I was recently instructed by Michael Turnbull (name changed), a married family man of exemplary character. Several months before, he had been out shopping when he received an urgent call from his wife to return home. He left the shopping trolley half full and did so immediately not knowing what the issue was.
Upon his return, Michael established two officers from the Merseyside Police Serious Crime Unit were in attendance. Michael was advised that an indecent image of a child had been linked to an IP address utilised by a device or devices at his home, and that they had a warrant to search the premises.
Michael felt bewildered and bemused.
Michael and his wife were told that a team of officers would now attend and commence the search.
Eight uniformed officers then entered the house and a large amount of IT equipment was seized and then bagged up.
Eventually, after approximately three hours, all officers left, taking the seized items with them.
Michael was devastated and he and his wife and children then left the house so as to ‘escape’.
Michael and his family went to a local park. After approximately 30 minutes, Michael’s wife received a telephone call from an officer requesting that they return to the premises.
Michael was terrified a decision had been made to arrest him or his wife and/ or that Social Services would be intervening, and their children might be taken from them.
Michael and his family returned home. A few minutes later, an officer attended and explained that there had been a mistake and that the premises had been misidentified. Thereafter, Michael’s property was returned.
Although it’s not yet known exactly how his premises had been mis-identified, it is understood that investigators made an error when identifying the IP address.
Understandably Michael felt extremely worried about the impact of the raid and the consequences it would have on his life. He worried about how he would have to explain himself and justify his actions. Would anyone believe that this was a case of ‘smoke without fire’?
But Michael’s biggest issue was how the incident had fractured his belief system as far as police and policing are concerned, and that he had lost his faith in the competence and trustworthiness of the law enforcement system.
Prior to this incident Michael had no relevant medical history of psychological symptoms. Michael was a robust and resilient individual, with no predisposition toward psychological illness or disorder.
However, Michael’s immediate experience of the incident included a sense of shock, bewilderment, and disbelief; a sense of unreality; he felt a loss of control. He experienced significant anxiety, about the impact the incident might have on his relationship with his family, his customers and his standing within the community. Subsequently, he became angry about what had happened to him. He questioned core beliefs he held about the world of policing and about himself, such as whether the police can be trusted and whether the police can keep us safe. Finding his worldview seriously challenged by his experience of the incident, he struggled to adjust.
In a recent report that I commissioned from the eminent Psychologist, Dr. Helen Card, she reported on a similar case in the following terms-
“An individual’s view of the world and how they operate within it is usually based on a set of core beliefs or assumptions about the world, the self, and others. It is believed that the world is benevolent and is generally a safe place where more good happens than bad; and that most people have good intentions and can be trusted. It is believed that the world makes sense because it is orderly, just, and logical. Assumptions are made about the self as being worthy, fortunate and lucky, deserving of good things, decent and capable. These personally held assumptions about how the world works allow the individual to make sense of the world and their role withinit, helping them to feel safe, capable, and in control of what happens to them. If an individual believes that the world is “just”, they are likely to assume they can protect themselves from negative experiences by behaving in a way that is “right” or “good”. When events challenge or shatter these assumptions, significant distress can occur and the individual can feel anxious and helpless in a world that suddenly seems threatening, dangerous and filled with bad people.”
Michael is now struggling along the road to recovery after just such a wrecking of his assumptions of safety and security, through this horrifying glimpse of just how ‘easy’ it is for an innocent person to face accusations of a heinous crime which, if maintained for any length of time, could seriously blight their future well-being and relationships.
Sadly, this is not the first time in the last year that I have had to blog about the real risk of wrongful arrest posed by IP address ‘data errors’. There is no doubt that those in charge of the machinery of state power must take the utmost care to ensure that innocent people are not crushed within the wheels of justice, particularly by reason of simple ‘admin’ errors in this digital era where a single incorrect number could risk derailing a person’s life. The watchwords, once again, are power and responsibility.
I am pleased to confirm that justice was seen at Liverpool Crown Court yesterday, where four Merseyside Police officers involved in an unconscionable attempt to frame my client Mark Bamber for an offence which had in fact been committed against him by one of their number, were convicted of perverting the course of justice.
Mark was subject to a brutal and unprovoked attack by PC Darren McIntyre after officers had been called to his house in Ainsdale, Merseyside.
The incident occurred in June 2019, when officers accompanying ambulance staff requested permission to enter Mark’s home to carry out a welfare check on Mark’s partner, who suffers from mental health issues. The ambulance had earlier been called by Mark’s partner, but then cancelled because she was feeling better.
At the insistence of the ‘lead’ officer, PC McIntyre, Mark let the four officers, as well as the paramedics, into the house, notwithstanding his own view that this was no longer necessary. Mark was disgruntled by the arrogant and aggressive attitude of PC McIntyre who had threatened to arrest Mark for “obstruction” when he originally refused to allow the emergency team in, on the basis that his partner no longer needed them.
Whilst the paramedics went to speak to his partner (who had gone to bed) Mark waited in the kitchen, and when PC McIntyre entered the room, Mark asked for his collar number, intending to put in a complaint about the officer’s attitude. In response to this, McIntyre warned Mark that he was getting on the officer’s “nerves”, told Mark to “wind your fucking neck in” and again threatened to arrest him for ‘obstruction’ with the words “I will put you in the fucking car” – despite the fact that no ‘obstruction’ could possibly be said to be taking place.
When Mark responded to this goading with the words “Are you sure?”, PC McIntyre launched a totally unprovoked assault upon him – punching Mark in the face and chest five times, before performing a ‘leg sweep’ manoeuvre to take Mark violently to the floor. Whilst Mark was in shock and bleeding from the facial injuries inflicted upon him by PC McIntyre, the officer continued his assault, crushing him against the ground, and handcuffing Mark’s arms behind his back. Mark’s glasses had been knocked off during the assault and were now broken; more seriously, Mark himself was suffering significant discomfort to his face, ribs and wrists.
Mark couldn’t believe what had happened to him, in the safety of his own home. What the three other Police officers made of their colleague’s assault upon Mark is a moot point – but what they did was very telling. Of these three officers, one, PC Garrie Burke, did not have his body camera running; the other two, female officers Laura Grant and Lauren Buchanan-Lloyd had been recording events – but quickly switched off their cameras when their colleague began to assault Mark. This was despite the fact that PC Grant had initially tried to calm her colleague down, and must have known that what he was doing was wrong. PC Buchanan- Lloyd later said in interview that she and PC Grant discussed covering up the evidence of McIntyre’s unprovoked assault upon Mark by claiming that the batteries on both of their cameras had simultaneously ‘died’ – but decided that this might sound too suspicious.
All of this was all the more distressing to Mark because it was being witnessed by his partner – the person whose welfare was supposed to be the entire purpose of the emergency visit was now having to watch to her horror as Mark was beaten up in front of her. Indeed, as Mark’s partner tried to record what was happening to him/ intervene to save him from the assault she herself was arrested – for “obstruction” – attempting to obstruct a criminal assault it would seem?
Mark was led out of the house in handcuffs, and initially taken to Southport Hospital for treatment for the injuries inflicted on him by PC McIntyre – however, no sooner had his cuts been stitched and his chest x-rayed, he was transported to Copy Lane Police Station and advised that he was under arrest for assaulting an emergency worker – specifically, PC McIntyre. The justification for his arrest was given in the following terms in the Custody Record-
“ Assault Police – call … to assist AMBO with a female at location for unknown reason. History of violence towards AMBO. Male opened the door confront and refused entry. States that he cancelled the AMBO warned and failed to desist. Female seen in bedroom to be seen by AMBO. DP continued aggressive behaviour. Warned DP has then elbowed the Officer to the left side of his nose. DP has been struck and then taken to the floor. Handcuffed to rear and C and A no reply.”
This was of course a travesty of the truth, and on hearing that account Mark immediately said to PC McIntyre “You’re a liar.”
Indeed, PC McIntyre knew full well he was a liar – and therefore he and his three colleagues took steps to disguise the true sequence of events. Firstly, the two female officers failed to ‘upload’ to the Police computer system the footage from their body cameras – the footage which would have shown that Mark did not ‘elbow’ PC McIntyre, and that instead McIntyre had struck first with repeated, furious punches. PC McIntyre did upload his own body cam footage, but as is often the case, because it was filmed from a camera worn by a participant in the struggle, the angle of the camera was too close/ obscured for the truth to be seen. McIntyre obviously thought he could ‘get away’ with his deception as long as his colleagues’ footage was not viewed – and remember, the two female officers had deliberately stopped recording, so that McIntyre could continue beating Mark without an ‘audience’.
One would have thought that the main purpose of Police body cameras is to capture evidence of crimes being committed; but not, apparently, when it is an Officer who is committing the crime.
To compound their wrongdoing, all four officers then collaborated in writing statements which provided a false and distorted version of what had happened. McIntyre in his statement falsely alleged Mark had been attempting to head-butt him, and omitted to mention the fact that he had repeatedly punched Mark. He also claimed that Mark had made no comment in response to being ‘cautioned’ whereas the body camera footage had clearly recorded Mark responding with the words “I haven’t touched you…you punched me.”
At a later date, McIntyre met with the other three officers for two and a half hours in a room at Maghull Police Station, as they attempted to ‘massage’ the evidence in order to exonerate the real perpetrator (McIntyre) and frame Mark.
One of the female officers involved in this incident, Buchanan-Lloyd, was, rather tragically, a newly qualified officer only 5 weeks into her career and supposedly under the tutelage of PC Grant. It is in my view despicable that the more senior officers involved roped her into their criminal conspiracy, and makes you shudder to think how many other officers are ‘initiated’ in this way into a culture of ‘police might makes right’, under the pressure of not ‘ratting out’ a fellow officer.
For a month following this incident, Mark had the threat of court proceedings on the false charge of assaulting PC McIntyre hanging over him; fortunately, after Mark was granted ‘no further action’ in regards to the allegations against him, the pendulum swung the other way. In response to Mark’s complaint, an internal Police investigation was commenced and PCs McIntyre, Grant, Burke and Buchanan-Lloyd were all in turn interviewed on suspicion of criminal offences.
Following a 4 week trial at Liverpool Crown Court, all of the officers were convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, with PC McIntyre also being convicted of Actual Bodily Harm In respect of his assault upon Mark. Sentencing will follow next month.
Unfortunately this showcases in one incident many of the worse aspects of Police abuse of power – arrogance; gratuitous bully-boy violence; an attempt to frame an innocent man and officers ‘closing ranks’ and collaborating to hide wrong doing by one of their colleagues – demonstrating a shocking contempt for the very justice system they are supposed to be upholding. If evidence were required, this shows that Police corruption is not confined to our history books or to our TV screens, and reinforces in my mind the need for us to be assured that body cameras are kept rolling during every arrest, search and home entry situation – sadly in order to ensure we can properly police the very people who are wearing them…
I recently blogged about the case of my client Courton Green who is pursuing a claim for damages for unlawful arrest. The arrest was instigated by a private charity, the RSPCA, who in my experience behave as if they were a quasi- government agency with their self-appointed titles, uniforms and in their relationship with the Police.
I echoed the criticisms which many have made, both in the case of Courton Green and others, that the relationship between the RSPCA and the Police is unhealthily close and all too often the Police appear to be led by the RSPCA into criminalising innocent individuals and pursuing completely ill-founded and inappropriate prosecutions.
Unfortunately, misdirection and misuse of Police resources by what we might describe as law enforcement ‘amateurs’ does not end with private organisations like the RSPCA, but encompasses actual Government agencies who should know better, such as the Environment Agency.
The Environment Agency (EA) is a non-departmental public body supervised/sponsored by DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and is a successor to both the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Pollution, with a remit which includes flood forecasting/prevention and the regulation of industrial discharges (i.e control of waste and pollution).
It was under the Environment Agency’s remit to investigate alleged criminal infringements of environmental law, that it became involved in the lives of my clients Mark and Lisa Walters, two farmers.
The Environment Agency made an application to the Magistrates’ Court for a search warrant to enter and inspect Mark and Lisa’s home under Section 108/Schedule 18 of the Environment Act 1995.
The purpose of the search warrant was to examine business records, belonging to Appleby Recycling, for evidence of alleged unauthorised waste activity. Appleby was a company run by a close relative of Mark, which operated on land owned by Mark.
In the early hours of the morning Mark and Lisa were in bed when they were awoken by loud banging and kicking noises from the front door of their home.
Mark jumped out of bed, got partially dressed and answered the front door, where he was met by the terrifying sight of a large group of men, dressed all in black and armed with crowbars and batons – his immediate impression was that the group of strangers resembled a paramilitary force and he at first believed that his home was being subjected to an aggravated burglary.
We now know that these individuals were officers of the local Police Force, who had been enlisted by the Environment Agency to be the ‘muscle’, as it were, to allow them to execute the search warrant.
The men ordered Mark to step outside, but initially he refused to do so having received no indication from the group as to who they were and not wishing to abandon his family to whatever their intentions were.
As a result, Mark found himself being aggressively manhandled to the floor, where his arms were pulled behind his back and handcuffed to the rear.
As Mark lay defenceless and handcuffed upon the floor, he was threatened by the Police with “150,000 volts” should he make any movement. At this point, several Officers were training their taser weapons upon Mark.
Indeed two of the tasers were actually pressed down onto Mark – one on his neck, and the other on his leg – causing him to be in further terror that he could be electrocuted at any moment.
All of this was overwhelming for a man who had simply been in bed a few minutes before. He was a man of good character with no history of violence; it seems that the Environment Agency investigators had ‘put’ the Police up to this show of force/ level of aggression by expressing concern about the fact that Mark had a firearms licence – although this is hardly something unusual in the farming community, and was absent a single scrap of evidence that Mark would refuse/ resist the search in any way.
Lisa and their teenage daughters had now also been awoken and startled by this invasion of their home and Mark was caused to feel further distress at the thought of how terrified his wife and children were at the threat both to himself and themselves.
Mark was forced to disclose the whereabouts to the keys of his gun cabinet (which was not – of course – the actual purpose or subject of the search) and was roughly manhandled by the officers. His reasonable request to use the bathroom before he was taken from the premises (as it was clear he was going to be) was denied, causing him further discomfort.
Mark was then marched out of his house and to a police vehicle outside.
Mark was now officially informed that he was under arrest in relation to suspected involvement in illegal deposits of waste by Appleby Recycling and was cautioned. He was then driven away at speed to a distant Police Station and taken into custody.
All of this was a shocking and bewildering sequence of events. As noted above, Mark was a man of good character who had never before had any adverse dealings with the Police.
Later that evening Mark was interviewed by officers from the Environment Agency before being released on bail after over 12 hours detention. He felt the force used against him, as well as the fact of his detention was all completely unnecessary and that he had been deliberately humiliated, disempowered and oppressed by this collusion between the Police and the EA. He had no involvement in any ‘illegal waste’ activity, and his innocence would in due course be vindicated by the total collapse of the case against him.
Whilst Mark was being detained at the Police Station, officers of the Environment Agency carried out a full and extensive search of his family home – which resulted in no documentation actually being recovered or seized.
Lisa Walters, despite her distress, had the presence of mind to request sight of the warrant which the Police/Environment Agency officers were purportedly executing, but this was refused.
No information was disclosed as to the purpose of the search, which Lisa noted was very haphazard – with officers overlooking computers but searching through her daughter’s underwear drawer. During the course of the search the lead Environment Agency investigator was noted by Lisa to have a ‘Pink Panther’ ring tone on his mobile phone – suggestive of a cocky and unprofessional approach by an ‘amateur Policeman’ in my opinion.
Lisa was left feeling as though the family had been burgled, such was the sense of disrespect towards and violation of the family’s privacy and belongings by the EA and Police officers.
It subsequently became clear that execution of the warrant had been unlawful from the start, owing to non-compliance with the provisions of Section 108 (6) of the Environment Act 1995.
Section 108 (6) of the Environment Act 1995 provides that –
Except in an emergency, in any case where it is proposed to enter any premises used for residential purposes, or to take heavy equipment onto any premises which are to be entered, any entry by virtue of this section shall only be effected –
After the expiration of at least 7 days notice of the proposed entry given to a person who appears to the authorised person in question to be in occupation of the premises in question, and
With the consent of the person who is in occupation of the premises; or
Under the authority of a warrant by virtue of Schedule 18 to this Act.
Accordingly, it was a legal requirement that any entry/search of residential premises, such as Mark and Lisa’s home, required the prior issuing of at least 7 days’ notice to the occupiers. No such notice was provided to Mark or Lisa and the resulting entry/search was entirely unlawful.
I pursued claims on behalf of Mark and Lisa against both the Environment Agency and the Police for Trespass to Land, Assault and Battery, False Imprisonment and Misfeasance in Public Office.
Initially both parties denied liability, with the Police asserting as follows –
“The Environment Agency requested Police assistance to effect the arrest of your client as he was a firearms licence holder with 4 firearms recorded, and had been confrontational with the EA in past meetings.”
The Police went on to make it clear they were acting “under the direct instruction” of the Environment Agency, and were present as “agents” of the EA only.
For their part, the Environment Agency sought to argue that the failure to give notice was a mere “technicality”, that their officers had “acted in good faith” and that Court proceedings would be “vigorously” contested.
Notwithstanding this, I am pleased to report that good sense prevailed and the EA agreed to settle Mark and Lisa’s claims for £25,000.
This case to my mind is another example of how gung-ho amateurs (in the form of the Environment Agency officers) can lead much more hardened and experienced law enforcement professionals (in the form of the Police) into making rash judgments and taking unlawful actions. It is entirely possible that both the EA and the Police were delegating the ‘thinking’ part of this operation to the other.
The mischief of this bungled ‘raid’ on a terrified young family’s home, was then compounded by a typical police predilection for (in effect) converting a search warrant into an arrest warrant by assuming (or so it would seem) that because the Court had granted the right to search for items connected with a criminal offence, there must therefore be authority to arrest as well.
That of course was not the case; the warrant insofar as it had been granted (not that it was properly executed in any event) was a search warrant and not an arrest warrant.
Police powers to arrest Mark on suspicion of any environmental offences were governed by the usual provisions of PACE i.e. the need for reasonable suspicion of the offence to be accompanied by objectively reasonable necessity to arrest.
Mark could (and should) have been invited for an interview as a voluntary attender, as the ultimate settlement of this claim amply demonstrates. Instead he was treated as if he was the suspected member of some kind of organised crime group. The Police should have thought twice about not only the legitimacy of Mark’s arrest, but – in the first place – the decision to use force, including the deployment of multiple taser officers against a peaceable man. The fact that he was the holder of a lawful firearms licence in no way justified such brutal tactics – but the Police in their reply to the claim trotted out one of the worst and most execrable excuses in the book i.e ‘they were just following orders’ from the Environment Agency.
I would hope that both the Environment Agency and the Police have learnt important lessons from this fiasco – such as understanding the basic legislation which governs the exercise of their powers.
The Environment Agency has a number of hugely important jobs to do in protecting the very fabric of our country and the health of the nation; but pretending that it’s the FBI shouldn’t be one of them.
One of the primary roles of the National Probation Service is public protection. To ensure the public are protected from offenders who present a high risk of serious harm to other people, the National Probation Service has the authority to recall offenders from the community back to prison where they are in breach of the terms of their release or when it seems that the risk they pose can no longer be safely managed in the community.
I have previously blogged about situations when probation companies have got it wrong and have by mistake recalled prisoners who have not in fact breached their licence conditions, see here and here.
But Probation can also get it wrong in failing to ensure that prisoners who do breach their licence conditions are recalled to prison, allowing those individuals the opportunity to harm others.
A particularly high profile case is that of Joseph McCann who whilst on release from prison committed multiple violent and sexual offences in April and May 2019. His case was the subject of significant media scrutiny and ultimately a review by the Chief Inspector of Probation who identified significant failings in McCann’s supervision by Probation Staff, as well as policy failures at a higher level.
Sadly, the McCann case is not a one off.
I am currently acting on behalf of Helen Roberts.
In early 2016, Helen met Simon Dorset and after a few months of dating, moved in with him.
When she first met Mr Dorset, he identified himself as Simon John North. He told her that he had been in prison for armed robbery offences and that he was subject to stringent licence conditions.
Whilst Simon was indeed on licence, in fact his sentence did not relate to armed robbery but rather multiple rapes, kidnap, attempted kidnap, wounding, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and false imprisonment; all offences which had been committed against Simon’s former partner. He had been sentenced in his real name, Simon Dorset to a discretionary life sentence at Liverpool Crown Court in September 2004. His tariff was set at 7.5 years which expired in 2011, and he was released in July 2015 at the discretion of the Parole Board.
Mr Dorset was released with standard licence conditions together with additional conditions as follows;
To reside at an Approved Premises (AP),
Not to approach his victim,
To observe a curfew at the AP from 19.00 to 07.00,
Daily AP reporting,
To inform his Probation Officer of any intimate relationships,
To observe an exclusion zone.
Helen quickly established that Mr Dorset was a controlling, manipulative, possessive and violent man. She was kept prisoner in her home and beaten and raped by him on multiple occasions. She was, in short, trapped in a mentally and physically abusive relationship and was unable to extricate herself.
In May 2017, Helen became pregnant.
In August 2017, Merseyside Police received a report that Mr Dorset was committing domestic abuse against Helen, and yet no action was taken.
In September 2017, Mr Dorset told Helen that they would be relocating to Huddersfield.
Upon relocation, the level of emotional and physical abuse Helen suffered escalated.
On several occasions, Helen was able to briefly escape to a Women’s Refuge.
In January 2018, Helen gave birth 6 weeks prematurely. Several days after doing so, on or about 23 January 2018 and after having visited the baby in hospital, Helen managed to escape from Mr Dorset and alert the Police.
Mr Dorset was soon arrested and following investigation, he was finally recalled to prison.
Mr Dorset was subsequently prosecuted for various offences relating to his abusive relationship with Helen and – remarkably – another woman and in June 2019 was found guilty of multiple counts of rape, controlling and coercive behaviour, threats to kill and false imprisonment. He was given a further life sentence with a minimum of 32 years in prison.
Following the conclusion of the criminal case, the National Probation Service carried out a review of Mr Dorset’s probation.
Prior to his release in 2015, an Offender Assessment System (OASys) assessment was carried out and Mr Dorset was assessed as high risk of serious harm to others.
The National Probation Service (NPS) was responsible for Mr Dorset’s supervision whilst on licence. In October 2015, management of Mr Dorset was transferred from Probation Officer OM2 to OM3.
In a Victim Summary Report (VSR) prepared by the NPS in March 2020, OM3’s management of Mr Dorset was found to be far from satisfactory and lacking in a number of respects. In October 2016, Mr Dorset’s risk of serious harm was reduced to “medium”, but without proper analysis or approval. Further, OM3’s supervision of Mr Dorset was found to be “superficial” with;
Insufficient attention paid to his mental health;
Insufficient focus on his specific risk factors and offending behaviour and in particular his lifestyle by reference to disclosures and changes in his circumstances; and
Insufficient regard paid to his lack of engagement.
Yet further, the VSR also stated that there had been insufficient higher management oversight of OM3’s management of Mr Dorset (and later OM4’s management of Mr Dorset) such that OM3’s failures went unnoticed.
In March 2017, management of Mr Dorset was transferred from OM3 to OM4.
Once again, the VSR found OM4’s management of Mr Dorset to be “superficial” with records not being filed contemporaneously and when records were filed, as being “incorrect and not factual” such that the reviewer had “little confidence in his recording.” Again, the VSR established that there had been insufficient management of Mr Dorset, such that OM4’s failures went unnoticed.
My client is now bringing a claim against the Ministry of Justice for negligence and violation of her human rights in that had NPS properly supervised Mr Dorset, he would not have been in a position to abuse Helen mentally and physically from March 2015 until his recall in January 2018.
I am pleased to report that in response the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) – the governmental parent body of the NPS- have confirmed that they are willing to negotiate settlement and I am in the process commissioning medical evidence and investigating the value of the claim.
The public needs to have confidence that violent and dangerous offenders when released from prison will be properly monitored and the risks that they pose minimised, and I am pleased that the MOJ appears to recognise this; although hopefully in the next such scenario it will be preventative measures rather than damage limitation which we see the NPS performing.
When a relationship breaks down and there is an allegation of abuse, it is common for either one or both parties to apply to the Family Court for either a Non-Molestation Order and/ or an Occupation Order.
A Non-Molestation Order is essentially an injunction aimed at stopping one ex-partner from taking certain abusive actions, for example harassing or pestering the other. It is a Civil Order that is granted by a Judge or Magistrate and typically lasts 12 months.
Occupation Orders often go hand in hand with Non-Molestation Orders and are used where the home is jointly owned or rented and it is necessary to restrict or exclude access.
Often, either the Non-Molestation Order or the Occupation Order will carry a power of arrest in the event of a breach.
The precise stipulation of these Non-Molestation Orders or Occupation Orders can often be incredibly complicated especially when young children and/or a family pet is involved, and arrangements for “access” are required so that people still get on with living their lives whilst observing certain restrictions about contact and location etc.
In my experience, Police Officers routinely misunderstand and misinterpret such Orders and this can have terrible consequences.
Take for example my client Elaine Webber. As at October 2019, Elaine and her husband were living together in the matrimonial home whilst in the midst of an acrimonious separation and divorce.
To try and accommodate both parties and their children, elaborate Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders were drafted and agreed by which Elaine and her estranged husband were forbidden from ‘molesting’ the other and by which they each had access to certain sections of their home at set times.
The agreement was ratified by a Court Order and the relevant sections were as follows;
Non Molestation Order
The following non-molestation orders are made against both parties
Neither party shall harass or pester the other or encourage any other person to do so.
Neither party shall cause or threaten physical harm to the other or encourage any other person to do so.
Neither party shall remove or restrict or otherwise obstruct the other’s use of their personal chattels including cars.
Neither party shall denigrate the other or display verbal abuse to one another, particularly in the presence of the children.
The family dog shall not be permitted into the family home save when the respondent is allowed access to the property. For the avoidance of doubt the dog shall be permitted in the basement flat with the respondent at all times.
The following non-molestation order is made against the applicant only;
The applicant shall not remove, hide or otherwise meddle with the respondent’s medication.
The following non-molestation order is made against the respondent only;
In the event that funds that are not joint funds, have been removed by the respondent as of today’s date as accepted by the respondent…….. and insofar as they have not already been returned, the respondent shall return those funds to the account from which they were debited.
The occupation of the family home shall be regulated as follows:
The respondent shall occupy the downstairs separately-accessed self-contained flat from ……. (hereon) and must not occupy the family home and its surrounding gardens, land and outbuildings save as follows:
On week 1 from 7am until 8.30am on Tuesdays and Fridays and from 3.45pm until 10pm on Wednesdays and Fridays;
On week 2 from 7am until 8.30am on Mondays and Wednesdays and from 3.45pm until 10pm on Mondays and Thursdays;
On week 1 from 7am until 11.30am and from 3.45pm until 10pm on Saturdays and on Week 2 from 7am until 11.30am and from 4pm until 10pm on Sundays.
At all times when the applicant is abroad on holiday – the applicant shall give the respondent no less than one week’s written notice of her trips abroad.
While the respondent has access to the family home as set out above, he must not enter or attempt to enter the marital bedroom or the office or the upstairs flat.
While the respondent has access to the family home as set out above, the applicant shall be permitted to use the marital bedroom, office and lounge, but shall not use other parts of the property save for access.
The applicant shall not enter the basement flat during the respondent’s occupation of it as per the terms of this order above.
The Order was to remain in place until financial matters had been agreed between the parties or by one year ahead whichever was later.
The Order ended with the following;
Note to Arresting Officer:
Under section 42A of the Family Law Act 1996, breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. It is an arrestable offence and it is not necessary to obtain a warrant.
“A person who without reasonable excuse does anything that he is prohibited from doing by a non-molestation order is guilty of an offence.”
Family Law Act 1996, section 42A(1).
So, the Court Order made it plain that the Non Molestation Order carried with it a power of arrest, but the Occupation Order did not.
About three weeks after this Order was drawn up, Elaine went out with a friend for the evening. She returned to the premises at approximately 21.30.
Upon arrival, Elaine found the front door wide open and the premises in darkness.
Elaine was concerned for the welfare of her youngest son and so entered the basement flat.
Such entry was in breach of the Occupation Order but not the Non-Molestation Order.
Elaine found her children watching TV. Her youngest child was due in school the next day and she reminded him of his pending bedtime.
At this, Elaine became aware that her estranged husband was filming her on his mobile phone and whilst doing so reciting the terms of the Court Order.
Satisfied that her son was well and would be going to bed shortly, Elaine left, thinking nothing more of the situation and she then retired for the evening
In the early hours of the next morning Elaine was woken to loud knocking and shouting on her bedroom door.
Elaine opened the door and established that two Police Officers had gained entry to the house.
Elaine was advised by the Officers that she had breached the terms of the Court Order and that she was to be arrested.
Elaine was confused but immediately felt that she had been ‘set up’ by her husband.
Elaine was allowed to dress and was then obliged to accompany the Officers to a nearby parked car.
Elaine was then transported to her local Police Station where she was processed and placed in a cell.
In due course, Elaine was interviewed where she answered all questions.
Elaine was then returned to her cell. Eventually, she was charged with breaching the Non Molestation Order and kept in custody overnight to attend Court the next day.
The next day, Elaine was taken in handcuffs from the Police Station to a waiting van and then on to her local Magistrates Court. On arrival, Elaine was again placed in handcuffs and taken to the cells beneath Court.
Eventually, Elaine appeared before the Magistrates and was represented by the Duty Solicitor. On advice, she pleaded not guilty.
Elaine was granted bail and was released.
Elaine was subsequently obliged to attend Court on two further occasions. At the later hearing, she was advised that proceedings were discontinued.
What a travesty. Elaine had breached the Occupation Order because of concern for her youngest child, but was not in breach of the Non-Molestation Order. There was no power of arrest attached to the Occupation Order and yet she was arrested, detained for 32 hours, transported to Court and then obliged to attend Court on two further occasions.
Elaine is now pursuing a claim for compensation for her unlawful arrest and I anticipate recovering a five figure sum on her behalf.
Relationship breakdowns can be stressful enough without the Police wading in heavy-handed, failing to act objectively and misunderstanding and misinterpreting key documents.
All too often Police Officers seem to operate under a mind-set of ‘arrest first, ask questions later’ rather than properly considering whether there are alternatives to arrest and, indeed, whether there is actually a power of arrest at all. The onus on the Police to exercise intelligence, discretion and caution when it comes to arresting a party to a messy and complex matrimonial family dispute should be all the greater.
Many of you may have read the disturbing story of the death of Jack Barnes at the hands of Manchester Metrolink staff in October 2016, following the verdict of unlawful killing pronounced by the Coroner’s Court last month.
Jack, aged 29, had been on a night out with friends in Manchester when the group had become involved in a dispute with Metrolink staff. Jack foolishly but harmlessly swung a drawstring bag at the Metrolink workers, causing four of them to “take the law into their own hands”. Four Metrolink CSRs (Customer Service Representatives) breached all of their training and policies by pursuing Jack from the station, before catching him almost a mile away, and holding him down on the ground outside a restaurant on Deansgate.
Body camera footage captured one of the Metrolink ‘posse’ – Stephen Rowlands, a former Police Officer – threatening to put Jack ‘to sleep’. The camera then recorded Jack on eight separate occasions telling the men who were holding him down that he couldn’t breathe but – in a scene shockingly reminiscent of what happened in the last few moments of George Floyd’s life – his desperate pleas for them to ease the pressure on his neck were ignored. Within moments, Jack suffered a cardiac arrest and although an ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital, he never left it, dying there some seven weeks’ later from his injuries.
Jack’s grieving mother told the BBC that in her view the Metrolink staff had hunted her son down like an animal.
Greater Manchester Police had initially arrested the 4 Metrolink CSRs, including Mr Rowlands, who gave evidence to the Coroner’s Court about his 13 years of experience with that self-same force and the ‘restraint techniques’ he had learned as an Officer, but released them without charge.
Metrolink’s explicit policy for situations such as this was for their staff to ‘walk away’ – not give chase to somebody for a mile, and then assault him as if they were some kind of private Police force, administering their own ‘rough justice’.
Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour by private company staff with security or quasi- security roles, acting out what we might consider to be Police or paramilitary fantasies, or just their own anger and aggression, is all too common.
I am currently acting on behalf of David Roberts (name changed), who in October 2020 was shopping in a well-known chain store in London.
David was challenged by a security guard as he was on his way out of the store, having just purchased an umbrella. Because the item had only cost £4, David had declined a ‘paper receipt’ from the cashier, as he was entitled to do. David told the security guard that all he needed to do was radio the cashier and she would confirm that his umbrella was ‘legitimate’ but the man was unhappy with this and tried to drag David physically back to the cash desk, breaking the umbrella in the process…when David then demanded the man’s name so he could make a complaint, the security guard refused.
The cashier had now corroborated that David’s (now broken) umbrella had indeed been purchased by him, and so he was begrudgingly offered a replacement for the one their colleague had broken – however, a stand-off then developed when the security personnel refused to tell David the name of their colleague who had first been aggressive with him, and even threatened to ‘call the Police’ on him – clearly all designed to frustrate his attempt to complain, and to intimidate him into going away.
When David refused to do so (until he knew the man’s name) 3 of the security guards commenced a vicious assault upon him – apparently continuing the argument in the only language they understood: David was dragged to a ‘back room’, being struck by the security guards along the way, and subjected to a tirade of abusive language.
In the back room, whilst one of the security guards took David’s phone (with which he had been recording their interactions on the shop floor) others pinned David down on the ground. His arms were held down, and one of the men knelt on his neck/chest; once again this is an incident which raises the unavoidable spectre of George Floyd in our minds. It could all have ended in tragedy, though fortunately, unlike George Floyd or Jack Barnes, David would escape with his life.
The assault ended when the Metropolitan Police – called by a third party – arrived, and not a moment too soon, in my opinion.
Now the tables have been turned and the men who assaulted David are facing investigation, and hopefully prosecution, by the Police and CPS; but David is still left with the physical and mental scars of what happened to him, and the thought of how much worse it might have been.
Far too many security staff, it seems, are itching for the slightest excuse to flex their muscles, power- fantasies or whatever other urge drives them. One of the most shocking aspects of the incident was how complacently the security guards, bullies in uniform, apparently thought they could get away with this.
As soon as the criminal process is over, I will be instituting civil proceedings on behalf of David against the security guard’s employer for the loss and damage they have caused to him, and both David and I hope this will teach a retailer which boasts one of the most well known ‘high street’ business names in the UK a valuable lesson about the quality and calibre of men whom they employ and supervise.
We don’t live in the ‘Wild West’ – that era of hair-trigger violence and vigilante ‘justice’ – but it, unfortunately, seems to live in the hearts and minds of too many security staff, employed at high profile businesses and venues, whose behaviour threatens the life and limb of anyone these cowboys take a dislike to.
I’ve stopped you under Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act.
What is Section 163?
Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act gives me the power to stop you.
What is your suspicion on me first of all?
I don’t have any suspicion, it’s Section 163.
Well if you don’t have suspicion, I’m sorry you can’t stop me for no reason. I’m insured, taxed, I’m a very old driver.”
This was my client’s reaction to being stopped by the police whilst driving his car. Is the driver right to assert that the officer cannot stop him without suspicion? Or is the officer correct to state that that he doesn’t need any suspicion of an offence to lawfully pull the driver over?
It so happened that my client had, by chance, watched a YouTube video just a few days before the incident that purported to set out his rights on a traffic stop.
I have no idea how accurate the video was, or whether something got lost in translation, but on this occasion and at this time, the police officer was in fact right.
In America, for a traffic stop to be lawful the officer must have “probable cause”; i.e. a strong, unbiased reason for suspecting that the driver had committed a traffic violation.
But in this context, probable or reasonable cause does not apply in England and Wales, there is no requirement for an officer to have any reason – let alone reasonable grounds or suspicion – to stop a person when driving.
Under Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988, a constable in uniform has the power to stop any vehicle that is being driven on the road. If required to stop, a person must do so, otherwise they will be guilty of an offence.
This means that the power can be exercised ‘completely at random’, but nevertheless entirely lawfully. For example, a constable in uniform can stop every third car he sees, or every red car – and if required to stop and the driver fails to do so, then they are guilty of an offence.
Given that there is a power to stop a vehicle on the road and non-compliance potentially results in a criminal sanction, it must be the case that the police have a power to detain (not arrest, unless of course the person fails to comply) a person for the purposes specified under the RTA 1988.
Section 164 of RTA 1988 provides that on being required to do so by a constable in uniform, a person must produce his licence for examination, so as to enable the constable to ascertain the person’s name and address, the date of issue of the licence and the authority by which it was issued. Further, the person must, on being required to produce his licence by a constable in uniform, be able to state his date of birth. Again, a failure to produce the licence may result in the person being found guilty of an offence, unless certain circumstances apply. It is a defence to such a charge for the person to show, for example, that he produced his licence at a specified time at a police station, within seven days of being required to produce it (known colloquially as ‘being given a producer’).
Section 165 of RTA 1988 requires that a person must give his name and address, and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle and produce documents such as the insurance certificate or a test certificate or goods vehicle test certificate.
Thus, so far in the encounter with my client the Police Officer had acted lawfully. The conversation continued;
“Prove it, (i.e. that the driver was insured, taxed) get out of the car”.
“No I’ll give you my ID. I don’t have to get out of my car, that’s the law, I don’t have to get out of my car. There’s my ID (my client handed over his driving licence at this point) and check it. I didn’t refuse to comply with the rules…”
“Hand me your keys”.
“I’m not going to hand you my keys”.
“Give me your keys because I don’t want you to start driving away”.
“I’m not driving away anywhere. That’s why I pulled in a secure location”.
“Do you want to be done for obstruct police because that’s where we are at the moment. I’m trying to do a road traffic check on you”.
“Go check it, go check it”.
“Once you’ve given me your keys”.
This is where it now gets interesting.
There is no obligation on the part of the driver to get out, or hand over his keys (although the Police Federation are campaigning for an amendment to the law which would give Police Officers the authority to require drivers to turn off their engine when stopped and also to demand, where appropriate, that all occupants leave a vehicle).
Given that my client refused to hand over his keys, the Police Officer now grabbed and handcuffed his right hand and sought to extract him from the car. Somewhat belatedly, the Officer told my client he was under arrest for obstruction, notwithstanding that my client had stopped the vehicle and had handed over his driving licence.
Eventually, by reason of the force applied, my client released his seatbelt and got out whereupon he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back. My client was then ushered into the back of the Officer’s car and his details were checked. Having verified his details, the Officer then de-arrested my client and released the handcuffs.
My client is now bringing a claim against the Police. Liability is denied on the basis that my client’s actions prevented the Officer from safely confirming my client’s information in accordance with the Road Traffic Act. The trial is scheduled for later this year.
I believe that this encounter escalated because both parties failed to fully understand the law governing traffic stops – a mistake far more reprehensible on the part of the Police Officer as it resulted in his assault upon and arrest of my client.
I would advise all drivers to understand their obligations under the Road Traffic Act; but I also call upon our Chief Constables to ensure as a matter of urgency that their officers understand – and respect – the limits of their own authority under that Act.
This is a measure more of justice for Ben, after the officer had escaped a custodial sentence, being punished by Derby Magistrates Court with only a 6 month ‘curfew’ order – at a time when the country is in any event ‘locked down’ by the ongoing Coronavirus restrictions – and a minor costs/ compensation fine.
This type of ‘slap on the wrist’ punishment for (ex) PC Knights from the criminal court, was mirrored by the equally light sentence handed out to West Midlands PC Oliver Banfield by Leicester Magistrates Court last week. CCTV footage captured the drunken Banfield calling Emma Homer a “fucking slag” as she walked home at night, then grabbing Emma by her neck and forcing her to the ground. As Banfield repeatedly shouted at Emma to “get on the ground” he also started quoting “The Police and Criminal Evidence Act” (PACE). Emma later described the assault as seeming as if Banfield was “fulfilling a violent cop movie fantasy.”
After Banfield’s lawyer persuaded the Court not to impose a community service order on the rogue officer – because it would be difficult for Banfield to have to “work with criminals” (perhaps the word “other” should be inserted in that sentence) – he was punished with only a 3 month night-time curfew. Hardly a difficult burden to bear at this particular time, and quite shocking given the physical and verbal aggression displayed by yet another man who needs to be stripped of his warrant card as soon as possible.
These cases are perfect examples of how Police Officers, in my experience, seemed to be ‘insulated’ against custodial sentences in situations where ordinary members of the public would probably be facing jail time. The judge in sentencing PC Knights for his assault upon my client reflected on how the verdict would inevitably lead to the loss of Knights’ Police career (not that he went quietly – rather contesting the misconduct charges in an aggressively unrepentant manner) and I personally believe that such thinking weighs heavily in judicial decisions regarding criminal Police Officers i.e almost as though the loss of their job was going to be ‘punishment enough’. To my mind, this is not right, and is akin to giving Police Officers an extra video game ‘life’ – allowing them to ‘get away’ with a criminal offence that would send other people to prison.
And even that is only when the officer is actually charged with a criminal offence for their egregious actions – in this respect PC Knowles of West Midlands Police got away ‘scot free’ after crippling my client Bryan Allden’s hand in a completely unprovoked attack, whilst the justice which was achieved for Ben Joynes was with no particular thanks to either Derbyshire Police or the Crown Prosecution Service. It is salutary to recall that the prosecution of PC Knights was not, in fact, instituted by the CPS – despite the weight of evidence against the Officer – but by Rob Warner, Crimebodge’s crusader against Police abuses and corruption. The private prosecution was then adopted by the CPS and brought to a successful conclusion, but the fact is that the CPS initially refused to ‘run’ the case (the CPS have the power to assume conduct of a private prosecution and then ‘kill’ it, as many people have found out to their frustration and disappointment).
Ultimately, if we want the answer to the question which is the title of this blog to be the correct one, then we need to see both more rogue officers being prosecuted in the criminal courts (rather than dealt with behind the closed doors of the complaint investigation process) and officers receiving fit and proper sentences for their crimes and misdemeanours.
When lawyers such as myself who fight for justice on behalf of victims of Police misconduct, find former Chief Constables adding their voices to ours in warning how the new Police Bill is an encroachment too far upon our civil liberties, then I think that is a sign for the rest of society to pay attention.
As reported in the Independent, Sir Peter Fahy (former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester) gave an interview to Times Radio this week, in which he castigated the Bill. Stressing how “the right to protest, the right to gather, the right to have a voice is fundamental to our democracy and particularly British democracy” Sir Peter highlighted how the proposed legislation was “putting in some really dodgy definitions which the Police are supposed to make sense of…This weekend has shown the crucial importance of the right to protest and you’ve got to be really wary of more legislation being rushed through, just because certain politicians didn’t like certain demonstrations in the Summer.”
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed its second reading in the House of Commons this week, grants the Police stronger powers to control, restrict, and even criminalise those taking part in non-violent protests which the Police decide to designate as causing “a serious disruption” to the public or to organisations – by super-charging sections of the Public Order Act 1986. I am particularly concerned about how the discretionary element which is inevitable in interpreting such legislation may allow the Police to infringe our rights of freedom to assemble, of expression and of civil protest which are essential to the existence and proper functioning of a liberal democracy. The Public Order Act is already notorious for being the origin of many an unlawful arrest in my experience, owing to the vagueness of its definitions in relation to “threatening, abusive and disorderly” behaviour and the discretion this gives Police Officers to arrest an individual where no other definable crime may have been committed.
The bill also includes proposals to make the defacing of statues and monuments an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail; a draconian range of sentence, presumably designed to protect Edward Colston from another impromptu dip in those same waters of Bristol Harbour which once gave float to his slave-ships.
The dangers of Police overreach of powers have been amply demonstrated over the last 12 months in terms of the relish with which many officers seemed to seize their ability to enforce curfew upon the streets of “Lockdown Britain” – issuing unnecessary fines, interrogating individuals in a “papers please” style of dictatorial policing, and making numerous unlawful arrests and interferences in people’s lives. Sadly this came to a head with the Police action against the peaceful vigil being held by women on Clapham Common last week, in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard.
I would say that the existing culture of “toxic masculinity” which exists within the Police service, does not need another shot in the arm from the authoritarian tendencies of this Police bill.
I would urge people to read up on the proposed Police powers which will flow from this bill, and to consider adding their voices to those who have already spoken up against it. Please also consider signing the petition which has been created by the Human Rights campaign group Liberty, through the link below. Public protests and assemblies are the very bedrock of democracy.
Protest isn’t a gift from the State – it’s our fundamental right and under human rights law, States have an obligation to facilitate protest, not suppress it.
Yet this is exactly what the Government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to achieve.
Not content with all but banning protest during the pandemic, the Government is now using this public health crisis as cover to make emergency measures permanent. Its new Policing Bill is an all-out assault on basic civil liberties
The anti-protest Bill will:
Give police the choice on where, when and how people can protest
Potentially criminalise the entire way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities
Create new stop and search powers that will exacerbate discriminatory over-policing of people of colour.
We cannot allow these powers to pass. Now is the time for us to come together to stand up to this aggressive and egregious power grab.
There are much wider issues here for the whole of society to address in terms of how we make our streets safer for women; we cannot allow it to be only the right of men to walk home alone without fear of the dark. The historical injustice of men and women having to live in two separate worlds, where one sex can take the safety of the streets for granted, and the other cannot, must be overturned and it is encouraging to see the complex conversations which we must have about this subject beginning already. Hopefully the spotlight will not be allowed to fade from this ever-present threat to the lives of women, just as issues of racism have remained under close scrutiny and focus since the killing of George Floyd almost 12 months ago.
As a lawyer who specialises in dealing with cases involving Police misconduct however, I feel I have to address in particular the comments of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, who stated that she was “shocked and deeply disturbed” to learn that the suspect in Sarah’s murder was a Police officer, in light of subsequent developments which have led the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) to start an independent investigation.
The IOPC have announced that they are investigating whether Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) officers responded appropriately to a report of an incident of indecent exposure, believed to have involved Wayne Couzens, which occurred on 28 February, three days prior to Sarah’s disappearance.
The Commissioner’s reference to “shock”, coupled with the inference we may take from the IOPC involvement that there are concerns that Couzens may not have been dealt with appropriately for his offending because he was a Police officer rings a tragically familiar note in my experience.
I have recently concluded a claim brought by a young woman suffering from mental health issues, who was subject to abuse at the hands of PC Scott Johnson, then a serving officer in the MPS. Johnson and a colleague were called to the flat of my client (whom I will identify as Helen) after she had taken an overdose of drugs. They escorted her to hospital to receive emergency medical treatment, and whilst she was there, in a hospital bed, Johnson sexually assaulted her by making her touch his penis, and touching her breasts and vagina. Johnson claimed that such contact was ‘consensual’ but there can be no doubt that he must have known that Helen was in no position to give ‘consent’ in the circumstances; he not only knew that she had mental health problems, but that she had only recently taken an overdose of medication and alcohol and was manifestly still under the influence of the same. What he did was a terrible and predatory exploitation of a most vulnerable woman – a hospital patient no less.
Johnson is no longer a Police officer, and was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for the crime of misconduct in public office; but that charge of misconduct related only to the fact that Johnson subsequently entered into a relationship with my vulnerable client, arranging to meet her on several occasions for sex. He was specifically not charged with any offence of sexual assault despite admitting to the sexual contact between himself and Helen in the hospital room. I personally feel that failing to ensure such a charge was brought against Johnson was a dereliction of duty by the MPS officers investigating the case, and it leaves you with the nasty feeling that Johnson may have been ‘let off the hook’ because of his uniform.
Another victim of a predatory Police officer whom I represent is a young woman who was raped by Cheshire Police Officer Ian Naude when she was only 13 years old. Naude was able to use his position as a Police officer to gain access to my client and to “groom” her before carrying out the rape. He is now serving a long sentence of imprisonment; but my client is going to have to live with what he did to her for the rest of her life. Although the full force of the justice system was eventually brought to bear on Naude to make him pay for his crime, this was not before the investigating officers had ‘tipped’ Naude off about the investigation (allowing him to hide/ destroy evidence). It also came to light that Naude had been allowed to pass Cheshire Police’s “vetting” process when he applied to become a constable, despite the fact that Naude had previously been accused of rape by a woman in Staffordshire. He was admitted to the honourable rank and position of Police Constable, and raped my 13 year old client 7 months later.
All of this is why I would censure Cressida Dick’s comments regarding “shock”, as they speak of a dangerous institutional attitude amongst the Police regarding the calibre of the men who make up their ranks. If the Police are ‘shocked’ to uncover predators amongst their number, is that because they have a default assumption that Police officers are of greater moral fibre than the average person – is that why they fail to take seriously accusations against ‘one of their own’ in so many cases?
In such a situation, can we trust the Police to properly police themselves, or are they too often turning a blind eye to misconduct, whether criminal or otherwise, committed by their colleagues, out of a belief that the ‘greater good’ is served by Police loyalty towards their ‘brothers in arms’. Such an attitude would explain the pro-Police bias displayed by their professional complaints system, which I have blogged about on many previous occasions.
The reality is that being a Police officer endows an individual with considerable power over others, and opportunities to exploit that power. Predators, abusers, bullies and manipulators are naturally drawn towards sources of and opportunities to weld such power over the lives of others. Cressida Dick, and the Policing profession as a whole, needs to lose any default assumption that the men in its ranks have hands any cleaner than the rest of society.
The world will be watching today as the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police Officer accused of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, begins. The distressing footage of Mr Floyd’s death was seen by millions of people and sparked huge protests on both sides of the Atlantic against structural racism and Police brutality. In the US, those protests often turned violent and episodes of looting occurred in several cities.
In those circumstances, the rigorous US procedure of jury selection, designed to weed out any bias or prejudice amongst the Jury towards one side or the other, will be even more complicated and fraught with difficulties. Potential jurors will have to complete a 16-page questionnaire including such questions as how many times they viewed the video of George Floyd’s death and whether they personally participated in any of the sweeping “Black Lives Matter” protests – or, indeed, had homes or businesses damaged during the riots associated with the same.
The jury selection process is therefore likely to be a highly contested ‘battlefield’ between the legal teams for Prosecution and Defence; with each set of lawyers entitled to ask the Trial Judge to dismiss potential jurors on the basis of perceived bias – or even, in a limited number of cases, for no specified reason at all (but what, we might imagine would be bias which is not explicit/ admitted to, but which the lawyers perceive on the basis of a juror’s racial/social/gender profile). Those latter dismissals are themselves open to challenge on the grounds of racial or sexual discrimination.
The selection of the 16 people who will make up the final Jury is therefore likely to take weeks to be completed, before the Trial proper commences. It is not at all uncommon in high stakes cases such as this for each party’s lawyers to bring in specialist ‘jury selection’ consultants who will help them analyse the background of the potential jurors, their questionnaire responses and decide how best to deploy their “peremptory challenges.”
Here in the UK the selection of the 12 members of a Crown Court Jury, to hear criminal cases, is more randomised and subject to much less proactive – or partisan – vetting. UK lawyers, for example, have no right of “peremptory challenge” (to request a juror be dismissed without specifying a reason), and there are no mechanisms designed to ‘balance’ the makeup of the jury on the grounds of race or gender.
Nevertheless, it goes without saying that UK law does require people to recuse themselves, or to be removed by the Judge from a Jury panel, if they are obviously biased or have a personal connection to the parties involved in a Trial (which might mean knowing not only a victim, defendant or witness but one of the lawyers or Police officers involved in the case).
That type of bias/ potential prejudice – close connection with a Police Officer who was part of the criminal investigation – reared its head in a particularly shocking way following the conviction of three men for the murder of Lynford Brewster, a Cardiff man, in June 2016. The three accused men went to trial in December 2016 at Cardiff Crown Court, and were duly convicted by the jury and each sentenced to life imprisonment.
Tragically, one of the members of that Jury was Lauren Jones, the girlfriend of the son of DC Rebecca Bryant of South Wales Police – who shortly after Lynford’s murder had been assigned as Family Liaison Officer to Lynford’s grieving mother, June Whittaker. DC Bryant had been in regular contact with June and other members of Lynford’s family during the investigation, and indeed it was DC Bryant who had accompanied June to the mortuary to identify her son’s body. DC Bryant had also prepared witness statements and was actually present at Court, with Lynford’s family, when the jury including her son’s girlfriend was empanelled.
During the empanelling process a number of potential jurors quite properly ‘disqualified’ themselves by confirming connections with the case – one being the mother-in-law of Lynford’s brother, the other knowing a witness who was a friend of one of the men accused of the murder. Both of these jurors were excused. There can have been no doubt, therefore, that all of the potential jurors were aware of the duty to declare such ‘conflicts of interest’ – but not only did Lauren Jones fail to declare her connection with one of the key officers involved in the criminal investigation, in a terrible dereliction of her duty, so did that officer herself.
In fact, to make things worse, text messages that were later discovered, revealed that DC Bryant actively encouraged Lauren Jones to keep their relationship ‘secret’ –
“Don’t tell any of them who u r to me in case they think I’ve told u about it although u know I haven’t xxx.”
The messages also revealed that Ms Jones had another potentially prejudicial connection to the case, as she was a teacher at the school attended by one of Lynford Brewster’s nephews and therefore saw Lynford’s sister on a regular basis as one of the school parents. Ms Jones failed to declare this interest as well, and DC Bryant said nothing about it either.
It subsequently became clear that throughout the weeks of the murder trial, DC Bryant and Lauren Jones (or, as we might say, the Family Liaison Officer for the murdered man’s relatives and a Juror in whose hands rested the fate of the accused) were in regular contact with one another – engaging in socialising together, sharing lifts home from Court, exchanging texts and telephone calls and – most callously- discussing lying to the Court about Ms Jones having an unavoidable appointment because the Trial dates were putting in jeopardy her pre-Christmas trip to the hairdressers…
When this sordid state of affairs inevitably came to light in February 2017 – someone evidently ‘tipped off’ the Defence lawyers that Ms Jones had a connection with DC Bryant – Lynford’s mother was contacted by South Wales Police with the awful news that DC Bryant’s conduct was being investigated and there was a real prospect of this leading to her son’s killers having their convictions quashed. The devastating effect which this news had upon a grieving mother who at that time was trying to come to terms with the brutal loss of her son can well be imagined. June felt utterly betrayed by DC Bryant, and the mounting ‘nightmare’ of the original verdict being quashed, which would lead to a re-trial and the possibility that the killers might ultimately escape justice, led June to attempt to take her own life in July 2017. June was discovered by one of her daughters after taking a deliberate overdose of medication, and rushed to hospital, where fortunately the doctors were able to save her life. A terrible double-tragedy for her family had narrowly been averted.
As was sadly anticipated, the Court of Appeal in July 2018 quashed the convictions of the three men accused of murdering Lynford Brewster, and spoke in the following terms about DC Bryant’s reprehensible conduct-
“The police inquiry’s dealings with the officer reveal that she lied in the initial stages to two officers about having had any relationship with the juror, leading to the inference that she realized that her connections with the juror were improper in the circumstances. It also appears that she was not truthful about the point at which she knew that the juror was involved in this murder trial.
This material reveals a shocking state of affairs. We have no hesitation in holding that the clearest case of bias on the part of the juror is established. Any fair-minded and informed observer would conclude from the facts that there was a real possibility or danger that the juror was biased. Despite ample opportunity, she failed to declare either her connection with an officer whom she knew was closely connected with the victim’s family or her connection with the deceased’s sister or her concerns about how that person might react if they met following a not guilty verdict. Moreover, the juror had shown herself willing to participate in a deception of the court in order to pursue relatively trivial arrangements for her own private satisfaction. Both parties failed utterly in their civic duty as citizens and both of them must have known that at the time.
Since the officer’s disciplinary proceedings have yet to take place, we say nothing further as to the outcome of them. However, it is crystal clear that this juror should never have sat on this trial and that the assertion of objective bias is fully made out.
In the circumstances, this trial was fatally flawed and the safety of the convictions is totally undermined. The folly of the juror and the police officer have wasted vast amounts of time and cost the public a great deal of money. Moreover, the agony for the victim’s family is inevitably prolonged. We very much regret that fact.
However, there has not been a fair and proper trial because of the conduct of the officer and the juror and in those circumstances it is our duty to act…”
The silver lining to these terrible events, is that the three men were eventually convicted, for a second and final time, of Lynford’s murder and their life- sentences re-imposed, in March 2019, whilst DC Bryant was convicted of gross misconduct in June 2019 and dismissed without notice from the Police service.
None of those facts could soften the blow for June, and the other members of Lynford’s close family, of having to live for a second time through the trial re-counting in graphic detail Lynford’s murder, or of having to come to terms with DC Bryant’s betrayal. As June said, after learning of the contents of the text messages between DC Bryant and Lauren Jones – it was as if Lynford’s life didn’t matter to DC Bryant, as if it were all a joke to her.
If ever there was a story to reinforce the importance of Jury members being honest about potential prejudice in a case, this is it. I am currently acting on behalf of June is seeking compensation from South Wales Police for the mental trauma she continues to experience as a result of these events. It was clearly with much regret, and sympathy for June and her family, that the Judges of the Criminal Court of Appeal had to do their duty; it is a profound pity that DC Bryant apparently considered that entertaining her son’s girlfriend and helping her to arrange hair-appointments were of greater importance than her own duty as a Police Officer.
In Part 1 of this blog I reflected on the issue of Police Officers carrying out searches and arrests, whilst failing to record these events on their body worn cameras; I expressed my concerns by reference to two cases I am currently bringing against Merseyside Police, but I am aware of the same failings amongst many other Forces including the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands. It is clearly a wide-spread problem, and one which is likely aided and abetted by the apparent reluctance of Professional Standards departments within the Police to treat it with the gravity it deserves. Sadly, I think this is born out of the ingrained attitude of Professional Standards officers who presume – either naïvely or cynically – that Body Worn Video will invariably substantiate the account of the Police who are being complained about, rather than that of the complainant. This type of bias thinking was certainly betrayed by the comments of the complaint investigatior in the case of my client Connor, who seemed to feel that the only reason for bemoaning the failure of the Officers in that case to activate their cameras was because it “could have negated much of the complaint.” No consideration was given to how much of the complaint it could have upheld, of course…
So if this is the problem we are faced with, what is the best solution – does it lie in better training and “culture change” amongst the Police; harsher disciplinary sanctions for defaulting Officers; a change in evidential law (presumptions in favour of those who have been denied video capture); better application of science and technology – or perhaps a combination of all of these methods?
Tackling the first issue – Police perceptions of what Body Worn video is actually there for – would be a good starting point. We should ask the question: what is the purpose of the now near- universal deployment of body cameras to all ‘front line’ Officers? Surely the Police have not gone to such great public expense for ‘selfish’ reasons – the cameras should not be there for the protection and purposes of Officers alone, but for the protection of everyone – Police, public, suspects and victims alike – and should not therefore be treated as the ‘property’ of individual Officers to be operated at their discretion (whether actual or in effect, by a failure to properly punish ‘lax’ recording practices).
Moving on from this point, the consequences of not recording the full sequence of stop/search and arrest events should be made clear to Officers and should be far more serious than they currently are, in order to inculcate a culture of compliance amongst Officers who are often choosing to record only half of the picture – or indeed, none at all – thereby undermining both public trust and the efficiency and accuracy of the justice system.
I must say that I am personally in favour of a system of automatic activation of body camera recording modes, as has been suggested by some, to eliminate both innocent ‘human error’ and wilful non- compliance by negligent or actively abusive Officers. Body cameras could be keyed to switch on automatically if certain key words or level of voices/shouting are heard (in a manner similar to mobile phones). It has also been proposed that technology could be introduced to cause a ‘domino effect’ activation of nearby Officers’ cameras when the first goes into automatic record mode, so as to provide a fuller picture/ better angle upon events (experience has shown me that a more accurate view of an interaction often comes from the camera of an Officer standing at a distance, rather than the Officer who is immediately involved in a heated confrontation or tussle). At such a stroke, I believe, a great many of the ‘one person’s word against others’ credibility contests which currently ‘clog up’ the Police complaints process and the civil and criminal courts could be , if not ‘instantly’ resolved, certainly more speedily and equitably dealt with.
Selective recording and non-recording poses the risk of subverting the promise that led communities across the nation to embrace more surveillance by police body cameras in exchange for improved accountability and transparency. If the problem is left unchecked, rather than being a tool of police accountability, body camera recordings could amplify the problems of a gross imbalance of power.
If the public’s half of the ‘social contract’ in this regard is to accept more intrusive surveillance of themselves by ‘Big Brother’ than ever before – then the surveillance has to flow in both directions, and there should be major questions asked of any assertion made by an Officer which is not backed up by his camera. The Courts, both civil and criminal can play an important part in this; although of course not every such incident actually gets to the stage of judicial scrutiny, for a wide variety of reasons.
Perhaps the acronym GOWISELY should become GOWISER, with the “R” establishing “recording” as an essential criterion of a legitimate stop & search.
In terms of a search, or indeed an arrest, an inference to resolve any factual dispute in favour of the detained/ arrested person could be adopted by both Police Professional Standards units, Misconduct Panels and the Courts if there is a failure by the Officers on the scene to have recorded events, in the absence of a good reason. And this would not be denying, of course, that ‘good reasons’ do exist in fast-paced, high-stress situations where it is entirely legitimate than none of the Officers involved could pause to operate their recording devices (unless this is circumnavigated by technology, as suggested above).
If in actuality the Officers initiate contact/ dictate the pace of events – as the Merseyside officers certainly did in the two case studies I have provided in my previous blog – then there would almost always be no excuse for non-recording and real disciplinary sanctions should follow for the officers concerned, along with ‘the benefit of the doubt’ being bestowed upon the civilian side of the interaction, in terms of any future complaint, claim or court process; not a wholesale upsetting of the ‘scales of justice’ but as Professor Fan put it, in her 2017 article “a thumb on the scale of inferences” in favour of the member of the public – in the interests of re-setting an imbalance power, for the good of all society.
Some combination of those solutions I feel, is necessary to improve the standards and fairness of UK Policing, and to increase public faith in the same way. You may not agree, but it is certainly a debate which it is essential for us to have, in my opinion.
Given the prevalence of Police body-worn cameras on our modern-day streets, what duty should Officers be under to ensure that they activate these cameras during all confrontations/ investigations, to ensure the protection, and equal treatment under the law, of both officers and civilians? Do we need more robust disciplinary treatment of officers who fail to record such crucial interactions as a search or arrest, given that policies requiring the filming of such events seem only to be paid ‘lip service’ by Professional Standards investigations when officers fail to comply without a good reason? And do we indeed need better technology to eliminate human error/ misfeasance and ensure that Body Worn Videos don’t just show half of the picture, and aren’t used simply to serve the interests of Police Officers?
Although I have been aware of this problem for a long time, two cases I am currently dealing with involving Merseyside Police have focused my mind on the issue. Let me outline some of the facts for you.
Connor, then aged 19, was on a night out with friends in Liverpool City Centre in January 2020.
Connor was standing on Fleet Street talking to a friend when he was suddenly seized from behind by a Police Officer (PC Graves) who marched him over to a Police van, where other Officers were assembled.
Three Officers – believed to be Police Sergeant Downes and Police Constables Graves and Wallace – then subjected Connor to a body search, allegedly on suspicion of possession of drugs. Connor was entirely innocent, and the search was naturally negative, although the Officers repeatedly asserted that Connor must have drugs on him and demanded that he ‘give them up’. Connor felt that the Officers were treating him in an unprofessional, contemptuous and demeaning way.
The Officers allowed Connor to leave but as he walked away, he used the word “dick head” once, towards the Officers. His loss of temper in this regard was largely caused by the Officers’ repeated, false accusations that he was in possession of drugs.
Connor was immediately overpowered by the Officers, who took him to the ground, handcuffed him and now placed him under arrest for allegedly being ‘drunk and disorderly’ (although Connor says the Officers failed to explain the basis of the arrest at the time, despite the fact they were legally obliged to do so).
It is notable that when the Officers had first approached and searched Connor only minutes before, there had been no suggestion by any of them that Connor was behaving in a ‘disorderly’ manner. The decision to arrest Connor appears to have been an impulsive and vindictive act by the Officers simply because he had expressed his frustration towards them, at what he legitimately believed to be an unlawful stop and search, with a single swear word (and not one, it need hardly be added, likely to make most experienced Police Officers blush or bat an eyelid).
Nevertheless, Connor was taken into Custody and detained for several hours for allegedly “offending public decency”.
Connor naturally brought a complaint in regards to the offence of that evening, which resulted in an admission by the Police that PC Wallace had conducted an improper stop and search of Connor as she had (at the very least) failed to complete a Stop and Search Form until 4 February 2020, over 2 weeks after the event. Merseyside Police ultimately accepted “No [search] record existed and in the absence of a complaint would likely never have existed.”
Not only had PC Wallace not completed the correct paperwork (which should have been filled out at the time, whether electronically or in writing, and a copy provided to Connor) but on Connor’s account she had also failed to deliver the “GOWISELY” information identifying herself and explaining the powers and the purpose for which she was subjecting Connor to temporary detention and search, which I have discussed at length in a previous Blog.
Furthermore, and of great significance, was the fact that all of the Officers who interacted with Connor were wearing the now standard issue body cameras, and yet none of them activated those cameras despite the fact that the Officers initiated the incident – i.e. they were not ‘taken by surprise’ by a fast moving chain of events outwith their control. It was the Officers who made the decision to approach and search Connor, and then to arrest him, and they manifestly would have had time to activate their cameras.
Their failure to do so has robbed Connor of crucial evidence which could have helped to establish his innocence in the face of the charge of drunk and disorderly behaviour, and would certainly have catalogued the full extent of PC Wallace’s illegal Stop and Search upon him. It would have verified one way or the other the allegations which Connor is now pursuing through the Complaint and civil Claim process against Merseyside Police – including the Officers’ rude and arrogant demeanour and their use of force upon Connor.
In other words, it would have saved a lot of time and money, and potentially a lot of heartache, for everybody involved – Connor and all of the Police Officers.
Despite the fact that the Complaint investigation by Merseyside Police unequivocally established that PCs Graves and Wallace had breached Police Policy by failing to activate their body worn cameras, this was criticised only in the mildest of terms by the Professional Standards Department who simply identified it as requiring a “learning outcome” for the Officers. The PSD investigator gave no consideration at all to how the Officers apparently wilful failure in this regard had undermined Connor’s ability to hold them to account for their alleged misconduct.
Take for example the Complaint investigator’s assertion that “There is no evidence to support the allegation that officers have used inappropriate comments or in any way goaded or antagonised [Connor] which has led to his arrest…”. In fact, if the Officers had complied with Merseyside Police Policy there would have been video footage to conclusively prove or disprove the same; it was the Officers who were the ‘gatekeepers’ of that potential gold mine of evidence, and they who were now benefiting – on Connor’s account – from keeping the door firmly shut upon it.
I personally think it is outrageous that Police Officers are not disciplined, in any meaningful way, for failing to active their cameras in these scenarios. There is simply no excuse. The activation of a body camera is the work of split seconds. I would go as far as to say that in this day and age, any Stop & Search – and, indeed, arguably arrest – which is not catalogued by a body camera recording should be deemed prima facie unlawful unless there is a very good reason why at least one of the Officers involved (and it is rare for a single Officer to have to deal with such events on their own) did not activate their camera.
Another very similar matter involving a flagrant breach by Merseyside Police Officers of their own policies and procedures is the case of my client Jack.
As has been highlighted above, Merseyside Police have a written Policy which states that Officers MUST record stop & search encounters (unless an intimate search is involved) and that this is done in pursuit of the laudable objectives of “capturing the best possible evidence” and “promoting public reassurance.” What punishment was handed out in yet another case where Officers failed to do so…? You can probably guess the answer!
Jack, then aged 16 years old, was cycling home when an unmarked vehicle pulled up alongside him and a woman exited the vehicle and grabbed hold of Jack.
A man then also exited the vehicle and joined the woman, and in a state of shock, Jack realised that they were Police Officers.
Jack before had never had any dealings with the Police, and especially in view of his young age, felt intimidated and overwhelmed.
The male and female Officers subjected Jack to a ‘pat down search’ and then allowed him to go on his way – although failed to issue the obligatory stop/search form to him.
Jack’s mother subsequently lodged a complaint on his behalf regarding this incident and was provided with a copy of the Stop/Search Record which turned out to be entirely inaccurate – it falsely suggested that Jack rather than being on his bicycle, had been a passenger in a vehicle that smelt of cannabis, and that Jack himself had been found in possession of cannabis.
When Jack’s mother, who thankfully believed her son’s account rather than that of ‘official’ Police documentation, challenged this – Merseyside Police held their hands up and admitted that the record was entirely inaccurate and stated that Jack’s details had been inadvertently mixed up with those of another individual who had been subjected to a Stop/Search by the same Officers.
Clearly however, it was deeply distressing for Jack and his mother to have to live for a period of time with these false allegations hanging over Jack, and for them to continue to have to deal with the persistent concern that perhaps not all of this wholly inaccurate record, associating Jack with criminal drug use, has been properly rectified and removed from all Police systems and records.
Once again, neither of the Officers who interacted with this teenage boy had seen fit to operate their body cameras. PC Green claimed that she had lost her body camera and was awaiting another one; PC Gregory accepted that he had his camera on him at the time of the Stop of Jack, but asserted that he could not activate it because it was in his pocket – you will be reassured to know that the Officer has since “reflected” on this and decided it may be more “appropriate” for him to wear his camera on his lanyard from now on. He faced no disciplinary sanction for this, although it was noted that the Officer’s line manager would “review and monitor” PC Gregory’s “future performance in the area of stop and search” – a statement of the type of appraisal that I would presume all Officers are supposed to be subject to in any event! The tone of the Police’s response to the complaint on this issue suggested that this clear breach of Policy was, to those tasked with governing Merseyside Police’s standards of professional behaviour – ‘no big deal’.
Once again, this is evidence of a casual disregard by the Police of both their own rules and of Jack’s rights and dignity as a citizen (and a child at that) who was being subjected to the Police’s extraordinary powers of detention/imprisonment, even if only temporarily.
Incidents such as this lead me to suspect that Merseyside Police (and in all probability Police Forces generally) have many Officers who are routinely failing to record Stop and Search interactions with members of the public. This might of course be hard to prove on a statistical analysis, as it also appears that on such occasions there is a risk not only of the Police not activating their body cameras, but of them also failing to complete Stop and Search Forms – accurately or at all.
How many other individuals have been subject to ‘ghost’ searches in such a manner?
The Police have in their personal body cameras a simple tool which, by giving Professional Standards investigators, lawyers, judges and juries ‘eyes’ on the interactions through which these Officers police our streets, can enlighten and raise the standards and fairness of the entire Policing system.
Provided they turn it on.
(All names have been changed).
This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2 to follow next week.
The two officers were found guilty of gross misconduct after making false statements, and in the case of PC Anscombe lying under oath, apparently in order to secure the conviction of an innocent man. There are few more serious abuses of the particular power and authority of a Police Officer that can be imagined, than using that power to ‘frame’ someone for a crime, and it is entirely right that these Officers were immediately dismissed.
It appears that PCs Anscombe and Care gave false evidence leading to the (wrongful) conviction of a man for the offence of ‘drunk and disorderly’ behaviour, after an incident in Penzance in 2018. Crucially, the man was able to overturn his conviction because of footage of the incident which he had filmed on his mobile phone, and which proved that the Officers were lying.
The Misconduct panel which dismissed the two Officers found that they had made false statements about the man swearing and being aggressive, which were simply not true and were evidently not ‘mistakes’ on the part of the (now ex) Officers, but deliberate mistruths designed to secure a false conviction.
Richard had been the victim of an assault from an abusive neighbour, who had also committed criminal damage against Richard’s car, causing Richard to telephone ‘999’ for the protection of himself and his family.
Outrageously, it was Richard who then ended up being arrested for a “Public Order offence“ by PC Norman who made a statement falsely alleging that Richard was shouting, screaming, swearing and using foul language in the Officer’s presence.
Because of previous problems with his neighbour, Richard had set up a CCTV camera (with audio) at the front of his property and the video from that device incontrovertibly demonstrated that Richard had not been shouting or swearing and that the numerous allegations contained in PC Norman’s official statement were patently false.
Although Richard was confident that eventually the CCTV footage would exonerative him, the Police made no attempt to immediately review it, and therefore it did not save Richard the trauma of being detained in police cells for over 44 hours.
To make matters worse, Richard was subject to a further arrest which considerably prolonged his detention, because PC Norman’s false evidence suggested that Richard had breached an Anti-social Behaviour injunction which was in place regarding his dispute with his neighbour. Richard was so angry and upset at the injustice of what he was being put through, that he started punching the walls of his cell such was his frustration and distress.
It was a few days after Richard’s release from custody that he was contacted by a Sergeant from the Professional Standards Department who had now viewed the CCTV footage and she encouraged Richard to bring a formal complaint against PC Norman, on the basis of what she had seen. The following day, the criminal proceedings for the public order offence against Richard, and the allegation that he had breached the terms of the injunction were also both withdrawn/ discontinued.
It is highly concerning of course, to consider what would happened if the CCTV had not been available and this had been a case of Richard’s word alone against that of PC Norman…the inescapable conclusion is that Richard would have been wrongfully convicted of a criminal offence.
In fact, PC Norman was subsequently arrested for perverting the course of justice and with the ‘tables turned’ in this manner it was Richard who was called as a witness for the prosecution at the Officer’s trial.
Sadly, PC Norman was – despite the weight of evidence – acquitted of any criminal offences. Subsequent police disciplinary action against PC Norman quite rightly found him guilty of misconduct – but he received a sanction of only a “final written warning“ rather than being dismissed from the Force.
Richard suffered psychiatric injury as a result of these events, and his recovery from the same was not aided by the way that he was subsequently let down by the system – PC Norman ‘wriggled off the hook’ and was able to continue in his career as a police officer despite the clear evidence of his dishonesty. What signal did that send to PC Norman and other officers like him? I would suggest that the message appeared to be that PC Norman’s conduct had no ultimately meaningful consequences, and Dyfed & Powys were prepared to tolerate such behaviour to the extent of keeping this Officer amongst their ranks.
Thankfully, Richard was able to achieve some measure of justice through the civil courts. I pursued a claim on his behalf against Dyfed & Powys Police and Richard was ultimately awarded £40,000 compensation.
I have blogged before about how modern technology in the form of mobile phones and CCTV cameras can prove a great ‘leveller’ in correcting the imbalance of power between ordinary citizens and Police Officers, particularly in counteracting the historical bias which the Courts tend to have in favour of the evidence of our ‘upstanding boys in blue’ and this is yet another salutary example of this phenomenon.
However, the lingering bad taste in the mouth which I am sure most of us are left with after reflecting a little further on this and similar stories, is caused by the realisation of how often in the past Police Officers were able to get away with this sort of flagrant dishonesty and abuse of power, before they were made subject to the era of CCTV and mobile phone ‘surveillance’ from all we Little Brothers (and Sisters)…
In relation to the Devon & Cornwall case, the regional director of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Catrin Evans told the BBC –
“The public must have confidence in police officers who have a duty to be honest, act with integrity, and not compromise or abuse their position.”
I absolutely endorse those sentiments; it is just a pity that so often rooting out dishonesty from our Police profession depends on the public catching them at it…
The RSPCA announced last week that it has decided to abandon its policy of bringing private criminal prosecutions for alleged animal abuse in order to avoid “further reputational damage”, arising from a string of high-profile failures at Court and criticism of how its over-zealous approach was leading to the persecution of innocent and vulnerable individuals.
I myself have experience of misguided attempts by the RSPCA to interfere in the Criminal Justice process, resulting in emotional distress and economic loss for all concerned; after all, if so many Police Officers don’t properly understand the law when it comes to necessity of arrest, can we really expect an animal welfare charity to do better when its staff starts ‘directing’ Police operations?
Take for example my client Courton Green, a Lincolnshire farmer who was subject to arrest in January 2018 on allegations of animal cruelty.
Mr Green ran a farm with approximately 3,000 sheep and 400 cattle. He was shocked to receive an early morning visit by two Officers of Lincolnshire Police who informed him he was under arrest; handcuffed him despite the fact that he was entirely compliant with their instructions, and whisked him away to Grantham Police Station without even allowing him the time to collect his glasses from a nearby truck.
At the Police Station my client was processed, searched and detained in a cell for several hours. During detention, he was obliged to provide his fingerprints, DNA sample and be photographed – all part of the degrading ‘prisoner’ process which can make even innocent people feel as though they are guilty in some way, or being labelled as criminals.
Mr Green had never previously been arrested and found it all to be a devastating experience.
In fact, his state of mental distress was such that the Police became concerned about his well-being, had him assessed by a doctor and he was then taken to Lincoln Hospital for a full mental health assessment.
Following the mental health assessment Mr Green was then allowed to return to his farm – primarily because of his responsibility for his livestock – in a state of ‘shell shock’; indeed Mr Green’s distress continued at such an intense level that over the next few days he experienced stark suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, he was able to overcome these feelings, but the experience of his arrest and detention (first in a Police Station, and then in a mental health ward) had left him in a very dark place.
Approximately 5 months later, Mr Green received a summons to attend court. He filed a plea of not guilty to the charges of animal cruelty against him, and his case proceeded to trial in January 2020, where he was indeed found not guilty.
At the trial, Judge Peter Veits ruled that my client’s arrest was unlawful, in the following terms –
“… the arrest had been unlawful as there had been no attempt … to invite [Mr Green] for interview, he had merely been arrested. Had he been so invited and refused then the necessity of arrest would have been established…”
Following his vindication at trial, Courton Green instructed me to pursue a claim for false imprisonment on his behalf against Lincolnshire Police.
Mr Green’s arrest and detention had taken place at the behest of the RSPCA, who suspected my client of mistreating an animal, and Police facilities were put fully at the disposal of the RSPCA to allow their inspector to conduct the interview of Mr Green, and then to detain him further whilst the RSPCA inspector consulted with her prosecution unit for a “charging decision.”
The evidence against my client centered around the testimony of an inexperienced farmhand who in January 2018 had witnessed what he believed to be Mr Green using a tractor to ‘behead’ a sick sheep; in fact the sheep was already dead, and Mr Green was carrying out a method of breaking its neck prior to skinning the animal (as the carcass was intended for use as dog food).
Judge Peter Veits at the criminal trial was scathing about the standard of evidence presented by the RSPCA against my client; they were entirely unable to offer evidence to establish “beyond reasonable doubt” that the sheep was not already dead when Mr Green used the tractor as described, and the charges against him were dismissed.
Not only was this a prosecution which should not have been pursued (costing Mr Green £70,000 in legal fees to defend himself), my client should never have been arrested in the first place. Sadly, Lincolnshire Police allowed themselves to be used in furtherance of the RSPCA’s agenda, in dereliction of their own duty to make an independent assessment of the evidence and circumstances, in order to decide whether there was sufficient reasonable suspicion and the requisite necessity to arrest (rather than, for example, arranging a voluntary interview for Mr Green to respond to the charges – which is what should have occured).
Whilst the CPS correctly declined to become involved in the misguided and ill-founded RSPCA prosecution of Mr Green, the Police regrettably allowed themselves to be used as unthinking pawns by an animal welfare charity seeking to operate in the style of a law enforcement agency, causing considerable hardship and suffering to my client as a result.
There have long been concerns that the RSPCA regards itself as ‘the Constabulary of animal welfare’, and projects a misleading image to the public through its use of quasi- Police uniforms, the ‘right to remain silent’ caution for ‘suspects’, and a policy of bestowing upon its staff titles of rank such as ‘Inspector’ and ‘Superintendent’ – despite the fact that it is entirely a private charitable organization with no special law enforcement powers at all. However, this approach may have historically contributed towards our actual Police Forces adopting a ‘collegiate’ relationship with the prestigious charity; a relationship which is often far too cosy and deferential on the part of the Police.
In 2016 the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee highlighted the “conflict of interest” between the RSPCA’s adopted role of prosecuting animal welfare cases, and its role of campaigning for animal welfare, fundraising and investigating these issues.
The MPs on the Select Committee called for the charity to cease pursuing private prosecutions in cases of animal cruelty, after a report into its activities, but unfortunately this recommendation, and numerous criticisms by members of the judiciary deeply unimpressed by the standard of RSPCA-led prosecutions, fell on deaf ears, and was not enough to save Mr Green from being put through the ordeal of wrongful arrest, detention and prosecution.
As Mr Green’s Defence barrister, Sara-Lise Howe, said after his Trial “the RSPCA cannot be trusted to fairly and proportionately interpret farming legislation.”
Of greater concern to me however, is the fact that our Police Forces can often not be trusted to fairly and proportionately interpret policing legislation. On ‘necessity’ grounds alone, Lincolnshire Police should have refused to arrest and detain Courton Green, and then a great deal of the pain of this sorry saga would have been avoided.
Having brought a claim on behalf of Mr Green, I have secured an admission of liability from the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, and settlement negotiations are ongoing.
Perhaps this process, combined with the RSPCA’s declared change of policy, will finally get the message through to the Police that they would be well advised to treat RSPCA requests to facilitate a person’s arrest with the same level of detachment and skepticism with which they would approach that of any other group of private campaigners.
Some stark statistics made headlines in the Guardian newspaper recently: Fewer than 1 in 10 Police officers found to have a case to answer for gross misconduct actually end up being dismissed from the service.
Out of 641 officers in England & Wales ‘charged’ with gross misconduct between 2015 – 2020 following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), a mere 54 (8.4%) were dismissed.
Out of a further 848 officers whom the IOPC held had a case to answer for the less serious charge of misconduct, less than half (363) were ultimately found guilty.
Out of 391 cases over the same 5-year period in which the IOPC felt that criminal prosecution of an Officer was warranted, only 69 individuals were actually prosecuted and a mere 22 found guilty (with 4 receiving custodial sentences).
One of the key drivers of this disparity between IOPC findings and eventual outcomes is, in my opinion, the fact that the IOPC is in practice little more than an ‘advisory’ body – they are certainly not ‘judge or jury’ when it comes to Police misconduct; that role falls on the shoulders of internal Police disciplinary panels (if the recommended charges actually get to a Hearing, as there are numerous methods by which Police officers, assisted by their union – the Police Federation – and/or by the support, tacit or otherwise, of their Force’s Professional Standards unit can avoid or delay hearings, or even have the level of charge recommended by the IOPC ‘watered down’).
I have long sounded the alarm that the IOPC, despite its grandiose title, is often just a paper tiger in practice, without the authority – or indeed, in many cases the desire – to truly hold rogue Officers to account. My views were echoed last week by Katrina Ffrench, former CEO of StopWatch, an organisation campaigning for fair policing, who told the Guardian that the figures were “indicative of the IOPC’s inability to hold the police to account in any meaningful way.”
This has very damaging consequences on the ability of individuals and communities to trust that ‘the system’ is on their side when it comes to Police misbehaviour – reinforcing the belief that the Police often have divided loyalties between enforcing the law and protecting their brothers-in-arms from legitimate criticism, all too often skewed in favour of the latter – and perpetuating a sense of anger and unresolved grievance in those who have faced injustice at the hands of the Police.
Also quoted in the Guardian report was a former Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent, Victoria Olisa, who observed that police officers can often “run rings around IOPC investigators”.
Ms Olisa’s experience with the IOPC is mirrored by my own.
Take, for example, the case of my client Bryan Allden. As I highlighted in my blog reporting on the £358K damages award I won for Bryan in November last year, the IPCC (forerunner of the IOPC, but don’t be fooled by the change of name into thinking there is any fundamental difference between the current ‘watchdog’ and its predecessor: they basically just re-arranged the letters of its acronym) concluded that the gratuitous overhead baton strike unleashed by PC Knowles upon Bryan, which caused a severe fracture to Bryan’s hand “could just as easily have…resulted in a fatal injury.” Yet West Midlands Police were allowed by the IPCC to let the officer off the hook, by ‘sanctioning’ him only with ‘management action’ in the form of a ‘first aid course’, rather than charging him with gross misconduct. It was exactly this behaviour by the IPCC/ West Midlands Police, rather than the incident itself, which caused Bryan the most mental anxiety and upset over the years that followed – in Bryan’s own words “the savage attacker was protected, not punished for his actions.”
Or alternatively, another case involving West Midlands Police ‘calling the shots’ with the IPCC; my client Haydn (aged 12 years old) was assaulted by an Officer, who threw him to the ground, causing him to injure his back on a concrete surface. The officer denied this allegation, saying that he had reached out to take hold of Haydn, but that Haydn had (coincidentally) fallen spontaneously at that point. It appeared that the Officer may then have threatened Haydn with arrest, possibly as a way of intimidating him into not making a complaint prior to his mother arriving on the scene. The IPCC recommended that the officer involved should attend a misconduct hearing, however West Midlands Police unilaterally rejected this, and proposed to sanction the officer with ‘management action’ only…again the IPCC backed down, and complied with the wishes of the Force. It appeared to me that this was largely because the IPCC were fearful that if they insisted on a misconduct hearing without the co-operation of the Force, then it was very likely the officer would simply get off ‘scot free’ at the hearing, and hence they chose the lesser sanction, that would at least put some marker on the officer’s record. It is very regrettable that the Police watchdog should have to make such a compromise, but is sadly far from unusual.
Or the case of my client Susan who suffered the indignity of an officer trespassing in her home, and using force against her during a dispute with bailiffs that frankly, the officer should have stayed out of. The officer in question, a Sergeant with Nottinghamshire Police was originally referred to a meeting for ‘misconduct’ by his Force’s Professional Standards Department but the IOPC upheld my client’s appeal that his actions surely equated to ‘gross misconduct’, and in May 2018 directed that the Sergeant face a misconduct hearing. At that hearing, in early 2019, the Sergeant was found guilty of gross misconduct and sacked; unfortunately, he appealed and, after his appeal, was granted a second misconduct hearing in November 2019. Once again the verdict was gross misconduct and dismissal from the Police service; however, that still wasn’t the end of the matter – the Sergeant appealed again, and was successfully reinstated to the Force, albeit with a “final written warning” on his disciplinary record. In disciplinary terms it seems that some Police Officers have more lives than a cat, no matter how strong the evidence against them, and irrespective of the findings and directions of the IOPC. In response to the claim which I have subsequently brought against Nottinghamshire Police on behalf of Susan, the Force have admitted liability for the trespass, false imprisonment and assault and battery perpetrated upon Susan by the Sergeant – but he nevertheless remains at this time a serving Police Officer.
These problems are exacerbated, in my opinion, by the fact that the so-called ‘Independent’ Office of Police Conduct is far too cosy and intermeshed in its relationship with the Police; almost 30% of all IOPC staff come from a Police background and an even greater proportion of senior investigators (40%) were former Officers.
And the disappointing statistics highlighted above do not include all those misconduct investigations – the vast majority in fact – which are not conducted directly by the IOPC, but are rather ‘delegated’ to the local Professional Standards Department (almost invariably the Professional Standards Department of the Force complained about, not even an ‘independent’ Force). Investigations of which the IOPC ‘washes its hands’ can in fact include such serious matters as broken limbs, life-changing dog bite injuries and armed Police raids on the home of an innocent family.
Interestingly, this very week the IOPC has also come in for scathing criticism from Stu Berry, the chair of the Police Federation of Greater Manchester Police – which represents the ‘best interests’ of serving officers. Mr Berry condemned the IOPC in the following strident terms –
“The IOPC is a state- sanctioned risk to the welfare of police officers and their families in its current form, despite the new name. It was previously the Independent Police Complaints Commission and nothing has altered. This rampant and unchecked misuse of power must change. It has to change.”
His criticism was echoed by Police Federation National Conduct and Performance Lead Phil Matthews, who speaking to the Police Oracle stated “Public trust in the system will erode if people do not think that complaints will be dealt with quickly.”
It appears that the major gripe which Mr Berry and Mr Matthews were expressing, was the length of time for which officers can remain ‘under investigation’, with accusations of misconduct potentially hanging over them for years – although I must call into question the histrionic language (“state sanctioned risk to officers and their families”) with which Mr Berry, in particular, makes his case. Such language from those whose job it is, as Police Federation representatives, to play ‘defence’ for officers accused of misconduct, suggests to me that their criticism is really designed to undermine and weaken the standing of the IOPC, and warn the Government off from bolstering IOPC powers.
And whilst of course my clients want misconduct investigations to be concluded quickly – I know of one involving the Metropolitan Police in which a legitimate complaint of racial profiling and wrongful detention dragged on for no less than 6 years – their greatest wish is for cases to be dealt with fairly; and all too often, as highlighted above, that is not at all their experience at the end of the process, no matter how long it takes.But the Police Federation, concentrating only on ‘looking after its own’, seem as deaf to the hurt and anger of ordinary people abused, mistreated and violated by the Police as was ex-PC, now convicted criminal Nick Musto, who when unleashing his third, gratuitous baton strike against my client Robert’s shattered leg bone, could apparently only hear the colleague whom Robert had inadvertently fallen upon ‘calling out for help’, and not Robert’s own screams of pain (which for the rest of us with ears to hear, were captured on a phone video made by a shocked member of the public).
So it seems that I and the Police Fed agree that ‘root and branch’ reform is essential for the IOPC; but our reasons why are totally polarised. Whereas many of my clients see an organisation which might as well bear the title “I Excuse PC”, Mr Berry and the Police Fed apparently see the IOPC as ‘wolves at the door’ of innocent officers and their families.
To maintain public confidence in and the reputation of the Police service
To uphold high standards in policing and deter misconduct
To protect the public
It is clear that to achieve such goals, although the speed of the process is a relevant factor, the key is to ensure fairness and transparency of the complaint investigation and a truly impartial outcome. It is my firm opinion that the current misconduct regime falls very far short of such a standard, far too many times.
My answer to this problem would be in the first instance, in opposition to the view of Stu Berry, to grant the IOPC more power (and commensurate funding) to allow it to have initial oversight of all Police complaints (rather than them being filtered through the local Forces) and to rest the final adjudication process in panels convened and supervised by the IOPC itself. Secondly, and of equal importance, I would dilute the links between the IOPC and the Police profession by ensuring that the IOPC recruited staff, investigators and advisors heavily from those communities which do not have such a cosy relationship with the Police as retired officers, and those such as myself who have experience as advocates for justice on behalf of the victims of Police misconduct.
Paul’s name was finally and fully cleared at the Trial in early January when lawyers on behalf of the Police finally accepted in open Court that Paul was an innocent man – despite the fact they had fought his false imprisonment claim for 6 years – and the Judge awarded substantial damages & legal costs against the Police in respect of Paul’s 2013 arrest.
The story was widely reported in the media, and it came as some disappointment for me to read that rather than striking a humble and contrite tone, and properly apologising for all of the stress and anxiety they had put Paul through for all these years (beginning with his arrest, but continuing in their rejection of his legitimate complaint and the tooth and nail way in which they contested his claim in the County Court, putting Paul at risk of having to pay the Police substantial legal costs should he lose) Merseyside Police seemed utterly unrepentant, telling the Daily Mirror that although they ‘accepted’ the findings of the Court, the claim had been won on a ‘technicality’ only.
This couldn’t be further from the truth and wrongly suggests that the claim was won simply because DC Mitchell failed to fill in the right form, or to say the right words when effecting the arrest; in fact the Judge made a clear finding that DC Mitchell had not believed that it was necessary to arrest Paul, but had done so anyway, probably as a way of utilising the power of search that accompanies an arrest (in a situation where the Officer clearly did not feel he could legitimately persuade the Court to issue a Search Warrant).
That a Police Officer must have necessity to arrest a suspect is the second limb of the test of a lawful arrest, and carries equal weight with the requirement that there be reasonable suspicion of that person; it is therefore absolutely not a ‘technicality’ and for Merseyside Police to describe it in such terms is very concerning.
It would seem that rather than doing the right thing – apologising to Paul, reflecting on the lessons learned and actively ensuring that Officers do not repeat DC Mitchell’s misuse of arrest powers for the wrong reasons – Merseyside Police through their media statement are signalling to DC Mitchell and his colleagues that they stand by the Officer’s actions, and seem closer to condoning than ever condemning them.
The law of this land requires that for any of us to be deprived of our liberty through the Police power of arrest, there must be clear, objective evidence – as well as an honest belief by the Officer – that the arrest is actually necessary; unlike Merseyside Police, I fail to see such an important bedrock of our civil rights as a mere ‘technicality’… and sadly, for as long as the Police continue to display this type of attitude, more people like Paul are going to fall prey to wrongful arrests.
The number of ongoing cases in Crown Courts was 44% higher in December 2020 compared to February of the same year. Latest figures reveal a backlog of 54,000 cases.
The legal system can be bewildering for any victim of crime; and doubly so for those who have suffered serious police misconduct, who are in reality victims, but who first may face the trauma of being the alleged ‘criminal’ before they have the opportunity to turn the tables on their accusers.
Fortunately the Officer and his colleagues were (for the most part) recording events on their body worn cameras and the incriminating footage was preserved.
When John was subsequently interviewed by an independent officer, the footage was watched and the truth of what happened was laid bare. John was quickly released and advised soon after that no further action would be taken against him.
The original officers’ conduct, however, was now the subject of an internal enquiry and thereafter a formal complaint investigation. Following that investigation, the CPS reviewed the evidence and determined that the officers should be prosecuted for assault and conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
The officers pleaded not guilty and the case was listed to be heard in the Crown Court, with trial to take place in September 2020.
Unfortunately because of the Covid pandemic, the trial was adjourned. John has just received notification that the trial has been rescheduled to take place in September 2021, 2 years and 3 months after the incident…
The outstanding trial is just one of the 54,000 unheard cases stuck in the Crown Court backlog referred to above.
I called John to give him the news. He told me that given the passage of time, he’d struggle to remember what happened and then, of more concern said “I may not bother (attending)”.
This loss of faith in the Justice system is exactly what concerns the Inspectorates who have called for Criminal Justice agencies to work closely together and for the Government to provide national directions as well as the funding, time and access to expertise to help recovery.
As US Chief Justice Warren E. Burger stated in 1970, “A sense of confidence in the Courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty for a free people.”
Maintaining the overall health of a society is of course not just about people’s physical well-being, but also the mental aspects of us all as citizens being able to witness impartial justice swiftly and fearlessly delivered; in this respect the Government needs to prioritise and resource the criminal justice system as vigorously as if it were a limb of the National Health Service itself.
The Home Secretary clearly has major questions to answer as to how such an error was allowed to occur, one which caused the UK’s visa approval system to be suspended for 2 days, in addition to the obvious constraints it placed on ‘real time’ Policing duties, especially in the context of British Police Forces having lost access to European criminal databases following Brexit.
Whilst the obvious concern arising from this story is the lack of relevant information being available to Police officers who may need it, proper data management of criminal justice records must include not only the preservation of essential information but also the accurate and timely deletion of false or wrongfully obtained records, which by their presence can cause an individual as much trouble as the lack of relevant records can in another context.
Many of my clients quite rightly hold key objectives both winning compensatory damages from the Police for wrongs committed against them and also ‘clearing their name’ – not only in the sense of the moral vindication of receiving an admission of liability, payment of damages or apology, but also the deletion of their sensitive personal data from the PNC, including biometric information and the facts relating to their wrongful arrest/ prosecution, which if not deleted could cause untold grief in terms of future job or travel visa applications.
Often, it seems to me that the Police system of reviewing and deleting such records is subject to far too much human error itself in the form of vast amounts of delay and a lack of clarity as to the circumstances in which records will be deleted, giving Forces a wide discretion to refuse deletion or to take far too long to carry it out.
Take for example the case of my client “Richard Knight” (name changed), who applied for deletion of his records via the Criminal Records Office (ACRO) following a successful claim for damages for false imprisonment, settled after the issue of Court proceedings. Richard is man of good character, and was especially concerned to have his records for this wrongful arrest deleted, as they related to a false allegation that he had attempted to solicit a woman for sex.
I submitted his request via ACRO in March 2019, with the following grounds providing multiple justifications for immediate deletion/ destruction of not only his biometric data but also the record of the arrest and the allegations accompanying it –
The PNC entry/record was entirely in consequence of an unlawful arrest. Court proceedings were instituted against the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. As a result of the legal claim, settlement terms were agreed in the form of compensatory damages. Whilst formal liability was not admitted, the payment of damages at all was indicative of the merits which attached to that claim. Further, the value of the damages agreed corresponded to the value of the claim, had it been admitted or otherwise resolved by formal judgment. The Police were also liable for all legal costs arising from the claim. As a general principal, it would be utterly perverse if a PNC entry was retained in such circumstances.
No crime – Mr Knight had manifestly not engaged in any form of criminal misconduct.
Malicious/false allegation – Mr Knight maintained that the account provided by the complainant was untrue and wholly unreliable.
Public interest – The presence of an arrest record was wholly incompatible with the guaranteed presumption of innocence under the Common Law and the associated guaranteed rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Any PNC entry in this particular instance would be a perversity, given the outcome of the civil proceedings brought against the Police.
ACRO are, in reality, little more than a ‘post box’ organisation (you might say – nothing more than an ‘ACROnym’) whose role is to forward deletion requests to and from the relevant Police Forces. Mr Knight’s application was passed to the Metropolitan Police but it took over 18 months before, in November 2020, his request was finally approved on the grounds of ‘Public Interest’ and the PNC record was deleted.
Until that time, Mr Knight had to live with the knowledge that any Police or other governmental service checks against his name might throw up the stigma of his arrest for a ‘sex crime’ despite his vindication through the civil courts.
Thankfully the situation is now resolved, but perhaps after the Home Secretary has repaired the damage caused by this week’s data loss, she should focus on her equally important responsibility to ensure that inaccurate data, especially concerning false allegations of crime, is not retained for one day longer than is necessary, let alone for years.
I am of course delighted with the terms of the settlement, which reflects the serious wrongdoing committed against Yvonne, and the fact of the apology – however, I made the point in my previous blog that Police pride often comes before a full apology, and I am disappointed that whilst DCC Dunn accepts that Yvonne should never have been arrested, and that Hertfordshire Constabulary have lessons to learn as a result, she really doesn’t apologise for the most egregious and distressing thing done to Yvonne, namely her being stripped naked.
I continue to believe that this was nothing less than an act of coercion and humiliation deliberately committed against Yvonne (at the command of a male Custody Sergeant) for the purpose of forcing her to give the Police her personal details, which she was refusing as part of her legitimate protest against an entirely unlawful arrest. DCC Dunn however goes out of her way to assert that the decision to strip Yvonne of her clothes was an act of ‘safeguarding’ – and devotes the longest section of her letter to justifying this.
In this respect therefore, the letter contains at its heart not an apology but an excuse – suggesting that Yvonne has misunderstood the Police’s ‘good intentions’ – and hence, with that failure to accept blame for the worst abuse of Police power perpetrated against Yvonne, does not go nearly far enough.
As I wrote previously, senior officers and force management are often content to put money where their mouth should be; and it is hard to believe that all the right lessons will in fact be learned, when the Police still seek to deny the most serious wrong.