My final word on the case of Yvonne Farrell this week, relates not to the original wrongdoing by Hertfordshire Constabulary – as heinous as it was – but to the attitude and conduct of the Police thereafter, which was littered with obstruction, denial, delay, excuses, and counter- accusations; everything, in fact, apart from an apology until the very last moment.
“The fair treatment of people detained in custody in Hertfordshire is very important. Following a review of the circumstances we accepted that, regrettably, we didn’t get everything right on this occasion four years ago. We were in regular contact with the complainant’s legal team throughout and the force agreed to settle the matter in recognition of the distress caused. The matter was settled amicably.”
In reality, that statement is nothing more than misleading ‘spin’. Tell me how ‘amicable’ you find the following Police actions/ responses-
• 2/8/18 Yvonne is wrongfully arrested and subjected to an unlawful strip- search • 15/8/18 Yvonne lodges her complaint • 15/3/19 Hertfordshire Professional Standards Department provide their response in a 26 page report – entirely rejecting all aspects of Yvonne’s complaint and purporting to find that her claim was entirely lawful and that there was “there is no evidence to suggest the actions of the officers have fallen below the Standards of Professional Behaviour…” • 14/3/20 I submit a formal letter of claim on behalf of Yvonne • 4/6/20 Hertfordshire Police Legal Services deny all liability (“your client’s claim is denied in its entirety”) relying heavily on the findings of the Complaint Report (praised by Legal Services as having been “an extensive PSD investigation”) but make a confidential offer of £800 damages. • Their offer was eventually increased to £5,000 but the denial of liability was maintained. • 1/9/20 I issued Court proceedings on behalf of Yvonne. • 19/11/20 The Chief Constable of Hertfordshire filed a Defence to the claim, again entirely denying liability and alleging “All force was necessary, reasonable and lawful.” • 15/12/20 The Chief Constable accepted the Claimant’s offer to settle her claim for £45,000 damages and agreed to provide a letter of apology.
The reality is that this wasn’t an amicable process, with the Police trying to set things right from the outset, as their publicity implies. Instead, the Force’s long- established internal processes – designed, in my opinion, to demoralise victims of misconduct, deter complaints and frighten off claims (through the spectre of lengthy and costly contested court proceedings) – went to work to obfuscate Police wrongdoing and frustrate a legitimate complaint and claim.
It is those processes, the institutional response to external criticism, which need just as much reform as the dirty practice of stripping detainees of their clothes along with their rights.
Let me therefore offer a re-worded version of Hertfordshire’s statement which more accurately reflects the truth-
“The fair treatment of people detained in custody in Hertfordshire was sadly not as important to us as protecting our officers from criticism. Following a review of the circumstances we wrongly maintained that we had got everything right. We were in regular contact with the complainant’s legal team throughout, repeatedly denying liability and thereby adding to the distress caused to her; and the force agreed to settle the matter only after being sued.”
I really do count what happened to Yvonne as one of the most heinous institutional abuses of power in modern-day Policing. As I told the BBC, those who have been unlawfully arrested – often having no prior experience of Police custody – tend to be understandably upset, and many of them then dispute the need to provide their personal details, as a form of protest against what has been done to them. In response to this, the Police too often use a strip-search as a ‘punishment’ designed to enforce the person’s compliance through a very physical act of degradation and humiliation. In my opinion, it is a low-level form of torture, deliberately implemented not to safeguard a detainee’s welfare, but to break their spirit.
And all of this in a week in which further revelations have come to light about the prevalence of toxic attitudes of misogyny, racism and authoritarianism amongst our nation’s largest Police force – Wayne Couzens being shown to be an outlier on the same continuum of sinister behaviour which at its lower levels encompasses too many male Police officers.
Courageous victims of Police wrongdoing, such as Yvonne, coming forwards and telling their stories are the building blocks we need for a reformed Police service, one in which the public can place proper trust and faith, and one in which the Police themselves are the first to clamp down on misconduct in their ranks, rather than waiting for it to be exposed from outside. In current Policing culture, with its ingrained authoritarian attitudes and ‘tribal’ mindset, letters of apology such as Yvonne received are rarely forthcoming until a member of the public sticks their neck out and sues the Chief Constable; it simply shouldn’t have to be that way.
By speaking up, and raising awareness of these matters, we can all strive for change and a healthier tomorrow.
I currently represent Emmanuel Madugbah, an NHS worker who has been publicly lauded for his courage and dedication in working 43 consecutive days at Northwick Park hospital during that terrible time at the peak of the first Coronavirus wave in 2020; Emmanuel pursues a claim against the Police arising out of a violent ‘stop and search’ incident which occurred in October 2019. The details of this incident are as follows.
Emmanuel, as noted above, is a man of exemplary character having had no previous adverse encounters with the Police. At the relevant time, he was living in a shared house in Watford.
At approximately 17.45 on 4 October 2019, Emmanuel left his house in order to do some shopping. As he crossed Vicarage Road, leading to the High Street, he was talking to a friend on his mobile phone. Suddenly, he heard someone shout, causing him to raise his head.
Emmanuel was shocked to see a man, whom he now understands to be PC Richmond, facing him and pointing a taser gun directly at him. PC Richmond directed Emmanuel to raise his hands and then drop to the ground.
In a state of fear and alarm, Emmanuel complied without question, and hit the ground heavily, damaging his phone on the ground in the process. Two other men (DS Matthews and PC Graham) then converged on my client, and he was handcuffed to the rear, without any explanation. During this process, he felt one of the men kneeling on his back.
Emmanuel was now asked for his name and address and it was at this point that he realised that the men were police officers. He immediately confirmed his name and address, and directed the officers to the wallet in his back pocket, which contained his driving licence.
At this point, still being held down on the floor, Emmanuel heard one of the officers then radioing through his details, and was also aware that both he and his ID were being photographed.
Emmanuel was then lifted up and pushed up against a wall of a nearby shop.
One officer alleged that Emmanuel bore a strong resemblance to a “bad” man, wanted for a stabbing, who they were looking for.
Emmanuel understandably protested his innocence, and asserted that he should be released.
However, his street detention continued as the officers questioned him about his address, and agreed to remove his handcuffs only so that he could unlock his phone for them, and they could scroll through his data.
DS Matthews then admitted that this was a case of “mistaken identity” and apologised to Emmanuel, also offering to arrange reimbursement for the damage to his phone.
However, the impact of this incident went far beyond a mere cracked mobile phone screen: Emmanuel had been threatened with a taser, violently handcuffed and detained in public, being intrusively questioned, for around 15 minutes: he was shaken, hurt and very distressed.
Then, to compound matters, a mere 10 minutes later, Emmanuel received a telephone call from one of his housemates, who advised that the Police were now at their shared house (not far from the location of the incident). Emmanuel was further shocked and confused and called DS Matthews to seek an explanation. DS Matthews informed him “We’re searching a couple of houses on the street and yours is one of them”. Emmanuel questioned this bizarre ‘coincidence’ but received no adequate response from the officer; extremely concerned, he immediately returned home.
On his return, Emmanuel established that the same police officers who had stopped him were indeed now in his house and were carrying out an extensive search. Given that these officers had not just 20 minutes earlier explained that his arrest as a suspect was a mistake, Emmanuel was completely bemused.
To make matters worse, Emmanuel’s housemates were now under the impression that he was a criminal suspect. Emmanuel asked the officers to explain to his housemates that this was simply a mistake; unfortunately, his housemates’ understanding of English was limited and Emmanuel formed the impression that they did not accept or understand this, causing him to have subsequent problems with them.
Emmanuel subsequently lodged a complaint. During this process, he met the investigating officer who showed him a photograph of the real suspect whom the officers had been looking for that day. Other than both men being black, there was little physical resemblance between Emmanuel and the suspect, leading my client to conclude that he was the victim of discrimination on the part of the officers who had rushed and assaulted him – all of whom were white.
Emmanuel’s grounds of complaint against the officers involved were as follows-
• Assault • Mishandling of Property • Neglect/ failure in duty • Discriminatory behaviour • Incivility, impoliteness and intolerance.
Multiple Grounds, Multiple Failings
Although my client’s complaint related to a single, and relatively straightforward incident, Cambridge Constabulary’s Professional Standards Department took over a year to complete their investigation report, which was finally received by Emmanuel in December 2020.
As is generally the case, the PSD Report appeared to both myself and my client to be an exercise designed to excuse the conduct of the Officers, starting and finishing from a position of bias and prejudice in favour of those Officers, rather than a fair and objective investigation of events. Unsurprisingly the report purported to reject all aspects of Mr Madugbah’s complaint – with the exception of a ‘technicality’: the officers failure to provide the requisite written notice to the occupants of Emmanuel’s house following their search of the premises under Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).
On 6 January 2021 I lodged an appeal on behalf of Emmanuel with the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
Although the IOPC’s role is not to reinvestigate the complaint, they are granted oversight of the way the Police themselves investigated the complaint and they have the power to intervene, via directions or recommendations to the Police, if the complaint has not been handled in a reasonable and proportionate way.
The key points which I raised in my letter of appeal were as follows –
• No detail at all had been provided in the report as to the description of the third party who the Police were said to be actually looking for, other than that he was black and had a beard.
• It was stated that the Officers had seen two images of the third party, a Custody image dated 10 September 2018 and a CCTV still described as being poor quality (“grainy”). Of note, the Complaint Investigator (IO) gave no indication that he had actually bothered to review these 2 images and/or consider whether Emmanuel bore any resemblance to the third party (other than being black).
• Furthermore, my own enquiries had indicated that the third party (the actual wanted man) was aged 25. At the time of this incident, Emmanuel Madugbah was in fact aged 41, and PC Graham had actually conceded that when face to face with our client – “I suspected he wasn’t the subject …….. as he looked too old.”
• Yet further, the Officers appeared to have jumped to the conclusion that Emmanuel was the wanted man after seeing him from a distance of almost 100 feet (on their own evidence). The reality is that skin colour appears to have been the officers’ only real basis for ‘identification’ of Emmanuel as the third party, rather than any resemblance of facial features between the wanted man and Emmanuel. However, the IO appeared entirely disinterested in this issue during his discussion of the evidence in the Complaint Report – and had failed to subject his colleagues purported identification of Emmanuel as being the wanted man to any proper critical analysis.
• Yet further, my client’s significant allegation that despite his immediate compliance with the Officers/non-resistance , one of the Officers held Emmanuel to the ground with a knee in his back, had not been put to any of the Officers by the IO.
I am pleased to confirm that in late April 2021 the IOPC upheld my client’s appeal, and directed that a thorough re-investigation of the complaint be carried out by Cambridgeshire Constabulary.
Amongst the IOPC’s criticisms of the investigation were the following-
• The report lacks attention to detail given the “overriding seriousness” of the allegations.
• The IO has not displayed sufficient objectivity in assessing the allegations, in weighing the officers’ accounts against other evidence and has failed to properly explain his conclusion.
• Whilst 12 minutes of apparently highly relevant CCTV footage of this incident was available to the IO, he neither properly discusses nor links the content of the footage to any of his conclusions on various issues, including the use of force.
The subsequent re-investigation report, prepared by the same Investigating Officer who had prepared the first report, was published on 14 September 2021 (only a month short of the second anniversary of Mr Madugbah’s complaint).
Once again, the report purported to dismiss Mr Madugbah’s complaint about the illegitimacy of his identification as the wanted man, and the force used upon him by the Officers. It seemed to me that the Investigating Officer in carrying out the further enquiries which he had been directed to by the IOPC, had simply used these further enquiries as the ‘window dressings’ of a new report which he had always intended to enshrine the outcome of the old report.
It was therefore necessary, once again, to appeal to the IOPC –
• Although the IO now confirmed that he had reviewed the images of the actual suspect that the Officers had been provided with prior to this incident, he still failed to provide any detailed discussion or analysis as to why it was reasonable to believe that the person pictured in the photographs (the real suspect) was Mr Madugbah. There still appeared to be no basis for the assertion of any similarity in appearance beyond the extremely generic facts that both the suspect and Mr Madugbah were Black (IC3 categorisation) and wore beards. The IO made no attempt to detail or explain any concordance of appearance between the images of the suspect and the images of my client, of which he had also had sight.
• It was notable that of the three Officers involved in the initial identification/detention of Mr Madugbah only PC Richmond, and not DS Matthews or PC Graham , had been asked to comment on/clarify the identification issue, despite the fact that on DS Matthews’s account it was he who initiated the entire sequence of events – “I saw a male who resembled ###### on Farraline Road, walking towards Vicarage Road. The male crossed from left to right and the sighting was from a distance from approximately 30 meters. I immediately believed that it was ###### and recall saying words to the effect of THAT’S HIM. Traffic was fairly heavy, so we all alighted from our vehicle and ran to catch this male up.”
• The reinvestigation also failed to address specific concerns, highlighted by the IOPC in April, regarding PC Graham’s comment that “face to face with the male, I suspected he wasn’t the subject we sought as he looked too old” as well as DS Matthews’s admission that “On closer inspection and supported by ID of the male detained, it was clear that Mr Madugbah was not [the suspect].” Again, the reinvestigation simply failed to engage with these important points of evidence at all, and no information was offered as to any concordance of facial feature, height or build between the real suspect and Mr Madugbah.
• Furthermore, despite the IOPC having identified that the issue of the use of force against Emmanuel had not received sufficient consideration by the IO in the first report, it was clear that a number of important enquiries had still not been completed in this regard. Emmanuel had always maintained that one of the Officers, whom he described as a “Bald well built man” (presumed to be PC Richmond) had held him to the ground with his knee in his back. This allegation had been completely ignored by the IO during the initial complaint investigation, and the re-investigation report remained wholly inadequate in this respect, in that the IO only bothered to raise the issue with PC Richmond(who denied it) but did not ask any of the other two Officers who were present to comment on the allegation.
• In a similar, slipshod fashion, the IO had only canvassed the opinion of PC Richmond as to whether it was reasonable and proportionate for my client to be kept in handcuffs for 10 – 15 minutes, despite the Officers being in possession of his driving licence confirming his true ID within 1 – 2 minutes and did not bother to address this issue with either DS Matthews or PC Graham .
Police Complaint Reports: A Farcical Merry-Go Round
I have now, on 20 January 2022 (over 2 years and 3 months since the incident), received notification that the IOPC have once again upheld my appeal on behalf of Mr Madugbah and Cambridgeshire Constabulary have accordingly been directed to re-investigate the complaint, largely on the basis that they did such an inadequate re-investigation of the key issues following the IOPC’s first intervention.
Do we now have to call this a re-re investigation? My client could quite reasonably ask how much longer is this merry-go-round going to continue, and I would not be able to give him a definitive answer, owing to the open-ended nature of a Police complaint process that lacks the cogency and control granted by having punitive deadlines in place, which (by way of contrast) are key elements of both the criminal and civil legal systems in this country.
Amongst the many scathing comments made by the IOPC in regards to the re-investigation report were the following –
• When asked by the IO what led PC Richmond to the ‘reasonably held suspicion’ that Mr Madugbah was the suspect, the Officer’s account failed to provide any further substantive detail as to how this decision was reached, making no reference to any intelligence and/or the circumstances which might have substantiated the decision making.
• Specific rationale as to why it was believed that Mr Madugbah resembled the wanted suspect had not been provided by DS Matthews, and this had again not been further probed by the IO.
• The IOPC review was unable to ascertain the specific rationale which contributed towards the Officers forming an alleged reasonable suspicion, and there was only limited explanation of the assessment conducted by each Officer within their accounts. Given the heightened use of force – including the drawing of a taser – during the stop and subsequent search of Mr Madugbah, a thorough and proportionate rationale and assessment of why it was believed he was the suspect should have been provided as a key element of the Complaint Investigation Report.
• It was not sufficient for the IO to merely ‘insinuate’ the reasons for identification from the Officers’ accounts.
• My client was entitled to a full explanation of the information available at the time that had led to the alleged reasonable suspicion being formed by the Officers – but despite being given two opportunities to do so Cambridgeshire Constabulary had failed to do so.
Furthermore, the IOPC have, somewhat delicately, suggested that Cambridgeshire Constabulary now allocate a new Investigating Officer to deal with the (third) complaint investigation, on the basis that the IO who (mis)handled the first two investigations might lack the necessary “objectivity”. Indeed.
The IOPC reviewer rightly acknowledged that this event in 2019 had caused a significant amount of distress to Emmanuel, and to that I would add the fact that his distress has certainly not been alleviated by yet another frustrating, demoralising and biased Investigation Report – which is sadly one of the hallmarks of our dysfunctional police complaints system. In my opinion, it is perfectly understandable why many of my clients reject the opportunity to raise a complaint and instead wish me to proceed immediately with a claim for damages – in bringing a claim, whether or not it proceeds to court litigation, a person who has suffered mistreatment at the hands of the Police is in control and can proactively obtain evidence and hold the Police to account, ultimately in front of a Judge and Jury if necessary, as well as expecting the Police to comply with legally mandated time- frames for response. In the complaint process, on the other hand, the victim of Police Misconduct is largely shut out and kept in the dark whilst the complaint investigation is ongoing, and he and his lawyer have no direct access to the evidence relied upon by the Complaint Investigator until after the report is finalised. Alongside this, the IOPC often proves to be little more than a ‘paper tiger’ showing a limited appetite to correct most Police complaint errors, biases and delays – and also lacking robust statutory powers to properly intervene; note that in the present case, for example, the IOPC have merely suggested, rather than ordered the replacement of the Investigating Officer, despite his multiple failings to date . The Police complaint process can drag on for years, even in regards to relatively straightforward incidents, and often seems to be simply going round in circles.
No wonder people want to get their hands on the ‘steering wheel’ provided by a civil claim, rather than being passengers on the ‘merry-go-round’ process of a Complaint Investigation.
I have already commenced Mr Madugbah’s claim against Cambridgeshire Constabulary, which I anticipate will give him far more vindication and satisfaction than the time consuming, wasteful and massively inefficient Police complaints process.
Increasingly, I find myself urging those who consult me regarding wrongful Police behaviour – take your case to Court, not to the Circus.
The names of the Police officers in this blog have been changed.
I have on numerous occasions highlighted the disregard which many Metropolitan Police officers show towards the rules governing speculative ‘stop and search’ operations upon members of the public; rules set out under the Police & Criminal Evidence Act so as to respect the liberty and individuality of the citizen and to ensure that officers do not abuse such powers – as if they were agents of some dystopian police state – and instead operate in a democratic environment of transparency and accountability. Such is the law as provided under Code A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the modern bedrock of that age-old principle of the British constitution: policing by consent.
Unfortunately, as the case of my client Mohammed demonstrates, the abuse of stop and search powers, and lack of regard for the fundamental steps which any officer is required to comply with to make such an ‘on the street’ detention and search lawful, is also commonplace amongst the other police Forces of England and Wales, as is evidence of ‘racial profiling’ by their officers.
At approximately 1:55 am on 10 March 2021 Mohammed, an 18-year-old university student, was in his car on Bedford Street, Rhyl with a friend, having recently finished work. A North Wales Police car containing PC Richards and PC Yang pulled up nearby. Thinking nothing of it, Mohammed and his friend got out of the car to walk home; the officers then approached the two lads and asked to speak to them.
Unexpectedly, Mohammed’s friend ran away from the officers. Mohammed was surprised by his friend’s action but chose not to act similarly; he simply refused to engage with the officers and began to walk away. He was followed by PC Richards, whom he asked not to touch him. Mohammed knew that the law of England and Wales does not require a citizen to simply ‘account’ for themselves to an officer on demand, nor to answer the officer’s questions, if they are not being lawfully detained for either the purposes of a justified search, or on suspicion of an offence.
PC Yang then suddenly rushed forwards and took hold of Mohammed’s arms shouting, “Give me your fucking hands!” before putting his arm around the back of Mohammed’s neck and pulling his head forwards. As this occurred, PC Yang’s elbow connected with Mohammed’s face. PC Yang then grabbed Mohammed’s coat and partly pulled it over his head.
Mohammed was understandably distressed by this abrupt and unnecessary use of force. He repeatedly shouted for the officers to get off him and asked what he had done, however PC Richards only told him that he was “Being searched”. My client remonstrated with PC Yang for hitting him in the face and for not wearing a mask (given the high prevalence of Covid cases at the time). With the assistance of PC Richards, PC Yang handcuffed Mohammed to the rear and then searched him; nothing illicit was found. As the search was occurring, other Police officers arrived, and PC Yang threatened to use further force and take Mohammed to the ground.
PC Yang then decided to subject Mohammed to a drug swab and a breathalyser test and attempted to force him into the rear of the police car. Mohammed refused to enter the car but said that he was willing to take the tests outside. PC Yang then arrested Mohammed for “resisting” and forced him into the rear of the car. My client again questioned why he had been stopped and assaulted and it was only at this point that PC Yang announced that he had detained and searched Mohammed under Section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
The breathalyser test was negative and whilst awaiting the results of the drug swab, Mohammed’s father attended the scene. The drugs swab was also negative, although PC Yang commented that “Surprisingly you’ve passed that test … because from the look from your eyes you look stoned”. This accusation was entirely false – Mohammed had not taken any drugs, as borne out by the battery of tests he had been subjected to by the Police. PC Yang then de-arrested my client but informed him that he would be reported for obstructing a police officer and cautioned him.
The following day Mohammed was suffering from pain in his jaw and attended hospital, where he was given painkillers.
Mohammed was subsequently prosecuted for allegedly obstructing PC Yang in the execution of his duty; however, on 5 May the CPS discontinued the prosecution, evidently realising that an officer who is carrying out a blatantly unlawful search is not “acting in the execution of his duty”. It is disgraceful that matters even got that far however, and that Mohammed was subjected to the stress and worry of having this false charge hanging over his head for several months.
Failure to comply with Code A renders Stop & Search Unlawful
My client subsequently lodged a complaint. The complaint was upheld on the basis that Mohammed was searched unlawfully as PC Yang failed to provide the grounds for the search, the object of the search, the legislation relied upon, his identity or his station until after the search had been conducted; i.e. the officer had failed to comply with the “GOWISELY” criteria, and was therefore in breach of Code A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, rendering his detention and manhandling of Mohammed unlawful. Furthermore, Mohammed’s complaint of incivility against PC Yang was upheld due to PC Yang’s comments regarding the negative drug swab.
This incident and the subsequent prosecution caused Mohammed significant distress and upset, including sleep disturbance, anxiety, and depression; he was at the time of these events a first-year university student and following the incident found it difficult to concentrate, negatively impacting his studies. Mohammed remains extremely concerned that he could again be assaulted and arrested by police officers without any reason, especially when in his car. This led him to avoid using his car and experiencing significant fear and anxiety when interacting with police officers.
I subsequently brought a claim against North Wales Police on behalf of Mohammed for false imprisonment, assault and battery and malicious prosecution, which was settled out of Court for the sum of £7,500 damages plus legal costs; this will provide Mohammed with an entirely appropriate sense of vindication, help him to move on with his life and – possibly – encourage the Police to adapt their future approach to such encounters/ events.
A Circle of Mistrust, Fuelled by Police Prejudice
Although the Police upheld Mohammed’s complaint because of PC Yang’s failure to provide the requisite information in accordance with PACE, I think that the circumstances of this incident do demonstrate a wider malaise amongst officers than merely a failure to ‘say the right words’ in the heat of the moment; of great concern, in my view, is the lack of an objectively reasonable basis for the stop/ search in the first place – the circumstances instead being indicative of officers (possibly bored, with too much time on their hands during the second national ‘Lockdown’) carrying out a speculative stop and search encounter upon an individual because of his personal characteristics and the time of night, rather than any behavioural indicators on his part or other evidence of criminality. Certainly, the Police failed to produce any evidence from either PC Yang or any of his colleagues justifying an objectively reasonable suspicion that Mohammed might have had illegal drugs upon him; and I strongly suspect that Mohammed was targeted simply because of his general characteristics i.e. being a young, British Asian, male ‘out and about’ in the early hours. As Home Office data published last year and widely reported on demonstrates, Mohammed’s cohort of the population – BAME (Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic) males aged 15-19 – were the subject of over 20% of all Police searches nationwide.
As stressed above, we do not live in a Police state where individuals otherwise behaving in an entirely law- abiding manner are required to account for themselves to the Police – nor one in which the law presumes them to be criminals because they refuse to engage; regrettably, however, many agents of that law do appear to operate on just such prejudiced presumptions. Justice is blind – but not, it seems, all of her foot soldiers – to the colour of a man’s skin.
When Police officers throughout England and Wales carry out heavy-handed and unjustified searches upon young, ethnic minority males, they are fuelling a ‘vicious circle’ of mistrust between such young men and the Police, with Police officers then interpreting that mistrust/ refusal to engage as somehow being evidence of criminality, or suspicious behaviour in and of itself – whereas sadly they are in large part its cause.
I will leave the final word in this blog to Mohammed himself, who sent me this kind testimonial at the conclusion of his case-
I contacted Iain after recommendation from my older brother who was at the time studying his masters in law… he looked into some cases you had dealt with in the past and was very impressed. He originally contacted you on my behalf until I took over communication.
Contacting you was very easy and even when I was unable to speak to you, I was very happy with your colleagues who were very helpful.
I am very happy with the service and of course the result I didn’t think I was entitled to any compensation until your help I just wanted to make sure I made a complaint to prevent this happening to someone else.
The names of the Police officers in this blog post have been changed.
It’s always good to start the new year with a victory at Trial, and that was what happened this week for my client William Biddle (known as Billy) at Nottingham County Court; however, his case is also yet another example of how broken and dysfunctional the Police complaints system is: his dispute with the Police simply didn’t need to go this far, had they addressed it properly in the first place.
We’ll Knock You Over, Then We’ll Arrest You?
Billy is a supporter of Mansfield Football Club, but because of work commitments is not usually able to go to the match. On Saturday 17 March 2018, on a rare day off work, he had the opportunity to go and watch Mansfield play away at Notts County (a local derby) and looked forward to attending the game with three of his friends.
Shortly before kick- off, Billy and his friends were making their way along County Road, approaching Notts County’s ground.
They walked past a stationary Police van, which was parked fully on the road, to their left. As they passed the van, Billy, who was on the outside of the group of friends, walking closest to the edge of the pavement, noticed three more Police vans approaching them from the opposite direction. At this point, they were only about 100 feet from the turnstiles.
Because of the weather conditions – strong winds and snow – Billy kept his head down as he walked; he was fully on the pavement, albeit close to the edge.
Suddenly, he felt a sharp blow to his left shoulder, such that he was spun around and knocked into the friend who was walking beside him. Billy felt immediate pain and realised that he had been struck by the wing mirror of the first of the three vans in the Police ‘convoy’, which had mounted the kerb as it drove past, striking Billy in the process.
This van was then followed by two other Police ‘riot’ vans which performed the same manoeuvre i.e mounting the kerb and continuing to drive for a distance before coming to a halt partly on, and partly off the road. Thankfully, because of the first impact, Billy was at least no longer in the path of the second or third vans.
Billy was shocked and in pain, and was minded to immediately complain, but one of his friends told him not to say anything in case the Police thought Billy was causing trouble and might stop them from entering the ground.
Billy was also aware that the gates were about to be locked and didn’t want to miss the game. Accordingly, he let it go and went through the turnstiles.
However, at half time, Billy took the opportunity to approach the convoy of parked Police vans, which were still in situ outside the ground; there were four such vehicles in total i.e the first one Billy had noticed parked on the road, and the other three (the leader of which had hit him) parked half on/half off the pavement. Several of the vans contained Police officers, presumably awaiting deployment at the end of the game.
Billy approached the first uniformed Police Officer that he saw, a Sergeant sitting in the front passenger seat of the fourth and final van.
Billy tapped on the window and then noticed that the Sergeant was on the phone. He waited politely for the officer to finish. The Sergeant then wound his window down and asked, “What’s up?”
Billy explained what had happened to him, to which the officer replied “Yeah I seen it happen, it wasn’t that bad, I’m not in charge, go and speak to the Inspector” – gesturing to a van ahead. He then wound his window back up and turned his attention back to his phone.
Not perhaps the response we might want from a Police officer who on his own evidence had witnessed a road traffic collision involving a pedestrian…but perhaps the response we might expect when the vehicle involved was a Police unit.
Billy was not impressed by the Sergeant’s dismissive response and decided that he would complain; he used his phone to take a photograph of the officer’s collar number.
Although witnessing an accident was apparently not enough to pull the Sergeant’s attention away from his phone, taking a photograph of him was – he immediately alighted from the van and, Billy says, threatened him with the words “If you don’t piss off now, I’ll arrest you.” When Billy asked what he could possibly be arrested for, the Sergeant contemptuously replied, “I don’t know, I’ll think of something.”
This response was both so despicable and so ridiculous that Billy’s reaction was to laugh at the trumped-up Sergeant, but one of his friends, who had overheard the conversation, pulled him away with the warning “Come away, he’ll lock you up.”
Billy didn’t want to spoil the day for himself or his friends by getting arrested. He walked away, and down the road to the van that the first officer had pointed to. The van’s doors were open; it was being used as a mobile “control centre” for the match day.
Billy now spoke to a second Police Officer. He told him what had happened i.e. about being struck by the Police van. This officer replied that the Inspector in charge was in the ground, however he took Billy’s name, address and phone number. Billy also pointed out exactly which van had hit him and the officer seemed to make a note of the registration plate number of that van. The officer then told Billy that he would call him on Monday. Billy then returned within the ground, to rejoin the rest of his friends for the second half of the match.
It was only on waking the next day, that Billy realised the full extent of the injury he had suffered; his left shoulder was really painful, and he could barely move it. He also had a tingling sensation in his fingers; he struggled to get out of bed and couldn’t drive.
Accordingly, on Monday morning Billy attended his GP surgery; he was signed off work, prescribed painkillers and referred to hospital for x-rays; fortunately, these confirmed that there was no fracture.
Having obtained medical treatment, Billy then attended his local Police Station, Mansfield Woodhouse. He was kept waiting for some time and asked that someone call him.
He did subsequently receive a call and was invited to re-attend the Police Station the next day (Wednesday), whereupon he gave a full report as to what had happened and signed a detailed witness statement. He also provided the photograph he had taken of the Officer who had been rude to him, and who had so outrageously threatened to arrest him for no reason. He was assured that the incident would now be investigated.
Because of his injury, Billy was off work for two weeks and suffered loss of earnings as a result; he works in traffic management and when he returned, the physical aspects of his job, such as repetitive, heavy lifting of street furniture caused significant discomfort in his shoulder for months afterwards.
Insult to Injury: Why the Police Complaint System Remains a Bad Joke
In early June 2018 Billy received a letter from Inspector Longden of Nottinghamshire Police headed “Summary of Local Resolution” which stated that his complaint had been investigated, but which did not offer any proper findings or conclusion – Inspector Longden completely failed to address the serious accusation that the Sergeant whom Billy had approached had threatened an unlawful arrest to get rid of him, merely offering a typical, non- committal, ‘corporate’ apology in the following terms – “I would like to apologise if you felt the officer you spoke to was rude…”
Furthermore, although an accident report had now been completed by the Police, the Inspector failed to tell Billy what its conclusions were, or to supply a copy of the same, merely stating that Billy’s solicitor could request a copy of the report, if he was interested.
The “resolution” letter was then signed off with yet more standard, empty verbiage – “Whilst I trust all the areas of your complaint have been answered, you may exercise your right to appeal if you are not satisfied…” In fact, Billy was so disappointed by the totally lacklustre response he had received, he couldn’t be bothered appealing – almost certainly a correct decision, as it would likely have been a waste of time on his behalf given the defensive/ disinterested attitude Nottinghamshire Police had displayed to date in response to his complaint.
From the accident report, which I was able to obtain for him, Billy then learned that the Police had identified the van that hit him, and the van driver as being PC Hornsby. The report, apparently completed by Inspector Longden himself, stated as follows “Injured party reports being struck on his shoulder by the wing mirror of a police personnel carrier which was deployed to a public order incident. Police driver unaware of incident and other personnel and passengers are also unaware.”
The report contained no suggestion that any effort had been made to obtain the kind of video evidence, which is likely to have been available, had prompt enquiries been made – given the very nature of the vehicle involved being a Police carrier, with numerous other officers and police vehicles in close proximity, as well as a football ground nearby, likely fitted with CCTV cameras.
Rather, the report seemed to have been completed as a half-hearted ‘box ticking’ exercise, and came to no useful conclusion as to whether a collision had occurred or not: certainly, no action was taken against the alleged driver of the offending Police van, PC Hornsby, in any way.
I will also highlight here the fact that in the statement he made for the subsequent County Court proceedings brought by my client, PC Hornsby, whilst accepting that he had been driving a vehicle in the vicinity on the day in question, not only denied any knowledge of hitting Billy– he also asserted that “I am unsure of how I came to be referred to in the report as I was not involved in the complaint investigation” – rather begging the question of why Inspector Longden felt he was able to so confidently assert in that report “Police driver unaware of incident”.
Frankly, is it any wonder, in light of conduct like this, that so many people are cynical about the integrity of the Police complaints system?
Suing the Police for Personal Injury
In any event, Nottinghamshire Police had had an opportunity to deal with this matter promptly with an acceptance of liability for Billy’s injury and a proper apology for the Sergeant’s misconduct – they failed to take that opportunity and would instead devote the next three years to spending public money in an attempt to frustrate Billy’s legitimate, and modest, claim for compensation, forcing him to go all the way to Trial during the continuing Covid pandemic.
Along the way, the Police attempted to throw as many obstacles as they could in the path of Billy’s claim, variously accusing him of – causing the accident through his own negligence, being drunk, walking into the carriageway (into the path of the vehicle) and exaggerating the severity of his injury (or even making it up entirely) – all without a shred of positive evidence in their favour, and despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary (Billy’s prompt report of the incident and the photograph he took of the Sergeant; his contemporaneous medical records; his documented absence from work; his witness statement; and the fact that the Police themselves, whilst denying knowledge of any collision, accepted that the van Billy had pointed out had driven onto the pavement in the manner he had described).
Finally, at Trial, on Monday of this week, justice was done with His Honour Judge Godsmark QC taking only two hours, rather than three years, to cogently assess the evidence and conclude that Billy’s case was proven – the balance of the evidence was, of course, that he had been struck by a passing Police van, and suffered injury as a result – as, we might well imagine, the Police themselves might have promptly concluded, had the vehicle and driver in question not been ones of their own.
The game was finally up for the Police, and Billy was awarded compensation of almost £6,000 for his injury and loss of earnings.
But how many more members of the public will suffer similar disappointment and frustration before the bias and partiality of the Police complaints system is addressed? It continues to be a major systemic and cultural failing within our Policing system, and sadly, a determination for root and branch reform of how the Police ‘police themselves’ does not seem likely to be on the New Year Resolution agendas of any of our Chief Constables, either now or in the foreseeable future.
All technological advancements bring with them both benefits and risks, and one such problem that I have been reflecting upon recently is the increasing number of cloned motor vehicles on the road, combining with the ubiquity of our modern surveillance systems to put innocent motorists at real risk of ‘identity theft’ resulting in wrongful arrest, fines or prosecution.
This was starkly highlighted by the Telegraph newspaper last year, which reported that complaints made by people to the DVLA about incorrect fines, penalties or correspondence being issued in regards to their vehicles had almost doubled between April 2019 and March 2020 from 656 to 1,105. It is suspected that this is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of a problem fueled by the easy availability of duplicate registration plates online; many of the companies which provide such services being based outside UK jurisdiction – for example, in Jersey – thereby circumventing laws requiring the purchaser of the plates to provide proper documentary evidence of his or her legitimate ownership of the original vehicle by production of photo ID and the V5C form.
It would therefore seem to be all too easy for criminals to obtain duplicate plates, and fit them to a car simply matching the make, model and colour of the vehicle bearing the original plates, thereby creating a ready made ‘getaway’ car which can – at a surface level at least – trick the eyes of our modern surveillance society – the ubiquitous CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. Latest Police data indicates that roadside ANPR cameras – whether in fixed locations, or carried on Police vehicles – submit an average of 60 million vehicle registration plate ‘reads’ to national ANPR systems daily. A record of all motor vehicles passing by each camera is made; this technology can then be used by law enforcement professionals to track any given vehicle’s movements around the country, provided there is a legitimate Policing purpose. Police will input the registration number of any ‘vehicle of interest’ and gets ‘hits’ from the database indicating every location in the UK where the said vehicle has passed an ANPR camera over the specified timeframe of the search – which could be going back over weeks, months or even years.
Cloning scams, as well as shielding the actual criminals, can of course throw suspicion onto the entirely innocent owner of the original vehicle, who remains entirely in the dark – until, in the worst case scenario, the Police come knocking on his or her door (or perform a violent/ shocking road- side stop) and blissful ignorance turns into a nightmare experience…
One such victim of a cloning scam was my client Richard Taylor; sadly, he would also become the victim of Police negligence in the form of an unnecessary and unjustified arrest, as I explain below.
Wrongfully Arrested because of Cloned Vehicle Plates
In April 2021, Richard was the registered keeper of a Mazda motor car. Entirely unbeknownst to Richard, on 26 April 2021 a Mazda of the same model, year and colour, bearing a “cloned” copy of his vehicle’s registration plate was taken to an ATS Euromaster garage in Wantage, Oxfordshire for a full service.
The driver of the Clone left the Clone’s keys with the garage and provided a mobile phone number. The Clone required work to the value of £675, namely four new tyres, replacement brake discs and pads. On 28 April the driver secretly returned and used a second key to take the Clone from the garage forecourt without paying for the works; however the Clone’s original set of keys were left in the garage. ATS staff reported this incident to Thames Valley Police the same day. An invoice for the work carried out – which included details of the specifications of the replacement tyres – was provided to the police, but officers neglected to seize as evidence the original car keys that had been left at the garage.
In the early hours of the morning of 12 May 2021, PC Royal and PC Johnson of Thames Valley Police, attended my client’s home in the Avon & Somerset area. His (legitimate) Mazda was parked immediately outside, and before entering the premises, PC Royal examined the Mazda and took pictures of its wheels.
Richard resides in a building made up of a number of apartments, and by ringing the communal bell and asking directions to my client’s apartment the Police officers thereby attracted the attention of numerous other residents, to my client’s subsequent shame and distress.
Richard, who is a man of entirely good character, then suffered a Kafkaesque awakening, with the officers knocking on his door, and then leading him away, under arrest for a crime of which he knew absolutely nothing. On being told that he was under arrest for ‘Making off without payment’, contrary to Section 3(1) of the Theft Act 1978, Richard was deeply shocked, but complied with the officer’s instructions and supplied them with the keys to his Mazda on request; nevertheless, despite his polite co-operation he was then humiliatingly handcuffed by PC Royal.
Richard was then conveyed to his nearest Police Station. On arrival, PC Royal was unable to take the handcuffs off using his key and had to ask for the assistance of an Avon & Somerset officer to do so (it seems the lock may have been damaged), causing my client pain to his wrists. The simple fact of the matter is that Richard should never have been handcuffed in the first place; it was a completely unnecessary and degrading use of force – although sadly all too common as a matter of Police practice.
During the booking in process at the Station, PC Royal showed to the Custody Sergeant the photographs that he had taken of Richard’s Mazda. The Custody Sergeant immediately expressed concerns that the tyres shown were different than those fitted to the Clone, as detailed in the invoice from the ATS garage. Furthermore, due to the build-up of dust and dirt on the alloy wheels it was clear that they had not been removed for some time.
Nevertheless, Richard was processed, obliged to give his fingerprints, DNA and have his photograph taken, and then interviewed under caution. Following interview, during which Richard stridently maintained his innocence, he was released at 04:45 and returned home by the same officers who had arrested him, still in a state of shock and bewilderment.
Just over a week later, Richard was informed there would be no further action. His custody record was updated with the following entry –
“The detainee is to be released without charge for the following reasons: From the OIC – This occurrence has been reviewed… and the decision has been made to NFA Taylor. It is quite clear that the vehicle used in this incident was on cloned plates. ANPR work has been done on our end and there have been no ‘hits’ in the Oxfordshire area.”
Richard quite rightly then submitted a complaint to the Professional Standards Department of Thames Valley Police which was upheld by Inspector Ford, who apologised to my client for his arrest. In the complaint report Inspector Ford noted that-
“Too much emphasis was placed on the vehicle plates used in the crime linking back to the complainant as the registered owner without sufficient professional curiosity or other corroborating evidence … As a finding, Officers could and should have done further enquiries before arresting the complainant and this is likely to have precluded the complainant as a suspect.”
Inspector Ford noted a number of failings in the investigation which led to my client being incorrectly identified as a suspect-
Subscriber checks had not been completed on the phone number left with the ATS garage prior to Richard’s arrest (which would have shown that the phone number had no connection to him);
ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) checks should have been completed much earlier on in the investigation which would have determined that, while there were ‘hits’ in the Avon & Somerset area (from my client’s legitimate Mazda), there had been no hits between the ATS garage in Oxfordshire, and my client’s home address, meaning the Clone had not travelled in that direction.
The Clone’s key could have been used to quickly determine whether Richard’s Mazda was the same vehicle – without any need for arrest – but Police had failed to take that key despite it being readily available at ATS.
PC Royal had incorrectly identified the tyres on Richard’s Mazda as the same as on the Clone’s invoice, and had failed to note the obvious wear and tear to those tyres (although the Custody Sergeant had picked up on this).
Furthermore, Inspector Ford noted the ‘disruption’ that arresting my client late at night had caused and expressed concern regarding the necessity for this given the significant delay that had already elapsed since the time of the first report of the offence (some 3 weeks).
This apology was welcome, but could not negate the significant adverse effects this incident had upon a man with no previous experience of arrest or custody. Richard suffered distress and anxiety; not only was he an innocent party, but several other residents of his building were aware of his arrest late at night, deepening the shame and humiliation of the incident; the timing of the arrest likely to suggest in the minds of witnesses that it was for a particularly serious offence. As a result, Richard suffered from disturbed sleep and nightmares and became deeply concerned that the arrest might be disclosed on a DBS check and impact upon his employment.
Additionally, Richard was acutely apprehensive that ‘lightning might strike twice’ and that he might be arrested again due to the activities of the ‘Clone’; he was understandably left with no confidence that the Police would handle any such further incidents better than they had the first. As a result, he sold the Mazda at a significant loss a few weeks after these events, just to get it off his hands.
Police Failings Double the Damage
The wrongdoing in this matter undoubtedly originated with the user of the Cloned vehicle, who ripped off the ATS Euromaster garage, and clearly it was right that the Police pursue all reasonable lines of enquiry in an attempt to catch the ‘scam artist’ – but at the same time they were under a duty to ensure that in so doing they did not themselves break the law by effecting an unlawful arrest. As a result of their failure to do this, my client Richard ended up suffering a far more harrowing experience and longer lasting damage than did the original victim (ATS).
Both modern technology – in terms of the ANPR data available (which would have easily shown that Richard’s car had not travelled to/from Oxfordshire) – and good old fashioned common sense (realising that the Mazda’s tyres had evidently not been recently replaced, and/or bringing along the Cloned vehicle’s key, which was freely available to the investigating officers), if used promptly and proportionately, could have entirely averted Richard’s arrest and saved the Police themselves a considerable amount of time and resources in detaining and interviewing an innocent individual, and then having to deal with his legitimate complaint.
As a result of the complaint findings, the officer who had conduct of the investigation – PC Royal – has been identified as requiring urgent retraining owing to “omissions of attention to detail that demonstrate a significant area of learning and development for the officer.” Meanwhile, I am pursuing a claim on behalf of Richard against Thames Valley Police for wrongful arrest.
Richard’s claim is currently ongoing, but I am confident that he will receive substantial compensation from Thames Valley Police, as well as the ultimate deletion of Police database records of his unlawful arrest.
If you have been made a ‘double victim’ by a vehicle cloning scam being compounded by the Police wrongfully arresting you, please contact me for expert advice and representation: together we can hold the Police to account for any misuse of their powers, and thereby help encourage them to reform their practices and focus on their proper job – catching the real criminals.
Another week, another story in the headlines about a Police officer abusing his position for sex; PC Darren Thorn was dismissed by Wiltshire Police following a public gross misconduct hearing on 14 December 2021, where the misconduct panel heard how Thorn had formed a sexual relationship with a vulnerable woman whom he had met whilst on duty, and how he had used the Police National Computer system as a tool in his pursuit/ grooming of the woman – accessing sensitive information on the PNC about members of the public and sharing it with her.
Thorn had already admitted criminal offences arising out of the relationship, which took place between 2016–2018, including misconduct in public office and computer misuse, for which he remains to be sentenced by the Crown Court.
Paul Mills, Wiltshire’s Deputy Chief Constable said as follows –
“PC Thorn significantly abused his position as a Police officer by making contact with a vulnerable woman he met on duty and then going on to pursue a sexual relationship with her…His actions were not only illegal, but were a consistent and sustained flagrant breach of the standards the police service and the public rightly expect of those who serve in the office of police constable.”
Misconduct in public office is not an offence that can only be committed by Police Constables, however; many ‘civilian’ Police staff members potentially have access through their jobs to the type of opportunity, influence, information and authority that can be exploited by the unscrupulous/ predatory amongst them for sexual gain. Indeed, I have recently concluded a claim for misfeasance in public office (the civil tort which is the counterpart of that criminal offence) on behalf of a woman who was the victim of one such civilian Police employee.
On 29 June 2018, my client, whom I will call Nicola for the purpose of this blog post, established that her home had been burgled – and, to her distress, strongly suspected the perpetrator to be her ex- partner. Nicola called West Yorkshire Police and later, a uniformed Officer attended. The Officer obtained a statement from my client and inspected the intruder’s entry point (a downstairs kitchen window). Nicola was then advised that a “Scene of Crime Officer” (CSI) would attend so as to take fingerprints/other forensic evidence.
Approximately 1-2 hours later, a uniformed male arrived, who my client now knows to be Daniel Cordwell. He introduced himself as a Crime Scene Investigator.
Nicola invited CSI Cordwell in, showed him to the open kitchen window, and proceeded to make him a cold drink.
CSI Cornwall remained on the premises for approximately 30 minutes but as time went on, Nicola became more and more uncomfortable in his presence. Once CSI Cordwell had completed his examination of the window, he said to Nicola, “I’m trying to work out how someone as gorgeous as you would end up with someone like him” – referring to Nicola’s ex-partner. He then followed up on this totally inappropriate comment with the blatant invitation – “I’d like to see you again under different circumstances”.
By this point, CSI Cordwell was standing directly in front of Nicola, looking into her eyes, and she felt as if CSI Cordwell was going to kiss her.
CSI Cordwell then said, “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” Nicola, who wanted to disentangle herself from this creepy situation as quickly as possible, told him that she would be fine and that she was not vulnerable, but CSI Cordwell insisted – because this was no doubt what he was hoping to exploit – “You are vulnerable, you’ve been burgled”.
CSI Cordwell then put his hand on Nicola’s shoulder and kissed her on the cheek, twice. Nicola was shocked and didn’t know how to immediately respond.
CSI Cordwell then packed up his equipment but whilst doing so, complimented my client’s 2 year old daughter, bent down and kissed her. He then kissed her 5 year old son. Cordwell then approached Nicola again, put his arm around her and whilst looking into her eyes, played the “white knight” card – “Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Nicola insisted she would be, still in a state of shock and just desperate to get this man out of her house and away from herself and her children.
Soon afterwards, however, Nicola noticed that CSI Cordwell was still sitting in his van outside her house. She now felt so uncomfortable she called her current boyfriend, and then, after 20 minutes or so, left the house with her children.
She had effectively been caused to flee from her house by the very Crime Scene Investigator who was supposed to be there to help protect and secure it.
Nicola subsequently reported what had occurred to West Yorkshire Police, and the Professional Standards Department became involved.
In July 2019, Nicola received the welcome news that CSI Cordwell had been disciplined and dismissed from service, but other disturbing revelations had come to light as part of that process: it was established by the misconduct investigation that back in 2011 CSI Cordwell had used the same ‘tactics’ at the home of another female victim of burglary, and had then commenced a sexual relationship with that woman. Yet further, at the same misconduct hearing in July 2019, it was noted that CSI Cordwell had struck up inappropriate relationships with two other women he had met through his work duties.
The misconduct hearing also noted that CSI Cordwell’s ‘disregard for professional boundaries’ had actually been highlighted and raised by West Yorkshire PSD at an Integrity Discussion back in September 2017 – but they had nevertheless continued to allow him to serve, and to groom – or attempt to groom – vulnerable female victims of crime, for sex.
As noted above, claims against the Police for misfeasance in public office can be brought not only in respect of abuse of power by Police Officers, but also for the acts of civilian staff/ employees, and it was on this basis that I successfully sued West Yorkshire Police for damages of £17,000 on behalf of Nicola, reflecting the serious impact this event had upon her, especially the psychological effect which had caused her to require counselling.
Thankfully, Nicola can now move on and begin to put this incident behind her; but that is something which is not so easy for the Police profession, who clearly continue to have a real problem keeping their house in order in this regard.
Following the dismissal of the predatory PC Thorn, with whose case I began this blog, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire, Philip Wilkinson, evidently troubled by the fact that this was the third such misconduct case involving sexual exploitation that had taken place within the force since his election in August, issued an emphatic warning that “it would be wholly misguided to suggest that these former officers are lone ‘bad apples’… Cases like this chip away at public trust and [Wiltshire Police must] ensure that we do not end up in a place where that public trust cannot be rebuilt.”
I very much echo the PCC’s sentiments on this issue. The inescapable conclusion of incidents like this, is that Police culture is very much not a toxic environment for toxic masculinity; and indeed in too many respects is an environment that attracts those with such tendencies – whether into roles as Police officers or civilian staff – and fosters the growth of their abusive and exploitative behaviours. There is much work still to be done to eradicate it.
In 2014, I was invited to visit the Headquarters of TASER International in Scottsdale, Arizona, and offered the opportunity to experience the effects of the electric-shock weapon the TASER. And so it came to pass that on a bright November day, I would find myself standing on a mat, in an empty conference room, waiting to be ‘Tasered’. Despite having volunteered for this experience, I am extremely nervous. I stand tall and wait for the loud ‘pop’ that accompanies the firing of the weapon. The short time it takes for the two metal probes to hit me feels like an eternity and when they do, I involuntarily scream in agony as the electricity passes through me. The sensation is like nothing I have felt before: an agonising pulsing and cramping that seems to take over my body at regular intervals. As well as being a painful experience, it is also a disorientating, unfamiliar, and panic-inducing one. The part of my brain that is able to reflect on the experience is frantically trying to classify it and compare it to something more familiar in order to reassure myself that I am safe—but to no avail. Thankfully, the shock lasts only five seconds. I am lowered to the ground by company officials, shaken but not too badly affected by the experience.
This is the vivid description offered by Dr Abi Dymond, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Exeter, of her personal experience of being ‘tasered’ – in carefully controlled conditions – as part of the research she undertook for her authoritative study of Police Taser use “Electric-shock weapons, Tasers and policing: Myths and realities” to which I was happy to have been able to contribute.
I would ask you to read Dr Dymond’s description of that nightmarish experience (pain, helplessness, lack of control of your body) and then pause to reflect on what it would be like to be shot by, or even merely threatened, with a taser if you were not an adult, but a pre- teen child? Whilst the effects of the electric- shock which the taser barbs deliver might only last seconds, the mental impact of such an assault on your bodily integrity can last for years, and could do untold damage to the vulnerable and developing mind of a child.
Sadly, we seem to be witnessing an increasing tendency by Police to use these weapons in an ever wider range of scenarios, and upon ever more vulnerable victims.
Police officer Tasers a 10 Year Old Child
I am currently acting on behalf of a 10 year old girl who was tasered at her home in London in January of this year by a Metropolitan Police officer, following an altercation with her mother in which she had picked up a pair of garden shears. There were two Police officers present at this time, and although my client was ‘armed’ with the shears, there was no suggestion that she was actively seeking to attack anyone with them. The Crown Prosecution Service reviewed the evidence, and declined to charge the taser officer (PC Jonathan Broadhead) with any criminal offence, but the Independent Office for Police Conduct (after unsuccessfully appealing the CPS decision) has this month determined that the officer does have a case to answer for gross misconduct in relation to excessive use of force, and the matter will now proceed to a disciplinary hearing.
It is the view of the IOPC decision-maker that PC Broadhead’s use of the taser upon my client was neither justified, necessary nor proportionate to such an extent that it is open for a disciplinary panel to potentially dismiss the officer from the Force.
I will be following the misconduct proceedings – conducted within the internal systems of the Police, rather than the law courts – with interest, but also with a healthy skepticism, born of long experience, as to whether they will deliver justice for my client. My mind is drawn to another case of mine, also involving a young child (12 years old in this case), in which a complaint which was upheld by the IPCC (forerunner of the IOPC) led only to long-drawn out frustration for my client and his family, who did not get the accountability and apology they deserved from the Police until after I had instituted Court proceedings.
Police officer threatens to Taser a 12 year old Cyclist
The case in question involved PC Jonathon Hillier of West Midlands Police, and the incident took place in February 2017.
My 12 year old client, who had been playing with his friend in a local park, was simply riding his bicycle home when he noticed a police car. He did not hear any shouts or calls coming from the police car and was not aware of the officers therein making any signal to him to stop; nor was he aware of any reason why he should stop. He therefore continued to ride his bike until the police car, which contained two officers, was alongside him.
It is my client’s account that one of the officers in the police car, now known to be PC Hillier, was holding what looked to my client like an actual gun; in reality it was a taser, although this was an understandable mistake for a child to make.
My client alleges that PC Hillier then pointed the taser at him, through the open window of the police car, and shouted at him, “Stop you little fucker or I’ll taser you.”
My client immediately slowed down, rode his bike onto the kerb and stopped and got off his bike. My client suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder and already found interactions with strangers to be difficult; he was shy and retiring by nature, and terrified at what was now unfolding.
My client alleges that PC Hillier marched over, and taking hold of him, shook him hard before throwing him backwards, so that he fell into a nearby garden, banging his back on a low concrete wall which surrounded an area of planting.
My client was now so scared he was struggling to breathe, and his back was hurting. He states that PC Hillier picked him up off the ground and then dropped him to his knees. At this point, my client hit his right elbow and it began to hurt.
PC Hillier then took hold of my client’s arms and manhandled him towards the Police car, pushing him against it.
It transpired that PC Hillier and his colleague had identified – we say wrongly – my client as one of a group of youths on bicycles who had been reported as riding in a dangerous/ anti- social manner. The two officers, realizing that my client was hurt then took him (against his will) to a nearby hospital where they effectively detained him until his mother arrived, and during which time the officers made threats – thankfully unfulfilled – to ‘arrest’ him.
There can be no dispute that my client sustained injury in this incident, as the hospital records and photographs taken shortly afterwards by his parents amply demonstrate that he had cuts and bruises to his lower back, upper chest, arm and right elbow, consistent with the use of force he described Hillier subjecting him to.
In response, PC Hillier sought to explain away my client’s injuries by claiming that he had fallen over (without being touched) as the officer approached him.
He also denied showing his taser gun (although he was certainly armed with one), instead claiming that he ‘merely’ shouted “Stop! Taser Officer!” without producing or pointing the weapon at this terrified child on his bicycle.
A formal complaint to West Midlands Professional Standards Department about this incident immediately followed. In August 2017, the PSD investigation rejected all of the complaints, resulting in the usual outcome of complete exoneration of the officer – despite what was, in my opinion, a weight of evidence to the contrary.
As a result, I wrote to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), as it was then (now the IOPC), to appeal the outcome of complaint investigation.
In January 2018, the IPCC upheld my client’s appeal on all points, save for in relation to a referral to the CPS, and recommended that PC Hillier attend a misconduct hearing. There then followed protracted correspondence in relation to the IPCC’s recommendation between the IPCC and the West Midlands PSD for several months.
The outcome of this process, reached in August 2018, was extremely frustrating for my client and his family, and , I might add, for any objective observer concerned with Police transparency and accountability; West Midlands Police ‘called the bluff’ of the IPCC by simply refusing to send PC Hillier before a misconduct panel and proposing the ‘slap on the wrist’ sanction of management action as the only penalty he should face. Regretfully, the IPCC chose not to exercise their power to direct the Police to follow their initial recommendation, and instead now agreed ‘management action’ as the appropriate sanction for Hillier.
I will add here the following additional and highly pertinent information: whilst this process was ongoing, with West Midlands Police opposing a misconduct charge and seeking to shield their officer from any serious sanction or criticism, that self- same officer was undergoing a criminal prosecution, also in connection with an allegation of excessive force, and also involving his taser weapon. Hillier faced criminal proceedings following an incident in February 2018 in which he discharged his weapon at close-range into the face of a man named Scott Cutler, whom Hillier was trying to arrest for a public order offence (which effectively amounted to Cutler’s alleged use of bad language). The taser barbs were left embedded in Cutler’s neck and eyebrow and, the jury before whom Hillier was subsequently tried for ABH (Actual Bodily Harm), heard that after discharging the weapon, Hillier had shouted “Fucking ‘av that” at his victim (who he had been trying to arrest for swearing), and declared “Good” on being told that Cutler had been struck in the head.
However, I am, at least, pleased to report that my client’s story did not end with the unsatisfactory outcome of mere ‘management action’; for the reins were now in the hands of his parents and myself – rather than West Midlands PSD and their eventual ‘collaborators’ the IPCC. The complaint process over, we now pursued a civil claim which culminated in Court proceedings, recently concluded, in which the Police agreed to pay my client damages in the total sum of £25,000 for this incident, plus legal costs, and to issue a fulsome apology in the following terms-
It is accepted that PC Hillier’s approach to this incident did not reflect the level of decision-making it should have done, and that his performance of his duties fell far short of the standard which is expected.
I am aware that this incident caused you physical as well as psychological injury. I accept that you have suffered a significant negative impact on your lifestyle and schooling over the last 4 years as a consequence of your anxiety reaction to these events.
I also acknowledge that you and your parents felt deeply let down by our complaint investigation process.
West Midlands Police would like to offer you an unreserved apology for all distress and injury which you have suffered, and trust that with this apology and the settlement of your claim, your trust and confidence in West Midlands Police can be restored.
Should it have taken that long – and the use of Court time and resources – for Police accountability to finally materialize in this case? I am sure most will agree with me that the answer to that question should be ‘no’, especially when we are dealing with the use of electric shock guns against children.
The fact that our Police officers seem to be increasingly lackadaisical about the use of such weapons, either out of a reluctance to get their hands dirty, or in order to indulge ‘cops and robbers’ fantasies, should come as a concern to us all.
As Dr Dymond observes in her excellent book, the police in England and Wales are often held up internationally as the “gold standard” when it comes to the traditional model of “policing by consent”, rather than by force, but this heritage of which we should be proud is under threat by the increasing, and ill-regulated roll out of taser guns.
It is in the context of my own experience with the victims of unlawful force by Police officers that I echo Dr Dymond’s call for genuinely robust and truly independent investigations into complaints, and not the kind of lukewarm effort which is what we all too frequently get under the auspices of the IOPC. Likewise I endorse her recommendation for far tighter guidelines to be imposed upon the use of taser weapons. Current College of Policing guidelines allude in airy terms to taser being “one of a number of tactical options available when dealing with an incident with the potential for conflict.”
As Dr Dymond succinctly puts it, this definition “is vague and leaves the door open to excessive, discriminatory and disproportionate policing. Such unclear policies also result in additional pressure for officers, who are faced with making decisions around the use of the weapon with minimal guidance about when such use is, or isn’t appropriate.” She contrasts this with the type of clarity provided in 2008 by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, specifically that – “the use of TASER will be justified where the officer honestly and reasonably believes that it is necessary in order to prevent a risk of death or serious injury.”
Going even further, it is worth considering the guidance issued by the United Nations Committee Against Torture in 2013 which called for a limitation on the use of all ‘electrical discharge weapons’ save for “extreme limited situations where there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury, as a substitute for lethal weapons.”
In many cases which I have handled, there is no discernable threat to life or limb whatsoever when Police officers draw their taser guns – whether on children or adults – but only a perceived threat to the officer’s self- importance, or their (often unlawfully) asserted authority. In other cases, some use of force might be justified, but the firing of a taser is grossly disproportionate to the level of threat posed…especially by a 10 year old girl.
If Police chiefs fail to heed the calls of lawyers such as myself and criminologists such as Dr Dymond in this regard, and continue with the softly regulated roll out of taser weapons – and then fail to follow up on that with robust punishments for the abuse of such weapons by ill-disciplined or aggressive officers – then the gold standard of UK Policing will become increasingly tarnished. The more we arm our officers, and the more habitually they use tasers as the ‘go to’ answer to any form of dispute/ resistance, then the more we move, however incrementally, towards an American model of ‘paramilitary’ policing – which is not, in the long run, a healthy state of affairs for either the people on our streets, or those who police them.
It is a sad fact of life that the Policing profession is attractive not only to those who feel the call of duty to help keep society safe, and to protect others – but also those with authoritarian tendencies and who, in the wrong circumstances, can let their impulses turn them into overgrown playground bullies.
I have recently concluded claims recovering damages totalling £65,500 on behalf of four young men, who were on the receiving end of vicious abuse and violence from an officer of British Transport Police who has now, thankfully, been dismissed from the service.
I will set out here the shocking details of this case.
Arrested for Queue-Jumping?
On the evening of 4 June 2018, my client Eduardo was working at a restaurant in the Westfield Shopping Centre.
That same evening at approximately 19.25, a group of four friends, including Mohammed (Mo), Rui Cassama and Rui Santos, queued up to eat in the restaurant. All the friends are of Black African heritage. Rui Santos had a pre-existing injury (from football) and was using a crutch.
Mo and the two Ruis temporarily left the queue, debating whether to eat elsewhere, but then decided to stick with this restaurant, and returned to the point in the queue where their fourth friend had remained throughout.
PC Mahbub Ahmed of the British Transport Police (known to his colleagues as “Mabs”) then approached the friends and accused them of queue jumping; they reasonably disputed this. PC Ahmed was with two other officers, PC Owusu and PC Davenport.
An argument then developed, during which PC Ahmed threatened to arrest the friends for an unspecified offence – queue jumping? – and also grabbed Rui Santos’s shirt, in an attempt to pull him out of the queue. When the friends protested about this, PC Ahmed then indiscriminately deployed his captor spray, spraying Mo, Rui Cassama, Rui Santos and several others in the vicinity, including Eduardo who was innocently standing behind the food counter in the course of his employment. All of my clients felt a burning sensation in their eyes and on their faces, and their eyes began to water. The spray had also affected some of Eduardo’s colleagues and contaminated food that was on the restaurant counter.
Fortunately, the unfolding events, the aggression and increasingly deplorable behaviour of PC Ahmed were captured on the shopping centre CCTV and the body cameras worn by PC Ahmed, as well as the numerous other police officers who quickly gathered in the vicinity, PC Ahmed having activated a ‘panic button’ which had brought numerous other officers of both BTP and the Metropolitan Police, who had been elsewhere in the Westfield Centre, running to this ‘emergency’.
PC Ahmed, referring to Rui Santos, said to a colleague (believed to be PC Owusu), “Let’s nick him mate ……. he’s coming in for assault bruv, cos I captored him as well.”
At this point, Eduardo touched PC Ahmed’s elbow to gain his attention and tried to explain that, whilst working, he had been affected by PC Ahmed’s deployment of captor spray. PC Ahmed replied “I know you’re working.”
PC Owusu then said to PC Ahmed, “Mabs, calm.” However, PC Ahmed instead decided to berate Rui Santos with the words “Listen, you’re a pussy, you’re a fucking pussy.” , before declaring to his colleague PC Owusu, “I’m gonna drop him. Let’s fucking drop him” and “I swear to God I’ll drop him.”
PC Ahmed then continued to spray insults and threats around as liberally as he had his captor spray, repeatedly calling Rui Cassama a “pussy”, and threatening to “pepper spray” everyone again, before announcing “I’m a mad man”. He then went on to call Rui Santos a “Fucking piece of shit”, and threatened Mo with the words “I will fucking drop you like a piece of shit.”
PC Ahmed then advised Rui Santos that he was to be arrested for “Common assault” because he had “grabbed hold” of PC Ahmed.
The argument continued and PC Ahmed questioned Rui Santos about what had happened to his leg, in reference to his crutch, stating “Did someone beat you up? You’re an idiot mate, I’ll break your leg as well.”
The Thin Red Line
That thin red line into rage which is evidently near the forefront of certain Police officers’ minds had evidently now been crossed. PC Ahmed pushed Rui Santos and produced his baton. Rui in turn raised his crutch, defensively.
PC Owusu and another officer, PC Obaseki, then took hold of Rui Santos. PC Ahmed approached. A member of the public sought to intervene.
PC Ahmed pushed the member of the public aside and said “Get rid of him. Me? I’m handling my job.” Then, whilst Rui Santos was restrained by his police colleagues, and using over-head strikes, PC Ahmed lashed out twice with his baton – first inadvertently striking PC Obaseki’s shoulder and then, getting his aim right, deliberately striking Rui Santos in the head, connecting with Rui’s left cheekbone.
PC Ahmed then said of Rui Santos “He’s getting nicked” and then indiscriminately towards the rest of Rui’s companions – “You’re getting nicked as well, they’re all getting nicked for common assault.” To literally add insult to injury, PC Ahmed, on noticing the wound he had caused to the side of Rui Santos’s face, taunted him with the words “Ooh, we’re bleeding now, are we?” He also mocked Mo, whose eyes he noticed were watering in response to the captor spray, with the jibe “Don’t you dare cry now.”
The member of the public who had just been pushed aside by PC Ahmed now said to him, ”You guysare antagonising the situation” and “You need to care, because you’re the one that caused this.”
Ignoring this, PC Ahmed told PC Walters, “They all need to get nicked ……… for common assault” and “I tried to talk to them, all three of them…………. just started pushing me and grabbed hold of me by the collar, so all of them are getting nicked. He’s [referring to Rui Santos] the main aggressor and all of them have to get nicked… If there aint no one else gonna do it, I’m gonna do it. Mate, they need to get nicked.”
PC Ahmed now went on to engineer the arrests of Rui Cassama and Mohammed, outrageously alleging that Rui Cassama had come at him with a knife, and that Mo had tried to assault him with a fork.
Mo immediately protested his innocence, but to no avail, and was unquestioningly handcuffed by PC Brown. Rui Cassama’s pleas of innocence likewise fell on deaf ears. Both men were simply incredulous at the blatant lies that Ahmed was telling.
Appetite For Detention
PC Ahmed’s appetite for arrest was evidently not yet satisfied, however.
Eduardo had seen Rui Santos, Rui Cassama and Mohammed be arrested, and attempted to engage with PC Ahmed about his conduct. Instead, Westfield security staff restrained Eduardo, PC Ahmed approached him and announced, “You’re going to get arrested in a minute as well.”
In response to this outrageous threat, Eduardo understandably protested “Who do you think you are?” to which PC Ahmed replied, “Who do you think you are? You work behind the counter mate. Go back there you little idiot. Mate, drop him to the floor if he does anything else.”
PC Ahmed then turned to PC Owusu and said, “That member of staff’s getting nicked as well ‘cos he’s just come and grabbed me by the collar ‘cos I accidentally sprayed him. He needs to get nicked.”
This allegation of assault by PC Ahmed was a blatant untruth, but none of the police officers present challenged their colleague; instead, they joined in the pursuit of Eduardo, as he attempted to escape from his unlawful arrest. PC Mirza grabbed hold of Eduardo and pushed him up against a wall.
Eduardo was told several times that he was to be arrested but was not given any explanation as to what the alleged offence was; he was then handcuffed to the rear.
Truth be told, it should have been PC Ahmed who was being restrained and arrested at this point, but of course that is not what his brother officers did.
One of the Westfield security guards did, at least, challenge PC Ahmed’s reason to arrest, pointing out that Eduardo had not assaulted him, but had just tapped Ahmed on the shoulder. PC Ahmed dismissed this challenge, pontificating “That is an assault …… listen, don’t teach me my job mate….. just because it’s a member of staff that works with you, I don’t give a shit.”
Eduardo protested that he was innocent, that he was not resisting, and that the officers were treating him like “an animal”. Another member of staff queried if they could give Eduardo first aid because of the obvious pain the captor spray was causing to Eduardo’s eyes. Unsurprisingly, PC Ahmed replied, “It doesn’t matter. ……….. he don’t need no first aid.”
All four of my clients were then transported separately by van to Leyton Police Station, where they were variously informed they were under arrest for either “assault PC” or “common assault”. All four were then subjected to the degrading ordeal of being searched, having their fingerprints and DNA taken, and being detained overnight before being formally interviewed on the assault charges the next day. All of them denied any wrongdoing. They were subsequently released under investigation but had the false accusations hanging over them for several months, until they were finally advised that no further action would be taken.
The mendacious PC Ahmed had made a series of deliberately false accusations of assault and public order against my clients, firstly in the heat of the moment, at the restaurant, but then ‘doubled- down’ upon in his later written statement, as he attempted (but failed) to manufacture a smokescreen for his own wrongdoing.
Discredit to the Service
Thankfully, PC Ahmed’s lies were exposed by the plenitude of video evidence available – including that officer’s own body camera recording.
The tables were turned, and it was he, rather than my clients, who faced charges as a result of this investigation – albeit for disciplinary, rather than criminal, offences.
Following misconduct proceedings, PC Ahmed was dismissed for gross misconduct by reason of, inter alia, unreasonable use of force on 8 September 2020.
Following that hearing, the head of BTP’s Professional Standards Department, Detective Superintendent Peter Fulton described PC Ahmed’s behaviour as “completely inappropriate and he brought discredit to the service…PC Ahmed’s reaction was unnecessary and completely inexcusable. I support the decision of the independent panel to dismiss him with immediate effect.”
Justice has been done in this case, but what to me remains a grave concern is the fact that PC Ahmed’s outrageous behaviour – in terms of the lies he was telling, the violence he meted out, and his orchestration of not one but four unlawful arrests – were not stopped by his Police colleagues, all of whom essentially followed Ahmed’s lead despite the evidence of their own eyes, and what they were evidently hearing from the members of the public and Westfield staff who had witnessed these shocking events.
It is that type of culture of complicity and compliance amongst the Police ‘brotherhood’ which unfortunately facilitates the abuse of power to which many officers fall prey when their ‘red mist’ descends – and which attracts those with tendency to bully to the Force in the first place.
That is the real discredit to the Police service.
The names of all individuals in this blog have been changed apart from – PC Ahmed, Detective Superintendent Fulton, Rui Santos and Rui Cassama.
When is “sorry” the hardest word to say ? – When you are a Police Officer, or so long experience has taught me.
Common decency, professional integrity and even pragmatism often seem to be thrown out of the window when it comes to apologies from the Police, who will fight claims and complaints tooth and nail to avoid having to apologise – even where a prompt and fulsome apology could have saved everyone involved a great deal of heartache and expense.
I blogged recently about the case of my client Brett Chamberlain, who was arrested in ridiculous circumstances because Tesco had refused to accept the payment he offered for his petrol by way of a commemorative coin, which was entirely legal tender.
After arresting Brett, and then contemptuously dismissing his legitimate complaint (and his request for deletion of the arrest record), Devon and Cornwall Police rapidly backtracked after I presented them with Brett’s civil claim, and agreed to pay him compensation of £5,000 and to issue an apology.
A Broken Promise
The letter that was subsequently sent to Brett by Devon & Cornwall’s Deputy Chief Constable Jim Colwell, in fact said merely the following (under the heading “Letter of Apology”) –
I have been made aware of the claim for compensation that has arisen out of your arrest on 27 July 2020.
The force has the expectation of the highest standards from its officers and staff and we are sorry you feel these have not been upheld in this matter. The force has taken on board any lessons which can be learned to ensure it continues to offer the best possible service to the public.
I have also been made aware that you have been offered and accepted compensation in full and final settlement to conclude this matter.
I wish you the best for the future.
There is, in fact, no apology whatsoever contained within that communication, which appears to be a ‘cut and paste’ standard letter. An apology requires an acceptance of fault on the part of the wrongdoer, otherwise it is merely an expression of ‘sympathy’. DCC Colwell’s letter fails to demonstrate any such acceptance; the DCC acknowledges only that my client feels that the ‘highest standards’ of the Force have not been upheld, and is entirely silent as to his own view of the matter. Indeed, the implication is that the DCC does not think those standards have been breached: if this is not the case, he should say so.
This failure to acknowledge the wrongdoing of Sergeant Attwood (compounding the earlier rejection of my client’s legitimate complaint), is then perpetuated by the DCC’s suggestion that “any lessons which can be learned” will be taken on board – he does not even accept that there are lessons to be learned from these events.
Brett was induced to settle his claim in part by the offer of an apology. In fact, no apology has been forthcoming, and thus as matters stand, he and I have been misled by the Force, and I have made it clear that if this letter is not altered so that it actually offers an apology for what was done to Mr Chamberlain, then we will be lodging a complaint against the Deputy Chief Constable.
A Proper Apology
In another recent case which I concluded, involving a substantial payment of damages from West Midlands Police in respect of their Officer’s use of force (including threat of a taser) against my 12 year old client, a proper apology was made, and reads as follows-
Dear _______, I write in relation to an incident on 19 February 2017 when you were stopped by PC H____ whilst riding your bicycle. At the time you were 12 years old. It is accepted that PC H____’s approach to this incident did not reflect the level of decision-making it should have done, and that his performance of his duties fell far short of the standard which is expected. I am aware that this incident caused you physical as well as psychological injury. I accept that you have suffered a significant negative impact on your lifestyle and schooling over the last 4 years as a consequence of your anxiety reaction to these events. I also acknowledge that you and your parents felt deeply let down by our complaint investigation process. West Midlands Police would like to offer you an unreserved apology for all distress and injury which you have suffered, and trust that with this apology and the settlement of your claim, your trust and confidence in West Midlands Police can be restored. I would like to repeat our previous offer to you and your parents to engage further with WMP, including by meeting the Force Autism Lead, PS D_____, who runs our Public Order Training Centre. You would be very welcome to visit the Centre, and PS D_____ would be happy to discuss with you and your parents how this incident could have been handled better.
This second example, which included an acknowledgement of and sensitivity towards my client’s autism, and a genuine offer to engage with him and his parents so as to ‘learn lessons’, should be the norm rather than the exception.
Instead, the majority of Police ‘apology’ letters which I see are more akin to that which has been offered to Brett Chamberlain: clearly given through ‘gritted teeth’ if not, indeed, passive- aggressive in tone or full-blown exercises in “double-speak”.
Rather than apologising, such missives seem almost deliberately designed to add insult to injury, or to advertise the fact that the Police are ‘not really sorry’. The prickly pride of the Police profession is what is most often on display here, rather than any real humility or contrition.
The Police it seems to me, are far too willing to put the public’s money where their own mouths are, when it comes to refusing to say ‘sorry’ – or saying it with fingers openly crossed.
The Courts cannot, of course, order any one litigant to apologise to another, but a great many claims and complaints could be resolved with significantly reduced expenditure of time and money, if only the Police used that five letter word more often, and more honestly.
Many may think that ‘stop and search’ powers are too easily open to abuse by bigoted, or even simply bored Police officers with too much power and too much time on their hands.
Stop & search data recently released for England & Wales covering March 2020 – March 2021 (i.e the height of the Covid pandemic and period of the two national lockdowns) showed a rise of 24% to almost 700,000 instances compared with the previous year. Eyebrows might legitimately be raised at the apparent discrepancy between far less people being on the streets, crime dropping and yet the number of searches increasing – suggesting that the rise had more to do with Police officers with time to spare and an inclination to fill that time with the exercise of their powers, rather than there being objectively reasonable grounds for the search in each individual case; this is borne out by the fact that whilst the number of searches rose, the percentage of such searches resulting in an arrest fell from 13% to 11%.
The same statistics also continue to demonstrate the strikingly disproportionate use of the power against Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups (BAME people). 32% of all stop and searches for the year 2020-21 were of BAME males aged 15- 34, despite that cohort only comprising 2.6% of the population as a whole.
Here is one of the many stories which lies behind such statistics; albeit that this event took place in the previous year (2019- 20), it tells an age old and continuing story of the interface between authoritarian tendencies, ingrained racist assumptions, and a disrespect for the law they are supposed to be upholding when it does not facilitate such impulses, amongst many Police officers.
My client Tyrone is a young Black man in his early 20s who resides in the greater London area.
In December 2019, Tyrone was a front seat passenger in a car being driven by his friend Steven, who is also Black.
The two young men drove past a Police car on Sanderson Road, shortly before turning into the driveway of 94 Sanderson Road, where Tyrone lives with his mother. Tyrone and Steven alighted from the car, and started to walk towards the house; it was raining hard.
The Police car, for reasons unknown but which can be guessed at, had followed Tyrone and Steven’s vehicle, and now pulled up outside the house, and two Metropolitan Police officers, PC Connolly and PC Burns, jumped out. Shortly afterwards, a third officer, PC Gordon, also got out of the car. Tyrone firmly believes that if the Police had seen a car containing two white men, they simply would not have followed it in this fashion, but sadly experience has taught him that the Police “hold negative stereotypical beliefs and assumptions about young black men, namely that they carry knives, sell drugs and/or are involved in gang activity.”
PC Burns accused ‘whoever had been driving the car’ of speeding; it was clear he did not know which of the two it was. In any event, Tyrone immediately disputed this false accusation; they would have had no reason to speed in such close proximity to Tyrone’s house (being about to make a tight turn onto a driveway which already contained another vehicle), and furthermore it was raining and the road had speed bumps. Tyrone had no doubt that the officers had concocted the ‘speeding’ allegation in an attempt to give a gloss of legitimacy to their actions.
PC Burns then asked Tyrone “Where do I know you from?”
At this point, Tyrone realised that he vaguely recognised the Officer from an incident that had occurred two months before, when he had been stopped and searched on the street, and then taken to a Police Station and subjected to a further strip search.
Before waiting for an answer, PC Burns declared – “You’ve been nicked before, I’ve arrested you before.”Tyrone asked, “For what?” and PC Burns asserted that he knew Tyrone’s face. Tyrone legitimately felt that he was the victim of racial profiling.
PC Burns then asked if Tyrone was the owner of the car. Tyrone explained that it was his friend’s and that his friend had been driving – which Steven confirmed.
Tyrone then told the officers that he was now “at home”and asked Steven to knock on the door so as to alert his mother as to what was going on.
PC Burns, apparently no longer interested in the supposed motoring offence, then declared that he was detaining Tyrone “under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act” and proceeded to demand that Tyrone give him his hands, and handcuffed him to the front.
Simultaneously, PC Connolly had detained Steven and had likewise placed him in handcuffs.
Tyrone’s mother now emerged from the house and Tyrone called out to her“Oi, mum tell these lot, tell them, tell them.” (i.e that he did indeed live at this address). Understandably, Tyrone’s mother was in a state of shock and anger at what was unfolding on the driveway of her house.
PC Burns now stated that Tyrone was being detained “under section 1” of PACE, but failed to give any specific details of what the grounds for the search were, or indeed what the object of the search actually was, under that power.
Tyrone again protested that he was at his home address.
Both Tyrone and his mother were now verbally, and correctly, challenging PC Burns as to his search grounds. PC Burns maintained that that he and his colleagues had“Seen these males drive at a very high speed …….., there’s a lot of knife crime around here at the moment and they jumped out of the car very quickly.” It was the vaguest of excuses – and left unspoken was what was almost certainly the determining factor in this incident – the skin colour of my client and his companion.
PC Burns then searched Tyrone, and whilst he did so, Tyrone’s mother asked the Officer to explain why her son – who was offering no physical resistance – had been handcuffed. PC Burns falsely accused Tyrone of having been “aggressive” and also complained that “he was talking quite loud to me” before further asserting, apparently without any objective basis, that he thought Tyrone had “weapons” on him.
When his search of Tyrone proved negative, PC Burns then announced that it was necessary to search Steven’s car and started looking for the car keys, apparently believing that they had been put through the house letterbox.
Tyrone’s mother disputed that the keys were in the house and stepped into the hallway of her home, where PC Burns followed uninvited. The keys were not located.
Tyrone’s mother was understandably indignant at the officers heavy handed and unlawful actions, and advised PC Burns that she would be filing a complaint and, again, pointed out that the Officers were on private property.
The officers continued to wilfully ignore this fact and,discovering that it was actually unlocked, proceeded tosearch Steven’s car.
Finally, after approximately 20 minutes, PC Burns released Tyrone from his handcuffs, though not before injury had been caused – Tyrone’s hands were painful and sore.
Worse than that physical discomfort however, was the degrading emotional impact of this event upon Tyrone, who later described being left feeling “worthless, frustrated, angry and disappointed…I feel that my words and version of events which is the truth carries no weight against theirs. Under these circumstances I do not and cannot trust the Police.”
Nothing further had been said about the alleged motoring offence (speeding) which was apparently the reason for the officers interest in the two friends in the first place; only adding to suspicions that this was, all along, a bogus justification.
Tyrone’s mother subsequently lodged a complaint on his behalf. Following investigation, it was admittedthat the stop and search had been unlawful (albeit that the Complaint Report padded out that admission with a variety of ‘excuses’).
What Powers Do The Police Have Under Section 1 PACE?
Under the heading “Power of constable to stop and search persons, vehicles etc”, Section 1 of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 provides as follows-
(1)A constable may exercise any power conferred by this section—
(a)in any place to which at the time when he proposes to exercise the power the public or any section of the public has access, on payment or otherwise, as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission; or
(b)in any other place to which people have ready access at the time when he proposes to exercise the power but which is not a dwelling.
(2)Subject to subsection (3) to (5) below, a constable—
(i)any person or vehicle;
(ii)anything which is in or on a vehicle,
for stolen or prohibited articles, any article to which subsection (8A) below applies or any firework to which subsection (8B) below applies] ; and
(b)may detain a person or vehicle for the purpose of such a search.
(3)This section does not give a constable power to search a person or vehicle or anything in or on a vehicle unless he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that he will find stolen or prohibited articles, any article to which subsection (8A) below applies or any firework to which subsection (8B) below applies.
(4)If a person is in a garden or yard occupied with and used for the purposes of a dwelling or on other land so occupied and used, a constable may not search him in the exercise of the power conferred by this section unless the constable has reasonable grounds for believing—
(a)that he does not reside in the dwelling; and
(b)that he is not in the place in question with the express or implied permission of a person who resides in the dwelling.
(5)If a vehicle is in a garden or yard occupied with and used for the purposes of a dwelling or on other land so occupied and used, a constable may not search the vehicle or anything in or on it in the exercise of the power conferred by this section unless he has reasonable grounds for believing—
(a)that the person in charge of the vehicle does not reside in the dwelling; and
(b)that the vehicle is not in the place in question with the express or implied permission of a person who resides in the dwelling.
‘Prohibited articles’ are defined later in the same Section of PACE as including “offensive weapons” (as one would naturally assume), and this was indeed the reason belatedly provided by PC Burns for his detention and search of Tyrone – but the crucial restriction on such a search power (even where reasonable grounds do otherwise exist) is that it cannot be exercised on the grounds of a private dwelling, or in any vehicle parked thereon, unless the person being searched, or who is in charge of the vehicle, either doesn’t live in the house, or is not a guest of one of its inhabitants.
Section 1 of PACE thus makes it entirely clear that people cannot be lawfully stopped and searched under that power if they are at the house where they live (which includes, of course, any private land attached to the house, such as a garden or driveway), or are a guest of its residents. But PC Burns, as with all too many of his Policing colleagues, chose to put the arbitrary exercise of his own authority way ahead of small matters such as the letter of the law, despite being repeatedly advised by Tyrone and his mother as to the truth of the situation.
To racial profiling, and a search lacking any proper grounds, was therefore added trespass to land, and an apparent contempt for that age old maxim “An Englishman’s home is his castle” – which emphasises the importance of preserving the privacy and integrity of our homes from intrusion by the State, and which was the very legal ethic which Sections 1(4) – (5) of PACE are enshrining.
But perhaps Tyrone and his family were not English enough in the eyes of the Metropolitan Police, for that principle to apply to them?
As Tyrone wrote in his complaint- “From the beginning I informed the Police that I was at my house, despite this they chose to ignore that statement. Even when my mum came out and it was obvious that I lived at the house, they continued to search me and the private land that I was on, citing S1 PACE. This is despite them knowing or being expected to know as Police officers that S1 PACE was not applicable in that circumstance. I consider this to also be discriminatory and that the Police knew that their actions were unlawful, but chose not to apply the law correctly to me as I am a young black male, I believe they would not have treated a white male at his house under the same circumstances, in the same way and that they would have acted in accordance with the law.”
“I feel that the Police can treat me as they want and get away with it and my rights are deliberately ignored because they will cover up their true actions, make false allegations and not apply the law correctly towards me…”
I believe Tyrone was correct about this, on multiple grounds-
· The first reason given by the officers for stopping Tyrone and his friend was that their car “shot off so quickly”
· When PC Burns placed Tyrone in handcuffs he had not attempted to deliver any of the requisite “GOWISELY” information regarding the grounds & purpose of the search, other than to very generically state that Tyrone was “detained under Section 1 of PACE” – this was entirely insufficient as the object of the search (e.g a weapon) has to be specified.
· In any event, Tyrone had already, and repeatedly, made it clear to the officers that he was at his home address – but they continued regardless, supremely indifferent to this crucial fact.
· Tyrone knew his rights, and repeatedly questioned PC Burns as to what he was being searched for – the officer however continued to hide behind the “Section 1 PACE” mantra without providing any further details (making it sound as if the officer wanted to search Tyrone for a copy of the legislation…)
· Then, when Tyrone’s mother asked the same question – about the grounds/ purpose of the search – PC Burns replied that he would explain the grounds after he had finished the search (revealing that he didn’t know what he was looking for, and was evidently hoping the search would prove self- justifying, and give him the grounds he lacked to lawfully carry it out in the first place…)
· Finally, after yet further questioning by Tyrone and his mother, PC Burns specified “weapons” as the object of the search. It was quite clear that all the officer had to go on was an assumption based on racial stereotyping, rather than a suspicion based on individual behaviour.
The Police in response to Tyrone’s complaint made the following concessions to him, all borne out by the irrefutable evidence from the officers’ body cameras –
· You are clearly within the grounds of the dwelling, as is the vehicle in question.
· You identify the dwelling to be your home and do so on more than one occasion…reinforced by your mother.
· Officers, nevertheless, continue to search both yourself and the vehicle for weapons.
· The driving matter is overlooked and forgotten about.
· Officers failed to tell you why you were being searched, and what they were looking for.
The Complaint Investigation report also, however, did its best to excuse and exonerate the officers as far as possible, and dismissed any suggestion of discrimination on the part of PC Burns, despite statistics showing that of the 27 stop and searches which that officer carried out between March – September 2020 a staggering 89% were of “IC3” category individuals i.e black people – across a variety of London boroughs, none of which, according to Census data, had a Black population exceeding 45% of the total population.
In regards to the key issue of the officers blatant disregard for the fact they were on private land, the following ‘explanation’ was offered, which would probably make most political spin-doctors blush-
“It is possible that the officers have become distracted by a combination of factors which could include behaviour of detained persons, evasive answers to questions [in fact it was PC Burns who was evading my client’s legitimate questions!], challenging authority to conduct enquiries…and inclement weather, but what they fail to notice is that they are within the confines of a dwelling from the moment they began speaking to you until the conclusion.”
Note the typically defensive language used, clearly designed to excuse the officers unlawful conduct as much as the complaint investigator is able to – he grants the officers the excuse of ‘innocence’ – stating that they ‘failed to notice’ the house whose drive they were standing on (and which PC Burns actually entered!), and ‘forgot’ about the driving offence which was their only stated reason for their intervention in my client’s life in the first place. This is palpable nonsense, and any reasonably independent assessor of the complaint would surely have concluded that the officers knew full well that their actions were unlawful – but rode rough-shod over the law regardless, whether out of arrogance, authoritarianism, racism, or some combination of all three of those vices.
The fact that stop and search increased during Lockdown is a symptom of an unhealthy policing culture and all too often, Police officers ‘reasonable grounds and reasonable suspicion’ are both no more than skin deep.
I am pleased to report that I have recently recovered significant damages for Tyrone (for false imprisonment, and assault and battery), and have also received a settlement offer for his mother (for trespass to land) although her case presently continues: but what statistics and stories like this show is that we need culture change within, not just compensation from, the Police to remedy such persistent acts of injustice and whilst Police complaint investigators routinely continue to allow Police officers who abuse or misuse stop and search powers to wiggle off the hook without a misconduct charge – that change is never going to happen.
My client Curtis Givens has recently concluded his claim against Merseyside Police, and there are some interesting aspects of his case which I felt it worth highlighting in this week’s blog.
Curtis and his adult son resided at separate flats in the same building in Liverpool. In June 2019, a dispute was ongoing between Curtis’s son and the building’s landlord over rent arrears.
On the afternoon of 10 June, Curtis’s son’s flat was ransacked by unknown individuals whilst he was out walking his dog.
That evening, Curtis had his son and a friend round at his own flat socialising, when the three men were startled by a loud banging at the communal door to the premises. Three uniformed officers from Merseyside Police were outside the building; when Curtis’s son spoke to them through the window of the flat (Curtis’s flat being on the 1st floor) the officers stated that they were responding to reports of an (unspecified) incident, and requested that Curtis’s son come down to talk to them. They refused requests to elaborate as to the nature of the ‘incident’.
Curtis’s son challenged the officers as to whether they had a warrant; they did not. They then alleged that Curtis’s son was not a tenant of the building, but was rather a ‘squatter’, to which he responded by throwing down to them a copy of his tenancy agreement and bank statements.
The officers persisted in asking Curtis’s son to come down stairs to ‘speak’ to them – for unspecified reasons – and he continued to refuse to do so, as was his right.
However, numerous other officers were now arriving at the scene, and some of these new arrivals were armed with an ‘enforcer’ (i.e battering ram) and crowbars. Police dogs had also been brought.
Curtis encouraged his son to now go down and talk to the officers. With a view to avoiding unnecessary damage to the property, Curtis’s son did so, but before opening the front door he made it clear to the officers that he was coming out to speak to them, and he was not giving them permission to enter the property. The officers replied that that was understood/ agreed.
Nevertheless – but perhaps predictably – as soon as Curtis’s son opened the door he was aggressively grabbed by a male officer, who pulled him out of the building, and immediately handcuffed him. To compound the unlawfulness of this action, no reason was given as to why Curtis’s son was being arrested/ detained.
Curtis – who had accompanied his son downstairs – was now likewise pulled out of the building by the Police, and handcuffed by a different officer. Again, no explanation whatsoever was given to justify this.
Numerous officers then entered the building, and shortly afterwards, Curtis’s friend was brought down from the flat, also in handcuffs.
All three men remained entirely in the dark as to any basis for their (presumed) arrests – with Curtis’s son questioning the officers as to whether his landlord had put them up to this with a false report of illegality (as he had done that before) – until around 15 minutes after the officers had laid hands on them: an officer announced that they were all under arrest on suspicion of possession of a Class A drug (Cocaine) with intent to supply. Curtis and his companions were incredulous and disputed these false charges, but were nevertheless taken into custody at St Anne Street Police Station.
The Custody Record gave the following justification for Curtis’s arrest-
“PWITS A [Possession With Intent To Supply Class A] suspected to be cocaine circumstances:- Called to a disturbance… report of males attacking another within a property patrols attend and enquiries take place another arrested male spoken to in the property he refuses officers entry and was evasive, male kept moving away from the window – patrols entered under s17 PACE x 3 males located inside property evidence of drug misuse snap bags and white power suspected to be cocaine no person making allegation of assault DP 1 of 3 inside therefore C+A no reply handcuffed to the front anc informed”.
Curtis, his son and his friend knew nothing about any such disturbance/ fight – let alone drugs in the property – but were nevertheless strip- searched, detained for over 18 hours and interviewed.
During the interview process, photographs of a mysterious ‘white powder’, said to have been found on a surface in Curtis’s son’s flat, were produced to Curtis and his son. Curtis’s son correctly observed that this powder, rather than being a Class A prohibited drug, was in fact flour – although the Police actually went to the length of laboratory tests before they admitted defeat on this.
In their apparent desire to find ‘something’ to pin on the three men, and thereby justify their intrusion into the premises, the Police had also gone into an unoccupied flat in the same building and discovered there a handful of “extremely tiny” cannabis seedlings of “no monetary value” (that is the official Police description of this ‘haul’).
Curtis and his son were released “pending further enquiries” on 11 June and subsequently received confirmation that no further action was to be taken against them. The final Police report stated-
“It is my request due to the serious lack of evidence this matter be NFA’d … I strongly believe this matter is not in the public interest to pursue any further and the likelihood of a conviction for PWITS or POCD [Possession of Class D] is impossible.”
Curtis subsequently instructed me to pursue a legal claim for compensation against Merseyside Police on the basis of trespass to land, false imprisonment and assault and battery: those proceedings have recently been successfully concluded.
Absent of a warrant, the Police only have the power to enter a private dwelling house, if permission is not granted by the occupant, in certain limited and generally ‘emergency’ circumstances.
The power which Merseyside Police purported to rely upon on this occasion was that granted under Section 17 (1) (e) of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) – the power to enter premises for the purpose of “saving life and limb or preventing serious damage to property.”
My client now understands that the landlord of the premises had made a malicious report to the Police, alleging that a new tenant at the property was being threatened by a gang of teenagers linked to Curtis’s son. Curtis asserts this was entirely untrue, and it is undisputable that when the Police arrived, there was neither sight nor sound of any such disturbance.
The Police log indicates that before arriving at the property, the Police did speak by telephone to a male who claimed to be the new tenant, and who stated that a group of males had chased him from the premises – but that he was now safe elsewhere. Even if this was true, therefore, there was no evidence of any ongoing threat to ‘life and limb’ which would have justified the Police entering under Section 17 – but that is nevertheless what the officers did, having enticed Curtis and his son to the door by suggesting that they just wanted to talk.
Thus it was my firm view that the entry of the officers into the flats was unlawful and constituted trespass to land; furthermore, the Police were at the same time committing the offences of trespass to the person and false imprisonment upon Curtis and his son, by handcuffing and detaining them not only without an objectively lawful excuse – but in fact, without any stated justification at all! Even the Police themselves, in their response to the legal claim, did not contend that any justification for arrest had been given to Curtis during the first 13 minutes of his detention (until he was then formally arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply flour – sorry, cocaine).
I am pleased to confirm that Curtis’s claim has recently been settled on the basis of a payment of £5,000 damages, plus legal costs.
I have blogged before about the disconcerting tendency of some Police officers to ‘detain’ people whilst they try to find an excuse to arrest them . That is indisputably what was going on here; the Police evidently took a dislike to Curtis and his son, as the inhabitants of low-rent housing with a previous history of interactions with the Police, and decided that they would find a reason to arrest them, rather than arresting them for a reason. Such acts of Police misconduct might be written off as incompetence/ rashness on the part of officers who genuinely do not understand the limits of their own powers, but I have grave concerns that many officers know full well that such acts of detention are unlawful, but nevertheless consider them a useful tactic in the face of the general public, who do not necessarily know that such powers don’t exist. Even if the Police commit such acts of wilful false imprisonment ‘with the best of intentions’ this gives rise to a slippery slope whereby such conduct could become more commonplace/ accepted, severely eroding our long established civil liberties.
If the Police exceed the law, then the law must be used to push back at them – and I am pleased that is exactly what Curtis Givens, with my expert assistance, was able to do.
Last week in my blog I addressed the issue of Police negligence, by reference to an almost farcical situation in which a postal summons had been sent not to my client’s address (or indeed any private address at all) – but to the street which was the location where he had been stopped and searched.
Unfortunately, the gross ridiculousness of this type of error by Police officers/ staff, does not render it a one-off. I am aware of many other incidents where slip-shod correspondence or record keeping – which would not be acceptable in the marketing department of a commercial company, let alone an arm of the justice system – has likewise resulted in loss of liberty for the unfortunate individuals who were the victims of this negligence.
Another recent example of this was the Police error in the case of my client Liam Hughes who was arrested twice on the same warrant, for exactly the same offence.
On 21 December 2020 Liam was arrested by the Metropolitan Police, under a warrant issued in relation to a number of historic allegations . During the arrest, Liam’s iPhone 12 and an old iPhone 6 which also belonged to him were seized. Following Police interview, during which a series of harrowing allegations were put to Liam – which he entirely denied – Liam was released on bail with the condition to return to the station on 17 January 2021. As a result of the arrest and allegations, Liam felt severely depressed and, indeed, experienced suicidal thoughts.
Then, on 3 January 2021 at approximately 19:30, officers from the Metropolitan Police re- attended Liam’s home, and arrested him again in relation to the same allegations. Liam informed the officers of his previous arrest and even showed them his bail sheet; nevertheless the officers persisted with the arrest. Liam was handcuffed and the officers seized a replacement mobile phone that he had purchased since his original arrest. Liam was devastated and incredulous that he was being arrested again for the same offence, and experienced an understandable exacerbation of his mental health issues.
Liam was then conveyed to Holborn custody suite, processed and placed into a cell. Concern about his mental health issues led to him being placed on a regime of constant observations by the custody staff; he was also physically unwell with a cough and concerned that he might be suffering from Covid. After approximately 5 hours the custody sergeant entered Liam’s cell and admitted that he was unsure why Liam was there, as he had already been interviewed in relation to the allegations. Shortly afterwards, Liam was de-arrested and allowed to return home.
Unfortunately, Liam could not walk away from the mental ordeal of this incident so easily; he felt deeply suicidal as a result of the stress of the unnecessary arrest. He felt that he was being persecuted. The day after Liam’s second release from custody he called 999 from a public phone box, an ambulance attended and Liam was sectioned at the Priory Hospital, Roehampton. Such was the severity of his condition, he remained in hospital for approximately a month. Whilst in hospital, Liam was informed that his police bail had been extended by a further three months. Eventually however,he was informed that there would be no further action in relation to the allegations, which were now deemed to have been false/ malicious, and his property was returned to him.
I am pleased to confirm that Liam’s claim for false imprisonment, assault and battery, and trespass to goods has now been settled for a substantial sum, plus legal costs.
The blatant error committed here by the Metropolitan Police, in arresting Liam twice for the same offence in the space of two weeks, had a devastating effect on his mental health and well-being and could, frankly, have resulted in tragedy. My enquiries revealed that the officer in charge of the original arrest had failed to update the PNC (Police National Computer) to the effect that the arrest had been carried out; hence the arrest warrant had remained in circulation. To describe this as a mere ‘admin error’, as the Met did, constitutes an almost contemptuous dismissal by the Police of a gross act of negligence which could have driven a man to suicide, and did result in his being sectioned in a mental health hospital.
We are entitled to expect much higher standards from those who control the keys of the custodial system.
It is natural that claims against the Police involving deliberate abuse of power have a tendency to steal the media headlines, however a great many of the people whom I represent have suffered as a result of acts of Police negligence/ incompetence which can be shocking in their own right.
The utmost care and attention to detail should be applied by officers who are initiating a process which could result in a person losing their liberty – but sadly that is not always the case, as the situation my client Tony Jones found himself in demonstrates.
On the evening of 16 February 2020, Tony was proceeding along Green Lane, Liverpool, when he was stopped by two officers of Merseyside Police, including PC Scully.
Tony admitted to being in possession of a small amount of Cannabis and confirmed his name, date of birth and address (42 Montgomery Road).
Tony understood that because he had made a full admission there and then, and surrendered the cannabis, that no further action would arise. He was released and allowed to continue on his journey.
In fact, it appears that PC Scully subsequently decided to issue a postal requisition against Tony i.e a ‘remote charge’ of being in possession of cannabis, delivered by post, and requiring the charged individual (in this case Tony) to attend the Magistrates Court.
On the morning of 27 August 2020, no less than four officers of Merseyside Police attended at Tony’s address (42 Montgomery Road) and arrested him; a warrant had been issued by Liverpool Magistrates’ Court on 10 August 2020 in respect of Tony’s failing to appear in response to the postal summons.
In a state of considerable shock, as he was completely unaware of the postal summons, Tony was transported to Belle Vale Police Station where his detention was authorised. Tony was kept in Custody for around half an hour before being granted bail to appear at Liverpool Magistrates Court in December 2020, to answer charges under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Tony was left bewildered by what had occurred, knowing full well that he had received no summons and had been innocently unaware of the original date for his Court attendance.
All however became clear when Tony received the prosecution papers for his case, which revealed that the summons requiring his attendance at court on 23 July 2020 had been sent to “Street Record, Green Lane, Tuebrook, Liverpool, L13 3DB” i.e not his home address – but the location of the stop and search!
Nevertheless, the Police staff member who had completed the “Certificate of Service by Post” had endorsed the declaration that this was “an address at which the issuing authority reasonably believes that the Defendant will receive the documents”.
That such an elementary and obvious error could have been made by Police officers/ staff and then relied upon as a basis to issue a warrant for arrest against Tony, simply beggars belief, and yet that is what happened. As one of my colleagues commented – someone in the Police must have been having a “stupid day” when they drafted the request, and equally baffling is the fact that the Court then issued the warrant despite such a glaring error in the address. Subsequent enquiries revealed that the Court staff apparently believed that “Street Record” was the name of a hostel for the homeless! The CPS lawyers conducting the prosecution also appear to have read the blatantly incorrect address with glazed eyes. But this is no laughing matter really; a man was unjustly deprived of his liberty by this bureaucratic botch-up.
Although Merseyside Police were protected by an archaic piece of legislation (the Constables Protection Act 1750) from a claim under the common law for the tort of false imprisonment – on the basis that they had arrested Tony under the authority of a Court warrant, and sadly notwithstanding the fact that the gross error as to his address had arisen as a result of Police fault in the first place – I was nevertheless able to obtain an appropriate four figure settlement for his 30 minutes of detention.
I am left to reflect once again how human error in the form of ‘schoolboy mistakes’ such as the Police committed here – and numerous other legal professionals then overlooked/ signed off on – remain rife even in our modern era of data sensitivity and risk management.
Regular readers of this blog will no doubt recall the case of my client Ben Joynes, who was subjected to an un-provoked headbutt by PC Mark Knights of Derbyshire Police, after he tried to complain about the officer calling him a “fat cunt”.
Knights was convicted of common assault in Derby Magistrates Court in December 2020 and then in March 2021 dismissed from the Force, and placed upon the Police Barred List.
It has now been revealed that Knights was also under investigation for the harassment of a female Police colleague, and was convicted of this latest offence by Southern Derbyshire Magistrates Court earlier this month. His behaviour, including asking his victim to “come and sit on my ****” reduced his victim to tears, and the best defence which Mr Knights’ barrister could offer – it seems – was to describe Knights’ behaviour as “immature” and “stupid”. In reality, his behaviour was a lot more sinister than that. He was a serving Police officer, not a school boy. The woman he harassed summed up Knights’ behaviour as follows –
“It was predatory. He thought I was new in the service and thought he could get away with it.”
Knights received a suspended sentence as well as a fine and 120 hours of unpaid community service. District Judge Jonathan Taaffe informed Knights that he was very lucky not to be going to prison, admonishing him with the following words –
“The fact that you were a police officer is of course relevant because the public have the right to expect police officers to uphold high standards. It leads me to question what on earth was your attitude to members of the public? There is a breach of trust here to the public and to your colleagues…You have let the people of Derbyshire down and you have let your colleagues down.”
The latest court proceedings also revealed that Knights was frustrated after his application to become a firearms officer was rejected- shortly before his assault upon Mr Joynes; however, a man like this should never have been allowed to become a Police Officer at all.
It is salutary to reflect on this in the context of the Government’s push to recruit 20,000 new Police Officers by 2023. On the day that the Government proudly boasted that half the recruitment total had already been achieved (27 October 2021), HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, sounded the following note of warning to the Home Affairs Committee- “If you’re going that fast in recruitment there is a danger the wrong people will get in…” cautioning that when officers during their probationary service display “attitudes or preferences which are incompatible with the office of constable, the police need to be much more assiduous in recognising that and throwing them out.”
I whole-heartedly endorse his comments, as the list of vices and character flaws which Sir Thomas warned against have, in my experience, been amply displayed amongst many of the current crop of Police Officers who have abused, assaulted and mistreated my clients – a propensity for violence, a fondness for exercising power over their fellow citizens, misogyny, racism, homophobia and a basic “lack of maturity and judgement.”
Ex- PC Knights is just one such example against all too many.
The doorway to the Police profession needs to be vigilantly guarded, but sadly I suspect the Government’s current programme is more focused on quantity than quality.
Concerns have rightly been raised this week about the quality and coverage of Legal Aid provision in England and Wales by a cross party group of MPs known as the Westminster Commission on Legal Aid. They have published a 95 page report identifying major concerns as to the sustainability of this country’s Legal Aid sector.
The Report opens with a rallying call to the authors’ fellow MPs and other stakeholders to help preserve the health and integrity of what the UK can rightly call “One of the best Justice systems in the world” and sounds the following important warning –
“The Legal Aid sector is an essential part of our High Streets. Many Legal Aid firms and organisations are small businesses employing local people and servicing the local communities. The sector as a whole is in desperate need of revitalisation and investment if it is to meet public demand in the years to come. Successive Governments over the past two decades have taken measures to reduce the cost of the Legal Aid system and the proportion of the population that it is able to help is becoming increasingly small.”
Certainly these concerns are borne out by my own experience. Over the decades I have witnessed the Government cutting the Legal Aid budget and drastically reducing its scope/coverage, so that less and less people are able to use it as a means to access true justice.
In the words of the Westminster Commission – “There were significant issues around individuals accessing the Justice system…. In some areas, this led to a worrying inequality of arms for those unable to access legal advice or representation in the most emotive and challenging of cases.”
The Legal Aid Agency is, in my opinion, in dire need of reinvestment and reinvigoration – so that it truly begins to function again as a gatekeeper facilitating access to justice for the less wealthy/fortunate in our society, rather than acting as a ‘bouncer’ whose apparent job is to keep people out of the club, not let them in.
Let me give a demonstrative example of how I believe the current Legal Aid regime is failing the public, and is not fit for purpose, by reference to the case of my client David White.
Mr White, a gentleman of entirely good character and aged in his 60’s, was making his way home through his local area when he was made the victim of disturbingly heavy handed and unconstitutional actions by two West Mercia Police Officers who stopped him on his journey home and bundled him into the back of a car against his will – and all without any suggestion that he had committed the slightest criminal offence.
The incident began at approximately 10.30pm with a report from an off-duty PCSO (Mr Barlow) who reported that he had seen Mr White on the pavement of a road bridge and he was concerned because Mr White was standing still and was refusing to engage with Mr Barlow when questioned. To be clear, there was no suggestion from Mr Barlow that my client was putting himself in any physical jeopardy – Mr White was simply on the pavement, on the correct side of the railings. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the fact that Mr White then continued his journey over the bridge and along the pavement of the road in normal fashion (he was walking home) Mr Barlow chose to ‘phone in’ the incident to his Police Headquarters on the basis that “I just had a bad feeling about it….. it just didn’t sit right with me.”
Whilst I am sure that Mr Barlow’s concern was genuine, and his call made in good faith, it is a huge leap to go from having a ‘bad feeling’ about another person – who is not in fact saying or doing anything which puts themselves, or any other person, in jeopardy – to deciding that they have a mental disorder “requiring care and control.”
However, within minutes of PCSO Barlow’s phone call, a pair of Police Officers (PC Masters and PC Smith) had stopped my client as he continued his journey home, and physically forced him into the back of their vehicle, demanding that he identify himself and answer questions about what he was doing. The officers (at least after the event) asserted that they believed that Mr White was suffering from a mental disorder and that they were therefore entitled to detain him using the powers granted by Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
If the unspoken implication was that the mental disorder Mr White was ‘suspected’ by the officers from suffering, was suicidal or self-harm inclinations then that was in my opinion a shocking judgment to make, indicative of lack of reasonable care and consideration of the true facts, as there was simply no evidence whatsoever before the officers that Mr White was contemplating, let alone attempting self-harm or suicide.
Mr White’s first ‘misdemeanour’ it seemed was to refuse to talk to an apparently civilian motorist (Barlow) who approached him out of nowhere in the middle of the night, and his second ‘crime’ to refuse to answer demands for his personal details/ purpose of journey from PC Masters.
I repeat again, that there was no suggestion whatsoever that any criminal offence had been committed. Mr White refusing to answer the officer’s questions is not of course an offence, and certainly not a justification for a person to be taken into a Police car from the public street and then driven away against their will under the justification of ‘mental health’ concerns.
Analysis of the Incident
PC Masters asked Mr White what he was “up to” in a very intimidating matter, even though it should have been clear that Mr White was not ‘up to’ anything, but merely walking along a public path. The officer then claimed that Mr White was drunk, despite the fact that he was completely sober, and when Mr White protested that PC Masters should not treat him this way, because Mr White had committed no crime, the officer replied facetiously “Well none we’re aware of yet…” PC Masters asked for Mr White’s name and address, but had been so rude and aggressive in his approach from the start, that Mr White felt he had to stand up for his rights and politely – and correctly – asserted that he was not obliged to give that information, as he had done nothing wrong.
Then, without warning, PC Masters grabbed Mr White’s arm, put him into the restraint position, and forced him into the back of the Police car. He told Mr White that he and his colleague would keep Mr White in their custody until he cooperated – even if it took all night. He then threatened to take Mr White to the Police Station, which finally scared him into giving PC Masters what he wanted.
It was in these circumstances, in a state of fear and duress, that Mr White reluctantly provided his name and address and the officers then – against Mr White’s will – drove him to the vicinity of his home address, where he was finally released from the Police vehicle and allowed to go on his way.
As Mr White entered the flats where he lives, he noticed a neighbour was outside and was ashamed to think that she may have seen him alighting the Police vehicle.
It is also notable that despite the fact that the officers were later to assert that they were acting under Mental Health powers out of a concern for Mr White’s welfare – once having extracted his name and address, and thereby asserted their ‘authority’ over him, they did not even accompany him to the door of his home, but simply released him into the street and drove away. This is hardly indicative of a genuine concern for Mr White’s mental health, which would surely have resulted in the officers taking Mr White to a hospital. Indeed, the entire purpose of the powers granted under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act is to allow officers to take a person into protective custody and convey them into a “place of safety” – i.e. a Police Station or Mental Health Hospital where they can be assessed by appropriately qualified Medical Practitioners – and being dropped back outside a person’s home is not in that context, a place of safety in accordance with the Act.
Furthermore neither PC Masters nor his colleague attempted to consult a Medical Practitioner/Mental Health Professional prior to or during the exercise of their alleged powers under the Mental Health Act.
It is my view that the conduct of PC Masters demonstrated that the officer was acting in bad faith towards Mr White – motivated not by genuine concern about Mr White’s health, but rather by animus arising from Mr White’s perceived disrespect for the officer’s authority (his refusal to answer the officer’s questions) and that what PC Masters in fact did was to misuse the powers conveyed by the Mental Health Act so as to pressure Mr White into answering his questions – which effectively having been kidnapped by the officers, he was duly browbeaten and cowed into doing.
Mr White was understandably outraged by what had been done to him and made a formal complaint. His complaint was (as is usually the case) rejected by West Mercia’s Professional Standards Department and it was on reading the Complaint Report that Mr White first learned that PC Masters and his colleague were claiming that Mr White had appeared to be mentally ill and that they were using Section 136 of the Mental Health Act to excuse their actions. Mr White was confident that absolutely nothing about his appearance or behaviour that night could have reasonably caused anyone to suspect that he was mentally ill, and he was shocked at the lies which the officers had apparently told to the Complaint Investigator. In particular, PC Masters had denied grabbing and forcing Mr White into the car – claiming that he had got in voluntarily, but that the officer might have put his hand on Mr White’s arm simply to ‘guide’ him as he did so.
In my opinion, Mr White was quite right to feel extremely aggrieved at the response he had received to his legitimate complaint. On reading the Complaint Report it was obvious that there were numerous issues tending to suggest that the officers’ accounts were not accurate, and that their exercise of their powers was not in fact lawful – but all of these contradictions were air-brushed over with the typical pro- Police bias which is commonplace amongst PSD Investigators.
Here are just a few of the issues which should have given an open-minded Complaint Investigator pause for thought before he chose to exonerate the officers and reject the complaint –
· The Police incident log at 22. 48 tersely records ‘male is not cooperative, not giving his details’. It is then recorded at 23.00 that Mr White had been taken to his home address. There is no suggestion there in the incident log that PC Masters or his colleague had encountered a person whom they reasonably believed to be suffering from a mental health disorder.
· PC Master’s Pocket Notebook for the night in question contained no reference to this incident (which one would have assumed a MHA intervention upon a ‘mentally disordered’ person, detained and driven from one place to another against his will, would have required). This speaks to a real possibility the officer’s actions were not in compliance with the Act, either being done in bad faith and/or without reasonable care. Why else would he not reference the use of his powers?
· In response to the subsequent Complaint, the two officers gave accounts highly contradictory as to whether Mr White was actually detained under MHA powers or not. PC Smith indicated he was not; whereas PC Masters stated that he did so detain Mr White, but did not say that any explanation of these powers was given to Mr White.
· The account of PCs Smith and Masters that Mr White ‘voluntarily’ got into their vehicle without threat or physical force was inherently unlikely in the context of the officers’ own accounts– they repeatedly labour the point of his non-cooperation, obstructiveness, and refusal to answer questions – why on Earth would he then voluntarily have got inside the police car, when he obviously wanted to be allowed to go about his business?
· Furthermore, PC White attempted to justify his purported use of the Mental Health Act powers by saying that a member of the public was concerned that Mr White might ‘throw himself off the bridge’ – well, Mr Barlow’s concern was actually couched in terms of a ‘gut feeling’ and we know from the incident log that there were no specific details which suggested a self- harm act was actually about to occur. Yet further, it was not disputed that Mr White was no longer in the vicinity of the bridge; the two Officers had stopped him around a mile away, with Mr White’s direction of travel being away from the bridge. Therefore PC Master’s only real reliance was on the fact that Mr White “would not facilitate communication with us” which again, I submit, could simply not in the context be a basis for bona fide use of mental health detention powers.
A Quest for Justice
Having been badly let down by the lack of impartiality of our Police Complaints system, Mr White, who was of limited financial means, first approached a local Solicitor in the hope that his case could be taken on a no win, no fee basis – but the Solicitor declined to do so.
Mr White was then prepared to bring an action in the County Court against West Mercia Police as a litigant in person, seeking damages for assault and false imprisonment – only to learn whilst he attempted to draft the letter of claim that Section 139 of the Mental Health Act requires all potential Claimants who have been subject to a purported detention under the Act to obtain permission from the High Court before they can commence their claim, and in doing so to demonstrate that the actions taken towards them by (in this case) the Police were done in bad faith and/or without reasonable care.
Mr White was dismayed at the prospect of having to navigate the tortuous process of bringing and succeeding with such an application in the High Court itself, and knew that he could not do so without specialist legal advice – but also that he lacked the means to pay for the same.
Following a personal recommendation, Mr White then approached me.
Having assessed Mr White’s case as meritorious, and noting that he was of limited financial means, I made an application on his behalf to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) seeking public funding for the case.
Regretfully, the LAA rejected Mr White’s request for Legal Aid on the following basis –
“It is unreasonable for Legal Aid to be granted as the prospects of obtaining a successful outcome in the proceedings, assuming the case were determined at Trial or other final hearing are poor. Having read the Complaint Investigation Report, I cannot see that the prospects would be better than poor. In any event, this case would not meet the proportionality test. There is no reason to consider that either aggravated or exemplary damages would be awarded even if your case were successful. The value of the claim would be no more than £1,000.”
The institutional negativity displayed by the LAA in that assessment of Mr White’s case demonstrates in a nutshell why our current Legal Aid system is not fit for purpose and in urgent need of investment and reform.
· To assess Mr White’s prospects as being ‘poor’ (i.e. less than 50%) demonstrates an unacceptable inability to cogently assess the evidence and understand the law – not least the fact that where the detention of a person is admitted (which it was here) the burden of proof rests firmly on the Police to justify at all times the lawfulness of their actions and the Complaint Report itself (as highlighted above) was littered with contradictions and apparent inaccuracies by the officers which would tend to suggest that they would fail to meet that burden.
· Likewise, either naively or cynically, the Legal Aid Assessor has accepted the outcome of the complaint investigation as if it were ‘Gospel’ likely to be determinative of the proposed civil proceedings. Anyone at all familiar with the Police Complaints process would know that the regular rejection of meritorious complaints is par for the course, and that the limited and biased complaint investigation process is in no way comparable to the full, fair and rigorous process of a County Court claim. The findings of complaint investigations are not binding on subsequent civil proceedings; which indeed, as my own personal experience will amply testify, frequently come to the reverse conclusion following the initial exoneration of officers by their own PSD colleagues.
· Finally, there was a demonstrable failure by the LAA to properly consider and apply the proportionality test i.e. the weighing up of the costs of bringing a legal action against the potential rewards which are available. Firstly, it was inaccurate to assert that no more than £1,000 damages could be recovered. The outcome of this case will speak for itself (see below) but even at the initial assessment stage it was clear that although Mr White’s detention was fortunately no longer than around 20 minutes, the physical assault that he suffered, combined with his understandable alarm and distress and the arrogance and unconstitutional behaviour of the officers (particularly PC Masters) should have made it obvious to any competent assessor that the range of damages were certainly significantly in excess of £1,000 and that aggravated and exemplary damages were potentially recoverable.
· Even more importantly, there were also issues of personal and civic justice over and above the ‘pounds and pence’ amount of the actual compensation award which should have been taken into account by the Legal Aid Agency as a crucial factor when assessing the ‘costs v benefits’ criteria for funding this case. The case was never just about the recovery of damages, as if Mr White was merely seeking recompense for a broken dishwasher – rather it engaged important issues of civil liberty and the accountability of Police actions.
In summary, this was a proposed claim involving a man who had committed no crime – who indeed was not at any point under suspicion of any crime – nevertheless being bundled into the back of a Police car on the flimsiest of pretexts. Mr White had been assaulted, intimidated and deprived of his liberty and this was a case that deserved the full investigation that substantive civil proceedings would allow.
Surely it is in the public interest to hold the Police to account in such circumstances? I feel it would certainly be of concern if police officers were regularly invoking ‘mental health concerns’ simply because a person who they approached on a public street was refusing the officer’s request for personal information. A British citizen has the right to refuse to talk to a police officer who approaches him in all but the rarest of circumstances, and none of those circumstances applied here. I repeat that there was simply no evidence of mental disorder, or mental disorder requiring immediate care and control.
Sadly, the LAA did not agree and maintained their rejection of Mr White’s request for funding.
I am convinced that many hundreds, if not indeed thousands of persons with meritorious claims such as Mr White’s, are being left high and dry and without access to justice by the current Legal Aid system for a whole variety of reasons – but certainly including a negative culture within the LAA and a basic failure to understand fundamental points of law and the assessment of evidence.
The current civil Legal Aid system is anaemic and in real need of a transfusion not only of funding but also of new leadership and the adoption of an ethos more dedicated to facilitating rather than frustrating access to justice for those with limited financial means.
Mr White wrote to me in the following eloquent terms following the final rejection of his appeal for funding by the LAA –
“I believe very strongly that the Police should be held to account when they mistreat a member of the public, and that if people like me just shrug their shoulders and think ‘it’s too much work to do anything about this’, that makes it more likely that others will be mistreated in the future. I feel it is my civic duty to try to bring this case to court, so I hope you will continue to help me…….”
I am pleased to confirm that I did indeed agree to continue to assist Mr White, agreeing to act by way of a Conditional Fee or No win, No fee Agreement as the only means of funding which remained available. Mr White was not in a position to be able to pay me, and so I agreed to take on the case which the LAA had deemed as ‘poor’ with the risk that I would not be paid a penny if it did not succeed.
Furthermore, Mr White was also having to shoulder the burden of having to pay the Police legal costs if his claim failed, because without Legal Aid a losing Claimant is directly exposed to those costs, which could, at worst, result in bankruptcy/seizure of assets.
Nevertheless, both I and Mr White were prepared to take these risks in the interests of the justice of his cause and to do what the LAA seemed uninterested in doing – which was to hold the Police properly to account after their abusive mistreatment of Mr White and shambolic/cynical rejection of his legitimate complaint.
I am pleased to confirm that the subsequent application which I made on behalf of Mr White to the High Court was granted, and thereafter, shortly after the commencement of full civil proceedings against the Chief Constable of West Mercia Police, Mr White’s claim was settled for damages in the sum of £1,200 plus an agreement by the Chief Constable to pay the costs of both the High Court application and subsequent civil proceedings.
Mr White’s sense of satisfaction in the vindication of his claim was worth far, far more than the mere monetary damages in this case but it is not right that he had to shoulder such a burden of risk in order to achieve justice.
We need to see a significant improvement in both the funding and culture of the Legal Aid Agency so that many more people like Mr White are not left wandering in the desert, without a lawyer to guide them or any hope of accessing justice.
After all, there is no point in having one of the best justice systems in the world if people cannot use it to hold to account abuses of power, and to expose evidence of corrupt character, amongst agents of the state.
Can you be lawfully arrested on a charge of ‘making off without payment’ when you are in fact-
Not making off, but remaining on the premises where payment is expected; AND
Offering to pay your debt for goods/ services in full with legal tender?
The answer to that question is of course NO, but that didn’t stop Devon & Cornwall Police arresting my client Brett Chamberlain in exactly those circumstances…
On 27 July 2020 Brett filled up his car with £60 worth of diesel at a Tesco Petrol Station in Exeter, and offered payment by way of a £100 coin to the cashier.
A £100 coin is legal tender in accordance with the Coinage Act 1971.
The manager of the petrol station refused to accept payment in this form, despite the fact that there was no notice or advertisement on the fuel pumps warning potential customers that certain denominations of otherwise legal tender would not be accepted in payment of the goods being offered for sale i.e the petrol/ diesel fuel.
Indeed, Brett had previously received a letter from the Tesco Customer Engagement Centre (dated 16 January 2020) which confirmed that Tesco did accept payment in its petrol stations by means of ‘commemorative’ coins including the £100 denomination.
The manager of the petrol station refused to accept payment by way of Brett’s £100 coin, and instead called the Police. Sergeant Attwood of Devon and Cornwall Police attended at the scene and spoke to Brett, who was waiting patiently in his motor car by the fuel pump.
Brett had not attempted to ‘make off’ in any way, although he had offered to move his car to a different area of the forecourt so as not to block access to the fuel pump – but this had been refused by the Tesco manager.
Embedded below in this blog, are videos of Brett’s interactions with Sergeant Attwood.
As the videos show, Brett politely explained the situation to Sergeant Attwood, including showing the officer the £100 coin, and explaining the relevant stipulations of the Coinage Act 1971 (although Brett was under no obligation to explain the law to a Police Officer).
Sergeant Attwood accepted that the £100 coin was perfectly legal tender, but nevertheless threatened Brett with arrest for “bilking”, on the alleged grounds that it was the preference of the Tesco manager that Brett not pay his debt with the £100 coin.
Brett correctly asserted that he was not acting dishonestly; he had not attempted to drive off; he had waited for the officer to attend and had then engaged in a lengthy and civil discussion with him as to the issue.
Brett further correctly asserted that the officer should not be threatening arrest simply because of the Tesco manager’s ‘preference’ as to what type of cash payment he was willing to accept after the event of the fuel being pumped. As with all self-service petrol stations, the pumps are made available for prospective customers such as Brett to ‘help themselves’ to vehicle fuel, and the station owner, in this case Tesco, would only have been able to refuse payment in a given denomination of otherwise legal tender cash/coinage had they clearly advised the fact with signage upon their pumps in advance. In the absence of any such signage (and, indeed, given the actual written assurance that Brett had previously received from Tesco that such coinage was acceptable payment) Tesco were obliged to accept any legal tender in Sterling which was offered to them and could not ‘pick and choose’ the method of such payment after the fuel had been pumped into the car, and the transaction was therefore irreversible. The same situation would also apply in, say, a restaurant after a customer had eaten a meal – if he had not been given advance notice that there were types of statutorily legal tender which this particular business would not accept.
Nevertheless, Sergeant Attwood then placed Brett under arrest on suspicion of “making off without payment”, at which point the officer reached through the open driver’s door window of Brett’s vehicle (through which the two men had been talking) and without warning simultaneously took hold of Brett’s right arm – which act was in itself an assault and battery- and attempted to extract his keys from the ignition (although the engine of the car was already switched off).
Brett reasonably requested that the officer let go of him, and when this was done, peaceably exited his vehicle and complied with the officer’s instructions to accompany him to a nearby Police vehicle.
Brett was then required to get into the rear of a Police car and two different officers then transported him to Exeter Police station where he was detained in custody for over 4 hours.
During his time in custody, Brett was interviewed as to the alleged ‘offence’ and had his fingerprints, DNA, and photograph taken under duress. He was subsequently released “under investigation” with the Police retaining the £100 coin, despite there never being any suspicion that this was anything other than a wholly legitimate coin, properly issued by the Royal Mint and confirmed as legal tender by the Coinage Act.
Brett subsequently received a letter from Devon and Cornwall Police confirming that the alleged crime had now been filed as “undetected”, with an outcome of “not proceeded with”.
Heads & Tails
It was ridiculous that this chain of events had gone so far. As Brett cogently observed during his Police interview, he simply shouldn’t have had to explain the contents of the UK Coinage Act to the UK’s biggest retailer, nor law and legislation to a Police Officer – an agent of the Crown. He had been arrested, and was then investigated with a view to his being criminally prosecuted for the ‘offence’ of … attempting to use Royal Mint coinage?
Plainly and simply, the Officer was using his power of arrest to attempt to bully Brett into doing what the Tesco manager wanted, despite the wishes of that manager having no force in law.
This self-same officer then added insult to injury by repeatedly accusing Brett of being “dishonest” during his interview under caution – despite at no point being able to articulate what was dishonest about using an appropriate amount of legal tender to pay a legal debt. During the interview, it quickly became clear that the officer lacked any reasonable basis for arresting Brett, but appeared unable to back down from his self- appointed position as Tesco’s “Big Brother” despite the cogency, coherency and clarity of Brett’s argument.
In the aftermath of these wholly unjust events, Brett initially attempted to set the record straight by pursuing an official complaint with Devon & Cornwall Police, only to run up against the usual pro-Police bias of ‘local’ complaint investigations. In his case, Brett received a letter from Sergeant Balsdon of Exeter Police Station dated 16 December 2020, which was almost nakedly bristling with hostility – rather than offer any sort of apology, Sergeant Balsdon asserted that the “crime” had happened, and the only reason Brett was not being prosecuted was because the victim (that is Tesco PLC) had not provided any evidence. The Sergeant then asserted that “shops and businesses are not expected to accept comenberative (sic) coins as a method of payment and have every right to refuse”…which is both entirely correct and entirely irrelevant, because businesses cannot ring fence certain types of coinage as unacceptable once the transaction has irreversibly commenced – and would instead have to have given advance notice of their special terms as to payment e.g by posting clear signs on their fuel pumps. Of course here, the officer’s argument was all the more fallacious because Tesco had actually done the opposite – they had written to Brett and assured him they would accept commemorative coins of that denomination; and this very fact was known to the Police throughout the time of Brett’s detention and their subsequent ‘investigation.’
In effect, the Police letter was saying to Brett – ‘Thanks for your complaint – but in our view you are a criminal, and we’re just disappointed we can’t prove it.’ This letter was accompanied by a telephone call from another officer who stressed the view that Brett was dishonest, and just lucky that Tesco were not ‘pressing charges’– a call which Brett quite rightly found to oppressive and threatening. So much for a considerate or conciliatory response – though as long experience tells me, hardly surprising; this type of combativeness is ingrained in policing complaint culture.
Brett was therefore left with no remedy but a legal claim for compensation, and that was when he instructed myself in January 2021.
In the meantime, Brett had received another letter from Sergeant Balsdon insisting that “the crime was recorded accurately” and that “the crime remains”. Outrageously, Brett was now facing the prospect of being life-long smeared by association with an offence he could never have committed, as a result of the Police refusal to delete the arrest from his PNC record. And what exactly was this “crime” that the Police deemed should remain forever more on his record? Brett summed this up very well, when in a classic example of British irony he phrased it thus – “The crime of using Her Majesty’s legal tender coins at the country’s largest retailer, who had already agreed to accept them in writing…”
I am pleased to confirm that we have now successfully held Devon & Cornwall Police to account. Faced with the threat of legal action, the Force has not only agreed to pay Brett £5,000 damages (rather more than £100) for his wrongful arrest but also to offer a full apology – which in itself gives the lie to any suggestion that Brett’s initial complaint was handled fairly or impartially.
We can look at this case from the negative angle of what a shameful waste of public money it was by the Police to have both arrested Brett in the manner they did, and then failed to apologise when first given the opportunity to do so – and all for what? Pride in their own power it seems, and a willingness to side with the ‘big boys’ Tesco against the common man.
For that seems to me to be the real problem here – that Sergeant Attwood clearly felt that Tesco had to be in the right and that Brett must be dishonest – he just didn’t know why.
And when Brett then raised a wholly legitimate complaint, Sergeant Attwood’s colleagues clearly felt that their colleague must be right, and Brett must be a criminal – they just didn’t know why, either.
The role of the Police is to uphold the law, not to use it as a tool to bully or browbeat those who disagree with them, or with the corporate kings of the country…
But we can also look at the positive result: that Brett was able to take the Police to task and expose both their incompetence and abuse of power – to remind the Police, and us all, that their job is to uphold the letter of the law, not the hierarchies of society; not to have a default position of siding with commercial entities/ corporations against the private citizen; and not to let themselves be used as the fist of the big organisation that’s punching down.
After all, the Police swear an oath to well and truly serve the Queen whose head is on our coins, not to Tesco PLC, who simply bank so many of them…
That this is a very real problem within the Police has been recognised by numerous official communiqués from chief officers over the last decade, such as this from the then Deputy Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police John Robbins in July 2017 (now Chief Constable) –
“I know this doesn’t apply to the vast majority of you but some of you and some of your colleagues are continuing to abuse your position for sexual purposes.
As employees of West Yorkshire Police you hold a privileged public position. It is vital we all understand and respect this position at all times and maintain professional boundaries with members of the public that we come into contact with as a result of our job.
A national strategy has just been launched by the National Police Chiefs’ Council making it clear what is expected of everyone when dealing with members of the public. A key focus of this is the abuse of position for a sexual purposeandimproper emotional relationships. Such an abuse is now clearly defined as corruption and therefore allegations will always be treated and investigated as corruption. This is not just the abuse of position with vulnerable people, it is any relationship with a member of the public that you have cultivated through your position in West Yorkshire Police.
So let me make this really clear – it is your professional obligation and duty to neither abuse or use your position for sexual and emotional relationship purposes.”
Even earlier than this, Dorset Police had, in 2013, published a policy entitled “Maintaining Professional Boundaries and Standards of Behaviour” which stated the following-
· 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 through powers of office) and that an attempt to establish a relationship beyond the purely professional may constitute an abuse of that power.
· 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.
· You must protect all people from the risk of harm posed by another colleague’s conduct. The safety of the public must come first at all times. If you have concerns that a colleague may be involved in an inappropriate relationship, you must report this matter to a supervisor or line manager without delay in order that the concerns can be investigated and the necessary protective arrangements are put in place.
But how much real difference has a decade of such guidance and messaging made to the prevalence of such predatory behaviour within our Police Forces? IOPC statistics show that the Police watchdog has received no less than 394 referrals in the last 2 years for abuse of power for sexual gain by Police officers/ staff, 106 of which were deemed serious enough to warrant direct investigation by the IOPC (bearing in mind that the vast majority of misconduct investigations are conducted by the local Forces themselves).
In the same week that Police investigator Alan Butler was sentenced to prison for his exploitation of my clients Julia and Alison, yet another abusive officer, PC Sean Ford (of the same Dorset Force that set out those apparently clear ‘commandments’ about sexual propriety in 2013 that I have cited above) faced a misconduct panel in relation to his relationship with a domestic abuse victim whose case he was investigating.
The panel heard how the relationship began in 2019 when the woman (Ms A) was referred to the Police feeling suicidal and in a state of fear about her ex-husband.
Mere days after visiting Ms A’s house to take a statement from her about the abuse, PC Ford entered into a sexual relationship with her. This was at a time when Ms A was both an alleged victim and suspect in the investigation, as her ex-partner had made counter-allegations of emotional and physical abuse against her.
As is very common in such cases, PC Ford was able to play the part of the “Knight in Shining Armour” to Ms A – flagrantly conducting an illicit relationship with her by night, whilst by day he made entries regarding criminal allegations about her in the Police investigation log. In this regard, PC Ford was putting the integrity of the whole criminal investigation process at risk, as well as exploiting his position for sex.
This was nothing short of contemptible behaviour, but rather than disclose his relationship at the time, or even accept full responsibility once it was discovered, PC Ford contested the charge of gross misconduct brought against him, arguing that he had not abused his position to have a relationship with Ms A.
Quite properly, the misconduct panel rejected PC Ford’s arguments, and on 30 September 2021 dismissed him from the force for having conducted an inappropriate sexual relationship with such a clearly vulnerable woman.
Whilst ex-PC Ford will now be placed on the Policing barred list, questions remain as to Policing culture and the prevalence of this problem, at the intersection of machismo and ingrained misogyny. Bear in mind that PC Ford felt entitled to admit his affair with the woman, and argue that he should be allowed to keep his job. How many other officers really think likewise about this form of misconduct, and therefore is the profession as a whole only paying ‘lip service’ to the full extent of the problem?
In further news this week, Patsy Stevenson, one of the women manhandled and handcuffed by Metropolitan Police officers as they broke up the peaceful Clapham Common vigil in memory of Sarah Everard in March of this year, has spoken of her fear after dozens of Police officers ‘liked’ her profile on the Tinder dating app. The Met have said that they are now investigating whether any officer in so doing has committed misconduct.
An independent review into not merely the Metropolitan Police, but all Police Forces standards and culture on these issues is long, long overdue.
Amidst revelations in the last few days that the murderer and rapist Wayne Couzens was a member of a “Whats App” group involving other Metropolitan Police officers that is now under investigation for its sharing of misogynistic, racist and homophobic content, and the Met themselves advising the public not to trust plainclothes officers who are acting alone, the confidence and trust that women can have in the Police is at an all time low; and I have been given further reason to reflect on this by discussions with two of my clients regarding abuse that they suffered at the hands of another criminal Police officer – Alan Butler, who was convicted for crimes against them in August of this year.
Here are their stories.
My client Julia was raped by her ex-partner in February 2017, when he was staying as a guest at her home; she sought medical assistance and counselling, but initially avoided contacting the Police. However, Julia subsequently found that her ex- partner had left his gmail account logged on to a computer in her home, and had been viewing disturbing websites.
Julia notified her daughter in law (as her ex-partner had contact with Julia’s granddaughter) and Social Services were informed. As a result, the Police became involved and in March 2017, two officers from Warwickshire Police attended Julia’s home. One of these officers was Alan Butler, a former Detective Constable, who had retired from that position but who continued to work for the Force as a “Police Staff Investigator”.
Butler arranged to visit Julia on a later occasion, ostensibly to discuss the case, and this time he came unaccompanied. Julia was reluctant to give a statement about the attack she had suffered from her ex-partner, and Butler’s purported reason for visiting her was to support/ encourage her to do so. However, he quickly became overly familiar and flirtatious towards Julia, complimenting her on her looks, and taking hold of her hands.
On the pretext of making welfare checks/ discussing the case, Butler then started calling at Julia’s house frequently, during which visits he adopted the persona of a ‘friend’ paying a social visit rather than maintaining the professional demeanour/ distance which his role as a representative of the Police should have required. He made lewd remarks and direct references to wanting to have sex with her.
By now, at Butler’s encouragement, Julia had provided a formal ABE interview to the Police about the rape. Butler continued to visit her and to pester/ harass her, with flirtatious remarks and compliments now turning into physical contact. Butler became increasingly forward, going as far as to touch Julia on the backside, and to kiss her. Julia was caught in a difficult emotional trap, not wanting to hurt Butler’s feelings even though his attentions were unwanted, and also worried about how a rejection of him would affect her case/ potentially endanger her.
Julia explained that since the rape, she was not interested in physical contact, but Butler continued his despicable ‘pursuit’ of her regardless. It seems that he was shamelessly trying to exploit Julia’s vulnerability from the sexual assault she had suffered, in order to take advantage for his own personal gain.
Julia was feeling so harassed by Butler, that she set up CCTV monitoring of her front door, in the hope that it would dissuade him from coming around; sadly it did not. He also bombarded Julia with phone calls and text messages.
Fortunately, Julia had been put in touch with an IVSA counsellor, as part of the rape investigation, and she was eventually able to open up to her counsellor not only about the rape but about Butler’s pestering/ pursuit of her. The Anti- Corruption Unit of Warwickshire Police became involved, and Julia now had to provide an ABE interview detailing all of Butler’s contact with her; this led to Butler’s arrest and prosecution for misconduct in public office.
Julia, however, was not the only victim of Alan Butler’s grooming/ attempted sexual exploitation.
I also represent Alison, another woman who disclosed past sexual abuse, only to have the misfortune of having Alan Butler allocated to her case.
Alison had been abused by her adoptive father as a child; as a result of this she developed a psychiatric disorder.
As an adult, and indeed a parent now herself, Alison was eventually able to face up to the abuse she had suffered, and report her adoptive father to the Police; because he lived in Warwickshire at the time, the case was handled by that Force.
Alan Butler, in his role as Police Staff Investigator on the case, invited Alison into Nuneaton Police Station to discuss the case.
Just as he did with Julia, Butler then inveigled his way more and more into Alison’s life, abusing his privileged position as a Police investigator to groom her. Butler praised her appearance, flirted with her, called and visited her at home repeatedly. He encouraged Alison to apply for a compensation payment from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority in respect of the historic abuse she had suffered, although this had initially not been on her mind at all; in this respect Butler was able to pose as a mentor/ protector in regards to Alison’s journey through the criminal justice system, purportedly there to look out for her welfare, whilst combining this with conduct which can only be described as the sleazy behaviour of a man ‘on the pull’ in a singles bar – including unwanted physical contact, such as touching Alison on the knee when they were talking.
Butler continued to pursue Alison during this very vulnerable time in her life – the prosecution of her adoptive father eventually resulted in his conviction, but the time was one of understandable stress and emotional turmoil for Alison. Butler continued to exploit this by posing as Alison’s ‘Knight in Shining Armour’; he told her there had been another occasion when he had failed to protect a vulnerable woman from suicide, and that he would not let this happen again – he would always be there if she needed him.
For a time, Alison and Butler entered into a sexual relationship. Alison then ended the relationship, but had to continue to deal with Butler as part of the ongoing criminal case against her adoptive father, and he obsessively pestered her and bombarded her with calls, trying to get her to sleep with him again.
Despicably, Butler even used the excuse of having to take another ‘Victim Impact Statement’ from Alison to get her to see him; he was exploiting the fact of her abuse as a child to try to advance his own sexual desires upon her.
Eventually, in the Summer of 2017 Alan Butler came under investigation by Warwickshire’s Professional Standards department following the report made by Julia about his behaviour towards her. At first Butler thought it might have been Alison who had reported him, and went as far as to threaten her with the words “I hope you haven’t said anything, because your Dad would walk if you have.” He then ranted that it must have been the ‘other woman’ who had shopped him.
On hearing this, Alison realised that it was time for her to come forwards and tell the Police about what Butler had done to her; she didn’t know Julia, but could well imagine how Butler had exploited her as well. Alison felt that if Julia’s voice was alone, she might not be believed; she knew that by telling her own story she would be supporting and helping Julia.
Julia herself has since told me that learning that another woman (Alison) had come forwards gave her the strength to see through the difficult process of confronting her own abuse by Butler. Without meeting, the two women were there for one another, and together would ensure that justice would be done – though each now, after having faced the trauma of one criminal investigation process as the victims of sexual abuse, now had to face a second such ordeal brought about by the Police themselves, in the person of Alan Butler.
Butler was charged with Misconduct in Public Office in relation to both Alison and Julia, and initially pleaded not guilty on both counts in January 2019. The case was a long drawn out and stressful process for both of my clients; Butler claimed ill health and managed to have his first trial, listed for September 2019 adjourned. The Pandemic then intervened and the trial re-listed for June 2020 was also cancelled.
The case finally came to trial at Warwick Crown Court in July 2021, and on 2 and 3 August 2021, Butler was convicted of both charges. By pleading not guilty however, and refusing to face up to responsibilities for his crimes, he had perpetuated the suffering of both Alison and Julia, as they were required to attend the trial and give evidence about what he had done to them.
Butler is now due for sentencing at the beginning of next week (4 October 2021) and I trust that he will receive a lengthy prison sentence, properly reflective of his shameful abuse of public office for his own sexual gratification and the harm that he caused to both Julia and Alison’s mental health as a result.
Superintendant Daf Goddard, head of Warwickshire PSD, had these words to say after Butler’s conviction-
“Butler used his position of trust to take advantage of a vulnerable woman and attempted to take advantage of another vulnerable woman.
People often come into contact with Police when they are at their most vulnerable and it is important that our communities trust they will not be taken advantage of.
I hope the public are reassured by the action we took when these offences came to light and that Butler has been brought to justice. I would like to thank the two victims in this case for bringing Butler’s offending to our attention and supporting the investigation and trial. I hope they take some comfort from this conviction.”
What I would like to say in response to that, on behalf of both Julia and Alison, is that my clients don’t want “thanks” from the Police; rather what they, and the public at large, deserve isan apology from a Policing profession which has for far, far too long been failing to Police itself and root out the abusers and criminals in its own ranks. Why did the responsibility fall upon Julia and Alison’s shoulders to “bring Butler’s offending to [Police] attention”? The man had served with the Force as an officer for over 30 years, before then retiring and becoming a CID investigator; did none of his Police colleagues through those long decades have any awareness of his true character and predilections? Were Alison and Julia really his first victims? Did none of the trained investigators of crime working alongside Butler on a daily basis have any suspicions about him and his behaviour (often committed whilst he was on duty)?
Or did they look the other way?
It is only in providing honest answers to those questions, that Warwickshire, and the Police profession as a whole, can genuinely begin to win back the trust of our communities.
It is now over 15 years since the statutory basis of a lawful arrest (if carried out by a Police Officer not acting under a warrant for arrest – which of course, is the vast majority of cases) was fundamentally altered by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. This Act amended Section 24 of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE – the ‘statutory bible’ of modern day Policing) to require Police Constables to consider in each and every case of potential arrest, not only whether there is objectively reasonable suspicion that a criminal offence has been committed, but also whether arrest is objectively necessary for at least one of a number of specified reasons, as set out in Section 24 (5), which are as follows-
The Necessity Criteria
(a)to enable the name of the person in question to be ascertained (in the case where the constable does not know, and cannot readily ascertain, the person’s name, or has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given by the person as his name is his real name);
(b)correspondingly as regards the person’s address;
(c)to prevent the person in question—
(i)causing physical injury to himself or any other person;
(ii)suffering physical injury;
(iii)causing loss of or damage to property;
(iv)committing an offence against public decency (subject to subsection (6)); or
(v)causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway;
(d)to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the person in question;
(e)to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question;
(f)to prevent any prosecution for the offence from being hindered by the disappearance of the person in question.
I have highlighted reason “e” above because it is something of a ‘catch all’ and the most common justification from the list which is relied upon by Officers effecting an arrest.
The major consideration arising from these ‘necessity criteria’ is therefore whether or not inviting the ‘suspect’ to attend a voluntary interview at a Police station is a reasonable alternative; if it is, then arrest can and should be avoided. If there is little or no doubt as to the identity of the suspect and his or her permanent address, and no risk of a continuance or repeat of the alleged offence, or destruction of key evidence, then the objectively reasonable step would be to avoid arrest by inviting the person to voluntary interview.
Ever since 2006 however, Police Officers have repeatedly failed to properly apply the necessity criteria, and have ‘jumped the gun’ to arrest in circumstances where a voluntary attendance would have been a totally appropriate option – one which would have struck the balance between not unduly endangering/ delaying the investigation, and at the same time saving the individual the ignominy, harm to reputation (digital and/or public in this era of data profiling and data sharing) and loss of liberty which arrest entails.
Such actions can therefore render an arrest entirely unlawful on the grounds of lack of necessity, even if it is arguable that reasonable grounds for suspicion exist.
As can be seen, whether an arrest is necessary, as opposed to, say, a voluntary attendance will depend in large part on the identity and character of the person being investigated, as well as the circumstances of the alleged offence. In this regard, I think most of us would consider a retired senior Police Officer suspected of a very minor offence to be a perfect candidate for a ‘voluntary interview’ rather than an immediate arrest; Essex Police, however, evidently did not, leading to the unfolding of the following unfortunate and wholly avoidable sequence of events.
The Unlawful Arrest of Roy Ramm
During a 26 year career with the Metropolitan Police, Roy Ramm rose to be a Commander of Specialist Operations. The Specialist Ops command included the force firearms branch (then SO19) and Roy trained and worked extensively with the UK Special Forces in the UK and overseas. In the circumstances, he was very familiar with firearms and ammunition. In 1996 Roy retired from the Police at the rank of Commander (ACPO rank) and with an exemplary certificate of conduct and numerous commendations.
Following his retirement, Roy pursued a career in the private sector based on his experience of security and regulatory compliance. He is currently the chairman of two companies in the security sector and advisor to several other organisations on regulatory compliance, as well as being a regular contributor to the BBC, Sky TV and many other local and international broadcasters on law and order issues.
Roy has for several years had issues with people trespassing from a public footpath adjacent to his property, and causing damage/ theft. Accordingly, Roy fitted his garden gate with a ‘Henry Krank’ intruder alarm. The alarm comprised an aluminium frame which holds a spring in a pin and a slide for a ‘blank’ half shotgun cartridge. If the gate was opened without removing the half cartridge, this would cause a loud bang. This alarm was purchased by Roy from the online retailer Amazon along with two others and some cartridges in approximately 2012, and was entirely legal. No firearms license or shot gun certificate was required to purchase the device or cartridges.
In 2019 the footpath near to Roy’s property was deemed dangerous by reason of erosion, and was the subject of closure orders imposed by Essex County Council, to remain in force until 2020. An extensive number of clearly-marked signs made the closure of the footpath entirely clear, but unfortunately this did not deter every traveller who had intended to use it.
Early on the morning of 30 December 2019, a man whom I will identify as “Mr P” called at Roy’s house. It transpired that Mr P had ran along the closed section of the footpath, and then chosen to deviate from the footpath and onto Roy’s property. Mr P had then attempted to open the gate in order to gain (illegal) entry to Roy’s garden, and the Henry Krank alarm had detonated.
Mr P demanded to know if the alarm was legal, and my client assured him that it was, and that he could purchase one on Amazon himself if he wanted. Roy also pointed out that Mr P should not have been on the path in any event because it was closed, and that once he left the path he was trespassing. Mr P indicated that he knew this, but didn’t seem to care. He complained that the gate device might have caused him “tinnitus”, although on further questioning confirmed that he did not in fact have any signs of tinnitus and that he was just complaining about the ‘shock’ of the loud bang. Roy and Mr P then parted company, with Roy not thinking too much about it.
However, at approximately11.50 am, no less than four officers of Essex Police arrived at the premises. Roy’s wife invited the officers in and then, as Roy himself came in from the garden, PC Munson immediately informed him that he was under arrest for “assault causing actual bodily harm”. The alleged victim was the trespassing Mr P who it transpired, had telephoned the Police complaining that the gate alarm had caused “ringing” in his ears.
PC Munson then announced that the Officers would be carrying out a search of the premises under Section 32 of PACE. When asked what the Officers were looking for, PC Munson replied, “guns or any other ammunition’. One of the other officers then added, “It would be better for you if you told us where they are.”
Roy explained that the only ammunition he had was a few legal, blank cartridges and another such alarm which was in his workshop in the garden. Though somewhat flabbergasted by the approach of the officers, he did not attempt to ‘pull rank’ or identify himself as a former Police Commander.
At this point, Mrs Ramm collapsed in a state of distress. Roy lay on the floor with his wife and tried to comfort her, but she appeared to be in some kind of catatonic or comatose condition and would not respond.
The officers then called an ambulance, and Roy was permitted to telephone his son to come and help care for his mother.
Roy made it clear to PC Munson that he considered her actions to be completely disproportionate to the circumstances. PC Munson’s reaction was uncompromising, and after Roy’s son had arrived to care for Mrs Ramm, and Roy had been required to hand over to the Officers the boxed and unused Henry Krank alarm which was in his workshop, he was marched to a Police car and taken to his nearest Police Station under arrest.
On Roy’s arrival at the station, the reason for arrest was recorded as “Assault – ABH”. The circumstances of arrest were recorded as “DP suspected of rigging a cartridge to his gate and when the victim opened the gate it went off causing ringing to his ears”.
The Custody Sergeant at any Police Station plays a very important role as a ‘gatekeeper’ who is required to consider the legality of the arrest of any detainees who are brought before him (in this case Roy). As highlighted above, one of the key factors in determining whether an arrest is lawful, and hence whether or not detention should be authorised, is, regardless of suspicion of an offence, whether it was in fact actually necessary for the suspect to be arrested. In Roy’s case, the necessity to arrest was noted as follows – “To prevent the person in question causing physical injury to themselves or any other person … Prompt and effective investigation – to interview – as thought unlikely person would attend voluntarily”.
There was simply no basis for the assertion that Roy was “unlikely” to voluntarily co-operate with the investigation – indeed the opposite was obviously true, but the Sergeant appears to have failed in his duty to critically question the justification for Roy’s arrest; operating it seems from the mind-set of a ‘jailer’ rather than the safeguarder/ custodian of liberty that he is supposed to be.
In a state of considerable stress as he worried about his wife’s condition, Roy was obliged to provide his fingerprints, a DNA sample and to be photographed. He was then subjected to a search, and led to a cell where he was incarcerated. Throughout his detention, Roy remained very anxious regarding his wife’s welfare and was understandably distressed that he could not be with her.
Roy spent all afternoon/early evening in the cell, apart from a brief consultation with his solicitor. Roy’s detention was reviewed by Inspector Smith, who then came to see Roy and advised him in the clearest possible language – ‘Mr Ramm I don’t know why you‘re here.’
It seems that common sense had finally broken out; sadly some 7 hours too late, and notwithstanding the Inspector’s comments, Roy was then interviewed under caution, during which he gave a full account of himself and quite correctly denied any unlawful conduct.
Police Sergeant Moye (not the original Custody Sergeant) then recorded the following in the Custody Record –
“The DP has been arrested on suspicion of causing ACTUAL BODILY HARM. The custody record shows that arrest was necessary in order to interview because it was believed the DP would not have agreed to being interviewed voluntarily.
I have spoken with the interviewing officer who tells me the following:
* The DP lives on land in a rural area.
* The DP has suffered a number of previous burglaries. As a result he has established certain security measures to alert intruders on his land.
* The victim was out running and his normal route was blocked due to floods and so decided to take a shortcut through the DP’s land. He had no permission to enter the DP’s land.
* As the victim opened a gate on the DP’s land, they activated one of the devices which made a loud bang.
* The victim called police because his ears were ringing.
* Officers have attended and ascertained that the device is a “Henry Krank” brand “Alarm Mine”, which is sold openly on their website, and similar devices are sold by other manufacturers. The noise is caused by setting off a 12-bore saluting blank cartridge which is approximately 1” in length.
* The DP is an expert in security and firearms and consults and advises on the subject.
* The BWV footage of the police attendance at the incident confirms that he fully co-operated with the officers and said that he was happy to be interviewed.
Henry Krank & Co is a reputable firearms dealer and manufacturer….. The devices are easily available by mail order from their website…No firearms licence or shotgun certificate is required to buy either the device or the cartridges.
No Shotgun certificate is required to purchase or possess ‘normal’ live shotgun cartridges.
The DP has now been interviewed. There is no evidence of any intention to cause injury to any person- the device was set up to alert him and his family to intruders on their land. When he installed the device he and his wife tested it by opening the gate. The neighbour and their son have set it off a number of times opening the gate to collect stray tennis balls.
I do not know whether any permanent damage has been caused to the victim’s hearing. However, for this to constitute a criminal assault there must be a degree of mens rea on the part of the DP. This is absent in this case. So, even if the victim’s hearing is permanently damaged I do not see that this is a criminal matter. In those circumstances there might be a civil claim but I am not trained in civil law and i believe the victim was trespassing on private land at the time.
I am therefore of the opinion that there has been no criminal assault, damage, firearms or other criminal offence committed. The DP will therefore be released without charge.”
Roy’s property was returned to him and he was at last released shortly before 9.00pm that evening, after having endured 9 hours in Police custody. Following his release, an Officer commented to Roy that-
“Most people in this police station think you should never have been here at all.”
Furthermore, in the presence of Roy’s solicitor, Inspector Smith said to Roy-
“You have been badly let down by Essex Police. You should never have been arrested in the first place. I think you have legitimate grounds for a complaint. I apologise. We are better than this.”
Police Forces as institutions with massive power over people’s lives should indeed be “better than this” but sadly all too often are not. The Policing profession has had almost an entire generation to get used to the ‘new’ law of necessity – indeed all current officers with anything less than 16 years of service should not have ever known anything different and would have been trained from the start to consider the question of “necessity” as being at the heart of any lawful arrest; but that training it seems, falls too often by the wayside.
None of the four officers who attended at Roy’s home that morning, nor even the (likely far more experienced) Custody Sergeant appear to have allowed the question of necessity to properly cross their minds – for if they had done so in a properly thorough and honest manner, they would surely have come quickly to the same conclusion as the apparently rather flabbergasted Inspector Smith and diligent Sergeant Moye did on the self-same facts – that Roy should never have been arrested.
Instead, Roy was deprived of his liberty and suffered psychological scars which will probably persist for the rest of his life; as well as the Police themselves wasting considerable time and money over at entirely unnecessary arrest. Along with Roy, we may all be questioning ‘How did this happen?’ Was it because of a lack of properly trained officers, or because a certain type of Police officer has always enjoyed the exercise of their power a little too much, and sets about their business with a mind-set geared to ‘arrest first, think later.’
Roy was deeply shaken by his experience, the ‘unreality’ he felt at first turning later to understandable anger. He has described how he now suffers a visceral anxiety reaction on seeing Police officers or vehicles – deeply sad given his own commendable career – and feels that the injustice of the incident has irreparably fractured his belief system as far as the Police and Policing are concerned, and he has lost his faith in the system he had dedicated most of his working life to diligently supporting. He told me that there have been many occasions in the past when he had defended his former profession against criticism, but he no longer feels able to do this. Furthermore, the incident unfortunately occurred only a day after Roy’s birthday and he feels that the anniversary of it will always now hang over and impinge upon what would otherwise be happy celebrations for his family at that time of year.
Initially, Roy sought to pursue his complaint against Essex Police in the assumption that his own background in the profession would help him to navigate the process unaided. He was quickly disabused of that notion, falling foul – as so many have before him, from all walks of life – of the obstructiveness, pro- Police bias, negativity and delays of all such ‘internal’ complaint investigations. Information he had reasonably requested was only drip-fed to him, and he felt that it took forever even to secure a simple agreement from Essex to delete his fingerprints. After around 9 months of this experience, feeling that all his efforts were failing, and that this was compounding the trauma of the original event, Roy reached out to me for assistance.
I am pleased to confirm that the claim which I subsequently pursued on behalf of Roy and his wife – who was equally a victim of the unlawful Police trespass into their home, at the time of Roy’s arrest – was successful and resulted in the couple receiving not only damages in excess of £20,000 but also a letter of apology in the following terms-
Essex Police unreservedly accept that your arrest on 30 December 2019 was unnecessary and as such unlawful. In the circumstances as they were presented you should have been afforded the opportunity to attend a voluntary interview.
It is further accepted that the grounds for your arrest and detention were not challenged and properly established by the custody officer at Colchester Police Station which led to a further unnecessary period of unlawful detention.
Having investigated the matter we can confirm that no offences were committed by you. Essex Police are extremely sorry for the distress caused to you and also to Mrs Ramm which resulted in her collapse and need for continuing treatment.
Given your professional background in the police service and standing in the local community, we accept that the distress caused to you and your wife was both increased and avoidable.
Both Roy and I have been caused to reflect on the old adage that “Sorry is the hardest word”, however – as the said apology was not properly signed by the Deputy Chief Constable in whose name it was written, but simply and rather flippantly, endorsed with her initials. This naturally tends to detract from the seriousness and gravitas of the sentiment expressed, and to undermine the wholehearted language of the apology – which may, sadly, have been her intention.
For it seems that all too often, Police understanding of the true meaning of the word “apology” is about as weak as their understanding of “necessity” – leading only to toil, trouble and unnecessary heartache and expense, both for themselves and the communities they are tasked with serving.