who said – 

The increased proportion of stops that result in no action suggests that stops are being carried out based on officers pre- existing biases rather than on genuine suspicion of criminality…increasingly disproportionate use of these powers will further damage relations between the police and some of London’s communities. 

It is an undisputed fact that black people, especially black men, are disproportionately the target of Police stop/search procedures, and this has no doubt contributed significantly to the lack of trust black people have towards the Police, as encapsulated in a recent poll by the charity Hope Not Hate, which highlighted that 8 out of 10 black Britons felt that the Police were biased against people from their background/ ethnic group. 

This is despite the fact that Code A of PACE (The Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984), which governs the legal exercise of stop/search powers, specifically provides against Officers using generic “personal factors” – including a person’s race/sex/appearance – as a basis for suspicion of that individual (para 2.2B of Code A). 

Many of the cases which I handle illustrate the human stories behind these statistics. Take, for example, my client James, a black man who was going about his lawful business in London in January 2019, and who was targeted by a (literal) bus load of Metropolitan officers who piled out of their vehicle and ordered him to halt. 

James had being doing nothing more mundane than posting a letter, and we can be sceptical that the officer’s purported suspicions that he was in possession of drugs were anything more than – shall we say – skin deep. 

The officers exiting their vehicle, ignored a white man who was present and quickly surrounded James, stating that he had been behaving suspiciously and they wanted to search him under the Misuse of Drugs Act. However, their grounds for suspicion appeared to be little more than a perception that James had ‘started to walk away’ on seeing their vehicle. 

The distinct impression I drew from watching this video was that the officers had been looking for a stop/search ‘subject’ to ‘blood’ a junior colleague i.e find someone (a black man?) to practice delivering his “GOWISELY” procedure. More apparently experienced officers can be heard orchestrating the search and prompting the younger officer as to what to say. 

What is GOWISELY? 

GOWISELY is an acronym used by officers as an ‘aide memoire’ for the information they are supposed to give to a stop/search subject, prior to commencing the search, to ensure compliance with Code A of PACE. If the GOWISELY procedure is not followed, then the search is highly likely to have been unlawful – 

Grounds – A clear explanation of the reasons for the Officer’s search, i.e why he finds you suspicious

Object – What the Officer will be looking for (e.g drugs)

Warrant – Warrant card to be produced, if the Officer is not in uniform

Identity – The Officer must state their name and collar number  (except in terrorism cases, where the Officer can provide just his collar number)

Station – The Officer must identify the station at which he is based

Entitlement – The Officer must inform you of your entitlement to a copy of the stop/search record (which will be either handwritten or, increasingly, electronically recorded)

Legal – The Officer must specify the legislation under which he is searching you e.g the Misuse of Drugs Act

You – The Officer must clearly explain to you, that you are being detained for the purpose of a search. 

However, GOWISELY is not a magic spell which officers can use as a shield against a valid complaint or claim for damages. Simply because the words have been said, does not mean that the officer’s action in conducting the search is lawful, and in my experience – as in James’s case – officers all too often ride rough-shod over the other sections of Code A, whilst paying ‘lip service’ to the GOWISELY speech. 

First and foremost, the grounds for the search must be based on a genuine and objectively reasonable suspicion held by the officer, and, as highlighted above, that does not include generic assumptions about a person because of their race/ sex or other factors of appearance. 

Furthermore, para 3.2 of Code A enjoins officers not to use force unless it is established that the person being searched is resistant/ unwilling to co- operate. “Reasonable force” – according to Code A (if not the general practice of Officers on the street) – is a “last resort” if absolutely necessary to conduct the search/ detain a person, and hence should not be the ‘norm’. 

In the case of my client James, however, as the body camera footage indisputably testifies, the officers took hold of James’s hands as soon as they commenced the search, as if it were a simple matter of course for them, and, in my opinion, without any reasonable, lawful justification for that use of force. Up until that point, James had been polite and entirely peaceable towards the officers. I feel that all too often, officers are guilty of the kind of lazy thinking which, as I have highlighted in an earlier blog, leads them to equate a reason to arrest with justification for handcuffing, and in the type of incident we are dealing with here, leads them to consider a stop/search subject’s body equally ‘fair game’ for automatic use of force, whether that be laying on of hands, pulling a person’s arms, twisting them behind his back or indeed, handcuffing him. 

When James did no more than protest about two officers unnecessarily holding his hands whilst another officer searched him (he was not refusing the search), matters quickly escalated with  numerous officers combining to force James’s hands behind his back, handcuff him, kick him, force him against a wall – and then drag him to their van stating he was under arrest for “obstruction” of the search. 

James is far from being the only client I am currently representing who has experienced such unjustified uses of force.

Anthony, another client of mine and another black man, was, during the course of a ‘negative’ stop search by West Midlands Police, left at the end of the search free to go about his business…with a broken elbow. All indications are that Anthony, like James, had been politely engaging with the officers – doing no more than, as was his right, requesting information as to the basis of the search – and, just like James, was on the end of almost immediate and almost certainly gratuitous force. One of the officers, indeed, demonstrated his disregard for Anthony and his assumption that use of force was normal in these circumstances, no big deal perhaps, by mocking James’s exclamations of distress and requests for assistance with his broken arm with the words “You’ll win a BAFTA for this…” 

The claims for Anthony, James and many others are continuing. Perhaps by succeeding in claims for damages for individuals like my clients, we will begin to change the police culture of both unnecessary stops and unnecessarily violent searches, which the Guardian’s figures and my own day-to-day experience indicate is a significant ongoing problem. 

Officers need to police the streets; and through the legal mechanisms of complaints and claims, and journalistic reportage, we need to police the powers they use on those streets, otherwise the trust of many people and communities in this country’s system of law and order, may be irreparably damaged.

£100,000 damages for Police Brutality

The shocking footage embedded in this blog captures the moment in May 2014 when my client Robert had his leg broken by a Hertfordshire Police Constable, who delivered no less than 3 ‘overarm’ blows with his baton to Robert’s shin.  The first two strikes were delivered whilst Robert was being held (effectively immobile) by two of the Officer’s colleagues, and the third, and most gratuitous blow, fell whilst Robert was already lying on the ground, howling in agony from the results of the first two (so called) ‘distraction strikes’.

In the moments leading up to this incident Robert, a middle- aged man of good character, had been going about the normal activities of daily suburban life, driving his elderly father’s motor car on his way to get a haircut.

To Robert’s complete shock, just as he was approaching the junction with a roundabout, a Police car with blaring sirens and flashing lights screeched to a halt in front of him and an Officer began aggressively shouting at Robert through the window of his car, demanding that Robert get out of the car, though without any explanation as to why. Almost without pause, the Officer then began to smash his baton against the driver’s window of Robert’s car, which caused Robert to panic and move his car a very short distance, before stopping again.  Other Police vehicles and Officers rapidly arrived and within seconds of the stop occurring, Robert, who was in a state of complete shock, bewilderment and panic, found the windows of his car being smashed in from left and right by Police Officers, showering Robert with shards of glass, and a canister of PAVA spray being discharged into the interior of the car, right into his face.  As a result of the PAVA spray Robert’s face felt as though it was being burned, and his eyes were ‘glued shut’ such that he was now struggling to see anything.

Unbeknownst to Robert, a warrant had been issued for his arrest in connection with a failure to report a change in his financial circumstances to the DWP. This arose from a claim for Housing Benefit and was due to an innocent administrative error by Robert.  The offence of which Robert was suspected was clearly a non-violent offence, and, I think everyone would agree, somewhat lowdown on the scale of seriousness, but nevertheless the Police seemed to be unleashing the kind of force upon Robert and his vehicle that they would utilise if a suspected drug dealer or murderer was inside the car. 

In the circumstances, it is in my opinion not at all surprising that Robert after initially attempting to move his car away (he moved a very short distance before stopping when he realised he had bumped into the car in front – a manoeuvre which caused no apparent damage to either vehicle), then froze in his seat unwilling to get out of the car because he was terrified as to what the Police were going to do to him.

It is quite clear from the attached video that a mere 20 seconds elapsed between the start of the Police stop and when the first Officer commenced smashing in the windows of the car around Robert, and in my opinion it was completely unacceptable that they escalated to this level of violence so quickly without giving Robert a chance to process or understand what was happening to him. 

Robert in the moments that followed was guilty of nothing more than gripping his steering wheel in terror (as many of us might have done in the circumstances). Whilst he did not willingly exit the car, equally he was in no way fighting back, as two Officers took hold of him and pulled him so that he was turned around and facing out of the car, with his feet on the road, and he was in this position when the baton wielding Officer struck. 

The Police Officer who delivered the baton strikes to Robert attempted to justify what he did by a variety of what were, in my opinion, quite deliberate lies and exaggerations, variously claiming:-

·         That Robert was revving his engine and using, or about to use, his car as a ‘battering ram’ to escape.

·         That Robert was not under the control of his colleagues.

·         That Robert was repeatedly kicking out at him and another officer.

·         That Robert was reaching for a weapon inside the car (Indeed – he was subsequently charged with possession of an offensive weapon, but this charge was later quietly dropped – see below).

All of these statements by the Officer were ultimately rejected by the Trial Judge at Cambridge County Court, and the CCTV footage was crucial in helping her to come to these conclusions; she referred to the footage frequently when rejecting the Officer’s allegations listed above, and this is a prime example of the importance of video footage in modern legal proceedings. Without that footage, we have to ask whether the Officer’s untruths would have hoodwinked the Judge – this particular Officer having been, on his own account, an actor in civilian life…

It turned out that the alleged weapon in the car was not only nothing more than a torch, but was something that the Judge, delicately but clearly, concluded the Officers had invested with “importance after the incident”. My own interpretation is that they were looking for an excuse to attempt to justify/explain the degree of brutal force that had been used upon Robert.

Probably the most reprehensible excuse the Officer used was to claim that it was necessary and justified for him to deliver the third baton strike to Robert, because (the Officer claimed) he could hear one of his colleagues calling out in pain.  The fact is that the Officers who had hold of Robert had pulled him out of the car and the three of them had fallen together in a heap on the floor, but Robert was certainly not attacking either of those Officers.

Indeed, it was never alleged that Robert had assaulted any of the Officers, and I would have been very surprised if the baton wielding Officer could have heard any alleged cry from his colleague over the sound of Robert’s screams of pain (his shin bone having been shattered) which are distressingly captured on the second video attached to this blog, which was filmed by a bystander who was evidently horrified by what he was witnessing.

The effects of the Officers’ actions was to break Robert’s right shin bone in two, necessitating an operation to insert a metal rod and screws into his leg, and leaving him crippled in that leg for life.  Robert was unable to weight bear on his injured leg for about four months after this event, and struggled to care for his elderly father during this time. As climbing the staircase was such a struggle during this time, he had to sleep on his couch and keep bottles beside him to urinate in. Prior to this incident, Robert used to run and play football regularly, as well as doing most of the housework and shopping for himself and his Dad. Now Robert was reduced to being an invalid in need of care himself, which put significant emotional strain upon him.

Although the condition of Robert’s leg has improved as the years have gone by, he remains in need of another operation to remove some of the metal work and even after that operation will be left with life-long pain and discomfort in his leg, affecting his ability to kneel down and to use ladders, and which will also restrict his comfortable walking distance. He will never be able to return to playing football or running. He has also been left with mental scars in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

At Trial, the Judge ruled, quite correctly, that the baton strikes were not merely an unreasonable use of force but in fact were ‘grossly disproportionate’.

Nevertheless, Hertfordshire Police were entirely unrepentant and unapologetic, and put Robert through further distress and anxiety by appealing the decision of the Trial Judge, which necessitated further hearings over the course of no less than 20 months in the High Court and the County Court before the original Judgment was reaffirmed and upheld in April 2020.

Despite suggesting that they were going to launch a further Appeal, the Police then opened settlement negotiations and we subsequently reached agreement for a final settlement for Robert in the sum of £100,000 damages.

Whilst this money is undoubtedly welcome, Robert is still left with a bitter taste in his mouth when he reflects on the way the Police conducted this case – their refusal to apologise and their determination to fight it tooth and nail. The Police disregard for Robert, and hostility towards him, did not stop when the baton blows stopped falling.

This case began as a result of the destructive and aggressive actions of one Officer, who was apparently prepared to risk breaking a man’s leg rather than to accept a momentary challenge to his authority from a non-compliant, but also a non-aggressive individual who was suspected only of low level, non-violent crime. 

However in the years that have gone by since the incident it is the arrogant and unrepentant mentality of the Police Force as a whole which has wasted vast amounts of time and money.

In my opinion, the video footage was from day one extremely stark and clear evidence of excessive Police brutality.  It is a great shame that the Police could not, apparently, see this as well, for if they had, they could have moved quickly in a collaborative way to admit liability and offer an early settlement along with treatment and rehabilitation for Robert, thereby increasing not only the trust of Robert and other members of the public in the Police, but also saving themselves, Robert and the Court Service considerable amounts of time and resources.

I now leave you with the video evidence, to judge that question for yourselves.

ALL NAMES CHANGED.

The Phantom Knife? Violence and Lies by Prison Officers

Back in April, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published a report following a recent ad hoc visit to the UK.

This targeted follow-up visit focused on the persistently high levels of violence in the local male adult Prisons and Juvenile Detention Centres. The visit  followed up on serious concerns raised in the CPT’s report following the April 2016 visit to the UK.

A delegation for the Committee inspected three local male prisons (Liverpool, Wormwood Scrubs and Doncaster) and three Youth Detention Centres, (Feltham,  Cookham Wood and Rainsbrook) between 13th and 23rd May 2019.

Reference to violence in prisons is often to fights between prisoners or assaults by prisoners on prison staff.  The CPT commented on both issues and recommended that the UK authorities ensure that there be far greater investment in preventing violence “to bring prisons back under effective control of the staff, in order to halt and reverse the high levels of violence”.

But the CPT also commented on the prevalence of unprovoked and unjustified infliction of violence perpetrated on prisoners by staff.

The CPT recognised that it may, on occasion, be necessary for prison staff to use force to control violent and/or recalcitrant prisoners whose behaviour may otherwise constitute a danger to themselves and others.  Nonetheless, the force used in such circumstances must be lawful, proportionate and no more than strictly necessary.

During their visit however, the delegation encountered a number of examples of unprovoked and unjustified infliction of violence on prisoners by staff and concluded that events of this nature were unlikely to be isolated incidents.

To compound matters, the delegation also found that when challenged, those staff members accused of assault often produced detailed accounts of their behaviour in ‘Use of Force’ forms in which they claimed that they had been obliged to use protective strikes, but all too often CCTV or Body Worn Camera footage was not available to allow independent verification of those accounts.

The CPT recommended that the UK authorities not only undertake a proper investigation into all allegations of ill-treatment but also institute measures to ensure that all Prison Officers understand that ill-treatment is unacceptable and unprofessional and that it would result in severe disciplinary sanctions and/or criminal prosecution.

My own experience bears out the concerns of the CPT that unlawful use of force on prisoners by prison staff is a real and present danger in prisons throughout England and Wales.

Indeed, I have just settled a claim for James O’Brien.  Back in August 2016, James was serving time at HMP Swaleside.

He secured a key worker position in the kitchens and was a valued member of the prison kitchen inmate staff.

On the morning of 24 November 2016, James was assaulted by a senior officer.  As is often the case, there was a dispute between James’ account and the prison officer’s version of events.  I will set out below what was alleged (and admitted) by the Prison authorities in their response to the claim I brought on James’s behalf.

That morning, it was alleged that James had been banging on the inside of his cell door and had been verbally abusive to an Officer when he was asked to stop.  At this point, James was not to be unlocked because other prisoners were on the landing being fed.  As a result of James’ behaviour, Supervising Officer (“SO”) McDermott directed that 3 Officers should serve James his lunch at his cell door, instead of at the servery with other prisoners.  Those 3 Officers went to James’ cell with James’ lunch.  The cell door was opened.  James stepped forward and took his food, and then placed his foot in the door to prevent it from being closed.  He demanded an explanation for why he was being served his meal in his cell.  The Officers attempted to explain that it was due to his abusive behaviour earlier that day.  James refused to move his foot out of the door and shot the bolt of the door to prevent it being closed.

SO McDermott was contacted to attend and as requested did so and spoke with James, but James continued to protest that he was being treated unfairly. SO McDermott asked for 2 more Officers to attend to assist.  It was alleged that James became increasingly aggressive and, holding his left hand behind his back, stated “The first Officer to lay hands on me will get slashed” or words to that effect.  The Officers present alleged that they genuinely and reasonably believed at this point that James had a sharp or bladed weapon that he was concealing behind his back and intended to use it on them.

The Prison Officers entered the cell, restrained James and forced him onto his bed.  With James under control, the Officers tried to encourage him to calm him down so the restraint could be ended.  Even on the account of the Officers, it was accepted that James was calming down at that point, and it was not disputed that they had him completely under control.

However, SO McDermott then entered the cell and without warning, and whilst James was being held down on the bed by his fellow Officers, punched James hard in the face, in the region of his left eye.  James started to shout “Who banged me?  I’ve been banged” and began to resist the restraint actively again.  Nonetheless, the Officers were able to progressively release the restraint and left the cell. 

In the Officers’ accounts, it was alleged that at this point James produced a ‘bladed article’ from his trousers and moved towards the cell door.

However, this account – that James had a weapon in his possession- was significantly undermined by the fact that James was ‘unlocked’ after lunchtime and allowed to attend to his usual duties in the kitchen, with no suggestion that his cell was searched for a weapon, that any weapon was confiscated from James or that he was charged with possession of such a weapon.

I consider those undisputed facts to be persuasive evidence of “embellishment” of the Officers’ accounts of what had happened, to attempt to justify the gratuitous force used against James; certainly James himself denied ever having been in possession a of weapon during this incident.  

James was subsequently  referred to healthcare, who advised him to collect an ice pack from the treatment room and to contact healthcare with any other concerns.  They did not prescribe any medication but noted bruising and swelling to his left eye, albeit with no visual impairment

As a result of James’ allegation, an investigation was conducted by the Prison Governor, which involved interviewing the staff involved.  The Governor found that there was a case to answer against SO McDermott for punching James.  He was due to attend a disciplinary hearing on 15-17 March 2017, but resigned prior to that hearing taking place.

Whilst continuing to maintain the allegation that James had a knife, in response to the claim the Prison admitted that SO McDermott had unlawfully assaulted James when he punched him in the face.

Fortunately James’ injuries were relatively minor, a black eye for a few weeks, the shock and upset of the incident.  Notwithstanding this, I settled James’ claim for £7,500 plus costs.  The settlement reflected not just the physical injuries and shock and upset but also an allowance for aggravated and exemplary damages, i.e. additional damages claimed to reflect that SO McDermott was a senior Prison Officer, that his conduct was arbitrary, intimidating and oppressive and was an affront to the Rule of Law and to civilised values in a democratic society.

My personal view is that the Prison authorities were keen to settle James’s claim as quickly and fully as possible, in light of the likelihood of the Court concluding that not only had SO McDermott assaulted James, but that he and other Officers had deliberately lied about the ‘bladed article’ so as to attempt to justify what had been done to my client.

Furthermore, and as is typically the case, the Prison staff had not taken the simple steps of operating body cameras during the incident, which would so easily have certified whether their allegations against James were true or not.  A cynical, but perhaps all too accurate view of this is that staff habitually avoid filming such encounters so as to leave themselves ‘room for manoeuvre’ when it comes to justifying their actions.

Unnecessary violence by Prison Officers on prisoners is reprehensible, especially in circumstances such as this where James was under control and calming down, but far more invidious is the suspected culture amongst Prison staff of telling lies to cover up such unlawful violence by their colleagues. Whilst that kind of toxic environment persists inside the Prison system, the CPT will have their work cut out to encourage real change.

ALL NAMES CHANGED

Armed raid and arrest of 12 year old for possession of toy gun

A male in the property was arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm and taken into a police van outside the house. The other residents were escorted out of the property while a search was conducted…”

Such is the dispassionate, almost robotic, tone of a Metropolitan Police statement made in response to a shocking incident last Friday night involving my client Alice Mina Agyepong and her young family; but sometimes ‘dispassionate’ can shade into ‘disingenuous’, for what that carefully crafted statement fails to make clear is that the “male” who was arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm, was in fact Mina’s 12 year old son Kai…who had been doing nothing more than playing with his toy gun in the living room of his house. The disingenuous and defensive nature of the Police statement is further reflected in the choice of words used to later describe Kai – “the youth” and (inaccurately) “the teenager” – words which obviously tend to convey an impression that Kai was far older than 12, perhaps a young adult rather than, as he is, a child.

It seems that a passerby telephoned the Police after peering in through the living room of the family’s home and seeing Kai playing (alone) with his plastic toy gun. The rest of the family (Mina and her two daughters) were then awoken in terrifying circumstances as armed Police stormed the house, training their – very real – firearms on Mina and her children and forcing them to march outside with their hands up, where they were detained in full view of the neighbourhood whilst Mina’s house was, in her words, “ransacked” by the Police, who were doubtless hoping to find something – anything ? – that would justify such a gross and disproportionate invasion of the family’s home.

During this time, Kai, a Year 7 pupil at Maria Fidelis Catholic School was kept handcuffed in a Police vehicle before being eventually “de-arrested” when the Police established that they had terrorized the family for no purpose other than to arrest a child for playing with a toy in his own home…

Major questions will need to be answered by the Metropolitan Police as to how this everyday event escalated into an armed raid, during which deadly force could so easily and tragically have been unleashed upon Mina and her children. Even as it stands, with the physical force being ‘confined’ to the handcuffing of a 12 year old boy, the emotional and psychological impact cannot be underestimated. For a family to have the safety and sanctity of their home violated in such a way, is literally the stuff of nightmares.

And not least amongst the questions to be answered will be to what degree the Police response to the report they received was escalated because of the colour of Kai’s skin. Given the knowledge we already have in relation to disproportionate uses of force and Police powers generally upon black people, this is a very real concern.

I have accepted instructions to act on behalf of Mina and Kai to assist with their Police complaint, and, in due course, to commence a claim for compensation against the Police. Mina also feels, quite rightly, that people need to know about this incident so that the full spotlight of  public scrutiny can be shone upon the Police. As a result, she has provided interviews to ITV, BBC and Channel 4 news.

As I have said before, media attention upon cases of suspected Police misconduct and wrongdoing is a crucial part of the power which civil society has to balance out the power of the Police, and to avert future cases of error and abuse. I am happy to be playing my part in this case, but so too is every responsible citizen who learns of the case and reflects upon it, and asks the questions which hold the Police to account.

The Wrong Internet Address: Police Data Errors and Arrests

In the modern world, the police are frequently required to investigate “internet crime”, such as Social Media hacking or the online sexual exploitation of children.

With such cases, a Force Communications Data Investigator will be appointed to identify the offender from the Internet Protocol  (IP) number or address used at the time of the offence.

The IP address is a unique number allocated by a service provider, for example Sky or BT, when a customer connects to the internet.  Each service provider is allocated a range of numbers which in turn it then allocates to its customers at the commencement of their internet use.  This number is generally returned to the service provider at the conclusion of the customer’s internet use and may be re-allocated to the next customer as and when they log on to the internet.

So, when investigating a Facebook hack, for example, the Investigator will request details of all IP addresses which logged into the individual’s Facebook account between set times on a set date.  From the identified IP address, it is then possible to trace a physical address where the IP address was allocated at the relevant time.

The investigation of IP addresses, though seemingly a ‘straightforward’ matter of computer data retrieval, can easily go astray due to human error such as;

·        the submission by an Investigating Officer of an incorrect communications address; for example when s/he has taken incorrect details from a victim or witness;

·        the Investigating Officer or Data Investigator inaccurately  transposing a communications address; a single misplaced digit can lead to the wrong person being identified;

·        the misinterpretation of data by Data Investigators; IP addresses are dynamic and can appear in different date formats and time zones. Time conversion of IP activity from international time zones to GMT or BST creates lots of room for error.

The potential impact of errors on the rights of individuals can be grave, as a case that I recently concluded shows;

One morning in May 2015, Edna Morris was home alone when 2 Police Officers attended.  At the time, she was 56 years old. She was registered disabled and had a history of both physical and mental health conditions, having experienced a number of very traumatic events in her life, including the suicides of two of her brothers within a week of each other.  She lived with her friend and carer, Chris Grant, and was a person of entirely good character, never having had any adverse interactions with the Police before.

Edna invited the officers in.  She was told that she was under arrest for downloading and distributing indecent images of children.  Edna was shocked.  She felt sick and began to panic.

The Officers advised that they had a Warrant and began to search the premises.  The Officers seized her laptop and phone and then transported Edna to the Police Station.

Edna very understandably felt distressed and humiliated, particularly because other people in the area of the custody desk overheard why she had been arrested.  To be involved in the sexual exploitation of children is one of the most ghastly crimes of which a person can be accused. Edna was searched and her property removed.  Her fingerprints, DNA and photograph were then taken and she was escorted to a cell.

Meantime, the Officers contacted Mr Grant and asked that he immediately attend the Police Station.  Chris drove to the Police Station, where he too was arrested on suspicion of possession and supply of indecent images of children.

Mr Grant was similarly processed and both he and Edna were then interviewed, albeit separately.

Just after lunchtime, both Edna and Chris were released on bail with conditions to reside at their home address and to have no unsupervised contact with any child under the age of 16. This was particularly devastating to Edna as she had many young nephews and nieces to whom she was close, and who she feared she might never see again because of these false accusations against her.

Edna and Chris met up outside the station and Chris drove Edna home.  Edna decided that when Chris went to bed that night she would take an overdose of tablets to end her life; her whole world seemed to be collapsing in the face of these sickening accusations. She decided to ‘end it all’ and wrote a farewell letter to her nephews and nieces.

Meanwhile, during the course of the afternoon, one of the arresting officers had received an email from the National Crime Agency that read;

“there has been an error in applying for communications data around the upload IP address.

The time reported is Monday 24th November 2014 at 10:10.39 – 0500 which was converted, in error, to 05:10:39 UTC.

The subscriber results which have today been actioned relate to an innocent party and not the suspect in this case.

I apologise for this error and the inconvenience it has caused.”

Both Edna and Chris were contacted and informed that there had been a mistake and that no further action would be taken against them. Fortunately, this happened during the course of the same day. Had the error not been discovered by the Police until the following day, it might have been too late for Edna, given her suicidal intentions; tragedy was narrowly avoided.

Despite the relief which they felt at this vindication of their innocence, both Edna and Chris understandably suffered significant psychological trauma by reason of the incident, as well as loss of liberty and the indignity of their home being searched and possessions seized.

As regards psychological injury, both Edna and Chris complained of significant emotional distress, sleep disturbance, impaired concentration and anxiety.

I am delighted to report that after a lengthy legal battle involving the National Crime Agency and the Police, both claims settled with Chris recovering £17,500 and Edna recovering £25,000.

In March this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson commended to Parliament the latest report of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner which covered the year 2018.  Overall he advised, the report demonstrated “that the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and other relevant public authorities show extremely high levels of operational competence combined with respect for the law”.

What Prime Minister Johnson did not highlight from the report were the wrongful arrests of four completely innocent people who were accused of offences such as sexualised contact with children online and sharing indecent images of children, nor the cases of several other people whose homes were searched and IT equipment seized for similar reasons. The report made clear that all those wrongfully accused had suffered as a result of Police errors when reviewing relevant Communication Data, just as with Edna and Chris.

After the dust had settled, Edna wrote to the Police seeking compensation. After a lengthy period of investigation, the Police denied any liability on their part and suggested that Edna take the matter up with the National Crime Agency, who had supplied the incorrect data.  Edna felt very disheartened and that there would be no accountability for the errors that had led to her arrest; she struggled to find a solicitor interested in taking on her case. She felt that doors were being shut in her face.

Many months later, Edna happened to be watching a TV programme in which I was interviewed as a specialist in Police Misconduct claims.  She made contact and asked if I could help in her quest for justice. 

I brought a claim on behalf of both her and Chris against the Police and the National Crime Agency for Breach of Data Protection Act 1998, Misuse of Private Information, Trespass to Land and Goods, False Imprisonment and Assault and Battery.

My clients welcomed the compensation that was ultimately awarded, but financial recompense only goes so far.  Edna and Chris have to live with the consequences of what happened to them. In reality, there is no amount of money that can expunge the horrible memory of the hours they spent under accusation of child sexual exploitation.

In a world where more and more crimes are going to be committed and investigated online, it is absolutely essential that rigorous training and practices are enforced to ensure that errors do not occur at the human end of the ‘data chain’ leading to catastrophic impacts on the lives of innocent people such as Edna and Chris.

Handcuffed for No Reason: A Dangerous Police Habit

Over recent weeks, the public have been witness, thanks to the close attention being paid by the media to cases involving unlawful stop/ searches upon black people, to numerous incidents of what I see on a very regular basis in my daily work: the ‘automatic’, almost ‘default’ handcuffing of suspects by Police Officers.

These include such incidents as  –

·         Ryan Colaco, on his way home from a Channel 4 interview about Police racism, having his car window smashed by Officers of the Met Police, who then handcuffed him whilst pursuing a phantom smell of cannabis.

·         Athlete Bianca Williams, apologised to by the Met after Officers forced her and her partner, fellow international athlete Ricardo dos Santos out of their car in Maida Vale, handcuffing both of them in front of their baby son.

Whilst acknowledging that handcuffing people should not be a ‘default’ action, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, addressing the Home Affairs select committee this week, asserted “I don’t believe I do run a police service in which handcuffing is routine.”

With respect, I beg to differ. The robotic, thoughtless handcuffing of people following arrest/ during searches, is an endemic problem amongst the Police nationwide, which really deserves more serious attention than it is getting. Statistics show that during 2018- 19 Officers in England and Wales used handcuffs over 300,000 times (with black people, for the record, some 6 times more likely than white people to be handcuffed).

Many Officers seem to think that the manacling of a person’s hands is almost a formal requisite of every arrest/ detention, irrespective of how compliant, co- operative and non- threatening their subject is. Handcuffing should in fact be the exception, not the rule; it is a use of force, an act of violence, very likely to cause at least transitory pain to a person, whilst at the worse extreme it can result in fractures, nerve damage and/or permanent scaring to the arm. Over and above the physical impact, there is also the psychological damage caused by the shock and humiliation of having your hands chained together, often in a very public place. It is a degrading act to be performed upon anyone and seems wholly at odds with that principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ upon which our justice system is founded; to be placed in handcuffs is at once a casual assertion by the Police of their total power over you, and at the same time an emotionally outrageous branding/ marking of you as a criminal – or at least, a suspected criminal.

I fully accept that there are plenty of occasions when the Police are fully justified in using handcuffs to restrain a violent individual, but I have acted for countless people who in no way meet that definition, and the current media spotlight is further highlighting the extent of this problem.

Early this year my client Deborah Brown was awarded damages at Northampton County Court having been handcuffed by Northamptonshire Police within minutes of a fall in which she had sustained a serious fracture to her wrist. Deborah is a middle aged woman of good character, a local businesswoman and indeed Town Councillor who posed no threat of violence or resistance to the Police. The placing of handcuffs on her broken wrist was entirely gratuitous and unnecessary; another example of lazy and thoughtless Policing, in my opinion.

Another example of the prevalence of this Policing problem is the case of my client David Turner, a young man suffering from both ADHD and autism, who was only 13 years old when he was stopped by Police whilst cycling home from the barbers, pushed up against a fence and handcuffed. The Police ‘justification’ of their actions was a drugs search (which was negative) but I do not believe anything can truly justify the placing of a 13 year old child in handcuffs in these circumstances. It demonstrates the mentality amongst Police Officers which Cressida Dick is at once acknowledging and then seeking to refute: the habitual use of handcuffs as if they have become second nature to the Police, without thought for the correct operation of the law. The old driving mantra ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’  seems to have a sinister echo in the minds of many Police Officers as:  ‘stop, handcuff, search’, even where the subject of that search is a child.  

And I have already blogged about the case of my client Tariq Stanley, whose claim against the Metropolitan Police is ongoing, and a significant feature of which is the hurtful, humiliating and utterly unjustified decision to handcuff a polite, non- resistant and co- operative person.

Whilst I welcome the suggestion that the Met will now launch a review of their Officers ‘handcuffing practices’, I am cautious about what will be achieved given the fact that Cressida Dick’s pious words seemed almost immediately to be undermined by the defensive language she adopted : “If there are lessons to be learned from this we will learn them” (read that, I suggest, with the emphasis on ‘if’ from the Met’s point of view) and her almost immediate denial, quoted above, that there was any real problem.

I would urge all Forces nationwide to conduct an urgent review of such matters, and to invite testimony upon these issues from members of the public and police claims lawyers such as myself to counteract the inherent bias and defensive attitudes of the ‘Police investigating the Police’.

In the meantime, I will end by echoing my recent thoughts regarding the social good that is done by the increasing prevalence of individual citizen’s mobile phone footage cataloguing and exposing such misdemeanours by the Police. Long may appropriate ‘surveillance of the State’ continue. Widespread Police accountability and reform will only happen under the continued and committed focus of the public gaze.

(Please note that the names of my clients identified in this blog as Deborah and David have been changed to preserve their anonymity).

Kicking Down Doors: The Police Mentality That Leads To Claims

Q: Which self- proclaimed “gang” in London loves nothing more than “kicking down doors” ?

A: The Metropolitan Police

Sadly, whilst this may seem like a joke, it is not. Those words used to described the Met and its motivations came, in the first instance from Chief Inspector Ian Kibblewhite, and in the second from one of the MPS’s official twitter accounts yesterday.

Whilst the MPS moved quickly to delete the tweet, which showed an image of Officers smashing in the front door of a house beneath the boastful caption “Kicking down doors is probably one of our favourite things”, and offered a half- hearted apology (describing the tweet in rather lukewarm terms as “inappropriate”) the very fact that an Officer with public relations responsibilities thought that this was in any way an acceptable message to post demonstrates the prevalence of a dangerous attitude within the Police towards excessive use of force and other punitive powers. It would not be incorrect to describe the tweet as “gleeful” and presumably the Officer who posted it felt it would welcomed by his colleagues and superiors, indicating the extent of the problem.

Working as a specialist in the field of claims against the Police, I see many, many examples of this bad attitude in action, and it is certainly not confined to the Met, but spread widely throughout the UK Police as an institution. Too many Police Officers, it seems, are too quick to use force – whether with batons, battering rams, handcuffs, gas or the other weapons in their arsenal – and it is disturbing but not unrealistic to think that in many cases this may be because the Officers ‘enjoy’ it or are looking for an excuse to get their adrenalin going and assert their power.

Certainly that would be the message conveyed by that tweet, don’t you think ?

I also note that the Officer responsible for this offensive tweet seems to have been let off extremely lightly, his only ‘punishment’ being to be given “words of advice” – an artificial sounding euphemism which the Police often deploy in response to complaints; it seems almost engineered to say to the complainant that ‘here is an apology through gritted teeth’ whilst at the same time saying to the Officer ‘don’t worry we’ve got your back’. I often wonder if the ‘advice’ given is how best to ‘get away’ with this next time…

I think it is also essential for us to remember, when we look at the picture in that tweet, that there is someone on the other side of that door. The Officer from Homerton Police seems to want to  imagine that every time he and his colleagues ‘kick in the door’ some Sweeney-esque villains are waiting to get ‘nicked’ on the other side of it; but all too often, it can be an entirely innocent family who is cowering in terror as the Police with para-military tactics burst into their home.

Take for example, the case of my client Christine, who came to the UK from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016, where, in her childhood she had suffered a very traumatic experience when men in uniforms had broken into her home, robbing her family and attempting to rape her older sister.

Christine thought she was safe from such experiences in the UK but early on the morning of 7 March 2018 she was awoken by  the noise of her front door being broken in. Christine was terrified; she was alone in the house with her 5 month old son, her husband having left early for work. Wearing only her nightdress, and suffering flashbacks to the home invasion of her youth, Christine was confronted by numerous Police Officers who swarmed into her house after breaking open the door and started searching all the rooms.

This was all a colossal mistake; after several minutes one of the Officers suddenly announced that they had the wrong address. It wasn’t Christine or her husband they were looking for at all. The scariness of the situation for Christine was compounded by the fact that her first language is French and she was not a fluent English speaker. Furthermore, when the Officers left Christine – alone in a home without a front door anymore – they gave her an incomplete warrant that was neither signed nor dated by a Magistrate.

Although the whole event had lasted only a matter of minutes until the Police realised their error, the effects upon Christine and her family were much more long lasting. For months afterwards she suffered from sleep disturbance and a lack of appetite, and found it impossible to relax at home with her child when her husband was at work, for fear that the Police would repeat their ‘mistake’.

I sued the Police on behalf of Christine and her husband and recovered £7,150 damages for this Police trespass into their home.

This is, of course, only one example amongst many clients I have represented  who have been on the end of a bungled Police search, involving either improper/ excessive force, the Police coming to ‘the wrong address’ or not following correct procedure particularly in regards to the production of search warrants. The safety and sanctity of Christine’s family home had been shattered; perhaps preserving that should be higher on the list of Police Officer’s “favourite things”, rather than the ‘thrill’ of smashing and crashing through someone’s front door.

“Left in the Dark”: The Victims of Criminal Police Misconduct

It’s easy to forget how bewildering the legal system can be and this is certainly the case for the victims of serious police misconduct who in my experience are often left confused, frustrated and in the dark as to what lies ahead.

Given that, I thought I’d write about John’s experience which may help others who find themselves in a similar situation.

In June 2019, John was violently assaulted by a police officer, then arrested on false charges of assaulting that officer. So began the criminal investigation of John’s own conduct on the night in question. By reason of his injuries, he was taken  – in handcuffs –  to hospital for treatment. Thereafter, he was transported to a local police station where he was processed and placed in a cell. Several hours later, he was interviewed under caution. John denied assaulting the officer, stating that he done nothing wrong and that he was the victim. Some Body Worn Camera footage was shown to him which on its face supported John’s account and strongly indicated that the arresting officer had given an untruthful account as to what had happened.

A short time later, John was released from custody “under investigation“. Battered, bruised and bewildered, John returned home.

A few weeks later, John was advised that a decision had been made by the Police to take no further action against him.

By this time, the Force Professional Standards Department had commenced an internal investigation into John’s complaint, with a view to taking criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings against the officers concerned.

John fully cooperated with the investigation, providing a detailed witness statement and allowing access to his hospital records.

Following review by the Crown Prosecution Service, five months after the incident, one Police officer was charged with assaulting John, and that same officer and his three colleagues were also charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by falsifying and interfering with evidence. All four officers have pleaded not guilty and now face a trial scheduled to take place later this year.

The allegation of assault is straight forward; John gives a candid account of how the officer punched him in the ribs, forced him to the ground & then landed further blows to his face.  The allegation of perverting the course of justice less so. It is believed that the officers attempted to delete incriminating body worn camera footage, but full details of what the officers did after the arrest is known only to the Force and the CPS at this time.

John is pleased that appropriate action is being taken. If one or more of the officers are found guilty, they will be punished accordingly. That is the purpose of the criminal process. But that process does not provide redress to the victim; John was injured, wrongfully arrested and detained and deserves to be compensated. He will seek this restitution by bringing a private civil action against the Police, but such a claim must wait until the associated criminal case concludes. Firstly, there is a real risk of serious prejudice to the criminal process if the civil claim were allowed to run in tandem, and secondly, a conviction in the criminal proceedings, based as it would be on the higher standard of proof, should mean that a civil case based on the same facts would not easily be contested by the Police.

Assuming the case against the officers proceeds to trial, John will not be able to bring his own action against the Police until nearly a year and a half after the incident. That delay is frustrating in itself, but this is compounded by the lack of information given by the prosecuting authorities as to the extent of the case against the officers and the likely roadmap to trial, a situation all too common for victims of abuse by agents of the state. Sadly, the “Victims Charter” in these cases is too easily forgotten or not considered relevant.

For the moment then, there is a limit to what I can do at present. I have been able to keep John updated as regards the prosecution and have gathered evidence in preparation for the civil claim where I can. I have sent a young apprentice to court, ensuring a watching brief at each hearing to report progress and in due course the trial, and I’ve arranged for John to be examined by a medical expert who will prepare a report detailing the full extent of John’s injuries as well as exploring the nature and extent of other losses he has suffered.

Fortunately John is a patient man and I am confident that in due course he will see justice both in the criminal case brought by the State against the officers and the civil case for compensation.

 

Police Under Pressure: Wrongful Arrests in the Media Spotlight

Airports have been empty spaces of late, with international travel effectively ‘shut down’ by the Covid- 19 crisis, but news reports at the weekend reminded us of the time Gatwick Airport suffered a shut down of its own at one of the busiest times of  the year, around Christmas 2018, when sightings of ‘drones’ led to the airport having to repeatedly close, causing disruption to hundreds of thousands of passengers.

Paul and Elaine Gait were swept up in the chaos of this incident when armed Officers from Sussex Police raided their home and took them into custody. They then spent 36 hours in distress and anxiety, falsely accused of being involved in the drone attacks despite the fact they did not own any drones and had been at work when the disruption had occurred.

They have now recovered damages of £55,000 and received a formal apology from the Sussex Assistant Chief Constable, David Miller who said he was “really sorry” for the unpleasantness of their arrest and detention.

The drone incidents were extremely high- profile media events, gathering a great deal of attention, given the massive disruption they were causing between 21 – 24 December, when many flights were scheduled for the imminent ‘holiday season’. There is no doubt that Sussex Police were under great pressure to ‘get a result’ and this is probably what led to the premature, and ultimately clearly incorrect, decision to arrest the Gaits.

This is sadly not the only occasion, however, when that particular Force and others have acted perhaps more out of consideration of ‘the Headlines’ rather than a properly measured assessment of the evidence. The somewhat understandable desire to ‘get a result’ because of media attention should not excuse the Police in cutting corners, if the result is the false imprisonment of innocent parties.

My client Nigel was arrested at Brighton train station on 2 June 2019 by Officers of Sussex Police. Whilst Nigel’s arrest was not quite as shocking as the armed raid on Mr and Mrs Gaits home, it was still a very traumatic experience. The Officers were in ‘plain clothes’ and grabbed Nigel’s arms without warning, only later telling him that they were Police; at first Nigel feared that he was being mugged.

What made the experience even more humiliating than it would have been anyway – at a public train station – was the fact that it happened in front of several of Nigel’s former work colleagues whom he had been in the process of meeting at the station.

The Officers searched Nigel, stating he was under arrest for ‘criminal damage’ and repeatedly referring to him by the name of “Steve”. Just as the Gaits clearly had an iron- cast ‘alibi’ to the wrongful accusations brought against them, Nigel was swift to offer the Officers evidence that he was not the man ‘Steve’ whom they apparently thought he was. He produced his driving licence and explained that his former colleagues could vouch him – but he was ignored by the Officers.

It became clear that the Officers were acting on the basis of a photocopied CCTV still of the suspect (whom they had evidently already identified by name), but they refused to show this to Nigel.

Nigel was then, totally unnecessarily, handcuffed (he was putting up no physical resistance at all) and marched to a Police vehicle, during which time the Officers informed Nigel that he was suspected of being responsible for a number of cat mutilations in the local area. This was a reference to the case of the “Brighton Cat Killer” – who had stabbed and wounded or killed 16 cats since October 2018. As I referred to above, the local police were clearly feeling under pressure to apprehend the culprit behind these very distressing attacks.

We now know that a man named Steve Bouquet was in fact the real target of the Police, as they arrested him later the same day, and he has subsequently been charged with these offences.

Nigel, who is in fact an animal lover, was disgusted to be accused of this horrible crime and strongly denied any involvement.

Conveyed to a police station, Nigel had his fingerprints, DNA and photograph taken and was placed in a cell in a state of shock, anger and bewilderment. He had never before been arrested and found himself undergoing a totally shocking, alien experience.

Approximately 5 minutes into his incarceration in the cell, Nigel was visited by an Officer who blithely informed him that this was a case of ‘mistaken identity’ and he was to be immediately released.

Although he was promptly released, the end of his arrest was far from being the end of the impact of this incident upon Nigel. He had physical injuries to his wrists which cleared up relatively quickly, but psychological scars which did not. Nigel felt as though his world had been turned upside down, felt threatened and vulnerable, and experienced thoughts of suicide. He now has to attend a support group to cope with the ongoing effects of this gross misjudgment by the Police.

Handcuffs imageIn response to the claim which I have now brought on behalf of Nigel, Sussex Police initially denied any wrongdoing by their Officers, not withstanding that they have accepted that my client was “an entirely innocent party”. Undeterred, on threat of Court proceedings, the Police have now made an offer of settlement. The offer is not currently acceptable to my client and the litigation will continue until such time as suitable terms are put forwards by the Police, which I would hope will include an apology in the same terms as offered to Mr and Mrs Gaits.

In neither the case of the Gaits, nor that of Nigel, does the distressing/ disruptive nature of the crime committed, nor the fact that these were crimes garnering considerable publicity, justify slipshod Policing or the unlawful arrest of wholly innocent people. Although Sussex Police are currently adopting an official stance that Nigel was, in effect, ‘collateral damage’ in their pursuit of the ‘cat killer’ (they have even stated that he should be pleased with them for catching the “real suspect”) neither Nigel nor anybody else should have to tolerate or accept being subject to false imprisonment because the Police are under pressure to get an arrest ahead of a correct and careful consideration of the evidence, and this will be reflected in the eventual damages award which I will secure for him.

Black Lives and Police Racism

A black man abducted from outside his home, taken away without his family knowing what was happening to him; he was beaten, chained, stripped naked and deprived of his liberty.

Am I talking about an event that happened 200 years ago? No, sadly, I am summarising the events that happened to my client Tariq Stanley in April of this year, when Police officers ‘picked upon him’ as he was minding his own business in his car outside his home address. You can read the shocking details of his case in a Guardian article here.

Scenes of conflict and anxiety, anger and protest continue to play across our TV screens, or social media feeds, from both sides of the Atlantic this week, following the death of a black man, George Floyd at the hands of Police Officers in Minneapolis.

We must be thankful, of course, that the general level of violence that occurs between Police officers and citizens of any colour in the UK is far less than in America (statistics show that the rate of Police killings of civilians is 66 times greater in the US than the UK). However, it is undisputable that the same issues of Police brutality, Police protectionism towards their officers and racial bias – compounded by a reluctance to root out ‘bad apples’, bad practices and toxic cultures amongst the Force as a whole – also exist in this country.

I have taken on the Police on behalf of individuals from all racial and cultural backgrounds; Police abuse of power and brutality can happen to anyone, but experience has shown me that there is an undeniable culture of bias amongst the Police towards black/ ethnic minority people in particular, who Officers as a whole seem predisposed to consider more likely to be guilty of criminality, and if not quite ‘second class citizens’ then not exactly worthy of the same respect as white people, and more likely to pose a threat of violence hence justifying the ‘pre-emptive strike’ and other over-the-top uses of forces.

This bias then intersects with the wider problem of bad attitudes amongst Police officers to any perceiv

ed challenge to their authority, and the kind of lazy thinking which seems to suggest to many Officers that an arrest isn’t real unless you put handcuffs on the person (no matter how unnecessary they are), to produce a disproportionally high number of Black victims of Police misconduct.

This type of behaviour is self- reinforcing, as if Police treat black people like this, they are likely to engender the type of psychological damage and resentment towards the Police which then feeds into the Police seeing the black community as something ‘other’, to be mistrusted, and potentially a source of threat and hostility towards them.

The statistics are stark –

  • During 2017 during a 3 month trial by the Police of ‘spit- hoods’ 23% of males on which the device was used were Black and 15% Asian, whilst 72% of the women on whom the hoods were used were Black.
  • In 2018/19 Black people w
    ere 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people;
  • During the same period, 26% of all uses of force by Police Officers were against Black, Asian or people of another non-White ethnic appearance;
  • During the current Covid crisis, Black people, who make up 12% of the population of London, were much more likely than White people to be fined or event arrested for alleged ‘Lockdown’ breaches – they made up 26% of those fined and 31 % of the arrests.
  • And as I have also identified in a recent blog post, Black people are the victims of Police taser use in a grossly disproportionate way, being almost eight times more likely to have a taser pulled on them and/or fired by Police.

However shocking those statistics are, I think it is the real details of real people’s lives which hit home the most effectively in trying to get across the message of Police brutality and racial bias, and so I would like to outline the facts of just two of the many cases I have handled in recent years which highlight these issues.

David’s Story

My client David, a young black man, was travelling to Dagenham in his car one Sunday morning, accompanied by his cousin and friend, who were also black males.

David was doing nothing untoward and was driving within the speed limit, but made ‘eye contact’ with a passing car containing Metropolitan Police Officers. For no reason it seems to me other than the colour of the skin of the occupants of David’s car, the Police decided to activate their sirens and pull David’s vehicle over.

David, who was registered disabled, and suffered from avascular necrosis, which is a degenerative condition of the hips, got out of his vehicle and politely enquired as to how he could help the Officers.

The Officer he spoke to seemed to have no specific reason he could give to David as to the stop other than an assertion that he was carrying out a ‘routine check’.

David co- operated with the Officer’s request for his personal details and thought that he would soon be on his way. David waited on the pavement minding his own business whilst the Officers apparently ran a check on his details and spoke to his passengers (again, their justification for asking the three friends for their details was entirely unspecified/ unexplained).

Then, without any warning at all – and this fact was not even disputed by the Officer himself – one of the Police Officers seized David from behind. David was shocked, did not know who was attacking him and instinctively reacted by pushing away the person who had grabbed him  – only to realise, to his further shock, that it was one of the Officers.

As David demanded to know what was going on the Officer attempted to handcuff him – without apparently thinking that David deserved any explanation whatsoever.

As David struggled in an entirely justifiable manner to stop the Officer from unlawfully handcuffing him, the second Officer joined in, performed a ‘leg sweep’ on David, and took him to the ground.

The two Officers now combined to handcuff David as he lay chest- down on the ground, placing a knee in his back, and holding his head down. David was struggling to breathe and genuinely thought he might die. He called out that he was disabled, but was ignored.

Other Officers now arrived on the scene and took hold of David’s legs, as he continued to lie on the ground, bending them up behind his back, causing excruciating pain to David – all the worse because of his hip disease. The pain was so much, David was close to passing out.

David was then pulled upright and marched to the caged section of a Police van, his pants coming down as the Officers moved him, exposing his buttocks/ genitals in a humiliating manner.

David was then conveyed to custody in a near-by Police station.

It was only there that David was finally informed of the reason for his ‘arrest’. It transpired that there was an outstanding warrant on the Police computer system for a man of the same name as David, although, somewhat ironically, it was noted that the wanted man was white…

To add insult to injury, rather than receiving an apology for this case of mistaken identity and over the top force, David was instead charged with assaulting the two Officers who had in fact assaulted him and was forced to undergo the stress and trauma of a criminal prosecution until he was found not guilty at the Magistrates Court some three months later.

I brought County Court proceedings on behalf of Daniel against the Metropolitan police, and recovered £22,500 damages plus legal costs, though still the Met offered no apology for its Officers behaviour whatsoever.

Image of UK policeSteven’s Story

Steven was another young black person, a man of exemplary character, who was driving home from work one day in South West London. Just as with David he was driving lawfully and within the speed limit in his own motor car, when he was suddenly pulled over by a Police Carrier van with its sirens blaring.

Steven got out of the car to speak to the Officer who approached him, to be met with no explanation but rather an immediate demand that he give his car keys to the Officer. Instead, Steve reasonably requested that the Officer tell him what he was supposed to have done. The Officer suggested, on the basis of no evidence, that Steven might use his keys as a ‘weapon’ and then when Steven calmly continued to respond by asking what he was supposed to have done wrong to justify a Police stop, the Officer grabbed hold of his arm without warning.

Other Officers then joined in and pinned Steven up against the side of his car, before forcing him to the ground, during which Steven banged his head. Steven was then pinned to the ground by a number of Officers and felt humiliated to be treated as if he were some sort of violent criminal in this way.

Just as with David, and sadly George Floyd, Steven was pinned to the ground by overwhelming and unjustified Police force, and had to fight for his breath.

He was trussed up in both handcuffs and leg restraints and informed he was under arrest for allegedly breaching the Public Order Act by ‘swearing’.

Shortly afterwards, Steven heard one of the Officers claiming that the smell of cannabis was in the air – as you will note, this classic Police tactic was also used in Tariq’s case – and feared that the Officers might ‘plant’ something in his car to incriminate him and justify their reckless actions against him. Steven had never in his life used drugs.

Steven was then manhandled into the back of the van and taken to a nearby Police station. He complained that the handcuffs were too tight and were hurting him, but was ignored.

Instead, the Officers now falsely accused Steven of having hit the first Police Officer in the face. He was told he was now also under arrest for this fictitious crime as well.

In the Police station, Steven was subjected to the further indignity of a strip search. He was in a state of considerable shock and distress and was held in custody for a period of almost 19 hours before being released.

As with David, Steven then had to face the further trauma of false charges being pursued against him in the Magistrates Court. The Crown Prosecution Service tried to induce Steven to accept a caution – a criminal record which would have blighted the rest of his life potentially – but believing in the truth and justice of his case, Steven refused and when his case finally came to Trial after some 11 months of stress and anxiety, the CPS suddenly announced that all charges were withdrawn.

Steven now wanted justice against the Officers who had not only brutally assaulted him but who had conspired to have him convicted of criminal offences. He made a formal complaint to the Metropolitan Police, which went as far as a disciplinary hearing the following year; three Officers involved in his case faced charges of Gross Misconduct, but the disciplinary panel found them all not guilty.

Fortunately, that was far from the end of the story, as I was able to bring a County Court claim on behalf of Steven for false imprisonment, assault and battery and malicious prosecution and recovered £46,000 damages for him.

There are inescapable similarities between all of these cases, and I am sure you will agree that the details of these cases bear out the statistics, demonstrating – in black and white – that whilst it may be less of a problem than it was a generation or two ago, British policing is still blighted by the same spectres of racial bias and over the top aggression towards people of a non- White appearance that are now haunting the streets of America.

Can I sue the probation service (or a Community Rehabilitation Company)?

Handcuffs imageAn individual is put on probation either because s/he has been serving a community sentence or because s/he has been released from prison on license or on parole.

The individual is then obliged to engage with the probation service for the entirety of the probation period, during which time they must:

  • attend regular meetings with an offender manager;
  • do  unpaid work;
  • complete an education or training course; and/ or
  • get treatment for addictions like drugs or alcohol.

Should the individual fail to comply with the terms set by probation, they are liable to be “breached” and obliged to return to Court. This might be because the individual did something that the sentence banned them from doing, committing another crime or missing appointments with their offender manager.Alternatively, the individual might be arrested and recalled to prison if they breach their license or parole conditions. The individual will then serve 14 or 28 days depending on the length of their original sentence and upon release will be put back on probation until the end of that sentence.

In 2014, the probation system was transformed with a £3.7 billion program of part-privatisation. The management of low and medium risk offenders was transferred to so-called Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). Only the highest risk individuals were kept under public sector supervision.

But the Government’s privatisation program was dogged by controversy and criticism from the outset. I have previously blogged about concerns highlighted by the Chief Inspector of Probation in 2019. The criticism was such that shortly after, the Secretary of State announced that from December 2020, all offenders would be monitored by the National Probation Service again, thereby ending the role of the CRCs a mere 6 years after their much- vaunted inauguration.

In my last blog on this issue, I highlighted the case of Neil Rogers who by reason of Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company’s incompetence, was wrongly recalled to prison to serve 28 days. As a result, he suffered not only loss of liberty but also psychological upset, and damage to his relationship with his family, and received an award of compensation to reflect his loss.

Sadly, this was not the only case of incompetence by the Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company affecting one of my clients. This time, the victim of that Company’s incompetence, my client Tracey Williams (name changed), was not an individual on license and subject to recall to prison but rather someone who was reported for breach of probation and issued with a summons to attend Court.

Tracy was sentenced to 10 months in custody in late 2016. The sentence was suspended for two years and Tracey was to be supervised by Merseyside Rehabilitation Company for that time period.

Initially, the company was satisfied with Tracey’s level of engagement but in May 2018, her engagement allegedly dropped off, such that she was not meeting requirements. Merseyside CRC, conscious of their contractual obligations, believed that Tracey was in breach of the Court’s sentence and therefore reported her for that breach.

The Court processed the breach report and summoned Tracey to Court. Tracey failed to attend and a warrant for her arrest was issued.

Upon notification of the warrant, Merseyside Police then sought to arrest Tracey and in July 2018, attended her home address. Tracey was arrested in front of her partner and two children and then transported to a local police station where she was kept overnight to appear before the Court the next day.

At court and before Tracey appeared before the Magistrates, Tracey was told that there had been a “mistake” and she was immediately released, having spent some 15 hours in wrongful custody.

Upon investigation, I established that Merseyside Rehabilitation Company had failed to record Tracey’s change of address. Tracey had advised her offender manager in May 2017 of her move and she sent emails in October and November 2017 in which she clearly identified her new address.

However, her reported breach notification was sent to her old address, as was the subsequent Court summons. Tracey was therefore oblivious of both the allegation of breach and also the Court summons.

To compound matters, Tracey had not in fact breached the terms of her probation. She had engaged with the CRC’s requirements throughout and done everything asked of her.

Confident of success, I intimated a claim against Merseyside Rehabilitation Company on behalf of Tracey alleging negligence and breach of Human Rights.

Following investigation, the Company denied liability, suggesting that Tracey was entirely responsible for her arrest and detention and that their record keeping was not defective (although we had strong evidence that it was).

I then issued County Court proceedings on behalf of Tracey, and true to their incompetent form, Merseyside Rehabilitation Company missed the deadline for filing a Defence,  such that I was able to apply for Judgment by default. Despite some half baked effort to set Judgment aside, the company subsequently put forward realistic settlement proposals and agreed to pay Tracey damages and costs.

This is yet another case of a probation company sending someone to jail not because they have actually  breached the terms of probation or because they have committed a crime, but rather because of the negligence of the probation officer and/or the probation company.

Sadly, this appears to be a side effect of the botched part-privatisation process, with the CRCs apparently putting profits before people: both in terms of their duty of care owed to people on probation, and in terms of the standards of recruitment and training of their own staff. The latter in particular appears to have been highly inadequate, given the shocking errors these cases highlight, and the gross miscarriages of justice arising from them. If there was anyone in need of close scrutiny and vigilant supervision, it appears to have been more those running the CRCs than the people on probation.

If you or anyone you know has been the victim of similar errors/ incompetence from the Probation Service or a Community Rehabilitation Company, please contact me for advice.

Black & Blue: Police Violence against Ethnic Minorities

Violence begets violence; we have witnessed shocking scenes this week from the other side of the Atlantic, as Minneapolis erupted into flames as protests and riots broke out following the circulation of a video showing the death of George Floyd in Police custody. Actually ‘custody’ is too dainty and dignified a word for what was actually being done to George at the time of his death; a Police officer (now identified as Derek Chauvin and charged with third-degree murder) can be seen pinning him down on the ground by kneeling on his neck, and refusing George’s desperate pleas, and the pleas of numerous passersby, to let him breathe. Floyd’s crime, it seemed, was suspicion of attempting to use a forged cheque in a grocery store. Another Officer stands nonchalantly behind Chauvin in this very distressing video footage, hands in his pockets, apparently utterly unconcerned at his colleague’s actions. In a time when hundreds of thousands of people across the world are struggling for breath as a result of Coronavirus infection, it is tragic to witness the same type of suffering being inflicted by one human to another, and the fact that the violence was being inflicted by a man in a Police uniform against an unarmed black man is even more depressing.

Here in the UK we have, I believe, a similar problem of Police Officers (generally white) reacting with excessive force towards ethnic minority individuals, although fortunately (if we can put it that way) our Police Forces are not as heavily armed with weapons designed to inflict ‘lethal outcomes’ upon suspects and  so at least on this side of the Atlantic, the results of a Police Officer’s brutality does not often cause a fatality – though there is no doubt about the severe physical and emotional scars it can leave.

In the last month I and my colleague John Hagan have blogged about recent cases showing Police brutality against an unarmed black man in a Manchester petrol station (Desmond Mombeyarara, tasered without warning right in front of his young son) and also a 15 year old client of mine, whom an officer first punched in the face and then viciously kicked as he lay helpless on the ground.

I am heartened by the fact that the IOPC is investigating my client’s case and other related matters in the Birmingham area; it has come to light that the same Officer who assaulted my client (and who has now been suspended from the West Midlands Force) was apparently also caught on CCTV footage the previous day dragging a 44 year old black man from his bicycle, and tearing off the man’s coronavirus mask. Media reports state that the video shows the assault then escalating, with a female Officer holding the black man down as the male Officer punches him repeatedly.

Yet further footage has also emerged  from February of this year – shockingly showing what appears to be the very same male Police officer ordering a 30 year old black man (Trevalie Wyse) in the Handsworth area of Birmingham to get down on the ground, although he was not a suspect to crime, but rather a witness to a car crash. When Trevalie refused to comply with this outrageous command, he was then shot with a taser. Sometimes, words just escape you…

I also welcome the announcement made earlier this month that there will be a general review of taser use across the whole of England and Wales, lead by the IOPC in response to a need for greater transparency and scrutiny of the weapon’s continued ‘roll out’. Whilst the Government plans to arm up to 10,000 more Police officers with these ‘stun guns’ in the near future, Worcestershire Coroner Geraint Williams, investigating the 2017 death of 30 year old father Marc Cole, following his being tasered by Police multiple times,  issued a warning in April that “future deaths will occur unless action is taken.”

There is increasing evidence of disproportionate taser use against black men, and also people with mental health issues. Taser incidents in England and Wales rose by 30% during 2018- 19 to a total of 22,000. It is manifestly obvious that there was not a 30% increase in violent crime during that same period.

20% of those incidents involved tasers being used or threatened against black people – who make up only 3.3% of the population.

Let us hope that on this occasion the IOPC will live up to its media billing as the Police ‘watchdog’ and not, frankly, behave like the poodle it often is when reviewing Police crimes and misdemeanours…

As I have made clear on many previous occasions in this blog, I am concerned about the widespread ‘roll out’ of tasers to the majority of frontline Officers, as introducing a ‘paramilitary’ ethos into British Policing which I strongly feel is both unnecessary and counter- productive. This is a country with a largely passive and law-abiding population – witness how obediently the government’s Lockdown rules were followed by the vast majority (with the exception of Prime Minister’s advisers, of course). I am concerned that the more Police Officers are armed with weapons – even ‘less lethal’ ones like Axon Corporation’s increasingly ubiquitous Taser gun – the more those Officers risk becoming dehumanised (perhaps in their conception of themselves, perhaps in the eyes of others), and adopting the mindset of soldiers on patrol in hostile territory, rather than being fellow citizens ‘policing by consent’. This can lead to outbursts of unnecessary violence and/or unnecessary escalations of a conflict situation, whether that takes the form of Officers deploying ‘guns and gas’ or more ‘old school’ beatings and kickings as we have witnessed on countless ‘social media’ channels.

So it is a good thing that the IOPC is finally flexing what muscle it has, and I hope this will be the signal for a wider reconsideration of the role of taser and other weaponry in the hands of the Police, and an investigation into the cultures of Police protectionism which still exist and which both seem to attract ‘bad apples’ in the first place, and then tend to protect far too many of those ‘rogue officers’, for far too long.

Thankfully, it is increasingly hard for those within the Police hierarchies who may want to make excuses for their officers/ shield them from any real sanction when they commit acts of unjustifiable, or questionable violence, when so many of those acts of violence are now caught and exposed by mobile phone footage – smart phones, of course, being even more ubiquitous in our society than tasers amongst the Police.

This is another issue I have highlighted in my recent blogs – the great rebalancing of the scales of justice caused by the ability of people – whether themselves the victims of Police misconduct, or concerned/ socially conscious bystanders – to record the true facts of an interaction with the Police, giving lies few places to hide.

A description posted by a friend on Facebook this week in relation to the Minneapolis crisis, seems a very apt way to frame it: Camera phones and social media circulation together create “a potentially radical mirror of the surveillance state.”

The more videos of this kind are shot, whether in this country or in America, the fewer people will be; we can only hope.

 

Compensation for Police “inappropriate contact”

Another day, another report of a police officer dismissed for inappropriate contact with a vulnerable victim of crime (see here).

The unnamed PCSO of Warwickshire Police used social media to make contact with a female burglary victim after visiting her house in his professional capacity to offer crime prevention tips. The woman reported the officer’s behaviour and the Force’s Professional Standards Department commenced an investigation. Misconduct proceedings were subsequently brought against the officer, which concluded at a hearing on the 5th of May. There, it was found that the officer’s behaviour amounted to gross misconduct and that had he not quit in advance, he would have been sacked.

Media reports of this case coincided with a settlement that I have just agreed with Thames Valley police for another young woman. The background facts are remarkably similar; a police officer making inappropriate contact with a vulnerable female victim of crime.

In November 2017, my client Gemma Hawkins (name changed) attended her local police station to report details of the emotional and physical abuse which she had suffered at the hands of her ex partner.

PC Green attended upon her. Gemma explained what had happened and PC Green took a brief account. Gemma was with PC Green for about 30 minutes and assumed that the Police would now take action.

Following the meeting, PC Green proceeded to text Gemma, first from his work mobile phone and then from his personal mobile phone. Although the texts initially centred on Gemma‘s crime report, PC Green soon became suggestive and flirty with messages such as “Which is your favourite room at home?“, “It’s freezing. I can’t get warm, any ideas?” and “Only place I’m warm is in bed”. Over the following weeks, the messages became increasingly frequent, often daily, and were sent at all times of day when PC Green was both on and off duty.

Gemma was very disturbed by these messages and found them highly inappropriate, but at the same time she was nervous as PC Green was in a position of authority and she didn’t want to do anything to affect the investigation. In the circumstances, she played along, responding to his texts but rarely instigating any conversation herself (other than complaining about the lack of action against her ex partner). Those issues were conveniently ignored by PC Green who, without Gemma’s knowledge had in fact “filed” her report as a “non-recordable incident” and had taken no further action.

 

However, he continued to use the now ‘phantom’ investigation of Gemma’s ex- partner as an excuse to continue to make exploitative contact with her by phone/ text message.

After a few months, Gemma became very frustrated that nothing was happening as regards her ex partner and reported her concerns to a more senior officer. She expressed hope that this time her complaint would be taken more seriously and not as an opportunity to “chat me up“.

An investigation commenced. It was clear that PC Green had abused his position as a Police officer in an effort to pursue an improper emotional/sexual relationship with Gemma, something all the more reprehensible given that she had come to him as the victim of an abusive and exploitative boyfriend. PC Green was interviewed, during which he accepted that he was fully aware of Force guidance defining such behaviour as a serious form of corruption which would not be tolerated, and that he had “overstepped boundaries” in his efforts to form a relationship with my client.

Misconduct proceedings were brought against PC Green. At a misconduct hearing in July 2018, he was found to have failed to have treated my client, a vulnerable victim of domestic abuse, with respect and courtesy by sending messages of a personal nature and had failed to respond with advice to concerns of her domestic situation. As is often the case, Green himself had resigned before the hearing, but the Force made it crystal clear that he would have been dismissed for gross misconduct had he still been a serving Officer.

I intimated a claim on Gemma’s behalf against Thames Valley police, who were vicariously liable for their Officer’s actions/ exploitation of his Police role. TVP suggested that a claim was not made out because there was no evidence of ‘damage’, either injury or loss. Their argument was that although the text messages may have suggested or hinted that PC Green wanted to start a relationship with Gemma, they were not “overtly invasive or sexual” and in fact “might seem innocuous to an outsider“. It was very disappointing to be met with this response, which seemed designed to diminish and demean Gemma and everything she had gone through. On the one hand, the Force had taken appropriate disciplinary action against PC Green, but now with the other they were denying Gemma’s claim and almost endorsing Green’s outrageous conduct as ‘no big deal’, displaying an old school ‘well boys will be boys…’ mentality.

In response, I commissioned expert medical evidence which confirmed that PC Green’s contact had caused a material deterioration in Gemma‘s already vulnerable mental state, resulting in an anxiety and depressive disorder.

Following negotiation, Thames Valley police have agreed to pay Gemma £22,500 in compensation plus legal costs. I am sure you will agree that this is far from an “innocuous” amount of damages, and it reflects the true seriousness of this type of Police misconduct and the real harm it can cause.

No Trigger Warning: Another Case of Police Taser Misuse

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

Another day, and so another shocking video of excessive force from a Police Officer, this time of Greater Manchester Police.

Mobile phone footage filmed by a bystander (watch it below) captured the moment when a black man was shot from close-range by a taser- wielding GMP Officer with no warning, no notice, no justification.


Mr Desmond Mombeyarara had been stopped by Police apparently on suspicion of driving offences, and was talking to the Officers, having just put down his young son – who distressingly witnessed what then unfolded – when one of them shot him with a taser ‘stun gun’.

The taser caused Mr Mombeyarara to collapse to the ground, where he lay helpless as his son cried out “Daddy, Daddy” and the Officer leant over him and discharged the taser again, causing Mr Mombeyarara to convulse upon the ground, whilst shouting instructions to Mr Mombeyarara to put his hands behind his back.

From the video evidence this appears to have been a fairly straight forward interaction between the Police and Mr Mombeyarara in the minutes beforehand, who can be heard saying (not shouting) that he is “Not causing a problem” just seconds before he is shot.

Image of police officer holding a taserThis is exactly the type of scenario which I and other lawyers spoke up against and warned about, when Police Forces nationwide started to push for greater “roll out” of taser guns to all “front line” officers. Training and vetting of Officers must be tightened and increased as their ‘firepower’ is increased, in my opinion, or you run the risk of this kind of incident occurring – where an Officer will just casually produce a taser and shoot a person they are interacting with, as if it is no big deal (which perhaps from the Officer’s point of view it isn’t).

In most situations, a taser gun should be seen as a weapon of last resort, not a device simply to be used to short- circuit a proper discussion with a suspect. College of Policing guidance to Officers requires them to consider 3 “core questions”-

1. If force is justified, how immediate and grave is the threat posed ?

2. Are there any means, short of the use of force, capable of achieving the officer’s lawful objective ?

3. Having regard to the nature and gravity of the threat, and the potential for adverse consequences to arise from the use of force – including the risk of escalation and the exposure of others to harm – what is the minimum level of force required to attain the objective identified and would use of that level of force be proportionate or excessive ?

I would challenge anyone making an objective assessment of this video to conclude that the Officers involved came anywhere near passing the test for reasonable use of force posed by those core questions. This is hammered home by the Ten Key Principles Governing the Use of Force by the Police Service, which include the following injunction as Principle 3 –

“Police officers shall, as far as possible, apply non- violent methods before resorting to any use of force. They should use force only when other methods have proved ineffective, or when it is honestly and reasonably judged that there is no realistic prospect of achieving the lawful objective identified without force.”

Could either of the Officers involved in this incident honestly argue that they had no alternative other than to taser Mr Mombeyarara at that moment? They appear to have acted with total disregard for the strictures set down by the College of Policing; we can certainly challenge how effective was their training in these guidelines and models of behaviour, if all of that training, as it apparently did, went out of the window simply because one of the Officers had a taser within easy reach.

Image of UK policeIn my opinion, the increasing number of incidents like this being caught on camera is a warning as to quite how many Officers are going straight to a device to which electrocutes and paralyses a person, causing them to fall helplessly – but far from harmlessly – to the floor – as soon as they have any sort of disagreement or dispute with that person. This is a state of affairs which demonstrates laziness from the officers involved and/or a lack of awareness of the extent of the risk this weapon poses to a person’s health (life and limb?); not least to add, in this particular case, the mental scar the Officer may so casually have inflicted on the young child who witnessed his father being, quite frankly, ‘gunned down’ in front of him.

We honestly have to ask what was going through this officer’s mind, and do we want to have a society in which a few moments of ‘talking back’ to an officer justifies him incapacitating you through electrocution?

Let us keep front and centre in our consideration of these issues, the fact that the producers of the Taser weapon themselves (the American corporation Axon) market it as a ‘less lethal’ not non- lethal weapon. The possibility of serious injury or death exists on each and every occasion when the weapon is deployed.

It is also both disturbing and unsurprising that the victim in this case was once again a black male. It is well documented how our predominantly ethnically white police force will use their taser weapons disproportionatly against people of black and ethnic minority backgrounds/ appearance. A recent report in the Guardian newspaper highlighted how use of tasers increased by 39% last year as more and more Officers were armed by them, and Home Office figures revealed that black people in England and Wales were almost 8 times more likely to have tasers used against them than white people. It would seem that the increasing prevalence of this weapon is exacerbating long- existing problems of confirmation bias and ingrained racism in the attitudes of our Police towards black and ethnic minority members of society. That is yet another reason to take a long look at whether their increased ‘roll out’ should be allowed to continue.

Cold, hard statistics like that, as well as the vivid evidence of individual incidents such as this video, demonstrate that some Police officers simply can’t be trusted with these weapons.

We can only hope that the Independent Office of Police Conduct will now do their duty and thoroughly and impartially investigate this incident and sanction the Officers involved – as it seems that many officers are going to have to be snapped out of the dangerous complacency into which they have fallen in terms of their relationship with the taser gun, by a suitable shock to the system.

There is of course an appropriate place for these weapons in the Police officer’s arsenal. The use of a taser to render helpless a knife wielding terrorist on the London underground is an incident we all recall, and the Officers involved in that incident were rightly praised for their bravery. But what these officers of GMP did was not brave; in fact it was totally unnecessary. Officers need these weapons to handle terrorists and other dangerous criminals; they must not become a kind of go to ‘tagging device’ used in any interaction the officer feels like, any low- level dispute, any minor aggravation. Officers should not use this device to bypass their brains, or their duty to always use reason and empathy to attempt to de-escalate and resolve a situation. To do otherwise is an abuse of power, and any Officer who does that is far from being a hero.

I noted that a lot of the media outlets carrying this video included a ‘trigger warning’ captioned before the video started to play… well, that is far more warning than Mr Mombeyarara got.

Speaking Truth to Power

In the aftermath of a recent video showing a Lancashire Police officer – blissfully ignorant of the fact he was being filmed by a bystander –  threaten to “make something up” to justify a man’s arrest, I wrote a blog commenting on issues of surveillance in society and the increasing importance of mobile phone footage in legal cases.

One of the points I made was that, rather than being fearful of ‘Big Brother’ looking over our shoulder, we should be grateful for all the ‘little brothers and sisters’ out there who, thanks to the now ubiquitous technology of smartphones (placing the equivalent of a small film studio in each person’s pocket!), have captured and shared videos exposing Police misconduct, violence and corruption.

I highlighted several of my own client’s claims in which such video evidence played a crucial part in achieving victory, severely embarrassing the defence put forwards by the Police, contradicting false evidence and, in effect, stripping the Officers involved of the ‘power of the uniform’ behind which they often hide – lazily assuming that what they say goes and that they will always be believed in opposition to ‘Joe Public’.

But the sharing of videos of Police misconduct is important in a much wider sense than just their direct utility in an individual case; the more people who get to see these videos, the more levelling of the age-old imbalance of power between agents of the state and private citizens will occur. Many people, thankfully, have never been on the end of violence from or unlawful use of arrest powers by Police Officers, but much more so now than twenty or thirty years ago those people can have their eyes opened to some of the abuses of Police power which sadly do occur. Rather than just seeing ‘the uniform’ people can learn from videos circulated on publication platforms such as ‘You Tube’ to avoid assumptions that an Officer is likely to be telling the truth just because of his occupation. Sad though they are to watch, they are a salutary and healthy reminder to wider society to treat every case of alleged Police misconduct on its merits and not default to always believing the Officers, as was commonplace in generations gone by.

Videos like the recent one from Lancashire, are clear evidence for all to see of the blatant lies that can be told by Officers attempting to justify an unlawful arrest, or cover up their own wrongdoing, and it is no wonder that one of the first things Officers will do on entering into a confrontation with a person is to attempt to snatch their phone away!

The more people who see videos like this, the more society as a whole gains a realistic impression of the wide variance in integrity and calibre of character between Police officers, and learns to see the three dimensional people behind the one dimensional uniform, and the temptations to abuse which institutional power brings with it. People also become more informed as to their own rights and what they should do if they do end up in an adverse situation with the Police, through no fault of their own. The prevalence and wide circulation of such videos helps to tame Police power and restrain abuses (not least because Officers will be conscious that they might easily end up on ‘candid camera’) and also encourages those who have been wronged to take action in the form of a complaint or civil claim – recognising that they are not alone, that they are more likely to be believed than they may have feared, and showing that justice can be done.

In this respect I would like to give a hearty ‘shout out’ to the best site addressing Police misconduct issues in the UK – the ‘Biggest of the Little Brothers’ in my opinion – Rob Warner’s excellent “Crimebodge” blog and You Tube channel.

Crimebodge’s excellently curated channel presents genuine and compelling videos of Police misconduct, as well as educating people who have been the victims of such misdemeanours as to what they can do about it. Each one of those videos published by Crimebodge is a step towards righting the wrong seen within it, and taken together they make the site a very powerful force for calling the Police to account, highlighting abuse of power and thereby restraining future abuses.

In my opinion, the functioning of the civil justice system in regards access to justice in claims against the Police and other State/ Government bodies and agents,  depends just as much on reputable ‘video blogs’ such as Crimebodge as it does on the claims pursued by specialist solicitors such as myself. Whilst lawyers such as myself fight often long- fought, though very worthwhile battles on behalf of individual clients, Crimebodge, through the creation of such a wide audience for the videos which he publishes (each averaging hundreds of thousands of views), plays a crucial role in ensuring that my clients will be given a fair hearing by judges and juries throughout the land, because people able to access this material have greater knowledge about what really goes on the front lines of the ‘Thin Blue line’ and thereby gain a more healthily and fair mindedly sceptical approach to the evidence than prevailed in the ‘bad old days’ of paternalistic Police corruption.

Police Officer Assaults Teenage Boy

Many of you may have seen the video widely circulated in the media recently, showing a vicious assault upon a 15 year boy by a West Midlands Police Officer. For those who haven’t, you can see it here.

Although I am unable to reveal the identity of the victim, I can confirm that I have received instructions to act on his behalf from his mother for what appears to be a totally unjustified and heinous act of violence against the boy.

The Officer can clearly be seen in the video knocking my client to the floor by striking him in the face, and then, when he was lying helpless on the floor, kicking him hard in the back (with a kick which could, quite frankly, have ended up connecting with the boy’s head).

That kick is quite sickening and seems to me to be something akin to what you would expect a thug in a street-fight to do to his opponent, not a Police Officer to do to a child, no matter what provocation the Officer may claim to have suffered. Clearly a ‘red mist’ had descended upon the Officer, and his kick was intended to cause pain, not to effect any legitimate control or detention of the boy.

What is actually more disturbing to me however, than the level of violence used by the Officer – no matter how inappropriate and unnecessary it was – are the Officer’s subsequent actions. He escorted my client home and informed my client’s mother that my client had in fact assaulted him (the Officer) by punching the Officer in the face, but that the Officer was (in effect) going to ‘let him off’ because there was ‘no room’ at any local Police Station during the current Covid-19 crisis to facilitate the boy’s arrest and detention. Only after the Officer had left was my client, a traumatised 15 year old boy, able to reveal to his mother what had really happened i.e that he had been punched in the head by the Officer and then kicked as he lay on the ground.

That is the truly shocking event – the lies told by the Officer, who obviously expected that the honourable uniform that he wears would cover up his crime, a crime he compounded in the most hypocritical and dishonest way by attempting to turn it back upon its true victim i.e by accusing my client of assaulting him.

Doubtless the Officer expected to get away with this, for who would believe the account of a teenage boy in such circumstances against that of a Police Officer with all the weight of his profession and support of his Force behind him ?

My client’s mother recalls that when the Officer was relaying his false version of events to her at the front door of her home, he had activated his body camera, doubtless to get an ‘early record’ of his version of events. This camera is also believed to have caught my client’s mother swearing at the Officer when she saw how upset her son was.

My understanding is that the Officer was not operating his body camera during the time when he laid hands on my client. It is very disappointing and frustrating that Police policy appears to regard the activation of cameras as entirely discretionary to each Officer in each individual circumstance. Body cameras seem to be tools which the Police can use for their own purposes when it suits them, but which are not to be obligatorily activated when an Officer starts interacting with a member of the public suspected of a crime. This type of situation should, in my opinion, come with mandatory instructions upon Officers to use their expensive electronic equipment to properly record and document everything that unfolds – for everyone’s safety and in the interests of justice to all, not just that of the Officer who chooses to turn the camera on or off at his own discretion –  ‘editing’ out of the real world a version of events to suit himself.

Fortunately, and unbeknownst to the Officer, another camera positioned on a private house nearby was ‘looking over his shoulder’ – and so we all get to witness the truth, which, we can be absolutely sure, the Officer would never have told, had his crime not been so irrefutably exposed.

I am now actively involved in the misconduct investigation and in due course will be bringing a claim against West Midlands Police for substantial damages.

Mobile Phones: Our Shields Against Police Corruption?

In the midst of the current global pandemic, there are those who think governments across the world may use the crisis as an excuse to drastically – and permanently – increase surveillance of their citizens under the guise of ‘health monitoring’. This might be through the use of drones, facial recognition software, or mandatory ‘tracking apps’ installed on people’s phones. Invoking memories of the increase in State surveillance, and State intrusion into individual’s privacy in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks of 2001,Ron Deibert of the University of Toronto, one of the world’s leading experts on mobile phone surveillance, described in an interview with the Guardian (14/4/20) how increased surveillance procedures introduced in response to the present crisis could turn out to be “9/11 on steroids”.

This is the classic fear epitomised by George Orwell with the slogan “Big Brother is Watching You” in his novel of a dystopian future, 1984.

I have to say though, that my practical experience in fighting for clients who have been the victims of injustice at the hands of Police officers is that more prevalent video surveillance in society is our friend, not our foe, especially when you consider that a lot of that video surveillance power – the majority of it in fact – is not in the hands of the state, but the citizen – i.e all of us, with our mobile phones.

Here are just a few examples of clients I have represented, whose cases were immeasurably strengthened by the existence of mobile phone or other video footage –

  • ‘Mohammed’ whose mobile phone recording of his conversation with a West Yorkshire Police officer proved that the officer’s statement that he had informed Mohammed that he was being detained for a Drugs search was untrue; rather the Officer, saying nothing about a drugs search, had instead badgered Mohammed for his name and address whilst alleging Mohammed was “committing anti- social behaviour” – the nature of any such behaviour being completely unspecified (Mohammed was sitting quietly in a car at the time). In the same case, I also had the benefit of footage from CCTV cameras from a nearby building which demonstrated that the Officer’s assertions that Mohammed’s companion had run at him and pushed him, and that Mohammed had then ‘broken away from him’ whilst the Officer was trying to search/ detain him were also untrue. In fact, it was clear from the CCTV footage that it was the Officer who had walked away from Mohammed, after ‘confiscating’ his mobile phone ! Subsequent criminal proceedings against Mohammed for allegedly assaulting the Officer were dropped once Mohammed’s mobile phone footage was produced, and likewise his civil claim for compensation was settled before reaching Trial. I strongly feel that West Yorkshire Police would have fought both sets of proceedings ‘tooth and nail’ to Trial were it not for the existence of the video evidence giving the lie to their Officer’s account.
  • ‘Mark’ whose mobile phone footage of his interaction with a British Transport Police officer in a London railway station demonstrated incontrovertibly that the Officer had detained Mark against his will without, on the Officer’s own admission, having the necessary grounds to arrest him, or any other legitimate power to detain him temporarily (e.g for a search).
  • ‘John’ who was subjected to physical violence at the hands of two Merseyside Police officers who claimed he tried to escape from a drugs search – in fact his phone footage demonstrates that after answering the Officer’s questions he was allowed to go his way, and the Officers only laid hands on him after they heard him calling one of them an ‘idiot’ (a fairly tame remark I’m sure you’ll agree). The Officers also subsequently alleged that John had been swearing and shouting, but this was also disproved by the mobile phone footage.
  • ‘Linda’ whose claim against Lincolnshire Police I have recently settled for close to £10,000 and who was the victim of Police brutality when an Officer, objecting to the fact that she had been filming his arrest of her partner on her phone (for a minor traffic violation) came after her as she walked away making a telephone call to her partner’s mother, grabbed her from behind, seized her phone and wrestled it out of her grasp, causing her to be knocked against a car in the process (all of this witnessed by Linda’s 12 year old  daughter). The Officer had absolutely no basis to take Linda’s phone, but his actions in doing so are far from uncommon in my experience – Officers dislike being filmed and not having control of the footage, despite the fact they are almost all now equipped with Body Cameras themselves and have no power to require members of the public to stop filming them. It is very common for Officers to claim they are confiscating phones as “evidence” when they have no power to do so.

My long experience of cases such as these meant that I was, like many of us I’m sure, saddened but not shocked to see the video footage which has been widely circulated in the media over the last 24 hours of a Lancashire Police officer apparently threatening to “make something up” to justify an Accrington man’s arrest (read the news report with video here). The Officer can clearly be heard to say, when the young man protests that he’s done nothing wrong, “I’ll make something up, Public Order? squaring up to a Police Officer? – shall I do that, who are they going to believe, me or you?” The Officer then repeats those last words in a furious shout “WHO ARE THEY GOING TO BELIEVE, ME OR YOU?”

Fortunately, the answer to the Officer’s question is provided, loud and clear, by the circulation of this video.

As I noted above, almost all Officers on patrol are now equipped with their own Body Worn Cameras – but the Officer decides when he wants to record using the camera, and when he doesn’t.

I say that it is quite right and proper that the great power of the Police – so dangerous when abused – is held to account when appropriate by the testimony of the type of video evidence that we all now have ‘in our pockets’. This is especially the case when you think of all those years gone by, before the advent of the ‘smartphone’, when the Police Officers in the four cases I have described above, and also in the Accrington incident, would have stood a good chance of getting away ‘scot- free’ with the lies they told and/or their unlawful acts. Society is more healthy where the rights of the  ‘the man on the street’ are reinforced by this type of evidence; reminding people that you shouldn’t always take Police Officers at their word, sad though it is to say it. The rights of citizens and the power of the Police are thereby more balanced and fair.

In conclusion therefore; I’m not so worried about ‘Big Brother’ looking over our shoulder. Rather I’m happy that the Police know that all the ‘little brothers and sisters’ out there are, potentially, watching them!

 

Setting the Record Straight : How To Get Wrongful PNC Records Deleted

I have previously blogged about my client Julie who was arrested on suspicion of child neglect. She had been arrested at her children’s school, taken to a local Police Station, held in a cell for a couple of hours and then released with no further action to be taken.

When Julie first contacted me nearly 4 years later, her stated aim was for the deletion of her personal details from the Police National Computer.

The arrest had been her one and only lifetime interaction with the Police and had been traumatic in itself, but what continued to “torment” her was the existence of an entry on the PNC that would impact her negatively for the rest of her life, and in particular destroy any chance of resuming her former career as a Carer.

Julie established that the information held on the PNC included her full name, date of birth, ethnicity, place of birth, nationality, personal description (including eye colour, hair colour and style, dominant hand and whether she was visually impaired), address as at the time of arrest, occupation as at date of arrest and shockingly brief (and out-of-context) details of the arrest circumstances, specifically: “Assault/ill-treat/neglect/abandon a Child/young person to cause unnecessary suffering/injury“, as well as her photograph. Such a vague and generic summary of the alleged reason for Julie’s arrest, clearly left the door wide open for anyone reading it to assume the worst about her.

Julie was “horrified to discover that the wrongful arrest details and a mugshot … still existed, in spite of not having been charged with anything” and that this information/ misinformation could “be viewed by Police all over the country”.

She established following online research that it is possible to have personal data deleted from the PNC, but only if you are able to evidence good grounds for deletion.

Julie then applied direct to ACRO for the deletion of the PNC entry.

Julie’s stated grounds for deletion included the following;

  • No Crime; I am not guilty of neglect. My son walked out on me. He told me to “fuck off “. He walked out and was gone overnight. He was 6 foot at the time. I was arrested the next day when I took my younger child to school.
  • False allegation; I am not a neglectful parent. My son later admitted to police that he had lied. He admitted causing criminal damage to our home. He also admitted to having made unprovoked physical attacks on myself.
  • Unlawful arrest; I believe that the arrest was not lawful because no crime was committed.
  • Unlawfully taken; because no crime was committed, my photograph and or any other data should be removed/deleted/destroyed.
  • Incorrect disposal; I was told that no further action will be taken. I should not of been arrested in the first place.

Julie went on to describe the impact of her data still being on the PNC:

  • that she had suffered with anxiety/depression
  • that she could not apply for jobs and
  • had no future in her previous field of work as a Carer which required a fully enhanced DBS check.

In truth, ACRO is just a conduit, a postman if you like, and the body that reviews such applications is the Force who put the data on the PNC in the first place, ie the arresting force for they are the “data controllers” of the information.

A month later, ACRO advised that the Records Management Unit of the arresting force had considered the application. With a view to ensuring Julie’s privacy, I will not identify the Force, and so will simply replace the name of the force with “X” in the following transcription. This is what they said;

We “note that early deletion is requested by virtue of the following ground(s);

Unlawfully taken
Mistaken identity/unlawful arrest
No crime
Malicious/false allegation
Incorrect disposal
Suspect status not clear at the time of arrest
Public interest

X Police review of this matter has now concluded and we must advise that X Police decision is that deletion by virtue of these grounds is REFUSED and the application cannot be upheld.

Rationale:

Each application submitted to X Police is judged by applying a stringent framework of the record deletion process. This means that to apply all, or even one, of the seven grounds quoted, X Police must identify corroborative evidence to support and subsequently approve early deletion.

Upon conclusion of our review X Police find there is insufficient evidence to support deletion based on the grounds, therefore [Julie’s] records will be retained.”

In the circumstances, ACRO confirmed that;

Julie’s record would be retained on the Police National Computer until she was deemed to have reached 100 years of age in accordance with current policy outlined in the guidance “Deletion of records for National Police Systems”;

and

the Force had decided to retain her custody image in accordance with the management of Police Information (MOPI) framework.

As is all too often the case, Julie’s application had been rejected without proper consideration of the facts of the case, her representations or the relevant criteria. Despite suggesting that ‘rationale’ would be provided, in fact, there was no rationale for the decision.

Julie asked me to assist in lodging an appeal.

On review of her case, I was of the opinion that her arrest had been entirely unlawful, and that to begin with, we should focus on a civil action against X Police for damages for false imprisonment and assault/battery; and then in due course we would address the PNC record. I explained that an admission of liability and/or payment of damages in a civil action would greatly strengthen her appeal for Record deletion.

Following the successful conclusion of Julie’s claim, i.e. the Police’s admission of liability for her wrongful arrest, and payment of damages, I wrote to ACRO demonstrating that the previous decision not to delete Julie’s PNC entry was perverse, and that in light of the outcome of the civil proceedings, this decision must be reversed.

I am pleased to confirm that following review, X Police agreed to delete the entry. Here’s what they said;

“We can confirm that a full review has been conducted independently from the initial decisionmaker, and in liaising with the legal services department and data protection office.

Upon completion of this assessment, X police support deletion of records held on the Police National Computer. Therefore this letter constitutes formal confirmation that all records have been deleted from the police national computer system in relation to this offence”.

By instructing me, Julie had successfully achieved her overriding objective, which was deletion of the PNC entry and custody photograph. But there was more, for she also now has the satisfaction of an admission that her arrest was unlawful, and she has recovered financial compensation to reflect her loss of liberty and the trauma and distress of this terrible incident.

Here’s what Julie has to say about her experience;

I am writing this reference regarding the AMAZING work that my solicitor (Lawyer) Mr Iain Gould recently did for me.

Firstly let me explain to you how I came into contact with Iain Gould; I was at the end of my rope due to having suffered in an extreme way due to a very deeply wrongful arrest. I was feeling absolutely tormented and in pieces………..The police had a deeply personal and negative impact upon my very existence and had changed and damaged my life for the worse forever……….

I turned to the internet, I was doing google search after google search desperately seeking actual, genuine, practical help. Eventually I discovered a page on a blog on wordpress which held a particular significance. This blog was written by Iain Gould and it stated that he is a solicitor (lawyer) who specialises in legal action against the police.

Having never in my 44 years had any previous arrests or convictions or anything, not so much as a single parking ticket I’d had absolutely no idea whatsoever and no clue as to WHOM would be able to help me.

The desperate googling that I was doing led me to the wordpress blog that solicitor (Lawyer) Iain Gould runs. I found an online form on his blog which I completed.

In response, I received an initial phone call from Iain Gould himself. I was deeply embarrassed by the information that I had to impart, however I did so and left nothing out. To my extreme joy and delight after considering whether I had a case or not I was then taken on as a client by Solicitor (Lawyer) Iain Gould.

I had never before in my life heard of something called The Police National Computer. Basically I was HORRIFIED to discover that the wrongful arrest details and a mugshot of myself STILL existed, in spite of not having been charged with anything alongside a pack of lies about myself on a computer system that may be viewed by police all over the country. Clearly that would further impact my life negatively for the rest of my life and destroy completely any potential career prospects. Not only was the “information” that they held about me untrue, it was also deeply damaging.

As a solicitor, Iain Gould listens to what you have to say and makes you feel that you ARE being both listened to and taken seriously as a client. He has a very fast ability to be able to extract relevant material to your case and cut through anything that is not relevant. As a client I was kept informed at all times of how the case was progressing and I did my best to try not to bombard my solicitor with emails.

I felt that to take legal action against the police is a terrifying prospect as a client with no legal knowledge myself and it is absolutely imperative to obtain a solicitor (Lawyer) who has got extensive experience and knowledge in this field. This is not an easy task due to the fact that many solicitors would hesitate to take on such a task and my guess would be that even fewer solicitors would be successful.

Police can and do get things very wrong at times and when they do so you would require a very specialist solicitor (Lawyer) to help you.

I am both amazed and delighted to state that my solicitor (Lawyer) Iain Gould was entirely successful in the legal action that he undertook for me against the police. My name has been legally cleared, and I hope that this should be the beginning of a new chapter of life for myself that I hope will actually BE a life full of possibilities as opposed to a mere existence.

If you are seeking a solicitor after having suffered at the hands of the police then I heartily recommend Iain Gould. He gets results and is efficient, professional and is basically pure gold!

Mr Iain Gould, you have my wholehearted gratitude forever.

What is false imprisonment?

House arrest headline in the Sun newspaperLast night’s headlines confirm that the UK’s Coronovirus “lockdown” is to continue and reminded me of the dramatic headlines of 3 weeks ago; the “End of Freedom” according to The Daily Telegraph while the Sun had a picture of a giant padlock on its front page with the headline, “House Arrest”.

Coincidentally, only a few weeks before the lockdown began, in the case of R (on the application of Jalloh) (Respondent) v the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Appellant), the Supreme Court was obliged to consider and decide whether a man held under house arrest could be said to have been imprisoned and therefore able to sue the Government for compensation for false imprisonment.

On the 30th October 2013, the Claimant, a Liberian national named Ibrahima Jalloh, was issued with a document headed “Notice of Restriction” by an immigration officer. The notice stated that he was liable to be detained under the Immigration Act 1971 but that he would not be detained. Instead, restrictions would be imposed upon him, specifically an obligation to report to an immigration officer 3 days a week, to live at a specified address and to observe a night time curfew monitored by an electronic tag. The notice continued; “If you fail to comply with any of these restrictions you will be liable on conviction to a fine…. or imprisonment….”.

End of freedom headline in The Telegraph newspaperThe Claimant was fitted with an electronic tag on 3 February 2014 and the curfew was in place from 3 February 2014 until 14 July 2016, a total of 891 days.

Eventually, the Claimant challenged the lawfulness of the curfew by judicial review and the Court held that the Secretary of State had no power to impose a curfew by way of restriction.

Mr Jalloh then brought a claim for compensation for false imprisonment arguing that he had been confined to his house with no legal basis for long periods of time. The question for the Court then was did the Claimant’s house arrest constitute false imprisonment. Yes, said Mr Justice Lewis at first instance. The Secretary of State appealed. The Court of Appeal now considered the issue. Did the curfew amount to false imprisonment? Yes, said the Court of Appeal. The Secretary of State, apparently with money to burn, lodged a final appeal to the Supreme Court inviting the Court to give guidance as to what “imprisonment” means.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the Secretary of State’s appeal. Lady Hale delivering judgment for the Court, held that the essence of imprisonment is being made to stay in a particular place by another person whether he wants to do so or not. The methods which might be used to ‘imprison’ a person are “many and various. They could be physical barriers, such as locks and bars. They could be physical people, such as guards who would physically prevent the person leaving if he tried to do so. They could also be threats, whether of force or of legal process.”

In Mr Jalloh’s case, the Court was in no doubt that the Secretary of State defined the place where Mr Jalloh was to stay between 11.00pm and 7.00 am every day. There was no suggestion that he could go somewhere else during that time without the Secretary’s permission.

Furthermore, Mr Jalloh’s compliance was “enforced”. He was wearing an electronic tag. If he left his home address, that would be detected and reported. He was warned in the clearest possible terms that should he break the curfew, he would be liable to a fine or imprisonment. In short, Lady Hale found that “the idea that the Claimant was a free agent, able to come and go as he pleased, is completely unreal”.

For those interested, you can read the full Judgment here, or even better, watch it here (note the Supreme Court Judges exercising social distancing at a time when the Covid-19 virus had yet to take over every aspect of our daily lives and work).

I was extremely heartened by this judgment which upholds that principle of protection of an individual’s liberty from State power/oppression which has been central to British Law and society ever since the Magna Carta itself. Such signals from the Supreme Court that the rights and freedoms enshrined in the UK’s “unwritten constitution” are alive and well, will be welcomed by many during the present crisis, when concerns about Police over-reach of powers and encroachment upon our civil liberties are validly held.