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Will the Police learn their lesson? The illegal strip-search of a minor.

Historically, the term ‘juvenile’ as used in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) has referred to a child under 17.  Section 42 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (CJCA) extended the definition of ‘juvenile’ for the purposes of PACE to include any child or young person who appears to be under the age of 18, establishing the same protections for all those aged under 18 and bringing the definition into line with that of the  UN Convention of the Rights of  the Child (UNCRC).

Safeguards for children/young people

PACE incorporates a number of safeguards for children/young people caught up in the criminal justice system.  Any contact between a child and police officers can be very frightening and distressing and have long-term adverse consequences for vulnerable young minds which are still in the process of maturing. The need for such protective measures should be self-evident.  Self-evident to all except for some Police Officers it seems.

I have just concluded a claim for John, a young man from Merseyside who’s just turned 19.  Back on 23rd  February 2017, John was just 16 and as is evident  from his custody photograph taken that day, a young-looking 16.

At the time, his older brother, Kevin was dating a girl from Scarborough (Lauren).  The weekend before, Lauren had come over and stayed with Kevin and his family.  On the 23rd February, Kevin agreed to drive Lauren home.  John had never been to Yorkshire before so went along for the ride.

Upon arrival at Lauren’s home address in Scarborough, Kevin parked up and he and Lauren went inside leaving John sat in the front passenger seat.

A short while later, a Police van pulled up close by and a number of officers alighted and surrounded the car in which John was sat before one of them opened the front passenger door and asked him where the driver was.  John explained that his brother was the driver, that he was in a house close by and that he would be back soon.

An officer instructed John to step onto the pavement.

John was required to provide his name and date of birth, which he did, thereby indicating that he was a minor, which was apparent in any event.

John was then told that he would be taken to the police van.  John was escorted to the van by two officers.   He was instructed to step inside the vehicle, whereupon he was told he was to be subjected to a “strip search.”  No legal justification or grounds for the search were provided to him.

Unlawful intimate strip-search

John was instructed to pull down his track suit bottoms and underwear, whereupon the officers conducted an extremely intimate search.

Wrongful arrest

To his complete shock John was then informed that he was under arrest on suspicion of possession of cannabis, irrespective of the fact that no drugs had been found upon him.

John was then detained in the police van for an extended period of time (in excess of 60 minutes) until he was transported to Scarborough police station, which was no more than a mile away , where his detention continued.

Following arrival at Scarborough police station, details of John’s arrest were reported to the custody officer, but details of the strip/intimate search were not disclosed, nor was the negative result of such searches.

Despite John requesting that his father be promptly informed of his arrest, John’s dad was not in fact informed until some three hours later by which time he was unable to attend the police station to act as appropriate adult.  Consequently it was necessary for a representative from the Youth Offending Team to do so.

John was obliged to provide fingerprints and a DNA sample and was then detained in a cell until the appropriate adult arrived whereupon he was interviewed. After six hours in custody, John was finally released.  In due course, John received confirmation that no further action would be taken.

The facts of the case would form a great quiz for trainee police cadets as to what Codes of Practice were breached except for the sad fact that this catalogue of terrors was actually perpetrated against a real person. Focusing just on the search, what did the officers do wrong?

  • The strip/intimate search was conducted in the absence of an appropriate adult to which John was entitled.
  • No authorisation  for the search was provided by an Inspector.
  • John was not told of the legal authority for the search.
  • John was not told of any legal grounds for the search.
  • John did not provide, nor could he provide, consent to the search.
  • The strip/intimate search was carried out by a police officer, when it ought to have been carried out by a Registered Medical Practitioner or Nurse.
  • No documentation of the search was kept or maintained, thereby breaching section 3 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
  • Contrary to Code A paragraph 4.2B, no record of the search was made in the custody record.
  • The officers knew that the fact and/or manner of the strip/intimate search rendered it unlawful or a breach of the Codes of Practice but conducted it regardless.
  • The officers knew that the fact and/or manner of the strip/intimate search (in the dark, in a van, without giving reasons or legal authority and without any appropriate adult) was highly distressing and embarrassing to John but conducted it regardless.

In short, the search was carried out with wholesale disregard for every significant safeguard guaranteed pursuant to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Formal complaint

Upon John’s release from police custody, John’s dad – having been notified of what had happened –  immediately lodged a formal complaint which was subsequently investigated by the North Yorkshire Police Professional Standards Department. Following  investigation, the Professional Standards Department conceded that the actions of their officer were in breach of

(i) the statutory provisions relating to strip searches in the Police and Criminal Evidence act 1984, and

(ii) the relevant Codes of Practice thereto.

Disciplinary action was brought against the two officers who had carried out the search.

Civil claim

Once the complaint investigation had been concluded, I was instructed to pursue a civil claim for compensation on behalf of John.  Sadly but unsurprisingly and notwithstanding the findings of the Professional Standards Department, the Chief Constable denied liability and it was necessary to issue court proceedings.

I am pleased to report that following issue John’s case has now settled for £10,000.00 damages, plus costs.

This settlement is a fair award of compensation but monetary compensation was not the priority for John and his family.  As John’s dad said to me just last week, by bringing this action, the family wanted to expose this abuse of police power in the hope that other children/young people will not suffer as John did. The power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is wholly dependent upon public approval of their actions and behaviour and on their ability to police by consent.  The carrying out of illegal strip-searches on children is a gross abuse by officers of the trust and extraordinary power placed in their hands by our society, and it is for the good of everyone that such abuses be highlighted and prevented, in so far as possible, from occurring in the future.

A child’s first real experience of the Police should not be the degrading and humiliating one which John underwent.  If the Police want the next generation to have trust and confidence in them, they should learn the lesson of this case well.

(All names changed.)

Losing the plot: Unlawful Arrests for Terrorism

The Government announced this week that the UK’s terrorism threat level has been downgraded from “severe” to “substantial” and as such the terrorism threat is now at its lowest since August 2014.  “Substantial” is the third of five ratings at which the threat level operates and indicates a terrorist attack “is likely”.

I am quite sure that the risk of a terrorist attack remains real but whatever the level of perceived threat, it’s incredibly important that previous terrorist attacks and/or the current threat level should not affect the way in which Police Officers approach situations, which should be done in accordance with their training and with approved techniques.

Walking whilst black

 I have recently concluded a claim for a young black Londoner (whom I shall identify as “Steven”) where it is blatantly apparent Officers concerned in his arrest and detention lost sight of their powers and responsibilities and carried out what I consider to be an unlawful arrest.  The Metropolitan Police evidently agreed because although liability was disputed they have recently settled Steven’s claim such that he is to receive a five figure settlement award.

Back in October 2014, Steven was walking along Ealing Broadway having been for a haircut, when he was stopped by two Police Officers.

One Officer said that Steven had been stopped because he was suspected of following another police officer from Ealing Police Station.

Steven, who had never been in trouble with the Police, was shocked at the allegation and politely said words to the effect that he had not followed anyone. He told the officers  confronting him that they were in fact the first police officers he had seen all day.

One Officer nevertheless told Steven to “stand over there” and pointed towards a nearby shop. Steven did as instructed.

Unlawful stop and search

The Officer then conducted a pat-down search and asked Steven for his name and address. Steven found the request intrusive but provided the information as requested.

The Officer then said that Steven “looked suspicious” and that he thought Steven was “linked to something that had happened earlier on”.

Steven told the officers where he had been and what he had been doing over the course of the day.

The Officer then asked Steven if he knew “what had been happening on the news as regards to terrorism”. Steven replied, “No.

The Officer said, “Anyone seen acting suspiciously outside a police station is treated very seriously as the police are on red alert.” Steven replied, “I was just going home.

The Officer then repeated the suggestion that a police officer had been followed outside a police station and implied that Steven was the person who had followed this police officer.

It subsequently transpired that a PCSO had earlier that day reported that she had been followed from the Police station by two black males and then several hours later, another Police Officer had left the Police Station and reported that he had been followed by Steven.

Steven again denied the allegation and questioned why he would do such a thing. Steven reiterated that he had simply been on his way home.

More Police Officers, both uniformed and plain-clothed, joined the first 2 Officers on the scene.

Steven was confused and shocked about what was happening to him.

Steven also felt embarrassed, as he was being treated like a criminal, as members of the public in the vicinity were staring at him as he was questioned by the police.

One of the plain-clothed officers told Steven to hand over his phone, so that he could “have a look through it”. Steven did so and provided his password.

After a little while, Steven asked the plain-clothed Officer whether he had found anything on his phone. The plain-clothed Officer replied that Steven had “some nice food on the phone. Steven knew from this that the Officer had been looking through his photographs.

One of the officers then asked Steven what he did for a living. Steven explained that he was a chef.

Steven then heard one of the officers speak into his radio and attempt to verify Steven’s identity. Eventually the response came back that Steven did not have any previous convictions and that he was not wanted by the police.

Throughout this time, Steven repeatedly asked if he could go.

Steven was eventually informed by one of the Officers that he had called for a Sergeant to come down and speak to Steven. The Officer said that the Sergeant was on his way.

Steven, who had been compliant throughout, felt increasingly worried and victimised.

Steven asked how long the Sergeant would be. The Officer said that the Sergeant would be no longer than around five minutes.

After what felt to Steven like 15 minutes, the Sergeant finally arrived on the scene. The Sergeant spoke with some of the Officers, before approaching Steven.

The Sergeant asked Steven for his name and whether he had his passport on him, where he had been that day, and where he had been going when stopped by the police. Steven answered the Sergeant’s questions and explained that he did not have his passport on him.

The Sergeant then said to Steven, “I don’t believe you and your story.” The Sergeant then asked Steven if he was “selling drugs”.

Steven, as a young Black man, immediately felt that he had been stereotyped, targeted and racially discriminated against. This new accusation clearly had nothing to do with the original allegation that Steven had been following a Police Officer.  Steven replied, “No.”

The Sergeant then said words to the effect of,

Coming from where I’m coming from, if you was in my shoes, how would you look at this?

Steven replied words to the effect of,

I was simply walking with an intention to go home and on my way home to get something to eat. I changed my mind and was walking to the bus. What is wrong with that?

The Sergeant ignored Steven’s response and went to speak to some of the other Officers, who were huddled together in a group.

Terrorism, Drugs or Harassment?

A decision was made to arrest Steven and he was handcuffed to the rear.

One of the Officers told Steven he was “under arrest for suspicion of harassment”.

Steven was shocked, distressed and angry.  He could not understand how the position had seemingly changed from an allegation of following a Police Officer, to being questioned about terrorism and drugs, to an arrest for harassment.

The Officers then escorted Steven to a nearby police vehicle and transported to Acton Police Station.

Once at the Police Station, Steven was put before the Custody Sergeant and booked into custody.

Steven was subjected to a pat-down search and had his property removed from him.

Illegal strip search

Steven was then taken to a room away from the custody desk and subjected to a strip search.

Steven understandably felt extremely embarrassed, humiliated and degraded by this experience; like many people who experience a Police strip-search, he felt as though he was deliberately being stripped of his dignity as well as his clothes.

Steven was taken from the room and had his DNA, fingerprints and photograph taken.

Steven was then placed into a small, cold cell.

After a few hours in the cell, a female Officer visited the cell. The officer informed Steven that he was going to have an interview so that he could tell his “side of the story”. She told Steven that he could do this with or without a lawyer but that it might take some time for a lawyer to arrive.

Steven agreed to be interviewed without a lawyer because he wanted to get out of the Police Station as quickly as possible.

Shortly after this, at or around 23:59, Steven was taken from the cell for interview.

During the course of the interview, Steven answered all questions put to him. This included questions about his views on the Police and his views on Syria.

At the conclusion of the interview, Steven was returned to the cell.

Following interview, Steven continued asking the officers what was happening but was told that the people dealing with his case had gone home.

Steven felt trapped and as if he would never get out of the cell.

Steven eventually managed to fall asleep, but periodically woke up due to the noise of the cell-block and thoughts running through his mind.

At some point, Steven pressed the cell buzzer and asked if he could call his family. Steven was worried that his family would be concerned about his whereabouts. He had seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth.

Steven explained to the person who answered the buzzer that the contact  number was in his phone. Steven was informed that his phone had not yet been returned from the lab.

Steven was not able to call anyone else, as he did not know any contact numbers without having access to his phone.

Eventually an Officer attended the cell and told Steven that he could leave the Police Station. Steven was taken to the custody desk.

At the custody desk, Steven was informed that he was being released on bail, to surrender at a later date.

Steven’s property, with the exception of his phone, was returned to him.

Steven was released at or around 16:35.

Steven walked from the police station to the nearest bus stop and caught the bus home.

Release and Complaint

On arrival home, Steven discovered from members of his family that the Police had attended the premises whilst he was at the Police Station and had searched his bedroom.

Members of Steven’s family were upset about what had happened. Again, Steven felt like his privacy had been invaded.

A few days later, two Officers attended Steven’s home to return his phone.  He was told that the Police knew he was “not a terrorist” and that his bail had been “lifted”.

Steven subsequently filed  a complaint. Following investigation, his complaint was dismissed.  He appealed to the Independent Police “Watchdog” (in reality, often the Police “Lapdog” I am afraid) the IPCC.  The IPCC rejected his appeal. They concluded that the stop was justified given the context (i.e. the then terrorist threat level) and the Officers’ allegations of being followed.

Analysis

It’s quite evident that the grounds for Steven’s ‘stop and search’ were questionable to say the least.  On Steven’s account, on the one hand he was told that he had been stopped because of the offence for which he was later arrested and on the other hand he was informed that he looked suspicious and reference was made to drugs and terrorism.  It seems that Steven’s race/ethnicity was a primary factor in the Officer’ decision-making from the outset.

But I believe that the legality of Steven’s arrest for harassment was also highly questionable given that a single act cannot constitute harassment.  The offence is only committed if there is a course of conduct.  If it was not reasonable to suspect Steven of a course of conduct, it could not have been reasonable to suspect him of the offence of harassment.

Furthermore, in respect of the allegation that Steven was a suspect for having followed a PCSO earlier that day, Steven’s description simply did not match the description of the actual suspects (if indeed the men could have been genuinely suspected of having committed an offence or at least one incident that may have formed the basis of an offence of harassment).  It could not have been reasonable to arrest Steven for an offence based on a description of a suspect or suspects that did not correspond to his appearance.  The only feature, it seems, that was broadly similar was the fact that the suspects and Steven were not white as indeed are millions of people in this country. Suggestions about a climate of terrorism/fear about terrorism do not negate the need for every arrest to be founded on reasonable grounds of suspicion.

If it was not reasonable to suspect Steven of having followed the PCSO, even if it had been reasonable to suspect that Steven was following another Officer based on his (entirely innocent) actions, the requisite course of conduct would not have been made out for the purposes of the offence by following that Officer alone.  It would be necessary to show reasonable grounds to establish a course of conduct, which in my opinion could not be shown, because Steven could not have reasonably been suspected to have been involved in following the PSCO.

In the circumstances, Steven’s arrest for harassment was in my opinion entirely unlawful, as was everything that followed afterwards including his degrading strip-search and the search of his home address. This is reflected in the significant damages and legal costs which are now to be paid by the Metropolitan Police in settlement of Steven’s claim.

Conclusion

I believe that it is highly important to pursue claims on behalf of individuals such as Steven as a natural corrective – sometimes the only remedy available – against Police over-reach of their powers of stop search and arrest particularly where the complaint process has failed the victim, as it so often does.

Terrorists commit ghastly, high-profile crimes but the reality is that the percentage of us that they can directly be harmed by their activities is extremely small.  What terrorism is much more effective at doing is creating a disproportionately big climate of fear, whereby, as I am sure is the terrorists intention, they can scare us into harming ourselves and changing the character of our open, liberal, democratic society by swinging towards ‘draconian’ or paranoid policing.  Steven’s arrest and detention was one such over-reaction by the Police, in circumstances heavily tinged with racism, which we must guard against as keenly as we guard against terrorist attacks themselves.

Police abuse of power is a problem which whilst at a much lower-level of wrongdoing is a more pervasive risk and one which could do greater long-term damage to the fabric of our society.

Have you been arrested in your home for a summary only offence?

Traditionally, when someone was accused of a crime, the Police would invariably arrest them, take them into custody and interview them whilst under arrest.

The law has now changed and the police should only arrest if it is considered necessary, so that people who are suspected of committing (in particular) a low level crime are often approached and asked to voluntarily attend to a Police Station for an interview under caution.

Most people when contacted in such circumstances will cooperate with the Police, arrange a date and time and then attend. The alternative is far less attractive; arrest without further notice at any time of day or night.

Notwithstanding this threat, some choose to ‘run the gauntlet’ and risk arrest on the basis that either they’re innocent (and therefore why should they cooperate with a Police enquiry based on false premises) or because they put their head in the sand and hope the issue will go away.

In this scenario, the Police as a general rule don’t give up, but rather double their efforts to locate and arrest the individual (the “necessity to arrest” criteria easily being satisfied when there is a history of non-cooperation/deliberate evasion).

But it’s important to remember that Police powers to enter premises for the purpose of arresting a “wanted” person are specifically restricted to indictable offences only (per Section 17(1)(b) of PACE.)

An indictable offence is an offence that can be tried in the Crown Court (rather than only in the Magistrates Court), such offences are therefore generally more serious.

Thus a potential trap is set for the particular brand of hapless Police Officer who doesn’t give due consideration to the extent of his powers when seeking to arrest an individual wanted for summary only offences who has failed to cooperate with a request to voluntarily attend the Police Station.

A perfect example is a case I’ve just settled against Essex Police.

Stephen and Tom had a fractious relationship with their neighbours Mr and Mrs G that culminated in an incident that occurred one Friday night in May 2018, when Mrs G returned home having walked her dog.  Stephen was outside his house gardening.  Mrs G alleges that when she walked past Stephen, he told her to ‘piss off’.   When challenged as to his behaviour, Stephen allegedly clenched his fists and bared his teeth (causing Mrs G to be frightened and intimidated) and shouted abuse at her.  Upon returning home Mrs G told her husband, who immediately went to confront Stephen.  By this time, Tom came out.  Upon approach, Stephen allegedly lunged towards Mr G swinging his arms, trying to hit him.  Tom then restrained Stephen and Mr G walked away.

Mr and Mrs G then contacted the Police and gave the above account.  Stephen maintains that Mrs G’s allegations as to his behaviour were false.

Officers made concerted efforts to contact Stephen via phone, email and personal visits to his home address over a 2 month period.  Each contact became more and more threatening, the final note suggesting that his vehicle details would be circulated and “Full stop checks required.”

Stephen was adamant that he’d done nothing wrong and refused to be intimidated by what he considered to be Police harassment. Yet further, he did a little homework and established when and where he could potentially be arrested.

Eventually, one Saturday morning  in July 2018, PC Adams and PC Zahir  attended Stephen’s home address when he and Tom were home. To gain entry, the Officers jumped over a locked gate and then knocked on the front door. Tom answered and immediately  advised that the Officers were not welcome, that they should leave and that they were trespassing.  PC Adams explained that he wouldn’t leave until the matter was resolved and asked  Tom if he was Stephen.

Tom questioned the lawful authority of the Officers to be on his premises and PC Adams  specified that this was by virtue of Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 – to arrest for an offence.

Despite Tom making it very clear that he was not prepared to engage with the Officers and that they should leave, PC Adams insisted that they would not leave until the matter was resolved.

By virtue of Tom’s refusal to confirm that he was not Stephen, PC Adams then stated that he was under arrest, as he could not be certain that Tom was not Stephen. Tom was arrested and handcuffed to the front.  At this stage Stephen appeared and it became obvious to the Officers that they’d arrested the wrong man.

Tom was immediately de-arrested and the handcuffs were removed.

As this took place, Stephen retreated to an upstairs bathroom, where he locked himself in.

PC Adams followed and threatened that should Stephen not open the door, he would force entry.

Stephen stated to PC Adams on more than one occasion that the offences he was accused of were summary only offences, (only capable of being tried in the Magistrate’s not Crown Court) hence that Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 did not apply and that he (PC Adams) was a trespasser.

PC Adams rejected Stephen’s representations, maintaining that his presence was perfectly lawful and with that, promptly proceeded to kick the bathroom door open, before affecting Stephen’s arrest and applying handcuffs.

Following his arrest, Stephen continued to insist that Officers were acting unlawfully as trespassers, but PC Adams proceeded regardless.

Stephen was then transported to and detained at his local Police Station.

The arrest details endorsed on the Custody Record clearly demonstrated that both offences under investigation were summary only, specifically harassment and common assault.

The offences of harassment and common assault are always summary only offences.  There was therefore no power for the Officers to enter the premises under section 17 of PACE which is only engaged where the arrest is for an indictable offence.

In the circumstances, I brought a claim for both Stephen and Tom against the Police for trespass, false imprisonment and assault and battery and after negotiation, agreed settlements of £5,000 for Stephen and £2,500 for Tom.

This is yet another example of Police Offices breaking the law by either failing to understand, or flagrantly disregarding the limits of their extensive powers.  As far as summary only offences are concerned, an Englishman’s home remains his castle.

The Police Who Take Advantage of Female Victims of Crime

“Police Officers have got immense power. You know, they can change your life in an instant, by what they believe and what they don’t believe about you. And he made me believe…because of who he was, he impressed upon me that I was a willing party and that I was complicit.” 

“The Police who are abusing their position, sexually and for other motivations, need to be stopped. Police Forces need to be doing more.”

Those are the words of  women who  were interviewed by HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary & Fire and Rescue Services) for their recent report on the subject of abuse of public position for a sexual purpose, entitled “Shining a light on betrayal.” The series of HMICFRS  investigations on this subject, beginning in 2015, have helped this particular category of victims of Police corruption to have a voice which was previously often denied to them; and I am proud to have been able to help many such victims speak out in recent years.

Although progress in rooting out this form of abuse has been made, the report highlighted that some Police Forces in England and Wales have not properly vetted more than half of their Officers and civilian staff, and that this is a major concern given the Government’s proclaimed intention  to find 20,000 new recruits for the Police profession over the next 3 years. Furthermore, several Forces were found to be entirely lacking in software to enable them to monitor how their officers and civilian staff use ICT (information and communication technology) systems. Often, in my experience, abusers working within the Police Force use computer database information, and indeed Police-issued mobile phones and other devices, to target and exploit their victims.

The report quite rightly criticises many Forces for being “far too slow” in combating this devastating form of corruption in public office; a corruption all the more iniquitous as it involves exploiting extremely vulnerable individuals who may not, at least at first, recognise themselves as being victims. One such person amongst my clients, was a woman with severe mental health problems with whom an officer had sex whilst she was receiving treatment in hospital following a suicide attempt.

Shockingly, there is as yet no national requirement to vet Officers who transfer between Forces.  The HMICFRS report expresses “deep concerns” at the amount of Police staff who do not have correct vetting.  This can lead to terrible cases of  exploitation and abuse of highly vulnerable people including, amongst the clients I currently represent, a 13-year-old teenage girl, groomed and raped by an Officer who had visited her family home.

I think it is important to also highlight that abusers are not always Officers, but can include Police staff members employed in scientific, support or administrative roles within the Force. As the NPCC (National Police Chiefs Council) definition makes clear, abuse of position for a sexual purpose encompasses –

“Any behaviour by a police officer or police staff member, whether on or off duty, that takes advantage of their position as a member of the police service to misuse their position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public.”

In light of the above, I was very happy to contribute recently to a documentary on this subject, “Exposure – Predator Police Uncovered”, which is being aired tonight on ITV, and I will conclude this blog by echoing the words of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary – If you are a victim of this form of abuse, or you know someone who is, coming forwards and letting your voice be heard is a vital step towards rooting out this corruption, and the historic Police culture of indifference or ignorance which enabled it to continue for so long.

Electric Shock Therapy? The use of tasers on the mentally unwell

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

As our new Prime Minister Mr Johnson continues to struggle amidst the spider’s web of ‘Brexit’, I have noted how his Government is striving to establish a firm footing on the more straightforward domestic political landscape by pitching itself, after years of Conservative led underinvestment in the Police, as Britain’s ‘Pro-Police Party’.

I am sure we can all recall Mr Johnson’s recent speech at a Police Training Centre in Wakefield, in the aftermath of which he was heavily criticized for appearing to use Police Officers as background ‘props’ to a nakedly political speech in which he lashed out at his enemies and made bizarre comments about dying in a ditch.

This however, is one of the frontispieces of the new Conservative policy; to win back voters by disavowing the politics of ‘austerity’ and replacing the tens of thousands of Officers who were let go under the Cameron and May Governments.

The other frontispiece of that policy it would seem, as recently reported in the Guardian, will be an outlay of £10 million to arm up to 10,000 more Police Officers with the electric ‘Stun’ guns known as Tasers.

Although this announcement was applauded by the Police Federation, Senior Officers represented by the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) have sounded strong notes of caution.

An NPCC source quoted by the Guardian made the following comments:-

It damages policing by consent.  It is not a safe option, it is a less lethal weapon and is still classed as a firearm. Most Chiefs don’t want every Officer to have one.  It should be done after an assessment of risk.  We can think of better things to spend £10 million on.  We don’t welcome it.

Whilst Home Secretary Priti Patel plays on the highly emotive issue of Police Officers being seriously injured in the line of duty, to justify what she obviously hopes will be a vote winning image of a ‘dramatic’ increase in the number of taser wielding Officers,  I believe she should be less interested in sound bites and perhaps more interested in listening to what the most Senior and experienced Officers appear to actually be telling her.

Although fears of fatalities as a result of taser use are in my view overblown, there is no doubt that it is a weapon of extreme violence, designed to electrocute its victim into submission and is far, far above being merely akin to “Just putting your hands on someone…you can have a laugh about it afterwards” as one Taser- happy Officer memorably said to his Professional Standards Department in a case I was involved in some years ago.

It is also of grave concern that tasers are undoubtedly used disproportionality against non-white people and people with mental health issues.

I note that one Chief Constable, at least, appears to have expressed concern to the Guardian about officers drawing their tasers immediately when dealing with situations when the weapons were not required, thereby reducing the chances of a peaceful resolution and instead escalating the situation and the risk of harm to both Officers and the person they are confronting – who, let us not forget – could well be an entirely innocent individual or a very vulnerable person with a mental illness or disability.

That concept of ‘escalation’, and of changing the way that Officers police the streets of Britain, by moving closer to an American model of Officers approaching every situation from a traffic stop upwards, with a hand on their holster, is also a major concern.

Really dangerous criminals, may feel that they are in an “arm’s race” with the Police, and knowing that more Officers have got tasers, equip themselves with even more lethal firearms.

Fortunately of course, those sort of individuals are relatively few and far between.  The number of homicides (murder and manslaughter) occurring each year in our Country, with its population of almost 70,000,000 individuals is rarely higher than 700. This is thankfully not at all comparable to the number of murders in the US, where firearm wielding cops are ubiquitous, and which in 2017 exceeded 17,000 according to FBI figures.

The real risk posed by increased taser use by the Police, in my opinion, is not fatal violence but an increase in incidents of non- fatal but nevertheless very serious assaults which risk inflicting long term physical and mental damage on the health of individuals in situations which could very possibly have been resolved peacefully, had Officers, who in my opinion are sometimes demonstrably lacking the appropriate training and experience, not escalated the situation by going straight for their taser guns.

I think a perfect example of this, is the recent case of one of my clients, who I will identify by the pseudonym of Howard.

This case is a practical example of some of those very concerns that were being expressed to the Guardian by members of the NPCC, in terms of Officers pulling out their tasers far before other non- or less- violent attempts to resolve the situation had been exhausted, and also about the disproportionate use of tasers upon individuals with mental health problems.

Experience has taught me that a lot of Officers on receiving information that an individual with whom they have to deal has mental health problems, automatically seem to go into some kind of panic mode and think that the individual they are confronting is a Hannibal Lecter- type psychopath, instead of seeing them as ordinary individuals, suffering from an illness, or just at a low point in their lives, who need to be met with reason and compassion, not anger and electrocution.

My client Howard, a man of good character, was one such individual going through a low point in his life in December 2018 when he sent a text message to his mother which could be interpreted as an indication that he was going to commit suicide by taking an overdose of pills.

Howard fully accepts that he sent this message in a moment of crisis when he was feeling extremely depressed, but without any real intention of killing himself.

Some time later on the same day, Howard set off to drive to his father’s house to talk about his problems.  En route he stopped off at a Service Station.

Parking his car on the forecourt of the petrol station, Howard went into the shop to purchase a sandwich.  His behaviour at this point (captured on CCTV camera) was entirely normal.

Unbeknownst to Howard, his mother had on receipt of his earlier text message, reported concerns about him to the Police to the effect that he was classed as a ‘high risk’ missing person because of the ‘suicidal message’ that he had sent to his mother and because she had subsequently been unable to get in contact with him.

There was no suggestion in the report made to the Police that Howard was a danger to anyone other than himself, and once his whereabouts had been established, and he was no longer a missing person, it is my view Howard should have been allowed to go about his business as he intended that day.

That is unfortunately not what unfolded when 2 Police Officers who I will identify as PC Oscar and PC George arrived at the Service Station, having been alerted to the presence of Howard’s motor car there by ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras.

PC Oscar approached Howard inside the shop, and enquired as to how he was, to which Howard, not aware that the Police were looking for him, and somewhat confused by the Officer’s questioning, replied that he was “Okay”.

The Officer informed Howard that he was not under arrest, but the Officer would like to talk to him further, although he did not provide any details about what was to be discussed.

Still confused as to the Officer’s purpose, Howard replied that if he was not under arrest he didn’t feel he had any duty to speak to the Officer and wanted to leave in order to go about his business.

Howard then walked out of the shop intending to return to his car and resume his journey to his father’s house.

At this point PC Oscar had not explained to Howard that there were any concerns about his mental health, or that the Officers wanted him to accompany them to a Mental Health Hospital for assessment, which was in fact their intention.

Clearly, it was not possible for Howard to cooperate with the Officers when he was not being told what they wanted.

Unfortunately, rather than attempting to explain why he wanted Howard to talk to him, PC Oscar now followed him out of the shop and attempted to grab him from behind without warning.

Howard, understandably alarmed, backed away from PC Oscar’s assault, and now became aware of PC George, who had been outside the shop, approaching him with a raised taser gun trained upon Howard.

All of these events were captured on the CCTV cameras at the Service Station, and to my mind it is quite shocking that PC George’s first response on seeing Howard was to immediately point a weapon at him.  I think this is exactly the sort of unnecessary escalation of a situation which Senior Officers in the NPCC are concerned about.

Let us not forget that Howard was not wanted on suspicion of any criminal offence, and nor was there any suggestion that he was ‘dangerous’.

The Officers’ job was to check on Howard’s welfare, but rather than explaining why they wanted to speak to him, instead PC Oscar attempted to grab hold of Howard from behind and then PC George then ‘red dotted’ Howard with a taser gun.

In response to this totally unnecessary and bewildering aggression, Howard then adopted a defensive stance with his arms raised to try to shield himself.  He appealed to PC George to lower the taser gun, but the Officer refused to do so.

Howard then began to back away but was pursued by PC George and when Howard had to stop because he could go no further (his retreat was blocked by a wall) PC George then tasered him.

To the Officer’s evident alarm however, the tasering did not work.   Howard was able to swipe away the wires attached to the taser barbs and thereby avoided the full force of the electric shock which PC George was attempting to administer to him.

Howard now attempted to escape from the two Officers, but they closed in around him and beat him into submission on the ground with a combination of blows from their batons, PAVA anti- personnel spray and further use of taser, including the technique known as ‘dry stunning’ where the taser is pressed directly against a person’s skin and then discharged (in this case, directly into Howard’s neck).

As the Officers, neither of whom were injured themselves, overpowered Howard and forced him to the ground, one of them shouted at Howard “We’re here to help you”.

After Howard was left incapacitated on the ground, having been repeatedly tasered and beaten, the Officers then administered further ‘help’ to him by tightly handcuffing his hands behind his back.

Only now did one of the Officers offer some sort of belated explanation that they were detaining Howard under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

Howard was crying in pain and felt close to blacking out.

Other Police Officers now arrived at the scene and Howard was escorted to a Police van, locked in the cage section at the back of the van and taken to hospital.

It had apparently been the initial intention of the Officers to get Howard to go to a Mental Health Hospital for an assessment of his supposedly suicidal frame of mind (although of course, they had not even attempted to explain this to him before ‘jumping’ him).

Now however, because of the multiple injuries he had sustained at the hands of PCs Oscar and George, it was deemed necessary for Howard not to be taken to a Mental Health Hospital, but first of all to A&E for immediate treatment.

Howard was led into the local A&E Department, still in handcuffs. He felt ashamed and humiliated, being in effect paraded as a prisoner.  Howard knew that everyone who looked at him would assume he had committed some kind of serious criminal offence.  Is this how the Police should be helping a non- violent man suffering from depression?

After undergoing x-rays (which revealed that the Officers had fractured Howard’s left hand) Howard was returned to the Police van (thankfully this time not in handcuffs) and taken to a local Mental Health Hospital, where following an assessment he was immediately released, the Staff there having no concerns as to his mental state.

It now appears very likely however that Howard has suffered psychiatric injuries as a result of what PCs Oscar and George did to him, on top of his multiple physical injuries.

All of this arose as a result of what was in my view, a catastrophic error of judgement on the part of PC George.  The tactic the Officers should have been deploying in this situation was effective explanation and communication.   It is likely that if they had done so, violence could have been avoided completely.  However, PC George clearly panicked and because he had a taser available then escalated the situation into one in which the Officers were going to end up hospitalising the man whose welfare they had been sent to ensure.

I am currently advising Howard in relation to pursuing a civil claim against the Police.

Sadly, I think that incidents like this, involving unnecessary taser use, the enflaming of otherwise peaceful situations and serious injury being inflicted to a person believed to be mentally unwell (and who was not a criminal suspect at all) are only likely to increase when Government efforts to rush more Police Officers onto our streets, coincide with an initiative whose primary function appears to be to win the Conservative Party more votes, and put thousands of taser guns into the hands of those inexperienced new Officers.

The final comment I want to pass in regards to this case at the present time, is in relation to the complaint which Howard has already pursued with the Police Force’s Professional Standards Department.

The outcome of that complaint was a ‘whitewash’ which purported to completely exonerate PCs Oscar and George from any wrongdoing and instead to turn all the blame upon Howard.

I was particularly disappointed to read a comment in the Report from the Investigating Officer stating that Howard “needs to take responsibility for his actions” inferring that because he had gone ‘missing’ and had sent a ‘suicidal’ message to his mother, he was responsible for everything that then unfolded.

Clearly that is not the case, and even more so when you consider that Howard was not just an innocent individual but an individual whom the Officers believed to be mentally unwell; the very definition that would justify the Officers detaining Howard so as to present him for assessment at a Mental Health Hospital, would mean that he was not of sound mind and therefore couldn’t be held to account for his actions.

It is strange indeed, that the PSD should seek to defend their Officers from Howard’s (in my view valid) complaint on the basis that he was at the same time incapable of making decisions for himself, and also morally responsible for those decisions.

Clearly that does not add up, and I can only again express my disappointment that the Police did not take the opportunity of Howard’s legitimate complaint to ask serious questions about the deployment and use of taser weapons by their Officers on this occasion and to take the opportunity to give PC George, in particular, appropriate advice and training to try to avoid this sort of situation occurring again.

Instead, PSD appear to have given PC George and his colleague a pat on the back, and rather than learning appropriate lessons from this event, are instead exposing other vulnerable individuals, who may come into the path of taser- wielding Officers with jumpy trigger fingers, to risk of even more serious injury, both physical and mental.

Consenting Adults? Police Officers Exploiting Female Victims of Crime

In a previous blog on the issue of sexual misconduct by Police Officers I expressed concern about those women who don’t come forward and actively report their abuser.  I cited various reasons as to why women may not speak out  including low self-esteem, shame, denial and a general feeling of hopelessness and helplessness as well as a fear of the consequences.

On reflection, there is yet another factor; that of ignorance.  Sometimes the victim of Police sexual exploitation may not realise that they have been exploited or  may think that because they ‘consented’, they are barred from taking action.  I am talking here of victims who have unwittingly been exploited and groomed by a Police Officer and who have actively consented in sexual relations and only weeks, months or years later realised that they were taken advantage of.

Two such victims whom I have represented,  were Clare and Yvonne both of whom I have posted about previously (here and here). Both women

  • had been the victim of domestic abuse by their husband/long-time partner and were therefore vulnerable individuals.
  • were targeted by male Police Officers who were responsible for investigating the domestic abuse and for taking action and providing support to them.
  • were initially charmed and flattered, and responded to the apparent care, concern and attention  of these ”White Knights” who had been sent to protect them and who had all the power, prestige and trustworthiness of the Police profession behind them.
  • voluntarily entered in to a sexual relationship  with these male officers only to realise in time that they were being exploited for the Officer’s own sexual gratification.

Clare and Yvonne  only came to fully realise that they had been groomed and exploited upon contact from a representative  of the Force’s Professional Standards Department that was investigating these officers for trying to instigate or being in a relationship with other female victims of crime and it was only then, that both women realised that they could pursue a claim for compensation.

The impact on both women of this “sexploitation” was that they developed low self-esteem, lack of confidence, loss of trust and emotional pain. The callous behaviour of the Officers towards each of them, had compounded the psychological hurt already inflicted by their previous abusive partners.

I am pleased to report that both Clare and Yvonne either have, or will recover, substantial compensation which in part will fund the cost of therapy.

Over the past year, I have been helping both a radio and television production company who are making programmes to expose the sexual misconduct of serving Police Officers, and I very much hope these projects will raise people’s awareness of this scandal.  In the 3 years to March 2019, IOPC received no less than 415 referrals from all Forces for cases involving abuse for a sexual purpose; we well can imagine the number of cases which went unreported, for some of the reasons I have highlighted above.

I currently act for numerous female victims of police exploitation and invite you to contact me via this website if you would like confidential  and expert advice in relation to your legal rights, if you have suffered in this way from the predatory behaviour of an Officer.

 

A Death In Custody : Police Negligence ?

There has been a considerable furore in the news media this morning regarding our new Prime Minister’s somewhat rambling speech about Brexit, delivered during his visit to a police training centre in Wakefield. Mr Johnson, who appears to think he has “The Churchill Factor” (as per the title of his biography of Britain’s most famous PM) certainly didn’t display it yesterday, in my opinion; whereas Winston said that he would ‘fight them on the beaches’, Boris, it seems, would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’…

 

Seeing Mr Johnson delivering that odd remark, whilst standing in front of massed ranks of Police officers, put me in mind of the distressing fate which did indeed befall Mr Patrick Maughan, whose family I acted for in a recent inquest.

 

Mr Maughan, who had a pre-existing history of epilepsy, alcoholism and early onset dementia and cognitive impairment from a brain injury sustained in 2008, was arrested by Officers of Norfolk Constabulary on 22 July 2018, on suspicion of a low-level offence of drunk & disorderly behaviour. He was taken to the Kings Lynn Police Investigation Centre (PIC) and detained there overnight. On being ‘booked in’ Mr Maughan informed the Police that he suffered from fits on alcohol withdrawal.

 

On 23 July, Mr Maughan was released from custody and never heard from again; on 24 July his body was discovered in a steep, water-filled ditch close to the PIC. An investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) established that shortly following his release from custody on the morning of 23 July at 11.22 am, Mr Maughan became unwell and disorientated and that at 12.03 pm he fell from the grassy bank next to the bus stop adjacent to the PIC, into the ditch below, and tragically drowned shortly afterwards.

 

The Officer with responsibility for Mr Maughan’s welfare at the time of his release was the Custody Sergeant. The IOPC report raises concerns about the Sergeant’s decision to release Mr Maughan to make his way home alone and unaided, in an isolated and unfamiliar environment, despite the fact that the Sergeant was aware, or should have been aware, that Mr Maughan experienced fits following alcohol withdrawal, was an epileptic, and had not had access to his epilepsy medication. Furthermore, the Sergeant appears to have overlooked, or ignored, a clear entry in the Police National Computer (PNC) records for Mr Maughan stating that he suffered from ‘blackouts’. Mr Maughan himself, prior to his release from custody, had expressed anxiety that he had not had his usual epilepsy medication.

 

Nevertheless, the IOPC concluded, the Custody Sergeant did not ask Mr Maughan pertinent questions regarding any of these issues prior to his release, nor did the Sergeant consult with a Health Care Professional. During his subsequent Misconduct interview in November 2018, the Sergeant made the following comments regarding Mr Maughan which I consider to demonstrate a quite callous lack of concern towards him –

 

“If he’s able to go and get drunk and disorderly then, and he’s able to walk to the bus stop, then clearly what’s stopping him walking into town?”

 

It appears that at the time of his pre-release assessment, Mr Maughan was slurring his speech, but the Sergeant interpreted this as being part of Patrick’s “Irish brogue”.

 

The immediate surrounds of the Kings Lynn PIC are an isolated environment in which there are numerous water filled ditches  and deep ponds which present risk to life and limb for vulnerable individuals. Mr Maughan’s only practical way of returning home that day was to use a bus, but at the time he was released, the next bus was not due for almost an hour. His last moments were caught on the CCTV camera of a nearby Agricultural warehouse (one of the few buildings in the vicinity). Patrick can be seen standing on the grassy bank next to the bus stop before wobbling forwards and backwards and falling over into the ditch. When his body was found the next day at the bottom of the ditch, his head and the upper half of his body were submerged in water.

 

The subsequent post- mortem report prepared for the coroner, remarked that the cause of Mr Maughan’s collapse was uncertain but highlighted the following issues –

 

  • Abnormalities in Mr Maughan’s heart could have caused a blackout
  • Mr Maughan was prescribed Epilim for his epilepsy. He was not given any of this medication whilst he was in Police custody.

 

Following on from the IOPC report, the matters highlighted above lead to a Misconduct Meeting in April 2019, at which the Custody Sergeant was found guilty of misconduct, and sanctioned with management action i.e re-training.

 

This is obviously a very sad case, in which it seems to me that numerous opportunities were missed to save Patrick’s life; in my opinion, given the medical issues which the Custody Sergeant was aware of, he should have known that it was unsafe to allow Mr Maughan to make his way home unaccompanied and/or arranged for Mr Maughan to see a doctor prior to his release from custody (who could have given him epilepsy medication). The Sergeant could also have consulted with Mr Maughan’s Social Worker. In fact, Patrick’s Social Worker was contacted by a Liaison and Diversity officer based in the PIC, who had also reviewed him prior to release. The Social Worker highlighted grave concerns about Mr Maughan’s ability to make his way home independently and the Liaison officer passed this information on to the Custody Sergeant with a request that the Officer go after Patrick, and bring him back to the safety of the PIC. Unfortunately, the Sergeant did not go out looking for Patrick until after he had collapsed into the ditch, and the officer returned to the PIC assuming that his former detainee had caught the bus.

 

In light of the above, I am now advising Mr Maughan’s sister in relation to her right to bring a claim for negligence and/or unlawful death contrary to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, against Norfolk Constabulary.

 

Our Prime Minister is a wealthy and privileged individual who, despite his histrionic language, is highly unlikely to meet his end in a dirty, water-filled ditch; sadly, many other members of our society are much more vulnerable, and it precisely those individuals, beset by chronic health issues and cognitive and social problems, who deserve the highest standards of care from our  Police Force. I do not believe that is what Mr Maughan received.

Police Misconduct Results In £40,000 Pay Out To My Client

 

Notwithstanding my long standing belief in societal progress in terms of equality and transparency,  it remains the case that the Police disciplinary system is inherently biased in favour of the Police; in fact I would go as far as to say that the unwritten mission statement of most Professional Standards Departments is not to root out, but rather to protect corrupt Officers and to make excuses for Police misbehaviour. Certainly this seems to be the practical result of most Police Complaint investigations that I have witnessed. So it was the case for my client, Richard Roberts who recently settled his case against Dyfd-Powys Police.

 

Richard brought claims against the police  for assault, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office following an incident that occurred on 21 January 2016. The police have just agreed to a settlement of £40,000 in damages, plus legal costs. Read press coverage about it here.

 

On the afternoon of 21 January 2016, Richard returned home in his vehicle with his partner and two step children and parked up outside. As he alighted, he noticed his neighbour’s wife Tracey, who was driving her car, reverse and hit a wheelie bin that he had left out earlier that day, causing it to fall over. Richard picked up the bin and wheeled it back towards his home.  As he did so, Tracey was verbally abusive towards him.

 

In light of Tracey’s behaviour, Richard and his partner then attended Milford Haven Police Station to report matters.  At the police station, he was advised that the police were aware of the incident, to return home and that an officer would call in later to discuss matters.

 

Richard and his partner duly returned home. Upon their return, Tony (Tracey’s husband) was standing on his door step shouting abuse at Richard, which he ignored. Tony then proceeded at pace towards Richard and pushed him in the chest using both outstretched hands, causing Richard to fall backwards.  He managed to get back up and turn away.

 

Tony then shouted at Richard, “Come on”, inviting him to fight.  Richard moved towards his front door ushering his partner and step-daughter inside. Tony then punched Richard several times and finally pushed Richard with both outstretched hands on his back causing him to fall onto his partner and step-daughter.

 

Richard managed to stand and turn around. Tony again shouted, “Fight back, come on”. Richard shut and locked his front door and helped his step-daughter to her feet and into the lounge. At this stage, she was heavily pregnant and was complaining of abdominal pains.

 

In the circumstances, Richard called 999 to request that both the Police and Ambulance attend.

 

From an internal CCTV monitor in his house, Richard then saw Tony pick up a plant pot and throw it at the windscreen of  Richard’s car. Tony then picked up a large pebble off the lawn. Tracy then grabbed Tony and shouted “Get inside, he’s not worth it”.

 

By this time, neighbours had congregated and were watching events.

 

Tony and Tracey’s daughter Morgana then approached Richard’s front garden and kicked over another garden pot.  Tracey also then shouted to Morgana to get inside.

 

At this time, emergency sirens could be heard.  Tony shouted towards the premises, “Call your bodyguards then?” and “You won’t be there for long”.  Tony then returned inside his own house as did Tracey and Morgana.

 

Realising the police were to attend shortly, Richard immediately saved the relevant CCTV footage on to a pen drive so as to pass this to the police.

 

Just after 16.00, a marked police vehicle pulled up outside Richard’s house and two officers, now known to be PC Norman and PC Goy alighted.

 

Richard  came out of his house and walked over to his car to inspect the damage.

 

Tony also came out of his house and, in effect admitting what he had done, said  “You’d better put me in the back of your car”.  He was arrested by PC Goy.

 

Richard remarked to the officer, “Yeah, you’d better” and “I want him arrested for assault, I’ve got it on camera”.

 

Tracey then emerged and shouted to Richard, “You tried to abuse my daughter”.  He replied, “Did I? Let’s see what the CCTV says because it has audio”.

 

PC Goy remained with Tony. PC Norman approached Morgana as did Richard.  Morgana then sought to attack Richard, threatening  to ‘kill’ him, but was held back by PC Norman.

 

Richard returned to his house whilst Tony was escorted to the police vehicle.

 

After a short while, Richard returned outside to have a cigarette on his front doorstep.

 

PC Norman told Richard to return inside, to which he replied that he was having a cigarette outside because he didn’t smoke in the house.

 

PC Norman then went into Tony’s house and after a short period of time, re-emerged.

 

Having finished smoking his cigarette, Richard then briefly inspected the damage to his car. PC Norman then approached Richard and advised him that he was under arrest.  Richard asked what for, to which PC Norman said “a Public Order offence”.

 

Richard knew that events had been recorded on his house CCTV system and immediately invited PC Norman to view the footage which he knew would exonerate him. In fact, PC Norman had previously attended the premises and viewed CCTV footage of another incident . On this occasion however, PC Norman refused.  Richard said, “I’ve just been assaulted by that prick (i.e. Tony) and he’s done that to my car and now I’m being arrested?  How pathetic”.

 

Richard was then handcuffed to the front and as he was escorted towards the second police vehicle his partner said that she would get a copy of the footage for the police.

 

Richard was then driven to Haverford West Police Station.  At this time, he knew that paramedics had arrived to attend to his pregnant step-daughter but did not know of her condition or progress. She was subsequently taken to hospital.

 

Richard was outraged by the fact and circumstances of his arrest.

 

According to the custody record, Richard was arrested for a S4 Public Order Act offence and the circumstances of arrest were said to be that:

 

Officers had been called … in relation to a disturbance. Upon Police arrival all was quiet so the Officer spoke to the caller. The DP then came out of his house and was shouting abuse on more than one occasion. When IP spoken to it was established that the caller had knocked over a wheelie bin belonging to the DP at which point the DP came out and directed abuse at her and her family. Code G to prevent injury to others and prevent further offences against public decency as DP shouting abuse in the street…..

 

Richard was obliged to provide his personal details and confirm details of his health/medication. Richard’s handcuffs were removed and he was then searched. He was asked how he felt and he replied, (understandably)  “Pissed off” and maintained to custody staff that he had been “wrongfully arrested”.  It was noted that he had injuries following the assault by Tony and arrangements were made for him to see a Doctor.  Richard was then placed into a cell.

 

Following Richard’s arrest, PC Norman prepared a witness statement detailing events  earlier that afternoon, and justifying the decision  to arrest Richard.  That statement, in particular, falsely alleged that Richard was shouting, screaming, swearing and using foul language.

 

The video and audio on Richard’s CCTV footage indisputably exposes the following extracts from PC Norman’s statement as false. Richard firmly believes that these extracts were deliberate fabrications by the Officer:

 

  1. “Roberts was being extremely abusive, shouting and screaming loudly in the street in my direction and the direction of [Tracey, Tony & Morgana]” (He was not screaming or abusive).

 

  1. “I heard Roberts shouting a torrent of abuse, it sounded like every other word was either “Fucking Nonce”, “Fucking Arsehole”, “cunts” (Whilst Richard did make some comments, he did not swear and was not abusive).

 

  1. “I still heard Roberts shouting and swearing in our direction”. (He did not shout or swear).

 

  1. “Roberts shouted ‘I’m standing on my own fucking doorstep and having a fucking fag, I don’t smoke in the fucking house” (He did not swear).

 

  1. “I then heard Roberts before I saw him, shouting and screaming from his home address” (He did not shout or scream).

 

  1. “You’re fucking arresting me, I was the one who’s been assaulted?” (He did not swear).

 

  1. “They’re fucking arresting me for Public Order and I was the one who’s been fucking assaulted, its fucking pathetic” (He did not swear).

 

At 20.30h the custody record states:

 

Insp A Millichip has contacted Custody and states that the incident involves many parties on the estate and therefore there are many persons to be interviewed as witnesses, thereafter possible further arrests and offences to be investigated connected and involving the DP.  Therefore Insp Millichip informs Custody that those enquiries will be conducted as quickly as they can but interviews not likely until tomorrow morning.  DPS Solicitor has been updated and briefed accordingly.  FME [Force Medical Examiner] has been informed and will conduct his assessment around the expected detention parameters. FME report awaited.

 

At 20.30h Richard was allowed to call home to check on his step-daughter’s welfare.  Unfortunately there was no answer, which only increased his concern for her welfare in light of events earlier in the day.

 

Subsequently, Richard was obliged to provide his fingerprints, DNA sample and shoe print and to be photographed.

 

At 22.02h Richard was advised that he was to be kept in overnight.  He was furious at this and demanded to see a representative of the Force Professional Standards Department and an Inspector, adamant that he was wholly innocent and that his arrest was unlawful.

 

In part his frustration was caused by concern for his step-daughter. Finally at approximately 22.44h Richard was advised that she had been released from hospital and that both she and the baby were “Ok”.

 

At 23.46h on 21 January 2016 Richard’s detention was reviewed by Inspector Hoad who recorded that:

 

NOT Reminded of right to free legal advice.  Continued detention is authorised as I have reasonable grounds to believe that it (sic) necessary in order to To (sic) allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question obtain evidence by questioning.  The grounds are the detained person has been arrested on suspicion of Section 4 Public Order.  I am satisfied that enquiries are being carried out diligently and expeditiously and the DP will be interviewed in due course.  The investigating officers have a number of enquiries and statements to obtain. The detained person has Solicitors representing him.  The DP is currently asleep and will not be woken for the purposes of this review.  Detention continues to be lawful, necessary and proportionate.  Review carried out in person by Inspector Hoad.

 

At 09.59h on 22 January 2016 Richard’s detention was reviewed once again. Inspector Davies recorded that “the DP states that he was assaulted by the other party in the incident, and was then arrested for something he hasn’t done…”

 

Nevertheless, Richard’s continued detention was authorised.

 

Between 12.21h and 12.31h on 22 January 2016 Richard was interviewed.  His solicitor was in attendance.  During the interview, Richard denied any wrongdoing and robustly asserted that “CCTV will prove it”. At the conclusion of the interview, Richard was told that he would be released shortly.

 

At 14.37h PC Jelley recorded that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a s4A Public Order offence and that instead, Richard was to be charged with breaching s5 “in due course” and in fact, at 15.29h Richard was charged with breaching s5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and bailed to attend the local Magistrates’ Court on 9 February 2016. This, according to PC Talboys, was on the basis of CPS advice.

 

On 24 January 2016 Richard. was contacted by PS Dunn who came to his home to view the relevant CCTV footage. PS Dunn took a copy of the footage.

 

On 25 January 2016 Richard was contacted by PS Harrison of the Professional Standards Department who advised that she had viewed the relevant CCTV footage and encouraged Richard to lodge a formal complaint against PC Norman, which he did.

 

On 26 January 2016 Richard was visited by PC Dunn who confirmed that criminal proceedings against him were discontinued.

 

PC Norman was subsequently arrested for perverting the course of justice. i.e. on the basis of the contents of his witness statement about Richard.

 

Following investigation, Richard was advised in July 2016 that PC Norman was to be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. Richard was obliged to attend trial on two separate occasions and give evidence. On 18 May 2017 PC Norman was, despite the weight of evidence, acquitted.

 

PC Norman subsequently faced Police misconduct proceedings.  Following review, PC Norman was found guilty of misconduct but was only issued with a final written warning rather than being dismissed.  Eventually, in December 2017, Richard received an investigation report confirming the outcome of his complaint against PC Norman.

 

This is a case in which there was clear video evidence suggesting that PC Norman lied in an attempt to frame my client for a Public Order offence.

 

It is highly disappointing that despite the weight of this evidence, PC Norman was ultimately acquitted of perverting the course of justice.

 

Although the Police professional standards investigation found him guilty of misconduct, he was, remarkably, only issued with a final written warning rather than being dismissed from the Force, which in my opinion was the sanction his misconduct merited.

 

I am saddened, but not surprised, that Mr Roberts’ valid complaint against PC Norman had such an unsatisfactory outcome.

 

I believe that the Police culture of protecting Officers from complaints, rather than carrying out properly impartial investigations, is what leads Officers such as PC Norman to behave with such apparent impunity and flagrant disregard for the very laws they are supposed to be upholding.

 

Ultimately, Richard Roberts was failed by both the criminal justice system and the Police complaints process – which gave the Officer a slap on the wrist, but allowed him to continue in his job.  Therefore  I am very satisfied to have  now secured a substantial settlement for Richard through the Civil courts, which goes some way to resetting the scales of justice in this matter.

 

 

 

Beware MOJ’s tactics to reduce access to justice

It’s imperative that prisoners should not be deterred from claiming compensation arising from sentence miscalculation notwithstanding tactics employed by the MOJ’s solicitors at the Government Legal Department. In my experience, errors can frequently be made, leading to people spending days longer in custody that they should do. Whilst it is right that those who have committed offences should ‘serve their time’. It is equally right that once that time is up, their liberty be restored to them.

The MOJ are now as a matter of policy arguing that sentence miscalculation claims should be allocated to the small claims track of the County Court.

The small claims track is intended to provide a proportionate procedure by which straightforward claims of not more than £10,000 in value can be decided and where legal fees are not recoverable. This then effectively prevents a private individual from instructing a lawyer, as they will not be able to recover the cost of the lawyer’s fees even if they are successful. Legal Aid is also unavailable.

Allocation to the small claims Court represents a massive cost saving for the MOJ; not only do they avoid paying legal fees but the policy has a deflationary effect upon damages recovered in that Claimants will be put off making a claim because they will have to do so without a lawyer, it encourages Claimants to undervalue their claims and accept offers that are too low and therefore significantly affects access to justice for what is a wrongdoing of clear constitutional importance. Meanwhile, with the Claimant ‘at their mercy’ as a party without legal representation, the MOJ itself has all the financial and professional resources of a government department and will of course send its own team of lawyers from the GLD to Court, irrespective of the cost.

The MOJ’s central argument is that a person imprisoned without lawful authority is entitled to compensation irrespective of any question of fault. On that basis, the MOJ argues that such claims are not complicated and don’t require legal representation. The MOJ relies on the Evans (No.2) [1999] Q.B. 1043 decision which suggested a daily rate for false imprisonment at just under £100 back in 1989 (albeit now updated for inflation). However, there is a wide range of other cases which suggest that damages in such cases should be counted in not merely hundreds, but thousands of pounds.

The MOJ argument fails to take into consideration that there is a second element to an award of damages for false imprisonment, that of injury to feelings.

In most claims for sentence miscalculation, the individual Claimant knows full well that he is being wrongly detained and his protests to prison staff are often neglected or ignored. Often this state of knowledge or level of mental suffering is disputed and it’s in these cases that legal representation is crucial; to make these arguments, to challenge the MOJ in cross examination and to ensure a fair award of compensation by reference to extensive case law.

In a recent case for sentence miscalculation that I handled, the MOJ disputed the Claimant’s state of knowledge/efforts to complain by relying upon a 42 page rebuttal statement from a prison official with 8 exhibits spread over 37 pages (which included the Claimant’s external movements, custodial warrant, transfer report, email correspondence, phone record, complaint history, cell history and release paperwork), sought to call that witness by video link and instructed specialist London Counsel who in advance of the final hearing served a 12 page Skeleton Argument and a 309 page Authority Bundle comprising 11 different judicial decisions.

Prisoners who have suffered false imprisonment by sentence miscalculation should push for the maximum level of compensation that they are entitled to utilising specialist solicitors and not being cowed by MOJ tactics.

A wide range of damages are awardable in false imprisonment claims, dependent on a number of evidential factors, relevant case law and the arguments advanced by the lawyers for each party. The MOJ know full well that those Claimants who are represented by solicitors get more money, hence their cynical policy of trying to push these claims into the Small Claims Court, so as to deprive Claimants of legal representation. I know how to defeat these tactics and ensure that my clients get the maximum compensation available.

Passport to Prison? Unlawful Arrests In The Airport

It’s holiday season and many will be travelling abroad and as such will need to pass through Passport Control at our ports and airports.  This then is a great opportunity for the Police to arrest those identified on the Police National Computer as “wanted”, whether because they are suspected to be involved in a reported criminal offence or because there is an outstanding warrant for their arrest for failure to attend Court.

But what happens when that “wanted” marker has been erroneously added to an individual’s details so that the arrest is a mistake?

In the first instance, the arrest is probably technically lawful because the arresting officer, in relying upon the PNC marker had the necessary reasonable suspicion to arrest.

So, instead, it is necessary to bring an alternative claim in negligence, or under the Human Rights Act, or Data Protection Act. Such claims can be brought when a lawful arrest has been directly caused by an earlier breach of an individual’s rights, either as enshrined in Statute or Common Law.

Sometimes the individual arrested has, by unfortunate coincidence, the same name as the real offender, in which circumstances it seems mistakes can too easily occur.

Take for example my client David Farrington. David was at the London City Airport in September.  He was booked on a British Airways flight to Amsterdam, where he was scheduled to meet his girlfriend.

As he proceeded to board the aircraft, he was stopped and detained by four Police Officers from the Metropolitan Police.

He was advised that he was under arrest as a result of an outstanding warrant issued by Lewes Crown Court in August for failing to appear in respect of breach proceedings linked to the imposition of a community order.

David immediately made it clear to the Officers that he had no knowledge of the warrant and that they had the wrong man.

Despite his protestations he was handcuffed and removed from the airport in the presence of fellow holiday makers and airport staff, a humiliating experience.

He was later transferred into custody at Barking and Dagenham Custody Centre.

Following his arrival into Police custody, David was able to notify his parents that he was under arrest.

David’s parents immediately set off on a lengthy journey to Lewes Crown Court in an attempt to understand on what basis David had been wrongly identified as the subject of the warrant.

Upon their arrival at Court, they established that the only information which had been contained on the warrant was the name, date of birth and address of the wanted man.

The real offender bore a similar, but not identical, name to David: the offender was David Farrington, whereas my client was David Charles Farrington.

David’s parents were able to demonstrate, by the production of identification, that the offender was not their son.

Following investigation, it transpired that details of the warrant had been entered onto the Police National Computer (PNC) by Sussex Police. Sadly, David’s personal details, as opposed to the actual offender, were entered onto the system.

Eventually, Sussex Police were able to furnish the Metropolitan Police with a photograph of the real offender, together with details of his fingerprints.

Neither the custody photograph, fingerprints nor the described physical features of the actual offender corresponded to David, and after 8 and a half hours, he was finally released from Police custody.

I pursued a claim on behalf of David and he recovered £6,000 in compensation plus his legal fees.

Sometimes, the arrested individual does not share the same name and his association with the real suspect is a mystery.  Take Stephen Dami.  In July, he was scheduled to fly with Ryanair from Stanstead Airport to Ibiza for a lad’s holiday.  He proceeded through check in, security and the boarding gates and was ready to board his flight when armed police approached him.

He was requested to provide his passport. Upon production, he was advised that he was under arrest in respect of an outstanding warrant that had been issued in May.

Stephen had no knowledge of the offence referred to by the officers, but despite protesting his innocence, he was detained and escorted to Stanstead Airport Police Station.

On arrival at the Custody Centre, Stephen was advised that he was wanted for failing to answer a Summons issued at Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court on 2 June.

During his period in custody, doubts began to emerge as to whether Stephen was indeed the person wanted for arrest.  These doubts were well founded. First the Summons was issued by the Juvenile Court, whereas Stephen was then 22 years. Second, the wanted man was of black ethnicity, whereas Stephen was not. Third, the wanted subject was Portuguese, whereas Stephen was British (but of Middle Eastern complexion).

After 3 and a half hours in custody, Stephen was released from custody with no further action.

Despite making enquiries as to whether he could rebook another flight, nothing was available and he had to return home, his holiday with his friends ruined.

Following his release, enquiries with Greater Manchester Police revealed that the outstanding warrant had been linked to Stephen because, they said, he had a similar name to the suspect, “Stephano Damil.”

I pursued a claim for Stephen and he recovered £3,500 in compensation as well as his legal costs.

Rashid Khan was in some ways luckier than David and Stephen.  He was arrested upon his return from holiday, but detained for longer.  He had been on a skiing holiday with his family and friends to Andorra.  Upon landing at Stanstead Airport, his name was called out to go to the front of the plane.  He went forward and was met by 2 officers of Metropolitan Police who escorted him off the plane, where 3 armed officers were waiting.  He was advised that he was under arrest for trespass with intent to commit a sexual offence the previous August at a hotel on the Isle of Wight.

Rashid stated that firstly, he had never been to the Isle of Wight and secondly that at the time of the alleged offence, he had been out of the country.

By now, other passengers were leaving the plane via the steps including Rashid’s wife, young daughter and family friends.

Rashid was placed in a waiting van and taken to Braintree Police Station whilst his wife had to manage his traumatised daughter and all their luggage.

Rashid was then “booked in” to Police custody during which he made available to the Custody Sergeant his passport which proved that he had indeed been out of the country at the time of the alleged offence.

Eventually after 12 and a half hours in custody, Rashid was released.

Following investigation, I established that the real suspect shared the same name and a similar date of birth as my client.  The investigating officer had asked my client’s local force to make discrete enquires to confirm if Rashid Khan had recently worked on the Isle of Wight. Only if enquiries established this, was Rashid Khan to be arrested.

Local officers spoke to my client and established that he was very unlikely to be the suspect.  Notwithstanding this, 2 weeks later the interviewing officer inexplicably sent a request to the PNC Bureau to have my client circulated as “wanted” rather than placed on a “Locate/Trace” capacity only.

Once again, I pursued a claim on behalf of Mr Khan and he recovered £5,000 in compensation plus legal costs.

Everyone I think has heard of passengers’ entitlement to compensation if a flight is unreasonably delayed…I would respectfully suggest that you contact me for advice as to your further rights of compensation if the delay you experience in the airport is not at the baggage carousel…but in a Police van!

Hopefully, this won’t happen to you and I wish you and your families all the very best for the forthcoming ‘holiday season’.

Blue Lies Matter

Did you know that lies come in three different colours ? Reading a psychology paper this week I noted that whereas the term for an entirely self-serving lie is a “black” lie, and the term for a “selfless” lie (e.g so as not to hurt someone’s feelings) is a “white” lie, the phrase “blue lies” has been applied to that category of falsehoods whereby someone is lying for the benefit of their team or “side”, to the detriment of another group. So they are simultaneously selfish and beneficial.

Commenting on the predilection of the current American President for telling – often outrageously hypocritical and blatantly false – lies, an article written by Jeremy Adam Smith in Scientific American (24 March 2017) commented as follows, on the subject of “Blue Lies” –

If we see Trump’s lies not as failures of character but rather as weapons of war, then we can come to see why his supporters might view him as an effective leader. From this perspective, lying is a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s campaign and presidency.

Common experience tells us that Police Officers are prone to such lies; to “protect” their colleagues, and ensure the “bad guys” get their just desserts, we might imagine. Indeed, in America there is a term for this: “testi-lying” or Officers telling falsehoods on oath in Court in order to ensure the conviction of a person they deem to be an undesirable criminal – whether or not on this occasion the actual evidence proves that the person “did it”… Blue lies are considered by psychologists to actually strengthen the bonds of loyalty within members of a group, community or gang (that latter word once being memorably used by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to describe – approvingly – his Officers).

So, although the phrase “blue lies” might be relatively new, the phenomenon it refers to is surely as old as the hills. One good thing we have to thank modern technology for is that it is increasingly likely that Officers will be caught out in their falsehoods, because of the prevalence of video recording technology across our society – and particularly, easily accessible in people’s pockets in the form of mobile phones.

The issue of independent video evidence “catching out” a Police Officer’s falsehoods was a key factor in a case I recently concluded on behalf of two clients from West Yorkshire, gentlemen of Asian origin whom I shall identify as Shahid and Hashim.

Shahid and Hashim, along with Shahid’s nephew Mohammed, were minding their own business in a parked car when approached by two officers of the West Yorkshire Police  – whom I shall identify as PC Michaels and his female colleague, PC Kirby.

Although the three men were not doing anything other than sitting in a car chatting, the two officers immediately adopted a suspicious/ hostile attitude towards them and began to demand their personal details. As I have made clear on many previous occasions in this blog, we do not live in a society where the Police have the power to demand that you identify yourself to them (unless they already have a reason to suspect you are guilty of committing a crime, which certainly did not apply here – unless being Asian sitting in a car is as suspicious as being Black whilst driving one…).

Shahid began to record his conversation with PC Michaels on his mobile phone, as he (correctly) did not believe he was obliged to give his name on demand. PC Michaels then asserted that he had the power to demand Shahid’s details because (in the Officer’s words) Shahid was “Committing anti-social behaviour”. When challenged, PC Michaels refused to specify what this “antisocial behaviour” was – no doubt because there wasn’t in fact any!

Shahid and PC Michaels remained at loggerheads until the officer decided to snatch Shahid’s phone out of his hand, and pull Shahid out of the car. PC Michaels then walked away across the car park, causing Shahid to follow after him insisting – politely – that the officer return his phone. Unfortunately, PC Michaels, obviously unhappy with Shahid’s continued refusal to identify himself, then produced his handcuffs. This caused Shahid considerable alarm, and he backed away from the officer. PC Michaels pursued Shahid, spraying him in the face with CS gas, and then handcuffing him whilst Shahid was incapacitated from the gas. The officer then marched Shahid to his nearby Police van, forcing Shahid to follow him by pulling on the handcuff chain as if it were a “lead” and incarcerated Shahid in the back of the van.

Whilst these events were going on, Hashim attempted to record matters on his own mobile phone, only to have this snatched from him, in turn, by PC Kirby. When Hashim followed Shahid to the Police van, protesting about Shahid’s unlawful arrest, he was then shoved by the officers up against a wall, also handcuffed and arrested.

Notably, at this point, neither officer had told Shahid or Hashim what specific offence it was they were being arrested for – no doubt because “talking back” to Police officers and refusing to identify yourself in an otherwise peaceful and law-abiding situation, are not actually crimes.

Both of my clients were then transported to Huddersfield Police Station, where they learned for the first time that they were being accused of assaulting a Police Officer (PC Michaels in Shahid’s case, and PC Kirby in Hashim’s) and breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act. These charges quite literally added insult to injury as the very reverse was true; it was Shahid and Hashim who had been assaulted by the officers, and Shahid in particular required after-care for the effects of the gas used upon him. The false charges, and the threat of a custodial sentence hanging over them, were very distressing to my clients, particularly Hashim who was only a teenager at the time.

The criminal charges against my clients proceeded all the way to Trial at the Magistrates Court. In support of the charges against Shahid, PC Michaels in particular made a statement in which he alleged a number of untruths, including that he had informed Shahid during their initial conversation that he was being detained for the purpose of a Stop & Search under the Misuse of Drugs Act. In fact, the mobile phone footage which Shahid had preserved showed incontrovertibly that PC Michaels had not said anything to Shahid about a drugs search, but had rather been insisting that Shahid identify himself because of (unspecified) “anti-social behaviour”.

The clearly recorded conversation between the officer and Shahid went like this –

PC:     I am an Officer in uniform and I have got a power to require your name and address.

S:            Regarding What?  Anti-social behaviour?

PC:         Anti-social behaviour regarding a report we have had that I am not obliged to disclose to you at the moment.

And a little further into the conversation –

PC:         What is your name?

S:            Regards to what?

PC:         I have got the report.

S:            Anti-social behaviour, you know what, you’re making it up.

PC:         I don’t have to explain it to you.

S:            I know what you’re doing; you’re just making it up now.

PC:         No I’m not.

Needless to say, PC Michaels did not have any “report” relating to Shahid, and does indeed appear to have been, as Shahid put it “making it up” in order to get his details.

Certainly, PC Michaels as recorded on the phone was saying very different things to what he purported in his later Statement to have said; it was clear to all on viewing the footage that the Officer had said nothing about a Stop & Search for drugs.

This evidence was played at Court, and I am pleased to confirm that the cases against both of my clients collapsed, the Crown Prosecution Service discontinuing all proceedings against both of them after watching the footage.

The way was now clear for my clients to re-set the scales of justice by bringing their own proceedings against West Yorkshire Police in respect of claims for assault and battery, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. I instituted County Court claims on behalf of both Shahid and Hashim.

As is their wont, West Yorkshire Police legal services initially put up a robust defence on behalf of their officers, denying any wrongdoing and seeking to argue that the arrest of both of my clients was lawful.

Fortunately, the brief mobile phone footage that Shahid had been able to film (before his phone was snatched by PC Michaels) was not the only video evidence available; we were able to obtain CCTV footage of the car park from a nearby sports centre, and thus able to conclusively expose other “blue lies” told by the two officers in their statements for the criminal proceedings.

In particular I highlight the following –

  • Both officers alleged that PC Michaels suffered an unprovoked “shove” from Hashim, whom PC Kirby describing as “running” towards her colleague; CCTV footage showed this to be completely untrue. Hashim had walked peaceably around the car, trying to film what was happening to Shahid on his own phone.
  • PC Michaels alleged that Shahid had broken away from him, whilst the officer was trying to carry out a search, and made off across the car park – the CCTV footage showed that in fact (as reported by Shahid) it was PC Michaels who, having taken Shahid’s phone, stalked off across the car park with it, and Shahid who had to follow after the officer (not the other way around).
  • Likewise, the CCTV footage failed to support the officers’ assertions that they had been the victims of violence from my clients – rather it showed PC Michaels using his gas spray apparently without provocation, and PC Kirby repeatedly shoving Hashim (not the other way around).

I am pleased to report that after several months of contested litigation, the Police once again backed down before Trial and agreed to pay both of my clients considerable damages; £25,000 for Shahid and £15,000 for Hashim. West Yorkshire Police had obviously realised the truth, that when you get into Court, there are no longer such things as defensible or justifiable partisan “blue lies” – there are just black and white facts, and the truth will out.

BAME: Rounding Up The Usual Suspects

Back in September 2017, David Lammy MP produced his Government sponsored report on the treatment of black and ethnic minority (BAME) people in the criminal justice system in England and Wales.  He concluded that

“BAME individuals still face bias, including overt discrimination, in parts of the justice system.”

I was thinking about Mr Lammy’s findings when recently bringing to a successful conclusion a claim for my client, Edward and his younger brother Simon, both British Citizens of Black African heritage.

Back in April 2016, Edward and his brother were arrested for attempted murder.  The night before, a man had been shot outside a local pub.  A witness saw the offender fire a gun from a specific vehicle carrying two men.  The vehicle was subsequently identified as being used by a Mr Thomas.

By the following evening, Avon and Somerset Police established that Mr Thomas was at a particular location in Bristol.  Firearms Officers attended and were given direction by the Senior Investigating Officer from the remote ‘Operations Room’.

Officers forced entry and the occupants of the premises were “called out” to find Mr Thomas.  Mr Thomas was soon identified and arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

Mr Thomas’ arrest had been planned by the Senior Investigating Officer and detailed in a considered arrest strategy.  No other males were identified within this strategy.

Following Mr Thomas’ arrest, Officers entered the address to search for the firearm used and any other evidence.

The house was connected to another (via an internal door) in which my client and his brother lived. They were at home at this time.  Drawn to the commotion, my client considered that the actions of the Officers in seeking to search both premises was unlawful in the absence of a warrant and made representations to that effect to the Officers. In fact, unbeknownst to Edward the Officers could rely upon Sections  18 and 32 of PACE having just arrested Mr Thomas.

It was at this time that the Firearms Tactical Advisor in the Operations Room directed the Officers on site to arrest “any other males of a similar age group” to the prime suspect, Mr Thomas. It was on this basis that Edward and Simon were also arrested.

Both brothers were transported to custody where the Custody Sergeant recorded and authorised detention on the basis that both Edward and Simon fitted the “descriptions of the offenders”.

A second  Senior Investigating Officer had only just come on duty (and in fairness stepped in to cover “at short notice and with the minimal of briefing”) and within minutes of his arrival in the Operations Room, “the room exploded into a frenzy of activity” with the forced entry and arrest of Mr Thomas and confusion as regards the layout of the premises.

Against this background the Firearms Tactical Advisor directed the arrest of Edward and Simon. But on what basis?  The Firearms Tactical Advisor’s job is to act as a communications link between the Operations Room and the Operational Firearms Commander at the scene relaying information and command decisions.  He is not in a position of command and the Firearms Tactical Advisor  was quick to lay responsibility  for the decision to arrest the brothers on the Senior Investigating Officer.  The Senior Investigating Officer in turn could not recall giving any such command and neither officer made any record of the grounds and reasons for the decision to arrest.

For an arrest to be lawful, it must be founded on reasonable grounds. This necessitates consideration of whether, objectively, it was reasonable to suspect the individual of the offence for which he was arrested.

In the Court of Appeal decision of Buckley and Others v The Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police it was stated that:

“Suspicion is a state of mind well short of belief. The threshold for establishing reasonable grounds for suspicion is a low one. It is an inherent possibility in the need for diligent investigations of serious offences than an innocent person may be arrested on reasonable grounds. Importantly, the correct approach to judgment upon the lawfulness of arrest is not to separate out each of the elements of the constable’s state of mind and ask individually of them whether that creates reasonable grounds for suspicion; it is to look at them cumulatively, as of course the arresting officer has to at the time.”

It is clear that the test for reasonable suspicion represents a low threshold for an arresting officer to meet. What is required to reasonably suspect a person of an offence falls far short of what would be required to charge them and thereafter to ultimately convict them of the same offence. The relevant information is that which was available to the arresting officer prior to the arrest, not any information that might have been gained afterwards, for example, during interview.

Notwithstanding this low threshold, it was clear that no Officer could argue that he had a reasonable suspicion to suspect Edward and Simon of being involved in the shooting.

This failure didn’t, of course, stop the Senior Investigating Officer in a subsequent review try to retrospectively justify arrest on the basis that Edward and Simon had been found in the company of Mr Thomas (albeit 16 hours after the shooting had occurred!).

It was therefore evident at an early stage that the arrest of Edward and Simon was unlawful, the arresting Officer not having reasonable suspicion to arrest.

Both brothers were kept in custody for 28 hours.

After 16 or so hours, both men were interviewed.  Both denied any knowledge or involvement. As their time in custody approached 24 hours, the Investigating Officers decided that they needed more time and so sought an extension.  The brothers criminal defence solicitor, Peter Denton, argued that they should be released immediately.  He argued quite rightly that there was “not a shred of evidence ……  that could credibly raise a reasonable suspicion that they were involved in the offence”.  Notwithstanding Mr Denton’s robust replies, the custody  limit was extended by a Superintendent given the “multiple lines of enquiry”that were ongoing and given that this was a “serious and complex case”, it was “reasonable and necessary for the investigation to be extended.”

Eventually the brothers were released on Police bail which was extended for nearly 9 months until they were eventually advised that no further action would be taken.

Shortly after this notification, Edward happened to be watching a TV programme in which I was interviewed. He made contact with me the next day.

Avon and Somerset Police soon enough offered £5,500 each to Edward and Simon in settlement. Some clients (and dare I say lawyers) are in this game for a quick deal. I advised my clients to reject these offers and fight on to recover a more just award of compensation. I’m pleased to confirm that after the institution of Court proceedings and extensive negotiations, both claims settled for £24,000 and £19,000 respectively plus legal fees.

Both of my clients strongly felt that if they were white, they would not have been arrested.  Reflecting upon Mr Lammy’s findings (of institutional racism within the criminal justice system)  and my own experience  of having represented many  young black people who have been unlawfully arrested (read more here and here),  I do believe that the perception of black people, and black men especially, as being more prone to criminality is rife amongst Police Officers and that this prejudice informed the decision to arrest my clients Edward and Simon.

Festival Season and the dangers of ‘Wild West’ Policing

I have often used this blog to highlight occasions when Police officers, for a variety of reasons, overstep their powers. However, the imminent approach of this Summer’s Festival Season puts me in mind of risks posed by aggressive or improperly trained security industry personnel/ bouncers overstepping their own powers (such as they are) and acting like a quasi- Police force within the territory of the Festival, behaving in fact like a ‘Wild West’ posse making up the law to suit themselves.

Unfortunately, experience tells me that when members of the official Police Force encounter disputes between members of the public and security staff, they tend for reasons of bias or convenience, to side with the security agents  and penalise the (often innocent) victim of their heavy- handed treatment, leaving such victims to have to come to solicitors such as myself to seek redress via the civil justice system.

One such gentleman was my client Jack Cooper (whose name has been changed for the purposes of this blog), who had an unfortunate run in with security personnel at the Isle of Wight Cowes Festival in August 2016.

Mr Cooper, a successful business man based on the South Coast, was visiting the Cowes Regatta with his friend Andrew. After spending a few hours in the festival site, enjoying the events and with nothing untoward occurring, Jack and Andrew made their way towards the exit. En route Jack was ‘caught short’ and needed the toilet; unfortunately the portaloos were all occupied, so Jack urinated behind them (into the waters of the quay), out of sight of members of the public.

He was however spotted by a private security guard who approached and instructed him to leave the site immediately; Jack confirmed that he would do so – and that, indeed, it was already his intention to leave.

Jack tried to continue towards the exit gate, where his friend Andrew was now waiting for him. Spotting Andrew sitting at a table near the gate, Jack attempted to walk towards him (so they could leave together) whereupon he was without any warning physically assaulted by the security guard. The security guard grabbed hold of Jack’s arm and attempted to force it behind Jack’s back (as if he were a Police Officer effecting the arrest of a violent criminal). In shock, Jack tried to pull away from the security guard, but then not wishing to escalate the situation let the man re-take hold of his arm. Jack explained that all he wanted to do was get his friend, and then it was absolutely his intention to leave the festival site.

Despite Jack’s reasonable behaviour, he was then set upon by approximately six of the security guard’s colleagues, who forced both of Jack’s arms behind his back and pushed him face down onto the ground. Jack could not believe what was happening to him.

Jack was then pulled to his feet by the security guards and marched, with his head bent down, through the gates and outside the festival grounds. Once outside the gates, however, the security personnel did not let Jack go but instead forced him face-down to the ground for a second time, and now applied handcuffs to tie his hands together, which was a painful and humiliating experience for my client. Jack felt significant pain building up in his left wrist and appealed to the security guards to loosen the cuffs, but to no avail. He was being held down on the concrete surface of the ground, close to the quay wall.

Despite offering no physical resistance or threat to the guards, Jack was held down and restrained in this position for about five minutes, during which the pain in his wrist increased and the security guards continued to ignore his request to loosen the cuffs. All of this was taking place in full view of numerous members of the public.

Police officers then arrived, whereupon Jack’s handcuffs were removed, though not before he had lost feeling in his left hand.

Jack was then issued with a Dispersal Notice by the Police officers, under Section 34 of the Antisocial, Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, requiring him to leave the area and not return for a period of six hours, something which he had fully intended to do before being set upon by the gang of security guards.

The Dispersal Notice was not issued because of anything the Police themselves had witnessed, but evidently on the basis of whatever they were told by the security staff.

Jack then proceeded back to the marina, where his own boat was docked, but owing to the injury to his hand he was unable to operate the vessel, which had to be sailed back home by Andrew.

Very shortly after these events, Jack instructed me to pursue a claim for compensation against the security personnel, who were all employed by a firm called Blueline Security, purportedly “specialists in event management and security services.”

After considering Jack’s account of these events I quickly identified that he had strong claims against the Security Company for assault and battery and also false imprisonment.

Security guards employed by private companies may often behave as if they are the Police Force of a Wild West town, but the reality is that they are not warranted constables and have no greater powers than you or I do to effect a ‘citizen’s arrest’ or to deploy force in the prevention of crime. Notwithstanding Jack having ‘a wee’ behind the toilets, nothing he did could have justified the overwhelming force used against him, and/or the decision to detain (and in particular handcuff him) when he was already voluntarily making his way from the site of the Regatta.

Indeed, it was subsequently established that the totally excessive application of handcuffs to Jack’s wrists had caused nerve damage, which continued to plague him for months afterwards with numbness/ pins and needles in his left hand and which necessitated hospital investigations.

I wrote a letter of claim on Jack’s behalf, which Blueline Security disputed, hiding behind the fact that the Police had issued Jack with a Dispersal Notice (although of course this had only occurred as a result of the one-sided story told to them by the security staff, and the issuing of a Dispersal Notice is not tantamount to a criminal conviction or even a caution). Blueline argued that our client had been aggressive and that their use of force upon him, including handcuffs, was legitimate “self-defence”. It was quite clear however, that the only person who had been injured in this incident was my client and I knew he would come across as a strong and honest witness, and so had no hesitation in acting upon his instructions to pursue this matter to Court.

In response to County Court proceedings, Blueline Security initially filled a Defence repeating their complete denial of liability for either assault or false imprisonment. Amongst the outrageous allegations put forwards in the Defence was a suggestion (made for the first time) that Jack had had to be restrained to prevent him attempting to injure members of the public! One would wonder why, if Jack had been behaving in the extremely violent and anti-social manner that Blueline were suggesting, the Police would have been content to simply let him walk away once they had taken his handcuffs off…

I strongly believed in the truth of my client’s account, and was able to judge this in the context of my long experience of pursuing claims against private security companies; the truth is that they often harbour individuals who behave as if they are Police officers, but without having any of the training or self-discipline of (the majority of) law-enforcement professionals.

Long before Jack’s case was listed for Trial, and notwithstanding the Defence filed, Blueline Security duly agreed to settle Jack’s claim in the sum of £9,000 damages, plus legal costs.

Enjoy this Summer’s festival season – from the cow-fields of Glastonbury to the sailboats of Cowes – but beware the dangers of security guards behaving like an undisciplined private Police Force.

On Duty and On The Pull ? Police Officers Sacked for Sexual Misconduct

I recently came across the case of PC Roscoe, a serving Greater Manchester Police Officer. Whilst on duty, he entered a woman’s house by consent,  but then,  after telling her she was ‘absolutely gorgeous’, tried to kiss her.  She immediately said ‘no, no, no, no’ and wagged her forefinger at him.  She was shocked by his behaviour ‘as he had definitely crossed the line’. In the circumstances, the woman reported him and the case was referred to the IOPC for investigation.

PC Roscoe denied that the incident happened but a misconduct hearing found that the officer had acted as the woman alleged and that such behaviour was gross misconduct.  Surprisingly, however,  PC Roscoe was not dismissed, and instead was given a final written warning.  A spokesman for the IOPC stated something that must be manifestly obvious to all but a few serving Police Officers, “Police Officers must not abuse their position to make unwarranted approaches to people for their personal gain”.

The case has striking similarities to a case that I have recently concluded for my client, Karen.

Back in May 2016,  Karen’s friend’s  13 year old son had gone missing and turned up at Karen’s home address.

In the early hours of the next morning, PC Campbell attended Karen’s home address so as to check on the child’s welfare.  Karen invited PC Campbell in.  Karen was asked for and provided her personal details including her mobile phone number.  PC Campbell did not seem too concerned about the child and instead began flirting with Karen, for example asking how she would respond if he asked her out.  Karen did not engage.

Karen then showed PC Campbell out.  As Karen opened the door, PC Campbell turned and stood with his back against the door and asked Karen ‘for a kiss’.  PC Campbell then leant towards Karen.  Karen pulled away but the hallway was very narrow and Karen felt trapped/cornered.  Karen was both intimidated and shocked and embarrassed because the child was stood behind watching.  PC Campbell then left.  Karen was very concerned that PC Campbell might seek to return.

Approximately 10 minutes later, Karen received the first of a series of withheld calls to her mobile number to which she did not pick up. Sometime later, the child looked out the window and noticed that PC Campbell was sat in a patrol car outside the house. Karen’s phone rang again and this time Karen answered.  It was PC Campbell.  PC Campbell advised that he was calling to check he had the right number.  Karen confirmed it was.  Karen subsequently noted that PC Campbell had driven off.

Sometime later, PC Campbell rang Karen again and advised that he would have to return to see her again to complete some paperwork.  Although unhappy, Karen felt she had no option but to cooperate.  Karen asked the child to stay with her until PC Campbell had returned and left again.

Approximately one hour later, PC Campbell returned to Karen’s home address.  Although Karen felt worried she felt she had no choice but to allow him in.  PC Campbell asked several questions and completed some paperwork.  Once again PC Campbell sought to flirt with Karen and said “Are you sure you won’t change your mind?”  Once again, Karen did not engage.

After a few minutes, PC Campbell got up to leave.  Karen showed him out.  On this occasion, PC Campbell stepped out but then put his foot over the threshold so as to prevent Karen from closing the door.  Again, PC Campbell leant forwards towards Karen and sought to kiss her.  Again, Karen pulled away.  PC Campbell then stepped away and Karen shut and locked the door.  Again, Karen was scared and intimidated and concerned as to what the Officer might try next.

Later that same day, and across the course of several days thereafter, Karen received a series of suggestive and flirtatious text messages from PC Campbell.

Karen found PC Campbell’s behaviour to be disturbing and inappropriate.  Approximately 2 weeks later, Karen spoke to officers in regards to an unrelated  matter.  During this encounter, Karen said in an off the cuff remark, “At least you’re not trying it on”.  Karen was encouraged to explain her remark and she explained what PC Campbell had done.   At the time, Karen was in a vulnerable state.  Furthermore, she was concerned that if she reported PC Campbell, her complaint would be dismissed and he would retaliate against her. Initially therefore, Karen refused to cooperate with the Police investigation. Notwithstanding Karen’s position, PC Campbell was then arrested  for misconduct in public office. Karen was encouraged to cooperate with the formal investigation into PC Campbell and given various assurances as regards safeguarding and being kept updated.

Karen was extremely upset and traumatised by PC Campbell’s behaviour and as a result had lost trust and confidence in the police. After significant pressure to cooperate was levied, Karen did eventually provide a witness statement.

Disciplinary proceedings were brought against PC Campbell who in September 2017 was found guilty of gross misconduct and dismissed.

I subsequently brought a claim against the Merseyside Police Force.  Although liability was neither admitted nor denied, I was after negotiation able to agree a settlement of £10,000.00  in compensation for PC Campbell’s outrageous and sexually intimidating conduct towards Karen.

Do Police Officers really need their disciplinary watchdog, the IOPC, to spell out in black and white that they should not use the ‘opportunities’ presented by their job to try to pursue women into kissing them (at the very least)?  The examples of PC Roscoe and PC Campbell show that sadly they do.

 

 

Are Probation Companies wrongly sending people to prison?

The Chief Inspector of Probation this week declared that the privatisation of Probation Services is “irredeemably flawed”.  Dame Glenys Stacey concluded in her final annual report that it would be “safer” if the supervision of offenders was back in public ownership.

Back in 2014, Probation Services in England and Wales were split between the National Probation Service for serious offenders and 14 private Community Rehabilitation Companies or CRCs for low and medium risk offenders.  By the end of September 2018, more than 150,000 offenders on probation – more than half the total across England and Wales – were being managed by these private CRCs.

Dame Glenys Stacey told BBC Radio 4 that “In practice these Companies have understandably focused on meeting contractual requirements and targets” but in reality, professional probation work was so much more than simply a series of transactions, “it is skilled, with a large amount of professional judgment”.  The Chief Inspector highlighted a number of concerns;

  • Supervising offenders by telephone only, usually after an initial meeting.
  • Housing needs are met less often (54% of private cases compared with 70% of public cases).
  • Inadequate protection for victims and their children when domestic abusers return to their community.
  • 22% of offenders released without knowing where they were going to sleep that night.
  • High workloads and performance targets leading to professional standards being compromised.

I read Dame Glenys Stacey’s report with interest, particularly given that I am often asked to represent people who consider that they have been failed by the Probation Service.  One such individual is Neil Rogers whose claim against Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company exposed the mismanagement of probation services in respect of both simple monitoring and professional judgment.

Back in 2014, Neil was living at 403 Tiene Road, Liverpool.

In June 2014, Neil was sentenced to a determinate sentence of imprisonment of three years.

In or around late October 2015, it was arranged via Shelter, the housing charity, that, upon release from Prison, Neil would live at hostel accommodation at 10 St Jerome’s Street, Liverpool (“the hostel”).

On the morning of 30 November 2015, Neil was released from Prison on licence to serve the remainder of his sentence in the community under the supervision of Merseyside CRC, with a licence expiry date in May 2017.

Upon release, Neil attended the hostel and moved in, purchased a mobile telephone and then attended the office of Merseyside CRC as required, where he met Shirley Temperance who had responsibility for his supervision at that time.

At this meeting, Neil provided the address for the hostel to Shirley, as well as his new mobile telephone number.  Additionally, Neil provided Shirley with a further two addresses at which he could be contacted via friends.

Shirley informed Neil that if there were occasions when he was not staying at the hostel overnight that he should inform Merseyside CRC as to where he would be staying instead.

Unbeknownst to Neil at that time, and despite him having provided the address for the hostel as his current address to Shirley, (and, indeed, Shirley subsequently calling out to see him at the hostel), 403 Tiene Road, Liverpool was incorrectly recorded as Neil’s current address in the Company’s records.

On a number of occasions thereafter, Neil contacted Merseyside CRC to confirm that he would be staying at an address other than the hostel overnight.

In or around May 2016, Neil left the hostel and moved in with one of his friends and informed Merseyside CRC that he had moved.

Throughout this time, Neil attended all Probation appointments required of him.

Subsequently, Neil was due to attend an appointment at the Company’s Liverpool office on 8 November 2016, with Mr Bodger, who had taken over responsibility for Neil’s supervision.

Neil was unable to attend the appointment on 8 November 2016 and contacted Merseyside CRC in advance of the appointment in order to arrange an alternative date on which to attend the office.

Neil’s appointment with Mr Bodger was accordingly rescheduled for 11 November 2016.

On 11 November 2016, Neil duly attended his appointment with Mr Bodger at the office.

At the conclusion of the appointment, Mr Bodger provided Neil with a letter confirming that his next appointment would be at the office on 10 January 2017.

By this stage, Neil had retained the same mobile telephone number since November 2015. The mobile telephone number was active throughout this time, and able to receive telephone calls and text messages.

On or around 15 December 2016, unbeknown to Neil, another Merseyside CRC employee, Mr Senior, decided to request revocation of Neil’s licence.

Mr Senior’s “Recall Report” stated, inter alia:

Mr Neil Rogers has been managed by Merseyside CRC since his release on 30th November 2015. 

The terms and conditions of licence are:

 5.

i Be of good behaviour and not undermine the purpose of the licence period.

ii Not commit further offences 

iii Keep in touch with the Supervising Officer

iv Receive visits from the supervising Officer in accordance with instructions give by the supervising Officer 

v Resident permenantly (sic) at an address approved by the Supervising Officer and obtain the prior permission of the Supervising Officer for any stay of one or more nights at a different address. 

Since release on 30th November 2015 and up to 6th September 2016, Mr Rogers attended all scheduled appointments and complied fully with his licence conditions. 

Given he was assessed as Low Risk of Harm and fully compliant, Mr Rogers was on 8 weekly (2 monthly) reporting. 

He failed to attend his next appointment scheduled for 8th November 2016 and the requisite warning letter was sent which also instructed him to attend a further appointment. 

Neil Rogers’ case manager has also attempted contact via his registered mobile phone but again to no avail. 

On 5th December 2016, the case manager visited the registered address at 403 Tiene Road. 

It was clear that this address was occupied as it could br (sic) seen that festive lights were on in the property. Despite several attempts no person(s) answered. 

A note was subsequently pushed through the letterbox instructing Neil Rogers to urgently make contact. 

On 14th December 2016, the case manager revisited the address and again it was clear that the house was occupied. No response was received so a hand delivered letter signed by the case manager was posted through the letter box (sic) instructing Mr Rogers to make urgent contact by 4 pm 15th December 2016. If he made no contact then recall proceedings would be initiated. No such contact has been made.

Further, the recall report stated:

All requisite formal warnings have been sent. A number of attempts to contact via his registered mobile phone number both by text and call have also met with no response.

Two personal visits by the case manager to the registered address and hand delivered letters posted directly have failed to establish any re-engagement or contact with Merseyside CRC.

The recall report gave Neil’s last recorded address as 403 Tiene Road.

The recall report stated:

Any Other Possible Addresses: N/A

The recall report recorded no mobile telephone number for Neil.

The recall report was endorsed by Mr Senior’s manager, who recorded:

Report and recommendation supported. It is concerning that Mr Rogers has fallen out of contact and this frustrates the aims of supervision. Therefore at this time there is no alternative but to request revocation of his current licence.

On the same day, in direct response to the recall report, the Secretary of State for Justice revoked Neil’s licence and recalled him to prison under section 254 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

The revocation stated:

You have been recalled to prison because the Secretary of State is satisfied that you have breached the following conditions of your licence:

5iii Keep in touch with the supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by the supervising officer

Shortly after midnight on 31 December 2016, Neil was returning home when he was approached by Police officers who took his details.  To his shock he was informed that, according to the Police National Computer, he was wanted for recall to prison due to a breach of his licence conditions and accordingly he was arrested, taken to a nearby Police Station and then on to prison.

He was incarcerated for the next 28 days.

A few days prior to the date on which Neil was due to be released, he was able to speak to Mr Bodger and ask for an explanation as to why he had been recalled to prison.

Mr Bodger informed Neil that he was no longer responsible for his supervision and that the responsibility for his supervision had transferred to Mr Senior.

On 27 January 2017, Neil was released from prison.  The same day, Neil attended the office of Merseyside CRC and met with Mr Senior, who informed him that concerns had been raised about Mr Bodger’s recordkeeping and that Mr Bodger was no longer employed by the Company.

In all the circumstances, it appeared that Mr Bodger had failed to keep accurate and/or up to date records regarding Neil’s contact details or his attendance at appointments and that by reason of those failings, Neil had wrongfully spent 28 days in custody.  Specifically, Mr Bodger had failed to record Neil’s attendance at the office on 11 November 2016, leading his colleague Mr Senior to believe that Neil had breached the terms of his licence by going “AWOL”.

Although Mr Bodger was the real ‘villain’ of the piece , and it was his dereliction of duty/incompetence which lead to Neil being sent back to Prison, the situation was compounded by the failure of the other Probation staff who had dealt with Neil to record his proper address and telephone number.  This caused Mr Senior to attempt to contact Neil at an address where he had not been living for several years.  When I reviewed Neil’s probation file from Merseyside CRC I was shocked at the amount of errors and inaccuracies in it – not just mere ‘clerical errors’ but the kind of blatant mistakes which could, and did, lead to a man losing his liberty.  In my opinion, it should have been obvious to Mr Senior that the file was riddled with errors and that an out of date address was being used.

Being sent back to Prison in these circumstances was a real hammer blow to Neil’s confidence, mental health and the fragile relationship he had started to re-establish with his estranged family. Thinking that there was no smoke without fire, Neil’s family did not believe that he had been recalled to Prison through no fault of his own, and this destroyed their trust in him.  This really was a terrible injustice, as in reality Neil had done everything he could to get his life back on the ‘straight and narrow’ since coming out of Prison in 2015, including getting a job and complying with all of his Probation requirements.

Whether privatised or not, the Probation Service rarely put their hands up and admit fault and so it was no surprise that when I intimated a claim on behalf of Neil, liability was denied by Merseyside CRC.  I issued Court proceedings and the Company maintained its denial, asserting that Neil had failed to keep them informed of his changes of address.  It was not even admitted by them that Neil had indeed attended the pivotal appointment with Mr Bodger on 11 November 2016 – but fortunately Neil had the letter given to him on that occasion by Mr Bodger, to prove that he had.  Even in light of that letter, Merseyside CRC continued to try to deny and frustrate the claim.  However, I am pleased to confirm that shortly before trial, Solicitors representing the Company backed down and we agreed a five figure settlement plus costs.

More importantly than the money, I trust that the vindication brought by this Court settlement has gone a long way towards helping Neil rebuild his relationship with his family, who will now hopefully see that he was telling the truth about his recall to Prison – as well as serving as a wake-up call to Merseyside CRC and other Probation companies to invest properly in staff training, management and supervision. Though, if what I have uncovered in this case is anything to go by, it seems future Chief Inspectors of Probation are going to have their work cut out to make the service fit for purpose.

(Names and addresses changed.)

Adding Insult to Injury: How the Police Attempt to Criminalise Victims of Police Violence

Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.

This year’s derby game between Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United takes place tonight, Monday the 4 March. The decision to hold the game on a week night is said to be because of the cost to South Yorkshire Police; apparently previous derby games between the two teams held over a weekend have proved the most expensive fixture in England to police, paid for in large part by South Yorkshire Police themselves.

A main factor in this is the complex geography of Hillsborough which is a fair distance from the City Centre, and so requires a greater amount of policing for fans going to and from the ground.

One of the main routes to and from the ground is along Middlewood Road and it was along this route following the 2012 derby, that an incident occurred that added to South Yorkshire Police’s operation costs… but ultimately did far more to harm South Yorkshire Police’s reputation.

My client Robert and two friends had been to the match. As Robert proceeded down the road with thousands of other football fans, he suddenly felt pain to his right arm and looked down to see an Alsatian Police dog with its jaws locked onto his forearm. The dog was being handled by a female Police Officer.

Robert immediately asked the officer for her name and number because he wished to lodge a complaint.

The officer told Robert in no uncertain terms to move on.

Robert asked several more times for the officer’s details but she refused to give them.

A male uniformed officer approached Robert and also told him to move away and then physically pushed him away from the area.

Robert met up with a group of friends and told them what had happened. His friends encouraged him to return to find the female officer, to establish her details so as to lodge a complaint.

Robert decided to do so and returned to where the officer was positioned.

Once again Robert asked the officer for her details. Again she refused and simply said words to the effect of “I’m the only female dog handler working today, now go away.”

Robert began to walk away and came across an ambulance crew tending to another football supporter who had also been bitten by a police dog. Robert’s injuries were noted by the paramedics and other police officers on duty. A second ambulance was called.

Robert was then taken by ambulance to the Northern General Hospital where he received appropriate treatment.

Entrance to Hillsborough Stadium, home of Sheffield Wednesday.

On the following day, Robert attended a local police station in order to lodge a complaint.

Robert was subsequently contacted by an officer of South Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department (‘PSD’) and was advised that his complaint would be investigated.

Nearly two months later, two uniformed police officers attended out of the blue at Robert’s home address. Robert assumed that they had come so as to discuss his complaint. Instead they served him with a Fixed Penalty Notice which alleged that he had:

‘Committed a public order offence on Middlewood Road, Sheffield known as sec 5’.

His options were to either accept the Notice and pay a fine, or challenge the Notice whereupon he would be summonsed to attend Court.

The very next day, Robert received a letter from South Yorkshire Police Professional Standards Department with a response to his complaint.

The investigating officer had identified the female dog handler as PC W.

PC W responded to the complaint as follows;

I had the dog held as close to me as was possible and I was shouting verbal instructions throughout. Robert was behaving in an aggressive and disorderly manner. He appeared drunk and was verbally abusive. I do not consider the bite to be unprovoked. At the time Robert was bitten, he was in extremely close proximity to me. Robert did not leave the area until the horses forced him away.”

Robert was a man of good character and had had no previous dealings with the Police. He knew he had done no wrong; his only “crime” was to remonstrate about being bitten and to ask the officer for her details.

To all intents and purposes, it looked to me very much like South Yorkshire Police had decided to prosecute my client simply because he had had the temerity to lodge a complaint.

Robert lodged an appeal against the Fixed Penalty Notice, expecting to receive a Court Summons. As it was, South Yorkshire Police decided not to prosecute.

On Robert’s behalf, I then intimated a claim alleging among other heads of claim, assault and battery and misfeasance in public office.

In responding to the claim, South Yorkshire Police denied liability and provided disclosure including;

A Use of Force form completed by PC W which stated as follows;

“Police Dog dispersal tactics. Male in blue top committing Public Order offences. Bitten on arm by Police Dog and also had to be moved on by use of Police Horse” and “Male bitten on arm as a result of refusing to follow Police instruction”.

A dog bite report in which PC W reported the incident somewhat differently;

“As fans were leaving the ground, the trams quickly filled with supporters, namely SUFC fans travelling into city. At 1500 hours a flash point occurred whereby SWFC fans were on foot and ‘engaged’ the tram and occupants with insulting and abusive behaviour and a number of males were seen to be hammering on the doors and windows of the tram. This tram was some 20 yards in front of me and myself and PC A moved forward to conclude crowd dispersal tactics.

The serial in front of us were unprotected officers. I am aware that PC A was involved in the arrest of a male who had been banging the windows of the tram. At this point I was holding the roadway to immediately protect the tram and its occupants and as the dog was barking the crowd were being forced to use the pavement creating the desired effect of the dispersal tactic. I am aware that an elderly male stepped off the pavement into the path of Police Dog Rover and he briefly bit his left forearm and immediately released. I shouted to the male to go to the nearest Police Officer ahead of him. I was unable to immediately engage with this man directly as males were fighting immediately behind him and public disorder was continuing. Groups of males appeared heavily intoxicated offering aggression to opposing fans.

A fight ensured onto the roadway in front of me and I can recall a white male aged early 20’s wearing a blue tracksuit top, walking briefly against crowd flow towards the roadway. He was shouting at opposing fans on the trams and those behind me and his behaviour was inflammatory causing others around him to engage in similar behaviour. As I was conducting dispersal tactics the male was bitten on the arm. No officer was immediately able to come forward and arrest this male under the Public Order Act. He continued with disorderly behaviour. His eyes were glazed and he was unsteady on his feet and I did In fact believe he was drunk. His behaviour continued as such that mounted officers arrived and I can recall seeing the male having to be further dispersed by officers using mounted tactics. The male was repeatedly asked to move on and eventually only complied due to peer pressure from his friends.

I immediately reattended Shepperson Road where I saw the first male who had been bitten on the forearm. Officers were already performing first aid and I approached him to help and obtain details.

He was argumentative and whilst I explained that whilst he was not committing public order offences he had refused to follow police instruction and had stepped into the roadway that was being protected by police dogs. I advised him to make contact with Police once he had received medical attention. I am aware an ambulance was requested for the male.”

PC W subsequently prepared a witness statement in which she elaborated yet further;

As fans were leaving the ground, the trams quickly filled with supporters, namely SUFC fans travelling into city. At 1500 hours a flash point occurred whereby SWFC fans were on foot and ‘engaged’ the tram and occupants with insulting and abusive behaviour and a number of males were seen to be hammering on the doors and windows of the tram. The majority of these fans on foot were wearing blue and white Sheffield Wednesday clothing and were chanting to those persons on the tram ‘FUCK OFF BACK TO YOUR STY YOU PIGGY CUNTS. The tram was some 20 yards in front of me and myself and PC A moved forward to conduct crowd dispersal tactics.

The serial in front of us were unprotected officers. I am aware that PC A was involved in the arrest of a male who had been banging on the windows of the tram. At this point I was holding the roadway to immediately protect the tram and its occupants and as the dog was barking the crowd were being forced to use the pavement creating the desired effect of the dispersal tactic. Rover was as close to me as I could get him as I was actually holding him by the collar, and he was rearing up onto his two back legs. I was consistently shouting, ‘GET BACK, GET BACK’ and using my arms to indicate to people to get back onto the pavement away from the dog and the tram. Rover was barking constantly.

Groups of males appeared heavily intoxicated continued offering aggression to opposing fans. A fight ensued onto the roadway in front of me and I can recall a white male aged early 20’s wearing a blue tracksuit top, walking briefly against crowd flow towards the roadway. He was slim build with very short brown hair and slim build. He was shouting at opposing fans on the trams and those behind me and his behaviour was inflammatory causing others around him to engage in similar behaviour. I can recall him making signs with his hands that I believe were simulating masturbation and he continued moving against the crowd flow towards the tram shouting, ‘GET YOUR CATTLE WAGON AND SHOW US YOU’RE REALLY MADE OF BACON’.

I was clearly identifiable as a Police Officer, dressed in full police uniform. I believe I was identifiable as a Police Dog handler in charge at that time of a Police dog. Rover was barking and looked aggressive. I was stationary, standing my ground and also using my right arm to identify to people to get back, as well as shouting, ‘GET BACK, GET BACK, KEEP MOVING’. As I was conducting dispersal tactics the male who was stood in front of me waving his arms at the tram was bitten on the arm. The dog immediately released. Due to growing numbers of fans gathering in the locality and the hostility of pedestrians towards those people on the trams, I was unable to directly deal with this male, and my priority was to gain control of pedestrian activity and further disorder. I knew from the bite capabilities of Police Dog Rover that other than the likelihood a ripped sleeve, the male would have suffered only grazing and immediate medical assistance was not necessary.

No officer was immediately able to come forward and arrest this male under the Public Order Act. He continued with disorderly behaviour. His eyes were glazed and he was unsteady on his feet and I did in fact believe he was drunk. His behaviour continued as such that mounted officers arrived and I can recall seeing the male having to be further dispersed by officers using mounted tactics.

The male was repeatedly asked to move on and eventually only complied due to peer pressure from his friends.

CCTV footage from a Police spotter however showed the following;

At 15.08.06h PC W is seen to move to stand beside a lamppost struggling with Police dog Rover, which she was now holding by its lead.

At 15.08.12h Robert is seen with his face turned towards the tram, walking but not violent.

At 15.08.14h Robert walks past PC W and is bitten and thereafter does indeed remonstrate with the officer before being pushed away. There is however no suggestion of drunkenness or disorder on his part or anyone close to him.

The available evidence therefore suggested that;

• Police Dog Rover was not under control and in the space of a few minutes, Police Dog Rover had bitten both an elderly man and Robert.

• There had indeed been flash points of disorder, but Robert was not involved in any of them; rather, he was simply proceeding away from the stadium along with thousands of others.

In the face of no admission of liability from the Police, I issued County Court proceedings on behalf of Robert.

The solicitors appointed to represent South Yorkshire Police advised that their client intended to “robustly defend” the claim and that they were confident that their client would “establish a successful Defence”.

Indeed, their defence was robust, disputing the claim in its entirety and stating that Robert, immediately before he was bitten, “was shouting. His behaviour was inflammatory. He made signs with his hands that was simulating masturbation”. Further they alleged that he waved his arms and jumped around in front of PC W and Rover in very close proximity to Rover and that after he had been bitten, he “continued with his disorderly behaviour. His eyes were glazed, he was unsteady on his feet and appeared drunk”. He was repeatedly asked to move on but “was aggressive and abusive with the officers trying to move him on”.

The claim proceeded and then, just weeks before trial, the Police caved in. They agreed to compensate Robert with a five-figure award of damages and to pay his legal costs. The final settlement was in excess of £100,000.00. If this is the way South Yorkshire Police normally conduct their Police dog operations, and how, as I suspect, they routinely respond to legitimate claims and complaints against them, it might go a long way to showing why the policing of this football fixture has become so expensive.

Sadly, and of more significance, this is yet another example to add to my long experience of seeing Police Forces “trump up” criminal charges against innocent members of the public who have suffered at their hands (or, indeed, as in this case, teeth) in order to deflect from the Police’s own wrongdoing. This kind of utterly reprehensible and in my opinion quite deliberate behaviour, has become institutionalised in many, if not all, Forces; to callously and cynically attempt to criminalise people who have had the misfortune to fall foul of Police violence. All who are involved in this kind of cover-up should hang their heads in shame.

5Live Investigates Police Sexploitation

I recently contributed to another investigation led by the BBC Radio 5 Live team about police abuse of powers for sexual gain. Click here for details of their last investigation on this issue. Yesterday I was interviewed on the show to discuss the issue. Listen to my comments on the BBC 5Live programme (from 12 minutes onward) by clicking below.

The focus of the latest 5 Live investigation was the selection process of police officers and the ‘vetting’ methodology, an issue highlighted recently in the Ian Naude case, which you can read about here: Are the Police failing to stop sexual predators joining their ranks?

In particular, 5Live has established that thousands of serving police officers and civilian staff, taken on before 2006, have never undergone the stricter criminal record and background checks that were introduced that year. A Freedom of Information Request from the BBC established that, of the 36 police forces who replied, 16 had not performed retrospective background checks on their staff/ officers.

I welcome any media investigation that puts a spotlight on police officers abusing their position for sexual gain and helps bring perpetrators to account, but I suspect that the vetting process, no matter how rigorous and thorough, will not stop the majority of police ‘sexploitation’ cases. I say this because, in my experience, the majority of officers abusing their position are not dangerous paedophiles like Ian Naude, but rather, men who are tempted to take advantage of a situation for their own sexual benefit, and who probably have no visible history of this prior to joining the Police.

Here are some examples:

  • My client Yvonne who was a long-term victim of domestic violence and was groomed by a police officer assigned to her case and then encouraged to enter into a sexual relationship with him; hear her talking about her story on the BBC 5Live programme above at approximately 35 minutes in, or read about it here.
  • My client Josey, another domestic violence victim, received multiple texts of a sexual nature from the officer investigating her case, asking for intimate photographs (Read her story here).
  • My client Lisa, yet another domestic violence victim, who also received multiple texts of a sexual nature from her investigating officer, asking for naked photographs of herself (Read her story here).
  • My client Kate, a sex worker who reported her pimp to the police and who was then phoned and harassed by multiple, personal text messages from the investigating officer in her case, at all times of the day and night, when the officer was both on and off duty (see here)
  • My client Andrea, who called the police for help with a friend’s teenage son who had run away from home, and was visited by a police officer who flirted with her, tried to kiss her and then called and texted her multiple times.
  • My client Claire, yet another domestic violence victim who was groomed by the investigating police officer, and then encouraged to enter into a sexual relationship with him. (Read more here.)
  • My client Brian, whose personal information on the Police National Computer was accessed and then misused by a jealous police officer who had been seeing Brian‘s previous boyfriend and who then made an anonymous call to Brian’s employer making false accusations about him.
  • My client Collette, who was assigned a family liaison officer after her husband had tragically committed suicide; this married officer then bombarded Collette with personal visits, calls and texts (with a clearly sexual intention) and stalked her by obtaining data on her car from the Police’s Automatic Number Plate Recognition System (ANPR) including following her and using his emergency lights to pull her over on the motorway so he could take her for coffee.

The list goes on… And the fact is that I genuinely believe that the officers involved in all of these cases would have passed the police national vetting standard test, either on admission or subsequently. They are not dangerous paedophiles with a pre-existing history of criminality or suspicious behaviour, but rather sad men in a uniform who have abused their privileged position for their own sexual gain.

The IOPC, the HMIC, the National Police Chief’s Council and the College of Policing all recognise that the exploitation of victims of crime by officers overstepping professional boundaries and abusing their positions of authority, trust and access to those vulnerable victim’s often fragile and chaotic private lives is a long-standing problem, and one that only some police officers seem to recognise and respect.

In my opinion, although robust vetting standards are of course imperative, what is really required is a thorough and ongoing campaign throughout all Police forces to raise awareness of this problem (both so that officers who think that forming sexual relationships with victims of crime is okay are disabused of this notion, and so that all officers can be on the lookout for signs of such abuse amongst their colleagues) and above all uniformity in sanction to send the clearest and most robust of messages to those tempted to offend; imprisonment and immediate dismissal if misconduct in public office is proven.

Only then will we begin to see a change in what I suspect is a long-standing culture amongst certain types of Police Officers, one which is now coming ever more to light in an age when victims are more aware of their rights, police authorities are more willing to listen to them, and abusing officers often leave blatant evidence of their behaviour, like guilty fingerprints, all over electronic media.

Let’s Talk About Police Misconduct Investigations

I read in the news this week that the Police Federation has called for legislation to restrict the length of time which misconduct investigations are allowed to continue for.

Police Federation Conduct Lead Phill Matthews described the current regime in which investigations can drag on for years as “inhumane” and rather naively suggested that in no other profession can misconduct investigations drag on for so long.

He also described the current regime as “draconian” in its harshness towards Police Officers. Whilst I fully appreciate that Mr Matthews is doing his best to represent his members, I have to beg to differ with that characterisation. From my point of view, as a Solicitor who represents the victims of Police misconduct I have to say that my clients and I often find the complaint investigation process, led by each constabulary’s Professional Standards Department, to be almost laughably biased towards the Police officers, almost always favouring their version of events over that of members of the public, and tending towards awarding only the lowest level of sanction “Management Advice” even when misconduct is proven.

“Management advice” is a very minor reprimand; really only a slap on the wrist. Sometimes, in fact, I suspect it is really a slap on the back administered over a cup of coffee…or alternatively, not even given at all, as I established at a trial against West Midlands Police a few years ago.

So Mr Matthews and I approach the Police complaint/ disciplinary system from two very different vantage points; but one thing I certainly do agree with him about is that the whole process should be dramatically speeded up.

Whilst Mr Matthews lambasts the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) for the duration of its investigations, I can absolutely echo that criticism and direct it at the Professional Standards Departments which are staffed by his federation membership.

No doubt, Police officers accused of serious misconduct experience a lot of mental pressure and anxiety whilst awaiting the outcome of a complaint investigation, but then so do the victims of Police misconduct themselves, who often find insult added to injury as month after month the enquiry into their complaint drags on and on without resolution – and very often with what I consider to be a very unjust final outcome.

I have blogged previously about the high profile case of my client Paul Ponting – unlawfully arrested, assaulted, strip- searched and subjected to a wrongful prosecution – who after several years of litigation won £35,000 from Lancashire Constabulary.

Paul and his wife instituted a complaint about what had been done to him on the very night that he was arrested (19 June 2014). In February 2015 a report was sent which purported to conclude ‘no wrongdoing’ on the part of the Police, but in regards to which I lodged an appeal on Paul’s behalf as the investigation had not bothered to actually take a statement from Paul himself or the three members of his family who witnessed the events. In June 2015 Lancashire’s PSD indicated that the complaint was being “reviewed” and subsequently (July 2015) “errors” were admitted in regards to the handling of the complaint. Notwithstanding this, in September 2015, Lancashire PSD purported to dismiss the complaint for a second time!

Following further representations from myself on behalf of the Pontings, in June 2016 (2 years after the initial complaint was filed) Lancashire stated that the complaint would be handed over to an independent Force, namely Cumbria Constabulary, for re-investigation. But when in November of that year other complaints brought by Mr Ponting were indeed passed to Cumbria for review – this complaint relating to the events of June 2014 was not one of them.

At the present time, almost four and a half years later, the Pontings have still received no satisfactory resolution to their complaint, although thankfully their civil compensation claim has been successfully completed, as part of which the Chief Constable wrote a personal letter of apology to Mr Ponting. None of the Police officers involved in Paul’s arrest, assault and strip- search have faced any disciplinary action whatsoever.

This type of situation is far from unique. My client Mr E T  whose claim for unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and malicious prosecution against the Metropolitan Police I settled for £46,000 also brought a complaint against the officers involved, which took over 3 years to come to a disciplinary hearing, at which all allegations of misconduct against the officers were dismissed.

My client Zahi instituted a complaint, also against the Met Police, after he was subjected to an unlawful arrest (which we believe heavily influenced by the colour of his skin) and an aggressive assault involving the attacking officer choking him, and a subsequent humiliating strip- search. Whilst his claim for damages is presently ongoing, and likely to result in a substantial pay-out, the complaint that he brought took over 5 years to reach a resolution when, despite the IPCC (as then was) finding that the officer who had assaulted Zahi had a case to answer for misconduct, the chairperson conducting the misconduct meeting dismissed all allegations against him, finding in favour of the officer on every count.

A ‘draconian’, obtuse, frustrating and often glacially-paced process the current misconduct regime might be; but in my opinion, it is the public, not the Police who suffer most at its hands.

In the News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Police Guidance Fails Sexual Abuse Victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In September 2013, further guidance was given;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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