Many of my clients who have been the victims of Police abuse of power – often having been assaulted/ battered by the Police during the course of a wrongful arrest – come to me shortly after they have been found ‘not guilty’ of the criminal charges brought against them arising from the incident. Typically, in these cases, the victim of Police violence has been accused of obstructing/assaulting a police officer or resisting arrest, and the first hurdle they face is avoiding conviction in the Magistrates or Crown Court.
Often when such clients instruct me, they are understandably relieved –not to say elated- that the ordeal of their prosecution is over, and are keen to turn the tables on those who they say have falsely accused them. However, my first job is to disabuse them of any assumption – however understandable this might be on a ‘common sense’ basis – that the fact of their acquittal (which might be accompanied by harsh criticism of one or more of the Police Officers by the judge or magistrates, in terms of the officers’ use of force or honesty and integrity) – equates to a judgement by the Court that the Police actions were unlawful, or that criminal judicial findings can be relied upon as evidence in support of a civil claim for compensation.
Whilst a conviction for an offence can be relied upon as evidence in civil proceedings (see Section 11 of the Civil Evidence Act 1968) – which is why attempting to sue the Police in the civil courts after you have been found guilty in the criminal court is generally a non-starter – the opposite does not apply. A ‘not guilty’ verdict only means that there is no blemish against the claimant’s character, it does not equate to a vice-versa ‘conviction’ of the officers for any offence, and the comments of the judge or magistrates, along with their findings of fact, are not admissible evidence in any other court.
The rule from Hollington v Hewthorn  KB 857 restated in Rogers v Hoyle  EWCA Civ 257 confirms that the findings of a previous tribunal (including the Magistrates Court and Crown Court) are not admissible in future civil proceedings (with the exception of convictions, as noted above). Of course, this makes sense when you consider that the burden of proof test in the criminal and civil justice systems is very different: in the former, the prosecution must prove their case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, whereas in the latter, the person bringing the claim merely has to prove that their version of events is likely to be true ‘on the balance of probabilities’ i.e more likely than not, no matter how slim the difference, or how finely balanced the evidence is for each side. Furthermore, the role of a judge at any court or tribunal is to come to an independent decision based on the facts presented before them – not based on the opinions of a different judge in another case, albeit one which may have been dealing with the very same incident.
If a person is accused of assaulting a Police officer, and found not guilty, that is in legal terms the Magistrates or Crown court finding that the prosecution case has not been proven beyond all reasonable doubt – it certainly does not automatically follow that the County Court will then find that person was a victim of unlawful arrest or assault and battery. In other words, if the Police officer can persuade the Court that it is 60% likely that he was in the right, and my client was in the wrong – that is not high enough to secure a criminal conviction – but it is high enough to defeat a civil claim arising from the same facts.
Take for example the case of my client Paul Ponting. Paul was arrested and charged with the following offences-
Use of threatening/ abusive words or disorderly behavior likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress, contrary to S.5 Public Order Act 1986.
That he assaulted PS H___ with intent to resist arrest.
Paul was subsequently formally acquitted of all charges following trial at Chorley Magistrates’ Court, at which the following findings were reached-
In regards to the allegation of a Section 5 Public Order offence, the Court found that whilst Paul’s language towards PS H___ and PC W_____ may have been intemperate, he posed no threat to himself or any others including the Police Officers. His behaviour was not disorderly. In the view of the Court there was no-one present on this occasion, or nearby, who would have been alarmed or distressed at Paul’s behaviour prior to the moment PS H____ decided to arrest him. Therefore there was no Public Order offence.
That in regards to the charge of assaulting a Police Constable (PS H___) in the execution of his duty, that the Officer when the struggle between himself and Paul occurred was not acting in the execution of his duty as the Officer did not have reasonable grounds for believing that he must immediately arrest Paul, as Paul’s behaviour was not threatening. In this regard it was noted that in his evidence PS H____ had admitted that he did not ask Paul to go back indoors prior to arrest, nor did he warn him that if he continued in his perceived behaviour he would be arrested.
Notwithstanding these findings, it was entirely open for Lancashire Police to dispute the civil claim which I subsequently presented on behalf of Paul and to argue that, under the civil test, Paul’s arrest and the uses of force against him by the officers, were entirely lawful.
Paul was not ableto rely upon the statements of the Magistrates as evidence in support of his claim – they were the findings of a ‘previous tribunal’. Therefore, the whole case had to be re-fought and all of the evidence and witnesses tested again in the new forum of County Court proceedings. The outcome in the Magistrates court only allowed Paul to pursue a civil claim with some prospects of success – it certainly did not guarantee success, as evidenced by the fervor with which Lancashire Police disputed his claim, before ultimately settling Paul’s claim after several years of litigation for damages of £35,000 (and an apology).
A person who has been found not guilty therefore, in a case where logic would lead one to conclude that if they did not act unlawfully, then the Police officers accusing them did, cannot rest on their laurels at the conclusion of the criminal process, or rely upon the warm words of the Judge discharging them. In terms of a claim for compensation the battle is not half won, but remains to be won in its entirety, from scratch; fortunately, those are battles in which I enjoy every cut and thrust!
Reflecting on the recent victory of my client Sharon Binks over Greater Manchester Police at trial at Manchester County Court, as well as that of my client Paul Peters over Merseyside Police at Liverpool County Court, brings home to me the importance of the no win, no fee system we have in this country and – frankly – the importance of lawyers such as myself who are prepared to run such cases all the way to trial in the face of significant financial risk and all the opposition which the well-resourced and publically funded institutions of the Police can marshal against us.
Up until the late 1990s Legal Aid was widely available for low and middle- income clients – the vast majority of litigants of course – for both personal injury actions and claims against the Police.
From 1999 the availability of public funding for the individual citizen (as opposed, of course, to institutions such as the Police who are directly funded by the public purse) was drastically reduced, and although it remains available for claims against detaining authorities such as the Police, that availability is essentially limited to people who are either unemployed or of very low income, and even then, only when the Legal Aid Agency consider that the merits of the claim justify proceedings by reference to the likely costs and damages of the same: a clinical assessment by a risk-adverse bureaucracy which very often results in a refusal to fund the case.
As paying a lawyer to pursue compensation claims against the Police involves outlays of thousands of pounds, this – combined with the limited availability of Legal Aid – means that without ‘no win, no fee’ specialists such as myself –willing to put our money where our clients’ mouths are – access to justice for the majority of the population would be egregiously limited. In effect, we have to be willing to potentially work for free, all the way to and including the lengthy trial process, staking hundreds of hours of work in the process, otherwise our clients would not see justice – and the meritorious claims of many, many victims of abuse of power by agents of the state would go unheard by the Court. Justice would indeed be blind to their fate.
In effect, the reforms of the UK legal system over the last three decades have outsourced the funding of justice – particularly in the fields of personal injury and actions against the Police – from the State purse (Legal Aid) to the private purses of those solicitors and barristers who have both the confidence to fight these cases, and the competence to not to go out of business in the process! Not only do no win, no fee lawyers such as myself need to have the ability to identify and win meritorious cases – acting as gatekeepers to the justice system who must often bear the brunt of the dissatisfaction of those with unreasonable or fanciful claims – we must also be prepared to operate within the highly unpredictable timescales of litigation, where there is no guarantee when we will be paid (even assuming the case we are championing is successful). Complex legal claims against the Police can run for years, and there is no mechanism for no win, no fee lawyers to receive payments on account – unlike the vast majority of businesses, we cannot impose any ‘deadline’ of guaranteed payment for the work we do.
No win, no fee lawyers have often been derided – largely by those either lucky or wealthy enough not to have to require their services, or by the corporations who end up having to pay their clients’ damages – as ‘ambulance chasers’ and some kind of blight on society.
But in so many cases, without no win, no fee arrangements the doors of Court would effectively remain locked in the faces of individuals who have often suffered horrendous wrongs at the hands of much more powerful groups or institutions, and justice, locked up in an ivory tower, is no justice at all.
I am proud to have been able to fight cases for Sharon and Paul on a no win, no fee basis, and will continue to do so for all cases that I consider meritorious and deserving of the access to justice that they would otherwise be denied.
Only a few short months following the conviction of taser-wielding PC Benjamin Monk for causing the death of 48-year-old former footballer Dalian Atkinson, there is increasingly concerning evidence that, year on year, taser violence by Britain’s Police Officers is growing.
Home Office data reveals that the Police Forces of England and Wales recorded 3,300 incidents during 2019/20 in which Officers discharged tasers – an increase of 22% on the previous year (2700 incidents) and no less than 65% higher than 2017/18 (2,000 incidents).
A recent Sky News investigation into this data disturbingly revealed that the age range of the victims of Police taserings over the last 3 years is from as low as 10 years old to as high as 87.
The bare facts of the data alone indicate that Police Officers are becoming more ‘trigger happy’ with taser weapons – resorting to them as a short cut to resolving a conflict situation, without properly considering or exhausting less violent means of resolution – and indeed this is borne out by my own professional experience of such cases.
Whilst in response to media attention upon this issue, Police Forces often provide a roster of examples of taser use which highlight the most violent situations their Officers are confronted with – generally those involving aggressive adult individuals armed with bladed weapons – the fact is that a great many taser incidents involve entirely unarmed individuals.
For example, I have a current case in which a man having been woken by a Police welfare visit to his home was, during the course of an unlawful arrest, tasered in the chest whilst in a state of undress and doing nothing more than verbally protesting. Body Camera footage reveals that the taser-wielding Officer gave my client an instruction to place his hands behind his back, and then when my client failed to immediately comply, tasered him (literally) within 2 seconds.
I am therefore left with real concern that Officers resort far too frequently to their taser guns – whilst I am not disputing that there are certain incidents where taser use is entirely appropriate in the interests and safety of all concerned. Such incidents which threaten extreme violence towards Police Officers or members of the public however, can certainly not have increased by 65% over the last 3 years (manifestly that is not true) which suggests not that there is a rising tide of violence but rather that taser weapons are being deployed by the Police prematurely and inappropriately in ever more low-level incidents and against increasingly younger/vulnerable people.
Indeed, I happen to represent one of the youngest victims of Police tasering whose case is highlighted in the Sky report – the 10 year old girl tasered by the Metropolitan Police in January of this year.
In the interest of confidentiality, I shall simply refer to my client by the pseudonym of Amy.
On the account of Amy’s father, Amy was not warned before the taser was fired at her, and she was not moving towards the Police Officers when it was fired. Following the incident she required treatment in Kings College Hospital, London. A formal complaint has been filed and is presently ongoing.
I am frankly flabbergasted by the suggestion that Police Officers deemed it necessary to taser a 10-year- old girl, even if she was ‘armed with garden shears’ and I am pleased that the investigation currently being conducted by the Independent Office for Police Conduct has assessed that there is an indication that the Officer who tasered Amy has committed a criminal offence and behaved in a manner which would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings due to an indication of excessive use of force. This Officer is now under investigation for a criminal assault upon Amy (by use of his taser), and also on suspicion of gross professional misconduct.
I strongly echo the warning of Amnesty International that there is evidence of “enormous mission creep” in regards to Police taser use in the UK i.e. that it is becoming normalised as a Police response for any failure to comply with their authority, and Officers are reaching for these weapons rather than attempting to de-escalate a situation, or considering other uses of force that do not involve discharging a firearm which launches barbs designed to penetrate the skin, delivers a horrendous (although generally shortlived) burst of pain, which poses a real risk of cardiac arrhythmia (particularly in younger and more vulnerable individuals) and which – even when not fired – can leave long-term mental scars which long outlast the physical effects.
The IOPC investigation into Amy’s case presently continues, but regardless of its findings I will remain committed to doing what I can to reverse what might well be described as a rising epidemic of Police taser violence.
The right to participate in a peaceful public rally or political protest is, quite rightly, one of the most cherished hallmarks of a liberal democratic society, and it is quite proper that the right to public assembly be preserved from encroachment by heavy-handed agents of the state who either do not know what the law is, or who are abusing their privileged position of law enforcement.
One such victim of heavy handed and unconstitutional policing was my client Sharon Binks who on 19 May 2018 had travelled from the North-East to Manchester in order to participate in a remembrance march for the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing which had occurred on 22 May 2017. Sharon was a single mother and grandmother, then aged 48, and was then, as she is now, of entirely good character.
At no point did Sharon engage or attempt to engage in anything which could be remotely described as anti-social or disorderly behaviour, but she was nevertheless assaulted and battered by officers of Greater Manchester Police – principally PC Ben Rigby.
Sharon had been unable to find friends who she was due to meet up with, but did bump into a male acquaintance and with this man and some others made her way peaceably to St Peter’s Square in Manchester. There, the small group that Sharon was with found their route blocked by Police officers who stated that a group conducting a ‘counter protest’ had also congregated in St Peter’s Square.
Sharon had with her at the time a non-alcoholic drink, namely a plastic cup containing lime and soda. Sharon and her companions were approached by the police officers, and Sharon was questioned by an officer as to the contents of her drink, and she allowed the officer to confirm by smell that it contained no alcohol. A peaceful discussion took place between the officers and some of the men whom Sharon had been walking with; no disorder was taking place, and other members of the public were freely coming and going around them.
Sharon then heard an officer giving instructions for “Section 35” notices to be issued, to ‘disperse’ Sharon and her companions from the area.
At this point, Sharon decided that as she was unfamiliar with her surroundings in Manchester and had been unable to find the friends with whom she had originally intended to meet up, she would return to Piccadilly railway station and go home.
However, she was then accosted by PC Rigby who demanded her name and address on the basis that he wanted to issue her with a Section 35 notice.
In response Sharon, who had done nothing wrong, and who could not reasonably have been suspected of having done anything wrong, stated that she was leaving the area in any event. However PC Rigby was insistent that he wanted to issue her with a Section 35 notice and that she must give him her details.
Sharon correctly believed that she had no obligation to give the officer her personal details and therefore declined to do so.
Another officer then approached and requested that Sharon surrender her drink (not withstanding that it was not alcoholic), which she did.
Sharon then attempted to walk away (in order to return to the railway station – in the opposite direction to the ‘counter protest’) only to find PC Rigby taking hold of her by the arm and pulling her backwards.
PC Rigby then further seized hold of Sharon’s wrist and informed her that she was under arrest. He and his colleague then marched her towards a nearby police van, in which she was required to sit.
Sharon, who was understandably shocked and disturbed by what was happening to her, began to record events on her mobile phone. She maintained that there had been no basis for arrest to which PC Rigby replied “I have arrested you for failing to provide your details on request.”
PC Rigby, displaying an arrogant and uncaring attitude, ignored Sharon’s reasonable protests that she had been arrested for doing nothing more than standing on the street, and repeatedly requested Sharon’s surname. When she refused to give it, PC Rigby then suddenly lunged forwards in an attempt to seize Sharon’s mobile phone, thereby interrupting the recording, which then ceased.
When Sharon attempted to stop PC Rigby from taking her phone, PC O’Connell joined his colleague and the two officers brutally handcuffed Sharon behind her back. During this process, PC Rigby punched Sharon twice in the back with his clenched fist – an act of unjustified aggression which would constitute criminal behaviour if perpetrated by a member of the public, but which when perpetrated by police officers is often disguised behind the euphemism of “distraction strikes” (as indeed PC Rigby maintained was the case here).
The force used by the two officers against Sharon caused her to scream out in distress. It is notable that when PC O’Connell then exited the van, the scene outside was entirely peaceful. The only ‘anti-social behaviour’ was that which had been perpetrated against a helpless woman in the back of the Police van by the two male officers.
Watch some video footage the incident here:
Sharon was then removed to a transport vehicle where she was searched and told that she was now further under arrest for allegedly assaulting PCs Rigby and O’Connell – which was in fact the reverse of the truth and a most outrageous falsehood, but which is in my experience a sadly common tactic of officers who know or suspect that they have in fact committed an assault upon a member of the public.
Due to the extreme tightness of the handcuffs, Sharon’s wrists started bleeding, which led to the handcuffs being removed, and she was transported to a police station where her detention was authorised and she was humiliatingly required to provide fingerprints and a DNA sample and to be photographed. Sharon was so distressed by what was happening to her that she suffered a panic attack whilst in the police cell, shaking uncontrollably and having difficulty breathing. She was still shaking when a solicitor attended upon her.
Sharon was interviewed under caution following which she was charged with assaulting both PC Rigby and PC O’Connell in the execution of their duty.
As an innocent person of entirely good character it was extremely distressing for Sharon to face these false charges, which she fully believed to arise from police manipulation and lies, but she had to live with them hanging over her head until her first appearance before the Magistrates court on 26 June 2018, when she discovered that, only the night before, the Crown Prosecution Service had discontinued the proceedings due to lack of evidence.
Sharon subsequently made a formal Police complaint, which was investigated by GMP’s Professional Standards Department and, in due course, as happens with the majority of even meritorious complaints, rejected by them.
Fortunately, that was not the end of the matter, as Sharon approached me in order to pursue a claim for infringement of her civil rights against GMP.
Section 35 of the Anti –Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduced what are commonly known as “Dispersal Orders”. These Section 35 Orders may only be issued provided an authorisation has first been granted under Section 34 of the same Act by a senior police officer. Furthermore and very importantly –
· Directions given under Section 35 Orders do not require a person to provide their details on request, contrary to PC Rigby’s asserted belief; and
· No offence is committed where a person simply fails to provide details for the purposes of a Section 35 Notice.
The Section 34 authority had been given by Superintendent Chris Hall to empower officers to disperse anyone within a designated zone of the city centre, for the alleged purpose of averting disorder between two ‘rival’ protest groups, who were both otherwise lawfully present in the city centre.
A dispersal authority takes effect when the officer issues to any person in the designated locality a notice entitled ‘Direction To Leave’.
There is no requirement in law for the recipient of such a notice to have to provide their name, address or personal details before or when the notice is issued to them.
For PC Rigby to arrest Sharon for a failure to provide her personal details was therefore entirely unlawful under the provisions of Section 35 of the 2014 Act.
PC Rigby subsequently sought to rely upon Section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002 which does require a person to provide their name and address to a police constable “If a constable in uniform has reason to believe that a person has been acting or is acting in an anti-social manner……”
However, the case which I and Sharon’s barrister Nick Stanage successfully argued at the trial of her case was that the provisions of Section 50 did not apply in this situation, as Sharon could not be described as acting in an anti-social manner – she had done nothing other than to stand and talk (in a reasonable and polite manner) in the street whilst holding a non-alcoholic drink, and indeed she had then attempted to walk away from St Peter’s Square (not towards any protest) immediately before PC Rigby grabbed hold of her.
It was also notable that when PC Rigby first arrested Sharon he did not, as the law requires, explain the grounds for her arrest, and did not do so at all until she was in the police van when he stated “I have arrested you for failing to provide your details upon request.”
As explained above, given that Sharon was not, and could not reasonably have presumed to have been, committing any anti-social activity at the time of her arrest the assertion that she could be arrested for failing to provide her details can only have arisen as a result of a misunderstanding (whether deliberate or not) by PC Rigby of Section 35 powers and a confusion of those powers with the separate powers granted by Section 50 of the PRA 2002.
The crucial distinction is that Section 35 is a ‘pre-emptive’ power to disperse, whereas Section 50 requires anti-social behaviour (causing harassment, alarm or distress to any person) to have already been committed; it cannot be used in ‘anticipation’ of anti-social behaviour by a person.
I issued court proceedings on behalf of Sharon, which were strenuously contested by Greater Manchester Police and the matter proceeded to a three-day trial at Manchester County Court in July 2021 where, after incisive and compelling advocacy from Mr Stanage, Her Honour Judge Evans ultimately gave judgment in Sharon’s favour.
Under rigorous cross examination by Sharon’s barrister, PC Rigby admitted –
· Sharon was not harassing or distressing anyone;
· Her actions in walking down the street in the company of other protesters were NOT enough to arrest her, but only to issue a Section 35 notice;
· The rival protest group were so far away from where PC Rigby was at the time, that he couldn’t actually see them.
Judge Evans went on to quite correctly identify that the evidence did not suggest that PC Rigby (or his superiors) believed that Sharon had or might have already engaged in anti-social behaviour, and the written statement PC Rigby subsequently made to attempt to justify Sharon’s arrest did not show any appreciation that theoretical ‘future’ anti-social behaviour is not a justification for a Section 50 demand for details.
The Judge’s ultimate conclusion was that PC Rigby had applied a Section 35 test to the exercise of Section 50 powers and had thereby unlawfully arrested Sharon, who was not committing any anti-social behaviour. Sharon was therefore successful in her claims for both false imprisonment and assault and battery.
The Judge also found that PC Rigby was “mistaken and ignorant”as to what powers he had under Section 35 and Section 50 of the respective Acts, but that in her opinion he did not act maliciously or take a deliberate decision to effect a wrongful arrest.
As the Judge quite rightly stated however, it is not reasonable for a police constable to be mistaken as to the law.
It is my opinion that the consequences of such ‘mistakes’ – often borne out of the arrogance of power, and for which apology is very rarely offered by the police (and still has not been in this case) – are extremely harmful to the health of a liberal and democratic society, tending at once to cause real damage to innocent peoples’ lives, to curtail the liberty of society as a whole (by the ‘chipping away’ of long established rights), and to engender public mistrust in the institution of policing.
HHJ Evans ultimately made a significant award of damages in Sharon’s favour, including aggravated damages to reflect the distressing circumstances of this arrest of a woman of good character, which took place in public by an ignorant and high-handed officer who through that ignorance (or I might say arrogance) over-rode Sharon’s exercise of her lawful right not to have to give her personal details to the police, by means of both an unlawful arrest and battery.
Whether the police will learn lessons from this verdict, in terms of future policing of public protests and the education of their officers in the understanding and application of their powers remains to be seen, although my suspicion is that in PC Rigby’s case the problem arose from one of mindset rather than a lack of technical knowledge of the law i.e. he is one of the significant number of police officers who take great, and often aggressive, umbrage at their self-perceived authority/ability to dispense orders to the public being ‘flouted’ and he reacted accordingly in an ill-judged and intemperate manner, grabbing hold of Sharon and unlawfully arresting her.
Rather than with PC Rigby however, I would like my final words on this case to be about Sharon herself. She showed bravery and determination in bringing her case, despite having been subject to the trauma of first a criminal prosecution, and then the rejection of her legitimate complaint by Greater Manchester Police PSD. Sharon had to deal with the police continuing to contest her claim and had ultimately to sit through a three-day trial, during which she was extensively cross examined by the police barrister, and suffered numerous baseless attacks on her character and conduct. Sharon was, in my opinion, quite right to declare PC Rigby and PC O’Connell ‘bullies’ when they assaulted her; and she had the great courage to stand up to those bullies, and the institution which protected them.
Ultimately, just over three years after her unlawful arrest, Sharon was able to hear the court uphold her rights and declare judgment in her favour. I applaud her strength and spirit in seeing this case through to the end for the benefit of all concerned – including the officers of Greater Manchester Police and those members of the public who will in future come into contact with them in similar situations.
Many of you may have read the blog I published in May 2020 which highlighted the case of a 15 year old boy whom I represent and who was the victim of a vicious and unprovoked assault from a West Midlands Police Officer.
The officer in question, PC Declan Jones, was caught in the act of assaulting my client – including kicking the boy as he lay on the floor – by a CCTV camera on a nearby house; the footage helping to expose the lies told by PC Jones to my client’s mother, when he pretended that the boy had assaulted him, rather than vice-versa.
I am pleased to confirm that at Birmingham Magistrates Court today, PC Jones was convicted of assaulting not only my client, but another individual in a separate incident which had occurred only the previous day. District Judge Qureshi when delivering the verdict expressed grave concerns that PC Jones was in the first place guilty of misusing his stop and search powers and “racially profiling” my client (who is a black youth). Matters then escalated when, with my client standing in a ‘surrender pose’, PC Jones punched him to the ground, ordered him to roll over, and then delivered what the Judge wincingly described as a “football free kick” to my client’s torso. This vicious action was perpetrated by a Police officer against a child who at the time was in a defenceless position upon the ground, and it is utterly reprehensible. To add insult to injury, PC Jones tried to claim that his act of kicking my client was a “legitimate distraction strike” because he feared for his safety in a high crime area – and called evidence in his support from a self-styled ‘use of force’ expert, Mr Mills, a retired Police officer. The Judge in fact had no hesitation in identifying bias and a lack of impartiality on behalf of the ‘expert’ and quite rightly rejected Mr Mills’ attempt to legitimise PC Jones’s criminal actions. Indeed, the Judge expressed concern that witnessing the ‘expert’ Mr Mills ‘closing his eyes to the obvious’ in order to attempt to exonerate Jones, was liable to make people lose faith in the Police, and I very much echo that sentiment.
The criminal charges in this case arose after a speedy investigation into these events by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, who passed a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Whilst I of course applaud the outcome in this case (the laying of criminal charges against PC Jones) I have to highlight how rare it is, in my experience, to see the IOPC ‘showing some teeth’ rather than behaving like a ‘paper tiger’; grandiose in title and appearance, but really paper-thin when it comes to taking the side of victims of Police misconduct and highly reluctant to engage in combative disputes with the Police. All too often, it seems to me, both the IOPC and the CPS seem to see Police Officers as ‘allies’ or colleagues and approach Police misdemeanours from a place of bias in favour of and sympathy for the Officers.
It is good news that this dishonest and predatory Officer appears to have been stopped in his tracks, but where was the IOPC (and its forerunner the IPCC) in the past for so many people who deserved their robust support, but were let down by fudged conclusions or lukewarm findings of minor misconduct – as in the case of Bryan Allden, where West Midlands officer PC Knowles received the sanction of being sent on a first aid training course for crippling Bryan’s hand in a completely unprovoked assault?
All too often the Police tendency to ‘circle the wagons’ and protect their Officers from criticism and complaint – even where real scrutiny would likely identify criminal violence by the Officers – is tacitly endorsed by the IOPC and the CPS in the soft approach the former takes to holding the Police to account, and the reluctance the latter shows to lead prosecutions against its Police compatriots.
I firmly believe that we need to see more robust, independent investigations by the IOPC of officer misconduct leading to prosecutions like this to bolster public faith in and support for the Police; and to give to victims of Police violence that sense of justice that money just can’t buy.
Many different types of people are drawn to join the Police service; some are heroes; some are dedicated civil servants, or community-spirited individuals; others, frankly, are bullies, but worst of all are those sexual predators who seek to exploit the uniform and authority of a Police officer, in order to gain access to their victims, or to conceal their crimes. Tragically, we now know that Wayne Couzens, the Police Officer who murdered Sarah Everard, had three times since 2015 been suspected of sexual crimes and the IOPC is currently investigating whether the Metropolitan Police failed to properly investigate allegations of indecent exposure which were made against Couzens only days before Sarah Everard was abducted by him.
As public awareness of the culture of toxic masculinity (which has lingered in the Police Force far longer than it has in other professions) has grown, many more victims of Police sexual abuse have come forwards, and, thankfully, more and more predators in uniform are being rooted out and brought to justice. One such brave victim was my client Sally (name changed), who suffered at the hands of an officer from the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary.
In 2008, Sally (then 22 years old) was assaulted by her then partner. Sally called the emergency services and four Police Officers, including PCSO Peter Bunyan and 2 paramedics attended.
By the time the Officers had attended, Sally’s partner had fled. Sally had obvious injuries and required treatment by the paramedics. The Officers decided that Sally’s partner should be traced and arrested. Although it was suggested that PCSO Bunyan be one of the Officers to assist with the arrest, he instead insisted that he stay with Sally, in order to take her statement. What he in fact intended to do, was to take advantage of Sally’s vulnerability and his apparent role as a ‘white knight’ saviour in order to groom her for sexual exploitation.
The other three Officers having left, PCSO Bunyan then spoke to Sally at length and took a detailed witness statement. During this process, PCSO Bunyan appeared to be very caring and attentive as well as complimentary to Sally. PCSO Bunyan eventually left, but not before giving Sally his mobile phone number. Thereafter, PCSO Bunyan began to text Sally repeatedly and call around to see her on the pretext of carrying out “welfare checks”. A relationship developed.
Sally was naïve, young and vulnerable. PCSO Bunyan was approximately 35 years old. For a time, Sally became besotted with him. PCSO Bunyan would call round to see Sally three or four times a week and when he did so, Sally and PCSO Bunyan would have sex.
On every occasion PCSO Bunyan attended, he was in full uniform and to the best of Sally’s knowledge, on duty. On occasion, PCSO Bunyan’s Police radio would go off and he would either turn it down and ignore it, or respond and say that he was busy.
The timing of PCSO Bunyan’s visits was always controlled by PCSO Bunyan. Further, Sally increasingly found sexual intercourse abusive, in that PCSO would manoeuvre her into positions where she could not move or where her hands were held behind her back.
During the course of the relationship, PCSO Bunyan also made it clear to Sally that he had accessed her data on the Police National Database. Furthermore, during the course of the relationship, PCSO Bunyan made it clear that he was in a position of power and would ask Sally, “Who is going to protect you from me?”.
All of this behaviour can easily be recognised from a distance to have been the disturbing hallmarks of an abuser, but Sally at the time was emotionally vulnerable and confused; ‘easy prey’ for a domineering man like PSCO Bunyan, who so heinously and shamelessly was exploiting his Police authority.
Then, on or about 5 November 2009, PCSO Bunyan invited Sally to a Neighbourhood Policing Unit, where Sally states that PCSO Bunyan raped her. In the weeks and months subsequent to this incident, Sally tried to call and message PCSO Bunyan but he failed to respond. With a view to eliciting a response, Sally messaged to say that the relationship was over.
In mid 2010, PCSO Bunyan then attended Sally’s home address out of the blue.
He advised that there was a dangerous man in the neighbourhood and that Sally should keep an eye on her young children. PCSO Bunyan went on to say that he had lost his phone and that his Facebook page had been hacked.
Further, that if anyone came round ‘asking questions’, Sally was to deny that she had had a relationship with him and to assert that he had attended at her home on a few occasions only for a ‘welfare check.’ Several weeks later, Police Officers from the Anti-Corruption Unit did indeed come to visit Sally. She was advised that PCSO Bunyan was under investigation for Misconduct in Public Office. It appears that during his time with the Force, since 2003, Bunyan had exploited a number of vulnerable women for sex, and tragically Sally was far from being his only victim.
Sally gave a video interview and subsequently, and very bravely, gave evidence at PCSO Bunyan’s criminal trial in March 2013. Bunyan had quite properly been charged with the criminal offence of Misfeasance in Public Office, although sadly the prosecutors chose not to additionally charge him with the rape of Sally.
Following trial, PCSO Bunyan was found guilty of Misconduct in Public Office and sentenced to 7 years in prison.
Sally was already a vulnerable individual when she first met PCSO Bunyan. PCSO Bunyan blatantly exploited her for his own sexual pleasure. His actions left Sally psychologically traumatised to such an extent that it was only in 2019 that Sally felt mentally strong enough to take action, and approached me for advice as to her legal rights.
I was immediately aware, that Devon and Cornwall technically had a defence to Sally’s claim under the Limitation Act 1980, which provides that an action for personal injury (whether physical or psychiatric harm) should be brought within three years of the events giving rise to it.
In fact, some 10 years had elapsed since PCSO Bunyan’s abuse and rape of Sally. However, this did not mean that Sally’s claim was “time barred”. Section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980 allows personal injury claims to be brought after the three year deadline, provided that there was a good reason for the delay in bringing the claim, which of course in Sally’s case there was.
The very acts which PCSO Bunyan had committed against Sally were themselves causes of her delay in coming forwards; his emotional and physical abuse of her had left Sally with high levels of anxiety and depression, including feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness, which reduced her motivation to seek proper redress for the wrongs committed against her. Sally also suffered from panic attacks and fears that PCSO Bunyan might seek revenge against her.
Finally, her trust of people in authority and particularly the Police themselves had been badly damaged, not only by the actions of Bunyan himself but the subsequent conduct of Devon & Cornwall generally. In the lead up to the criminal case in 2013 Sally had been promised by the Police that she would receive victim support counselling but this failed to materialise and she felt that once the court case was concluded, she was “dropped” by the Police who were no longer interested in her plight.
Then, in 2019 Sally had been contacted by a TV production company who invited her to participate in a documentary about her experiences. Several other women who were victims of PCSO Bunyan were also participants in the documentary, and to her shock, Sally discovered during this process that PCSO Bunyan’s Police colleagues had been aware of his proclivities, but had not reported him. This had made her angry and fuelled her desire to seek proper redress for what had been done to her, by PCSO Bunyan as an individual and the Police as an institution.
Furthermore, from a legal point of view, I was able to demonstrate that no ‘prejudice’ was caused to the Police by the late presentation of Sally’s claim, as they already had full details of PCSO Bunyan’s misconduct, gathered during their internal investigation and the subsequent prosecution; this was not a claim which came ‘out of the blue’ or in regards to which the Police lacked crucial evidence/ documents because of the passage of time.
Armed with these arguments, I was able to convince the Police to pay damages for their former officer’s abuse of Sally, notwithstanding the claim being brought some seven years after the expiry of the limitation period.
Sally ultimately received damages of £45,000 plus an apology from the Force in the following fulsome terms by the Deputy Chief Constable-
“I was sorry to learn of the physical and emotional pain which you suffered at the hands of PCSO Bunyan which should not have occurred. The actions of ex-PCSO Bunyan were unacceptable and it is with genuine regret that he was able to obtain and misuse such a such a trusted role in the community…since this case Devon and Cornwall Police has ensured that every officer and staff member has been comprehensively vetted to both the 2012 national police vetting standard and the new vetting code of practice…We have developed methods through which officers and staff can report potential wrongdoing and concerns as well as the support we provide to them. We have issued guidance to supervisors on the potential signs to look out for and we regularly repeat internal communications to reinforce our expectations”.
I think it is highly important that other victims of sexually abusive/ exploitative Police officers are made aware of cases like Sally’s and understand that it is never too late to seek legal advice and assistance in relation to the harm which has been caused to them, which may be life-long. The clock cannot be set back, but justice can be done, even if it is ten years late.
As the strong words of the Deputy Chief Constable’s apology prove – women like Sally who bring such claims are playing a very significant role in dragging the old, misogynistic culture which long prevailed amongst Police Officers out into the light of the 21st century day, and helping to banish the demons of toxic masculinity from amongst its ranks; though that battle is far from won.
The answer to this question is simple: unless they are exercising statutorily defined stop-and-search powers, the Police are not allowed to detain you whilst deciding whether to arrest you or not. Rather outrageously however, officers often try to give people the impression that they do have such a power (which does not in fact exist either under statute or in the common law).
One such scenario befell my client Alan Sanditon in a busy Trafalgar Square in early March 2018. The whole incident was caught in a great deal of detail by the body cameras of the two rather hapless Metropolitan Police officers who accosted Alan whilst he was taking photographs in that iconic location.
What subsequently transpired, was frankly nothing less than a case of the Police detaining Alan whilst trying to find a reason to arrest him.
As the two officers, who I shall call PC Hurley and PC Jeremy stopped Alan, he had been taking photos on his camera of the ‘crowd scenes’ around him, which as usual at that location included Lord Nelson on his column, tourists and political/ oddball campaigners; the full flavour of human experience we might say!
If it needs spelling out, there is no law preventing the taking of pictures in public, unless so doing is making a specific individual feel harassed. Here there was no complaint by any of the subjects of Alan’s photos but rather one of the security guards perched at the top of the steps to the National Gallery, who in the words of the officers had reported “a man taking a lot of pictures for about an hour.”
Alan understandably felt a little uneasy being asked intrusive questions about matters that were his own business, and knowing he had done nothing wrong, sought to disengage from the two officers and walk away. He was under no obligation to talk to the officers, as they evidently had no basis to detain him either on suspicion of committing an offence, or for the purposes of a stop/search, but as Alan went to put his camera away and walk away, PCs Hurley and Jeremy immediately seized hold of him and despite his pleas, immediately handcuffed him and forced him down into a humiliating kneeling position directly in front of the Gallery (causing a cut to Alan’s head in the process). Handcuffed behind his back, Alan was now the subject of photographs being taken by bystanders, although the officers seemed supremely unconcerned by this.
Instead, the officers, evidently having decided that Alan was “suspicious”, though not knowing what they suspected him of (other than “looking very nervous” – which was understandable in the circumstances), now started to scratch their heads as to what exactly they were detaining him for; whilst this farcical process was undertaken, the officers illegally handled Alan’s possessions – including his camera – and kept Alan prisoner, in handcuffs, in full public view.
From the conversation recorded on their body cameras, it was clear that the officers evidently felt it was wrong of Alan to have taken photographs of ‘females’, although they were uncertain as to in what way this was actually illegal (a rather important point, you might think, before they detain someone, particularly in such a violent fashion).
The officers debated between themselves whether they were allowed to look through the photos on Alan’s camera without having arrested him (they weren’t) and admitted that there was no reason to suspect that Alan had been taking ‘indecent’ photographs. In PC Jeremy’s words “Is there an offence, ‘taking pictures of women’? I don’t know if they’re indecent or not, I shouldn’t think so…”
Nevertheless, Alan’s humiliating and painful detention continued. The officers debated whether Alan could be guilty of ‘voyeurism’ and decided to look up the definition of this online to satisfy their curiosity; of course, such an offence relates to the observation or recording of private acts for sexual gratification, and was totally inapplicable to the situation at hand.
Continuing to draw a blank on a reason to arrest Alan (and hence his unlawful detention continuing) the officers then decided to “phone a friend” in the form a speculative call to a colleague in CID to see if he could give them any suggestions. The conversation began like this: “Hello CID, PC Jeremy here from Team…We are just at a call outside the National Gallery and we are all a little bit stuck for offences…” (Those of us who remember the classic game show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ might wonder why PC Jeremy didn’t get Chris Tarrant to make this call for him…)
With CID unable to assist, the officers then tried to dredge up a reason to start fishing through the images on Alan’s camera; they knew they had no power to investigate his private property (yet) because they had been unable to arrest him. Speculating aloud, one of the officers bemoaned the fact that there was “no aspect of Terrorism” as otherwise they could have searched his camera (or so they presumed) under S.43 of the Terrorism Act.
One of the most unusual features of this case, is that contrary to the normal course of events – where Police Officers do not hesitate to loudly and clearly announce what offence a person is being accused of (even if many of my clients will testify to the falsity of those accusations!) – this was a situation, entirely evidenced by body camera recording, in which 27 minutes after they had taken Alan prisoner and handcuffed him, all the officers had done was to list all the reasons why they couldn’t arrest him for various offences!
Despite having discussed with his colleague the illegality of looking at the photographs on Alan’s camera, PC Jeremy now decided that was exactly what he was going to do, and started to cycle through what he described as ‘hundreds’ of images on the camera, describing them to PC Hurley (this was entirely unlawful, and a trespass to Alan’s property – but it is of note that none of the photographs were claimed by the officer during this exercise to be of a ‘voyeuristic’ nature). Whilst he was doing this, a more senior officer (believed to be a Sergeant) had arrived at the scene and the Sergeant specifically challenged PC Jeremy with the words “Dave…you’re not going through stuff are you?” – which PC Jeremy falsely denied.
Finally, some 30 minutes after Alan had been initially ‘detained’ the Sergeant who had attended at the scene informed PC Hurley and PC Jeremy that they could now arrest Alan on suspicion of possession of indecent images of children. Where on Earth had this ‘suspicion’, which was completely untrue, come from? It appears that one of the many officers now present ‘looking for an offence’ had had a conversation with the security guard who had initially phoned the Police, and that man was now apparently suggesting that Alan’s photography of the crowds could have included ‘up skirt’ images of a young girl. The allegation was weak even to begin with, as the security guard wasn’t suggesting that Alan had been close to the unknown girl, but was somehow suggesting he was taking ‘up skirt’ photos from several dozen yards away; however the Police evidently seized upon this vague suggestion as an attempt to retrospectively justify PC Hurley and PC Jeremy’s unlawful actions.
Of course, PC Jeremy would have had every reason to know this new allegation wasn’t true – he had just been looking through Alan’s photographs and would have seen any ‘up skirt’ images that existed – but I suppose he found himself in somewhat of a ‘bind’ as he knew he shouldn’t have being doing that prior to arrest. Therefore, rather than come clean, and get himself into trouble, PC Jeremy evidently decided to keep quiet and instead now formally arrested Alan “on suspicion of taking indecent images of children”, to which an utterly appalled Alan could only reply “Ridiculous!”.
Alan was absolutely shocked, and quickly became very concerned as the implications of what he was being accused of began to sink in – he knew that even if you are entirely innocent, even an arrest (without charge) for this type of offence can affect the rest of your life.
So finally, some 30 minutes after he had initially been assaulted and handcuffed, Alan was placed under arrest and led away to a Police vehicle which transported him to a further 12 hours of custody at Westminster Police Station.
As if in order to further demonstrate the bad faith on the part of the Police towards Alan i.e knowing that their officers had unlawfully laid hands on him in the first place, they were now determined to ‘get’ him for something, Alan was re-arrested several hours into his detention for “GBH” upon PC Hurley. Once again, this was a totally trumped up allegation; it arose from the fact that as the officers were handcuffing Alan and taking him to the ground in Trafalgar Square, Alan had inadvertently landed on PC Hurley’s arm. The officer had subsequently gone to hospital and had been advised he had suffered a fracture. It appears that on this information being relayed to the Station, the powers that be decided to accuse Alan of GBH; although after PC Hurley came out of hospital he informed his colleagues that he fully accepted the injury was an accident, and not as a result of any assault upon him by Alan. Sadly, this sorry sequence of events just demonstrates how desperate the Police were becoming to find an offence to ‘pin’ on Alan, as a smokescreen to hide, or mitigate, their own officers unlawful acts towards him.
Ultimately, Alan was not, of course, charged with any offence, and his good character was upheld – although for several months he had to live with the possibility of these charges, no matter how bogus, being brought against him. Alan was particularly distressed at his risk of being wrongly labelled a sex offender.
Fortunately, justice was eventually done, and the court proceedings which I subsequently brought on behalf of Alan for false imprisonment and assault and battery, have recently been settled by the Metropolitan Police for substantial damages. Alan is now also using this settlement as a basis to seek deletion of the records of his arrest; which is quite correct – Alan should never have been arrested on this grossly offensive and frankly ‘manufactured’ charge, stemming from the arrogance, aggression and/or incompetence of the original pair of officers, and all such references to this event on the Police National Computer should rightly be expunged.
Whilst this was a good outcome for Alan, I remain concerned, when considering other similar cases I have handled – particularly involving the Metropolitan Police – that too many officers either don’t understand the limits of their own powers, and believe that a person can be detained whilst grounds for arrest are ‘investigated’, or else are wilfully and regularly exceeding those limits and taking advantage of the fact that members of the public are generally unaware of the difference between being told they are ‘being detained’ (which is prima facie unlawful unless formal arrest and/or stop search powers are clearly invoked by the Police) and being arrested. This is an abuse of power by the Police which needs to be highlighted when it occurs, and each case of it pursued to the full extent of the redress that the civil law can provide; or else we might fall into a dangerous and unconstitutional situation wherein Police detention powers, rising like a river in flood, overflow their carefully designated boundaries – and never go back.
Making headlines this week was the long-awaited re-nationalisation of the probation system in England and Wales, following on from a 2018 “consultation”.
From 26 June 2021 the new Probation Service has come into effect, with responsibility for managing all offenders on a community order or licence following their release from prison. The jurisdiction (England & Wales) will be split into 12 probation areas, each overseen by a Regional Probation Director to ensure effective delivery of and a unified approach to probation services across the country.
This dramatic shake up was largely spurred by the incompetency, inefficiency and multiple failings of the previous probation regime, in place since 2014, which was a quasi-privatised service involving 21 commercial companies running local probation services under names such as “Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company” and supervising 150,000 “low to medium risk” offenders, whilst the government’s own (civil service) National Probation Service handled the management of the smaller number of “high risk” criminals.
This previous decentralised system created, in my opinion, a ‘Wild West’ environment in the provision of probation services, wherein ex-offenders – some of the most vulnerable people in our society in terms of their mental health problems and risk profiles – were haphazardly supervised by companies whose track record (in my experience) of inefficiency, incompetence and indeed outright negligence was likely a product of commercial concerns leading them to cut corners in terms of proper record keeping, management supervision, staff recruitment and training i.e putting profits before people, at public expense.
I have written before (Can I sue the Probation Service and Are Probation Companies wrongly sending people to prison?) about clients I have represented who, attempting to make the most of the second chance society had offered them after they had ‘paid their dues’/ served their time in prison, had their rehabilitation, and often mental health, very badly derailed through no fault of their own but rather (for want of a more appropriate legal term) probation company “cock-ups.”
Another such example is that of my client Mark Edwards, whose case I have recently settled.
On 20th December 2017, Mark was released from prison on license (which was due to expire in June 2020).
Upon release, Mark was supervised by Kelly Brown, a Probation Officer employed by the London Community Rehabilitation Community. Mark maintained contact via telephone and personal attendance with his probation officer, and did everything required of him.
Mark had concerns as regards the hostel in Croydon which was his first post release accommodation (owing to the proximity it put him in regards to other ex-offenders, who might try and tempt him off the ‘straight and narrow’), and therefore with the assistance and full knowledge of Ms Brown obtained transfer to a new address in Wembley in April 2018. Ms Brown was obviously well aware of this relocation and Mark’s new address.
Mark was now living a significant distance from the Lewisham Probation Office, where Ms Brown was based. Ms Brown advised that there were difficulties in transferring Mark to a more local Probation Office. In the circumstances, Ms Brown advised Mark that from hereon, future contact with her would be by phone only (and not face to face). Accordingly, Mark then kept in contact via phone and kept Ms Brown fully updated as regards any changes in his circumstances (i.e. employment).
On 13th December 2019 Mark was subjected to a random stop and search by Police Officers; I will add here in passing that Mark is black, which might account for the search – he had not been doing anything untoward. However, to Mark’s shock, when he provided his personal details to the Police Officers searching him, he was advised that he was wanted for recall to prison, and, indeed, that he had been “at large” for 2 ½ months.
Mark was accordingly arrested and taken to Brixton Police Station; the next day he was brought before Camberwell Magistrates’ Court and from there re-consigned to incarceration in HMP Thameside.
Whilst in custody, on or about 17th December 2019, Mark contacted Lewisham Probation to protest about his recall. His complaints fell on deaf ears, however, and Mark was obliged to serve a full 28 days in prison.
Following his release on 9th January 2020, Mark received documents from Lewisham Probation Service regarding his license arrangements. In these documents, Mark noticed that in August 2019, he had been appointed a new Probation Officer, Stella Darcy and that on 7th August 2019, Ms Darcy had purportedly written to Mark at his previous address in Croydon, inviting him to attend an appointment on 19th August 2019. By this time, of course, Mark was living in Wembley (and had been for over a year). He had never, of course, received that letter from Ms Darcy.
It appears that in light of Mark’s (innocent) non-attendance, further correspondence was sent to him on19 August, 21st August and 28th August 2019 – all letters going to his old address.
London Community Rehabilitation Company then notified the ‘Post Release’ Sector that Mark had, in effect, ‘gone AWOL’ which then led to his arrest and subsequent incarceration.
Mark had never received any of this incorrectly addressed correspondence. Yet further, Ms Darcy had apparently made no effort to contact Mark by phone (his number remained the same) nor his emergency contact (whose number also remained the same).
It was clear that something had gone badly wrong, and when Mark instructed me I immediately suspected that the shoddy record keeping, which was a hallmark of the now gladly defunct private probation companies, would prove to be the culprit.
This was indeed the case; the recall report prepared by London CRC in September 2019 (completely unbeknownst to Mark) contained the following ‘information’-
· Mr Edwards failed to attend his probation office appointments on the 19/08/2019, 21/08/2019 and 28/08/19 as instructed and has not made contact to give an explanation for his absence.
Further, the recall report stated;
· Mr Edwards was last seen at probation on the 16/01/19. Attempts have been made to re-engage with Mr Edwards after the re-allocation of his case to a different officer. However, Mr Edwards has failed to respond or update the Probation Services as to his whereabouts.
· The recall report left Section 6 (“last recorded address where s/he may be contacted. This must be provided …….”) blank.
· The recall report also stated “Any other possible address: No.”
Yet further, the recall report stated;
· Mr Edwards has failed to report as instructed on his licence. There has been gaps in his being instructed on his licence prior to his case being re-allocated to the current OM. He has since been offered a number of appointments which he has failed to attend. He has not made any contact with probation which he would be fully aware he is required to do so. In view of his continued non-compliance with the conditions of his licence, this has placed him in breach of licence condition 5.iii. On this basis, I endorse recall.
Further investigations revealed that (as expected) Mark’s original supervisor, Ms Brown had failed to update his new address on her company’s case management computer system and had likewise failed to record Mark’s telephone number thereon.
I pursued civil proceedings on behalf of Mark alleging negligence and breach of his rights under Articles 5 (the right to liberty) and 8 (the right to family and private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mark had suffered severely as a result of the probation company’s errors, and not only in regards to the ‘lost Christmas’ which he had to spend in jail because of the Recall notice. Mark had been getting on with his life, had secured an enjoyable job as a football coach and was actually on his way to a Christmas lunch with work colleagues when he was wrongfully arrested. He was proud at what he had managed to achieve since coming out of prison and couldn’t believe he was being denigrated and labelled as a criminal again, in his words – “By force I had been put back into a life I didn’t want to lead anymore and had put behind me.” He was deeply upset at the thought of what his family would think of him, particularly his mother. Although he had been in prison for a much longer time before his initial release, Mark found the 28 days he had to serve from December 2019- January 2020 felt like a “lifetime” because he knew every minute of it was wrong and unjust, and was potentially undoing all the good work he had done on reshaping his life over the previous 2 years.
Mark got his liberty back when he was released in January 2020, but not his job, nor his mental health. He started to suffer anxiety attacks, he felt he had lost stability in his life and struggled to sleep; a psychiatrist diagnosed Mark as suffering from an Adjustment Disorder in the form of a prolonged depressive reaction (which was sadly understandable in the circumstances).
I am pleased to confirm that Mark is making progress with his recovery, and has since secured new employment; but he is still haunted by the injustice of the incarceration that was inflicted upon him by the negligence of the probation company’s staff.
I have recently secured a financial settlement of £10,000 for Mark, which will hopefully go a long way to compensating him for his suffering and helping him push on to a brighter future.
The elementary mistakes made by the London CRC in Mark’s case, and the general culture of corporate mismanagement that they speak of, would not be acceptable in a mail order company, let alone one which was allowed such power over peoples’ lives and liberty, putting their fundamental well-being at stake.
So I for one am glad to see the back of the era of private operators in probation services; let us hope that the regime that replaces it will properly deliver what its vulnerable users, and the rest of society, demand and deserve.
This is a guest post by my colleague and fellow solicitor John Hagan.
My colleague Iain Gould wrote last week about his experience of the Police misusing their power of arrest in relation to two women who were never under suspicion of committing any crime themselves, but whom the attending officers accused of ‘obstruction’ for failing to answer questions about a third party.
Even more shocking than that scenario however, is the situation in which a victim of violent crime is himself arrested, for, in effect, failing to confirm the identity of his attacker…
Sadly, this situation is exactly what befell my client David.
David was enjoying a quiet night out with two friends, Alex and Tom, in a local pub. In the early evening, the three of them left the pub, with David intending to go home to his wife and young children. However, as they crossed the pub’s car park they noticed a group of males jumping over a nearby fence. David did not know who these men were, although he was aware that one of his friends, Alex, had earlier received a telephone call from someone with whom Alex had been arguing, possibly in relation to money. The group of males approached and shouted at David, Alex and Tom before, without provocation, suddenly assaulting them. This assault was caught on the pub’s CCTV.
During the course of the assault David was stabbed in the right hand and to the right side of his head/ neck. David immediately retreated back into the pub and was soon joined by Tom and Alex who had sustained similar injuries. Whilst our client was in the pub he received first aid from the bar staff.
Two of the attackers then entered the pub and shouted further threats before leaving.
As David was understandably shocked and distressed at the assault and concerned about his and his friends’ injuries, they decided not to wait for an ambulance but rather to walk to their local Hospital A&E, as it was less than 15 minutes by foot.
En route to the hospital, David and his friends were passing through a park when a darkly dressed individual shouted at them to stop. Fearing that they might be assaulted again, they briefly ran away from this individual before realising he was a police officer, and stopped. Shortly after stopping they were surrounded by several more officers.
David and his friends provided their details and informed the officers that they were the victims of an assault. Their injuries were obvious for the officers to see; indeed, two of them were bleeding from stab wounds. Alex and Tom were searched, although David was not. The officers informed David he was free to go, but suggested that he remain with them and await an ambulance. However, due to the close proximity to the hospital David and Tom instead walked to the A&E department.
David was seen by the A&E staff, who cleaned and dressed his wounds, including four staples for his head wound. Shortly after arriving at the hospital Alex also attended having been released by the officers. Due to his injuries Alex remained in hospital for several days, whereas David was released the same night.
At approximately 23.00 the same evening David telephoned the Police to ensure that they had his details in the event that they needed to contact him further. Around an hour later officers attended David’s home and took a statement from him regarding the incident.
The officers disclosed to David that having reviewed CCTV footage from the pub, they believed that one of the attackers was an individual, known to David by reputation, who was associated with organised crime in the area. On hearing this, David refused to ‘press charges’ for fear of reprisals. The officers asked to take David’s blood stained clothing, but as he did not wish to assist the investigation, he refused.
In the early hours of the morning, two days later the Police returned unannounced to David’s home, rudely awaking David and his young family. This time however, they had not come in their capacity as ‘protectors’, but rather as ‘interrogators’ – with a search warrant authorising them to seize David’s mobile phone and the clothes he was wearing during the assault. To his disbelief, David was arrested on suspicion of affray and conveyed to a local Police Station.
David was interviewed later that day and provided a full account, reaffirming that he and his friends were the victims of the assault. During his interview, David was played the CCTV footage of the assault, from which it was clear that he was a victim and not acting in an aggressive manner in any way.
David was released at 17:21 pending further investigation. This horrible matter hung over him for over 6 months before he was finally informed that he was to face no further action. Following his release David learnt that Tom had been arrested as well, and a week later Alex was asked to attend a voluntary interview. Neither Tom nor Alex were charged with any offences arising from this matter, but one of the males who had attacked them was later convicted of affray.
David subsequently instructed me to pursue a claim for wrongful arrest against the Police and after submitting a letter of claim on his behalf, I was able to obtain from the Police full disclosure of all the evidential material they had relied upon in their investigation.
The question was, did the Police have a justifiable basis for suspecting David of affray; or was this a case of draconian misuse of their powers, targeted so as to encourage David to ‘co- operate’ with their investigation into the real perpetrator, a local gangster?
The incident in question was reported to have occurred at approximately 18.40 and as early as 21.01 on the night in question (i.e. less than 3 hours later) it was noted that a Police patrol had viewed the pub’s CCTV footage of the incident and in a later entry timed as 01.58 the following day, David was correctly identified as a victim, and noted to be in fear of repercussions.
A more detailed summary of the CCTV footage from the pub was entered into the Incident Log at 07.48 on the day after the incident and stated as follows –
Officers had reviewed CCTV footage, which captured the incident in full, which occurred in the Pub car park.
The footage clearly showed a large disturbance, which commenced with the three victims (David, Alex and Tom) being approached by five males (identities unknown at this time). The five males commenced to set about the three victims, with numerous blows being delivered, and a large melee erupting.
One of the victims (believed to be Alex) was knocked to the ground and appears to be kicked to the head.
Thereafter, David, Alex and Tom entered the pub, and the offenders made off.
It is was therefore already clear from the CCTV footage, which captured the incident in full – and from all the subsequent statements made by Officers who viewed the said footage – that David was a victim of the assault, with he and his companions being ‘ambushed’ as they walked across the car park of the pub, and at no point did Daivd himself commit any acts of violence, not even in what would have been entirely legitimate self-defence.
Statements from officers investigating the incident also confirmed that the staff at the pub had identified David and his companions as the victims of the assault, who were simply attempting to ‘get away’ from their attackers.
However, notwithstanding the weight of the evidence demonstrating that David was in no way an aggressor, and was clearly a victim of the incident, the Police decided to apply for a Search Warrant for David’s home from the Magistrates’ Court. The information which the Police chose to lay before the Court misleadingly referred to the CCTV footage as showing “a large scale fight involving a number of people” without making any distinction between the aggressors and the victims in the incident, or confirming that David himself committed no acts of violence during the incident. The Magistrate considering the Warrant Application, on reading that summary, would no doubt have formed the view that David had actively participated in the fight, which could not in fact be further from the truth.
A further misleading description of the incident was given in the Wanted Person Report which was then generated in regards to David (prior to the execution of the Search Warrant at his address that night).
The description given in that report of the incident is as follows – [David] named as taking part in serious Affray in [Public House] car park…. CCTV shows a number of males involved in violent altercation which results in persons being taken to hospital.
Anybody reading such a description would no doubt immediately form the impression that David was a participant in a fight (and quite possibly had caused injury to other people), whereas anyone actually viewing the CCTV footage , which numerous Officers had access to prior to the Wanted Persons Report being generated, would know full well that David had not participated in any fighting, and rather after being assaulted – clearly unexpectedly- had immediately fled the car park, and taken refuge inside the pub.
In my opinion it was not only disingenuous, but in fact actually malicious, for a Police officer to describe a victim as “taking part” in the assault perpetrated upon him.
Despite the fact that the Search Warrant Application stated that the material being sought included “blood- stained weapons” the Officers on attendance at David’s home address –
Made no attempt to search the property for the alleged “blood stained weapons”, strongly indicating that the Police did not in fact expect to find any such weapons on the property at all despite the statement to the contrary in the Search Warrant Application. This would hardly have been surprising because the Police were of course in possession of the CCTV footage which demonstrated that David was not an aggressor and at no point had produced or wielded any ‘weapon’.
The premises search record confirmed that the search (such as it was) commenced at 00.25 and terminated at 00.54 and consisted of nothing more than David being requested to, and then providing to Officers his mobile phone and the clothing he had been wearing at the time of the incident. It is specifically noted that the Officers remained throughout in the hallway and rear living room of the house and made no attempt to search elsewhere, making it manifestly clear that no Officer present believed for one moment that “blood- stained weapons” were anywhere on the premises.
· Nevertheless, David was arrested on “suspicion of Affray” in front of his wife and children, and taken away to custody.
I repeat the point that the CCTV footage was available to Officers on the night of the incident, over 24 hours prior to David’s arrest, and it simply cannot be disputed that David, indeed, “offered no violence” and simply tried to flee from the scene of the assault. This was reinforced by the Police’s own “resume” of the pub CCTV footage which correctly describes David and his two companions as being “intercepted” by the five aggressors (i.e. there is no suggestion that they were looking for or intending to confront the group of aggressors). David was described in that document only in terms which make it manifest he was a victim i.e. “backing away” and “chased around the car” and “running towards the bottom of the screen ….. holding his right hand to the right hand side of his head.”
At no point had David committed any act which could possibly constitute Affray (S.3 Public Order Act 1986) which is defined as –
Using or threatening unlawful violence towards another…causing a person present at the scene to fear for his personal safety.
For all the reasons above I identified that David had strong prospects of succeeding in claims for assault and battery, false imprisonment and trespass to land and goods (or alternatively, malicious procurement of a Search Warrant) and I rejected the initial denial of liability which the Police put forwards.
There was no reasonable, objective basis for any Officer to believe that David was guilty of the offence of Affray arising from this incident. To suggest otherwise was nothing more than a perverse manipulation of the truth, and in my opinion the Police were guilty of a gross misuse of their powers of arrest and misleading the Magistrates Court with histrionic language about “blood stained weapons” and a blatant omission of key facts about the attack. The truth of the matter was that the Police were frustrated by David’s refusal to assist the criminal investigation of the actual perpetrator, and therefore started to treat David as a ‘suspect’ simply to get him to talk.
Faced with the threat of Court proceedings, I am pleased to report that the Police backed down, and settled David’s claim for a substantial damages payment.
Together, David and I were able to hold the Police to account for their abuse of power, and far more important than the financial settlement for David was his sense of justice being done. In David’s kind words to me-
“Thank you for believing in me and taking on my case.”
I am just happy to have played my part, hopefully helping to prevent ‘tactics’ such as this becoming part of the Police playbook.
One of the bastions of freedom under the law of England and Wales, is the right of an individual to refuse to answer a Police Officer’s demand for information save in certain limited circumstances (such as during a traffic stop, or if the individual is themselves under suspicion of a criminal offence).
In particular, there is no requirement in law to co-operate with Officers by answering their questions and a simple refusal to answer those questions, or a denial of knowledge of the subject matter of the questions does not render the person themselves liable for “obstructing the investigation”. Actual obstruction would involve a positive and intentional attempt to deceive e.g by giving the officers wilfully false/ misleading information. This is the principle enshrined in the 1966 High Court judgment of Rice v Connolly, summarised as follows-
“Although every citizen had a moral or social duty to assist the police, there was no relevant legal duty to that effect in the circumstances
of the present case, and the appellant had been entitled to decline to answer the questions put to him and (prior to his arrest) to accompany
the Police officer on request to the Police box to establish identity; accordingly, in the circumstances, “wilful obstruction” by the appellant was
not established, although he had been obstructive, because no obstruction without lawful excuse had been established.”
In a Police Officer’s ideal world, no doubt all individuals would answer all questions put to them – whether there was reason to suspect them of criminal behaviour or not – and Officers do regularly push at the boundaries of this particular law by asking people to provide information without explaining that they do not have to respond. Examples of this behaviour are the regular requests made by officers to people stopped on the street to confirm their ‘arrest history’, or the draconian interrogations as to a person’s comings and goings which some individuals were subjected to by Officers exploiting (or misunderstanding the extent of) the recent Coronavirus legislation.
This form of behaviour by Officers has similarities with the way Police will sometimes exploit their powers to pressure a person into providing information – such as the notorious tactic of ordering a detainee who is not co-operating with ‘check in’ at the Custody Desk to be taken to a cell and stripped naked – ostensibly for ‘safeguarding’ reasons, but often, in my experience, to punish that person for their refusal to answer questions, and thereby humiliate/ scare them into a more ‘co-operative frame of mind.’
Both of those tropes of unconstitutional Policing were, in my opinion, present in a case I handled on behalf of two young women, Evie and Claire.
One evening in July 2020, Evie was at home, putting her bins out, when she was approached by a woman who alleged that her sister had been taken into our client’s house by a man known as “Matthew”. Evie knew that this was untrue and told the girl that she was mistaken.
A few minutes later, at approximately 22.00, uniformed Police Officers attended at Evie’s house. The Officers asked if “Matthew” was in the house. Evie denied any knowledge of him.
The Officers entered the house without invitation and ushered Evie and her friend Claire into the living room. Two Officers continued to quiz both Evie and Claire as regards Matthew and his whereabouts, whilst other Officers searched the premises.
Evie maintained that no person called Matthew lived at the address. The Officers repeatedly accused Evie of lying and threatened to arrest her for ‘obstructing a kidnap investigation’. Evie maintained that she was telling the truth. The Officers likewise accused Claire of lying, and shamefully threatened to take her 8 month old son (who was present in the house) into Social Services care.
A Sergeant then arrived at the house and after discussion directed that Evie and Claire be arrested for “obstruction”.
Evie and Claire were placed in handcuffs and then led out of the house to a Police vehicle (humiliatingly, Evie was only wearing her pyjamas).
Both women were then transported to a local Police Station and presented to the Custody Sergeant.
The circumstances of arrest were recorded on the Custody Record as follows;
“Obstruct a PC in execution of duty – patrols respond to a possible domestic at DP’s HA [Home Address]; female has been seen getting dragged into address by a new partner called ‘Matthew’. Patrols have met the informant who states the female was dragged into the HA of the DP. Patrols have knocked on and DP has answered the door; DP has been questioned re knowing a male called ‘Matthew’. DP denies knowing a male called ‘Matthew’. The severity of the situation has been explained to the DP who still denies knowing a male called ‘Matthew’. PNC enquiries the suspect ‘Matthew’ has links to the address and links to the DP. The original person who was dragged into address has not been traced. DP. C & A no reply”.
The arrest necessity reason was given as “allow the prompt and effective investigation; Prevent the disappearance of the person; Protect a child or other vulnerable person.”
Upon review, the Custody Sergeant refused to authorise further detention given that “From the arrest circumstances presented to me I failed to see how the PC had been obstructed in her duty as she had just asked the DP a question and not got an answer. The offence under consideration was Section 89 of the Police Act 1996 creates the offences of assaulting, resisting or wilfully obstructing a Constable, or a person assisting a Constable, whilst he/she is acting in the execution of his duty.
The key for this offence is the deliberate nature of the obstruction.
PNLD is clear and I quote, ‘The obstruction must be wilful. The Defendant must intend to behave in such a way as to make it more difficult for the Constable to carry out their duties’.
For the act to be ‘wilful’ in this context it has to be deliberate.
I fail to see how the offence is made out as such DETENTION IS NOT AUTHORISED.
The Custody Sergeant further recorded that “After the circumstances were given to myself the DP was placed in the glassroom to discuss the matter further with the Officer.
I explained the offence of Obstruct Police to the Officer who agreed with my rationale and stated that it was to do with the seriousness of the offence and the fact that they didn’t answer the questions of the Police. OIC confirmed that there was no blood or signs of a disturbance at the premises.”
In the circumstances and quite correctly, at 01.44, Evie and Claire were released from Custody.
(For the avoidance of any doubt, the woman who had been reported missing was found safe and well in another location later that night, and no further action was taken).
I have recently settled the claims of Evie and Claire; although the Police Force in question denied liability for false imprisonment of my clients, as usual they let their money speak louder than their words.
The “right to remain silent” is enshrined as one of the fundamental underpinnings of the rights of privacy and autonomy which a person in Police custody is entitled to; it is important that we do not let the general right of witnesses and members of the public to remain silent in the face of Police questions, should they so choose, be infringed or encroached upon by over-zealous or heavy-handed Policing, particularly in these times when personal liberty has been extraordinarily delineated by the public health emergency of the past year. Let us hope that any encroachments into our liberties in this regard/ increase in Police perceptions of the boundaries of their authority fully recede with the retreat of the virus and that cases such as Connolly v Rice, and claims such as those brought by Evie and Claire, act as continuing vaccines in our system, keeping our liberal democracy in boisterous good health.
In this respect, I also point to the fact that for once both I and a Custody Sergeant seem to have been singing from the same hymn sheet, and that can only be a good sign.
“Mr Gould, words fail me in adequately expressing my sincere appreciation for all you have done for me. It is beyond belief that after 30 years I can now close this chapter of my life.”
Receiving a testimony like that from one of my clients is absolutely priceless, and is one of the reasons why I love doing the job that I do; giving a person, beyond the simple monetary amount of their compensation, a sense of true satisfaction that they have been listened to, and justice has been done, in defiance of the abuses of the powerful – most usually, Police Forces.
Those words were written this week by my client Gordon Matthews, at the conclusion of two overlapping claims which I pursued on his behalf against Bedfordshire and Surrey Police. The background of Mr Matthews’ claims are as follows.
It is surely one of the hallmarks of a modern, democratic society that individuals have a right of complaint, and a right to request explanation and redress against much bigger and more powerful entities which may have wronged them – be they commercial corporations or agents of the State. Individuals, such as Mr Matthews, should be able to pursue their legitimate complaints without fear that the institution they are complaining about will lash out to punish or frighten them off, by abusing the financial or public power which that institution may possess.
On 26 April 2016, Mr Matthews wrote to the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police by recorded delivery. The subject of the letter was ‘ MURDER OF A POLICEMAN’ .
In the letter, Mr Matthews wrote the following;
“ If I were to advise you that I wished to MURDER A POLICEMAN what action would you take?”
Mr Matthews suggested that the Chief Constable take legal advice and that if the Chief Constable did not reply within 21 days, he would report the response to a number of interested parties including the national press.
The letter openly provided Mr Matthews’ home address, name and signature and was written against a background of historic correspondence and proceedings between my client and Bedfordshire Police, arising from my client’s dispute of what he believed to have been an improperly imposed penalty ticket for a road traffic matter some 26 years earlier by an officer named PC Maxey. During the course of that dispute, Mr Matthews had submitted a DPA request and in response received a redacted email from Bedfordshire Police Legal Services (dated 25 May 2010) in which it was falsely stated that Mr Matthews had threatened to kill PC Maxey; this ‘mistake’ was subsequently acknowledged as such by the Police in an internal memo created after 28 April 2016. Mr Matthews had, understandably, been utterly appalled by the suggestion he had threatened to kill anyone, and had for many years been seeking an apology for this falsehood, but had been continually rebuffed by Bedfordshire – who indeed had gone as far in July 2015 as taking out a 2-year restraining order, preventing Mr Matthews from taking further legal action against the Chief Constable.
It was in this context, frustrated by the deliberately deaf ears of the Force, that Mr Matthews had written to them in April 2016 to try to elicit some form of proper response.
The said letter was received by the Chief Constable’s Personal Assistant on 28 April 2016 who emailed a copy of the letter to (the then Bedfordshire Police Legal Services Manager) Ms Hall that same day. Ms Hall wrote that by sending the letter, Mr Matthews intended “to cause alarm and distress to staff and Police Officers at Bedfordshire Police” and that it was a “malicious communication” intended “to cause harm” .
Ms Hall then prepared a witness statement regarding the letter dated 28 April 2016. She requested that the communication be “crimed as malicious communication” and that Mr Matthews be “arrested” .
According to Ms Hall’s witness account, she then spoke to Inspector Cotton and PC Birch of Bedfordshire Police Force Control Room. It was decided that the matter would be farmed out to Surrey Police, as that was where the letter had been posted.
At 17.05 on 28 April 2016, Ms Hall then sent an email to PC Birch with her witness statement attached stating that she was “hopeful that this is sufficient should he be eligible for a caution” .
At 17.41 PC Birch sent an email to PC Rogers asking Mr Rogers to “create an incident for Surrey to arrest the suspect for malicious communications”.
At 18.25 on the same day, PC Rogers emailed the Force Control at Surrey Police and requested “a unit be assigned to conduct an arrest enquiry to arrest Gordon Matthews for malicious communications” .
The email continued;
“The grounds for arrest will be:
On the 26 th April 2016 Mr Mathews sent a letter to Bedfordshire Police stating that “If I were to advise you that I wished to MURDER A POLICEMAN what action would you take?” with the intent to cause harassment, alarm and distress to Police Officers and staff at Bedfordshire Police.
As you will see from a number of attachments Mr Matthews has been communicating with Bedfordshire Police for approximately 26 years after disputing a fixed penalty ticket for a road traffic offence and this letter is not a one off incident.
The OIC for this case will be Tracy Hall????????? should you have any questions. If out of hours please contact Bedfordshire Police control room and ask for Oscar 1 or 2, the direct line being ????????
There are comments in respect of the risk assessment for this male and in that regard he is essentially unknown to us and should be dealt with as such.”
On the afternoon of 29 April 2016, Mr Matthews was arrested by Surrey Police Officers and conveyed to Salford Police Station, Redhill, Surrey. He was at the time 74 years old, a man of exemplary character who had never previously had any experience of Police custody. He was utterly shocked and bewildered at what was happening to him; furthermore, to his distress and embarrassment, Gordon was arrested in front of his wife and neighbours.
According to an email subsequently written by PS Freeman of Surrey Police, “Enroute to custody, the arresting officer contacted Beds Police, he spoke to Ms Hall who stated that Beds Police would not be dealing, she added that Matthews had been sending letters to them since receiving a ticket in 1990 but that they had been ignoring his letters but she felt that this letter had more punch than previous ones. As a result of this Surrey Officers had to interview Matthews” .
According to Ms Hall, at about this time, “She received a very abusive telephone call from Bedfordshire PS Night who said Surrey Police had arrested someone and were asking for him to be picked up.” She “apologised and tried to explain that a mistake had been made”. She had been “expecting a call from Surrey Police to talk about the case”. She “was shouted at again and then given a telephone number to call and told to deal with it.”
Essentially, now having committed the act of arrest ‘in haste’ both Bedfordshire and Surrey were trying to pass the buck to one another, each disclaiming responsibility. Bedfordshire (in the person of Ms Hall) were claiming they had been expecting a call from Surrey to discuss arrest or other options before they were carried out, whilst Surrey clearly thought they were ‘under orders’ from Bedfordshire to simply arrest (no questions asked) – and wanted to hand the ‘prisoner’ over to Bedfordshire as soon as possible, thereby washing their hands of the matter.
Whilst Mr Matthews was in custody, the investigation was assigned to Officers PC Hawes and PC Turner.
PC Hawes’ understanding was that upon arrest, Mr Matthews would be collected by Bedfordshire Officers and processed by Bedfordshire Police.
On notification of arrest however, PC Hawes reported that he contacted Bedfordshire and was told that they would not deal with the matter. Yet further, that Bedfordshire Police claimed they had not in fact made an arrest request but had merely notified Surrey Police of the ‘issue’.
On further investigation, PC Hawes read the letter Mr Matthews had sent. In a subsequent email dated 29 April 2016 PC Hawes stated that “I struggled to find that it contained enough to make out the offence as described” and that “the letter in and of itself did not fulfil the offence” .
Notwithstanding PC Hawes’ (correct) assessment, he and PC Turner interviewed Mr Matthews under caution. Mr Matthews confirmed that he had sent the letter but had no intention of causing any alarm or anxiety.
PC Hawes then contacted Ms Hall for clarification. Ms Hall now denied that anyone at Bedfordshire had requested the arrest and asserted that they had merely passed the letter on “for information”.
PC Hawes added that Ms Hall was “very keen” for Mr Matthews “to have been charged for any offence that came to mind”. Further, that on review, PC Hawes was “left with the impressionthat Ms Hall had become tired of dealing with Matthews, and had either generated the arrest request herself or had arranged for it to be done, to mislead Surrey Police into arresting Matthews for an offence which was not really made out.” PC Hawes concluded that Surrey Police had been used by persons within Bedfordshire Police to arrest Matthews “for the purpose of teaching him a lesson.”
I personally believe that analysis was entirely correct.
PC Hawes reported to his Custody Sergeant, PS Freeman who reviewed the matter and due to the lack of any evidence decided to immediately release Mr Matthews, with no further action. He had been wrongfully detained for approximately 6 hours, and had been obliged to provide his fingerprints and a DNA sample: all part of the degrading and dehumanising process of being in Police Custody which makes even innocent people feel like ‘criminals’.
Mr Matthews subsequently brought a complaint to the Professional Standards Department of Bedfordshire Police, regarding his arrest and incarceration.
· The Complaint Investigating Officer David Bird concluded that there was insufficient evidence to have ever justified arresting Gordon.
· Further, Chief Inspector Donna Pierce, Bird’s Supervisor in a subsequent review of the complaint, concluded that the arresting officer had failed to make his own assessment of the threshold for arrest prior to taking any action.
· Furthermore, that in all likelihood, the “arrest request” of Ms Hall as Bedfordshire Legal Services Manager, was implemented unequivocally because of the perceived seniority of Ms Hall’s position.
· Yet further, that in any event, as a Civilian Member of staff, Ms Hall had no authority to instruct any Police Officer to arrest a person.
Partners in Crime
A lawful arrest essentially requires two elements:
Objectively reasonable suspicion of a person’s involvement or suspected involvement or attempted involvement in the commission of a criminal offence;
2. Objectively reasonable grounds for believing that the person’s arrest is necessary.
Both elements must be satisfied, and, simply put, neither were in Mr Matthew’s case.
As is clear from the accounts of various Officers as cited above, both Forces in the aftermath of the intemperate and grossly heavy-handed arrest of Gordon Matthews, sought to put the blame on one another. Their conduct in this regard could almost be described as a ‘comedy of errors’, but Gordon’s arrest was no laughing matter, and he quite rightly wanted both Forces held to account for what they had done – Bedfordshire for the instigation of his arrest (as an abuse of power, designed to teach a person they labelled as a ‘serial complainant’ a lesson) and Surrey for putting the wishes of another Police Force ahead of the actual law of the land, without any question – until it was already too late.
Both Police Forces were partners in this particular ‘crime’.
When I was instructed by Gordon, I first pursued Surrey Police as the Force whose Officers had physically arrested and detained him.
Surrey’s insurers soon came to the negotiating table and following the institution of Court proceedings, a settlement for substantial compensation and costs to be paid, was agreed.
Gordon was very pleased with this outcome – not least because the payment clearly represented an admission that Surrey knew they had acted illegally. He told me how much easier he could now sleep, given the sense of ‘justice done’ which he had received, which was very gratifying to hear.
What still rankled for Mr Matthews however was that, at this point (December 2019), Bedfordshire Police were apparently getting away ‘scot free’ for their original ‘deceit’ which had led Surrey to arrest him.
He and I therefore turned our attentions to Bedfordshire.
Misfeasance in Public Office
Although it was not possible to claim against Bedfordshire Police damages for assault or false imprisonment (given that his arrest was carried out by Surrey officers), I identified that Mr Matthews had valid claims against Bedfordshire for damages arising from Misfeasance in Public Office and Breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.
At first, and perhaps unsurprisingly, given their cowardly attempt to disavow responsibility for Mr Matthew’s arrest in the immediate aftermath of that event, Bedfordshire sought to dispute the claim – and once again, to hide behind the actions of Surrey as the ‘frontline’ Force who had carried out the arrest.
Mr Matthews however possessed the strength of character and conviction in the righteousness of his cause not to be dissuaded by the Police denial, but to authorise me to take the fight to Bedfordshire through Court proceedings.
He was determined that not only those who unthinkingly arrested him, but those whose malice and vindictiveness had sparked that arrest, should pay the price, and thereby reset the scales of justice.
Following review, Bedfordshire changed tack and a settlement for the payment of additional compensation and costs was agreed.
As stated at the beginning of this blog, for both Mr Matthews and myself, this claim – particularly the second claim against Bedfordshire was always about principle rather than monetary amounts.
Mr Matthews had vented his frustration with Bedfordshire Police by writing them a letter whose worst ‘offence’ was a spirit of sarcasm, expressing his feelings about the false accusation they had recorded about him. In response, Bedfordshire Police’s high echelons took out their frustration at Mr Matthews by setting him up for arrest – here was a gross imbalance of power and manifest abuse of that power by the Police.
The bravery and endeavour of people such as Mr Matthews, who refuse to be cowed in the face of Police denials and threats of legal costs are essential in ensuring that our Police services operate according to the proper rule of law, for the good of all in our society, including the Policing institutions themselves.
In a report on corruption within the Police service published in 2012, the then police watchdog, the IPCC, identified the abuse of authority by officers for sexual gain as a key corruption threat that needed urgent attention. The enquiry had been prompted by the case of the Northumbria Police Constable, Stephen Mitchell, who was jailed for life in January 2011 for carrying out sex attacks on vulnerable women, including prostitutes and heroin addicts, whilst he was on duty. Claire Philipson, a director of Wearside Women In Need, who supported some of Mitchell’s victims, said at the time-
“What you have here is the untouched tip of an iceberg in terms of sexually questionable behaviour and attitudes. The police service, in my experience, has an incredibly macho culture and women are seen as sexual objects”.
Ms Phillipson’s assessment was particularly prescient; although it has taken repeated criticism by both the new Police watchdog, the IOPC and Her Majesties Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (see their 2019 report, Shining A Light On Betrayal: Abuse of Position for a Sexual Purpose) it appears that this type of Police corruption is at last being tackled head on and rooted out. You only need to trawl through recent media reports and the IOPC website to identify case after case of an officer disciplined or sacked for inappropriate contact or seeking to establish a relationship with a victim of crime or other vulnerable person.
On further reflection, there is yet another reason; why would a woman who has been taken advantage of by a Police officer when at her most vulnerable, then turn to that organisation to report that officer and have any hope or confidence in gaining justice? That in turn creates a difficulty for a Police Force who suspect that an officer is abusing his position, are anxious to take action and yet can’t prove criminality or misconduct without the victim’s cooperation. This was apparently the case for Lancashire Constabulary in November 2016.
Senior officers suspected that PC Ihsan Ali was grooming vulnerable women he had met in his role as an “immediate response officer” in Blackburn and Burnley, for a sexual purpose. Officers in the Anti-corruption unit had approached several women with whom PC Ali had previously had contact because of his role, and yet none were willing to cooperate.
By this stage, PC Ali had been under investigation for five months. Communication data from his mobile phone (between July – December 2016) revealed that he was in contact with a number of potentially vulnerable female victims of domestic violence. This contact was described as “disproportionate” and “extremely concerning”. Senior Police leaders decided, however, that available evidence at that time was not sufficiently compelling to bring criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings. In the circumstances, the Anti-corruption unit set up a “safeguarding strategy” whereby the officer was placed under covert surveillance and his mobile phone, email and computer systems use was monitored on a daily basis.
Notwithstanding these concerns and reservations about PC Ali, he was nonetheless allowed to continue to act as an immediate response officer and it was in this capacity that he met my client, Laura on the 26 March 2017.
In 2014/15, Laura had been in an abusive relationship. She had been obliged to contact Lancashire Constabulary on a number of occasions. Her ex- partner was arrested and in June 2016 given a restraining order.
On the 26 March 2017, Laura was confronted/harassed by her ex- partner’s parents, which was a potential breach of the restraining order. Laura was scared and reported the incident to the Police.
Later that day, PC Ali was deployed to Laura’s parents’ home address. Laura gave a full report of what had happened. She found PC Ali to be professional, attentive and caring. He took a detailed statement and advised that he would take necessary action.
After a few days, Laura began to receive texts from PC Ali providing updates as regards the investigation.
A short time later, she received a text from PC Ali from a different phone mobile phone number (PC Ali’s personal number). He advised that “It would have been frowned upon” if he continued to use his work phone to communicate with Laura and “As long as you don’t grass me, I’ll be alright”.
PC Ali then sent multiple inappropriate texts with the clear intention of developing a sexual relationship with Laura. Ultimately, Laura invited PC Ali to attend her home address on the evening of 7 April 2017, less than 2 weeks after he had first responded to her distress call.
PC Ali arrived late and when he did, he parked some distance from the house. He explained that he knew of Police colleagues who lived in the area and he wanted to keep his affairs private. Laura made PC Ali a drink and they spent time talking. After about 15 minutes, there was a knock at the door. Laura established that Police officers were at her door. They entered and arrested PC Ali for misconduct in public office.
Lancashire Police now had concrete evidence of wrongdoing and it appears that they were now able to persuade three other women who had been groomed by Ali to cooperate and give evidence.
PC Ali was subsequently prosecuted for misconduct in public office. He pleaded not guilty and the case proceeded to trial in January 2018. Laura and three other women who PC Ali had abused were obliged to give evidence. On the 6 February 2018, PC Ali was found guilty and was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment, and subsequently dismissed by Lancashire Constabulary.
Laura realised that PC Ali must have already been under investigation in the days before his arrest; how else could the officers have tracked PC Ali to her home? What she did not know was the scale of that operation and how long it had been going on for.
I intimated a claim on behalf of Laura seeking compensation for misfeasance in public office.
In response, Lancashire Constabulary surprisingly denied liability, arguing that PC Ali had at all material times engaged solely in pursuing his own private interests for which they were not liable. Certain documents were disclosed that made it clear that Laura was effectively hung out as bait in order to allow the Police to catch PC Ali “in the act”. Senior officers in Lancashire Constabulary knew, or at the very least suspected, that PC Ali was taking advantage of vulnerable women whom he had met in his capacity as a police officer, yet permitted him to investigate Laura’s case and come into contact with her.
Lancashire Constabulary had allowed PC Ali to manipulate and pursue a sexual relationship with Laura for the benefit of proving his misconduct rather than seeking to protect Laura from this harm. They were aware of the danger that PC Ali posed, yet continued to allow him the opportunity to continue with that behaviour and/or decided that it was better to allow him to prey on yet another vulnerable woman in order to catch him ‘red handed’ rather than seeking to protect Laura by warning her or preventing PC Ali from following through on his nefarious arrangements.
I accept that Police Forces across England and Wales are now prioritising allegations of sexual misconduct by police officers and doing much more than ever before to root out such corrupt officers. In doing so however they must not lose sight of the victim, and in particular they must not, as they did in Laura’s case, risk making her additionally a victim of their own misconduct and breach of trust by disregarding her safety and welfare, in their pursuit of the abuser.
One of the most notorious incidents of the Vietnam war was the My Lai massacre which took place on March 16 1968. Around 500 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians, including women and children, were killed in cold blood by a unit of American soldiers who were ostensibly searching for Viet Cong fighters.
The massacre was only halted when a separate American helicopter crew under the command of an Officer called Hugh Thompson intervened by landing their helicopter between troops from the 2nd Platoon (who were carrying out the massacre) and a group of civilians (women, children and the elderly) who were attempting to escape. Thompson ordered his gunners to shoot the men of the 2nd Platoon if they attempted to kill any more civilians, and was then able to help many of the survivors of this atrocity get to safety.
Despite Thompson’s heroism he was initially cold shouldered by the US Military hierarchy, which was more intent on covering up the massacre than bringing the perpetrators to justice. Thompson was ostracised by many fellow soldiers for having broken the code of ‘brotherhood’ which they believed should have lead Thompson just to ‘look the other way’ as the civilians were killed. Indeed, when the true horror of what had occurred finally became public and Thompson was called to testify before the US Armed Services Committee in late 1969, the Congressman who was the Chairman of the Committee actually attempted to have Thompson Court Marshalled – for having turned his weapons on fellow American soldiers.
It was only decades later that the heroism of Thompson and his crew was properly recognised and they were awarded the Soldier’s Medal.
Stories like this are rare in war time. It is easy to imagine how, in the heat of battle, soldiers consider that loyalty to their comrades is a higher calling than the morality of what is objectively right and wrong.
Experience has taught me that similar considerations as on the front line of battle, also appear to heavily dictate morality on the ‘thin blue line’ of front line policing.
I cannot think of a single incident in any of the thousands of cases I have dealt with over my career, many of which have involved shockingly unjustified acts of violence, or arrests based on blatant untruths – including civilians being tasered in the back, tasered in the eye or having limbs broken by repeated baton strikes or kicks – in which another officer has physically intervened to stop a criminal act being perpetrated by one of their colleagues, let alone sought to arrest the other officer for his unconscionable behaviour.
At best it seems, unlawful arrests and over the top acts of violence are met with mild words of protests from fellow officers – although it is more likely that the other officers will in fact not reprove their colleague at all, but simply choose to ‘look the other way’ as the war criminals at My Lai were hoping Hugh Thompson would.
It is not right that the ‘thin blue line’ be some kind of zone of ‘barley’ wherein police officers are granted by one another immunity for committing the kind of criminal acts that they are supposed to be there to prevent in the first place.
After all, most police officers who unlawfully assault someone do so right under the noses of another police officer – who will generally not only fail to intervene, but in fact later provide a statement corroborating – or at best neither corroborating nor ‘calling out’ – their colleague’s actions. Whilst I accept it would take an act of significant personal courage for police officers to start to do the right thing in such situations – risking like Hugh Thompson did being shunned and spat upon by their colleagues (metaphorically at least) – imagine the step change in quality of policing those setting such a brave example could lead to.
Imagine if the US officers who had stood by with their hands in their pockets whilst life and breath were crushed out of George Floyd’s body over 9 agonising minutes had intervened to haul the now convicted murderer, but at that point one of their brothers in blue, Derek Chauvin, away from Floyd. Instead these 3 (now also former Minneapolis police officers) Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao face trial on charges of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder.
Meanwhile in this country, a murder trial continues in relation to the death of former Aston Villa striker Dalian Atkinson, with PC Benjamin Monk being accused of having fired his taser at Atkinson for nearly 7 times longer than the standard deployment and also having repeatedly kicked Atkinson in the head (whilst Atkinson was on the ground and unresponsive) so hard that an imprint was left upon the dying man’s forehead. The jury were told that Monk’s boots were bloody by the time he had finished the assault and that Monk casually remarked to a paramedic “He may be a bit bloody as I have had to kick him”.
This terrible assault was perpetrated in front of another officer, PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith – but rather than intervene to stop or even arrest her colleague, PC Bettley-Smith is alleged to have joined in with the assault by using her baton against Atkinson when he was on the ground.
Another stark example is the case of my client Mark Bamber who was subject to a brutal and unprovoked assault, including a flurry of punches to his face and chest, from PC Darren McIntyre in Mark’s home in June 2019. Not only was this assault witnessed by three of PC McIntyre’s colleagues, two of them were actually recording it upon their body cameras but then chose to deliberately switch off their machines to hide the evidence of what McIntyre was doing. Indeed, it appears clear that the other Officers’ immediate thoughts were how they could assist their colleague in covering up his crime, rather than attempting to stop that crime. That decision in the heat of the moment was then followed up in the cold light of day by the four Officers collaborating to craft statements with a view to exonerating PC McIntyre and putting the blame on Mark.
For these despicable actions all four officers were recently rightly convicted at Liverpool Crown Court for the offence of perverting the course of justice.
It is disappointing, but sadly true, that our level of expectation of police conduct when it comes to crimes committed by their own is that we are pleasantly surprised when they simply do not actively lie on behalf of one another; but imagine if those expectations could be overturned by officers who were prepared to act on the basis that their first duty is to the law – and not to one another.
How much better for everyone would it have been if the three other officers in Mark’s kitchen had immediately intervened to pull their colleague away from Mark and clap McIntyre, not Mark, in handcuffs.
It may sound almost laughable to try to paint such an alternative picture, but actually it is the situation we have now which is the terrible joke – that the uniform of a police officer should be presumed to be ‘armour’ against the very laws which he who is wearing it, is supposed to uphold.
The tort, or act of civil (as opposed to criminal) wrongdoing, known as “Misfeasance in Public Office” was originally formulated in the 18th Century to address cases in which people with the right to vote (not very many in those far off days) had fallen foul of an electoral returning officer, abusing his power to stop them from voting. These days, it is most often used to regulate the activities of the Police, who are of course all “public officers” and invested with duty, power and responsibility in that role.
Classically, misfeasance in public office has been framed by the Courts as requiring not merely a careless, mistaken or sub-standard exercise of the officer’s powers and duties – but an act of “malice” designed to injure the Claimant. Quite properly, however, case law has developed the concept, so that “malice” in this context includes, as well as deliberately intended harm, harm caused by an officer’s “reckless indifference” whether by act or omission. This encompasses the situation in which an officer, whilst not actively intending to cause harm, is well aware of the possibility of such harm occurring as a by-product of their action (or failure to act) and “carries on regardless” for their own personal benefit – an act of callousness.
For misfeasance to be made out, the officer’s targeted or, alternatively, recklessly malicious act must then result in damage to the Claimant to give rise to an entitlement to compensation, whether in the form of financial loss, loss of liberty, or injury. In a case which I have recently concluded on behalf of my client June Whitaker the damage that was caused by a Police Officer’s selfish disregard of her public duties was manifest and terrible: one of the worst nightmares of any parent would be having to accompany a Police Officer to the mortuary to formally identify the body of their murdered child; but how much worse would it be if the self same Police Officer who accompanied you that day, later recklessly sabotaged the Trial of your child’s murderers, such that their convictions for the killing were overturned? Tragically, that is what happened to June.
June’s son Lynford was murdered in a knife attack in Cardiff in June 2016 when he was 29 years old.
Detective Constable Rebecca Bryant of South Wales Police was assigned to June and her relatives as the Family Liaison Officer.
As the Family Liaison Officer DC Bryant was involved in a number of important early steps in the murder investigation, including, as noted above, accompanying June to the mortuary to identify Lynford’s body.
Three men – Dwayne Edgar, Robert Lainsbury and Jake Whelan were swiftly arrested and charged with Lynford’s murder. The Trial was listed to take place at Cardiff Crown Court in late November 2016.
The Jury for the murder Trial was however fatally flawed, in that one of the Jurors was in fact Lauren Jones, the girlfriend of DC Bryant’s son. Not only DC Bryant and Ms Jones were well aware of each other’s involvement in the case but prior to the commencement of the Trial DC Bryant had sent a text message to Lauren Jones encouraging her to disguise their relationship –
“The Murder trial is put back til 1st. Not that that matters cos they’ll hold u til then if they need to. Remember what I sed though, as long as you don’t know any of the witnesses that’s fine. But u could say ur a teacher in llanederyn but you don’t know or have any dealings with any of them. If u do know any of them though ul have to say but say how u know them. I won’t be there hardly and I’m not a witness anyway so that ok u don’t need to worry bout that. Don’t tell any of them who u r to me tho in case they think I’ve told u about it although u know I haven’t xxx”
DC Bryant and Ms Jones exchanged several other text messages in which they discussed the case, including the fact that Ms Jones knew one of June’s daughters (who was a Mum at the school where Ms Jones taught), but she also chose to withhold this crucial information when she joined the Jury panel. DC Bryant was aware of this fact, and must have known that her own relationship with Lauren Jones was a sufficient fact in itself to disqualify Ms Jones from being a Juror in this particular case but she wilfully withheld this information from her Superior Officers or the Court and instead concentrated her efforts on making mutually beneficial travel arrangements for herself and the woman who was her Quasi daughter-in-law, including the following message sent on 28 November 2016 –
“If ur on the murder ul be finished same time as me most days u can have a lift to mine afterwards if u wanted x”
The Trial of the perpetrators commenced on 1 December 2016. June and several members of her family attended Court that day, accompanied by DC Bryant in her role as Family Liaison Officer. DC Bryant and Ms Jones continued their deception, saying nothing about their knowledge of one another nor the connection between Ms Jones and June’s daughter.
When the Jury was first impanelled one of its members was in fact mother-in-law of another of June’s sons and she naturally identified her relationship to the case and was excused from the Trial. Another Juror was discharged after confirming that they knew a witness who was a friend of one of the men accused of Lynford’s murder. That day, DC Bryant commented to June’s son that his mother-in-law could ‘get done’ if she sat on the Jury. Shockingly however, she and Ms Jones still said nothing about their connection to each other.
Over the following week as the Trial got underway, DC Bryant and Ms Jones exchanged numerous messages referencing attendance at Court. On 6 December the Trial Judge announced a non sitting day for later in the Trial. On the date in question, Ms Jones had a hair appointment and a day out planned with DC Bryant. DC Bryant advised Ms Jones to tell the Usher that she had an important appointment for that date which could not be changed. She further advised Ms Jones to say that it was an appointment that had already been changed once. It appears that this deception was designed solely for the purpose of ensuring that the murder Trial did not get in the way of Ms Jones and DC Bryant’s pre-Christmas socialising.
DC Bryant continued to play an important part in the ongoing criminal proceedings, taking a victim personal statement from June on 10 December in relation to the impact of Lynford’s murder upon June and her family.
On 20 December 2016 the Jury returned guilty verdicts in respect of Dwayne Edgar, Robert Lainsbury and Jake Whelan and they were convicted of Lynford’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
These convictions could not bring Lynford back, but at least June could now begin to move on with her life secure in the knowledge that justice had been done for her son. Tragically, within a matter of weeks the foundations of that justice were already cracking and crumbling and June was about to receive information that would shake her to her core.
In late February 2017, two Officers of South Wales Police attended at June’s home and informed her that one of the perpetrator’s solicitors had discovered that DC Bryant’s son was in a relationship with one of the Jurors (Lauren Jones) and that accordingly the three men’s convictions were going to be appealed. A misconduct investigation was also simultaneously launched into DC Bryant’s conduct. She initially denied to her superiors any knowledge of Lauren Jones, but then admitted the truth.
June was devastated by the news that the convictions might be overturned and on 20 July 2017, after receiving a telephone call from the Police informing her of the increasing likelihood that the convictions would be quashed and that she would have to live through a re-trial of the perpetrators, June took an overdose of medication with the intention of ending her life. Fortunately she was discovered by one of her daughters and rushed to hospital, where her life was saved.
The wheels of the criminal justice system turned slowly but inevitably, and almost a year to the day after June’s attempt to take her own life, in July 2018 the Court of Appeal Criminal Division regretfully quashed the three men’s convictions. June was devastated.
June then had to wait almost another year before, in late March 2019, the re-trial of Edgar, Lainsbury and Whelan concluded at Bristol Crown Court and all three men were convicted of murder for a second time and again sentenced to life imprisonment.
Justice had been done, but at a terrible cost to June’s mental health over an agonising period of over two years from February 2017 to March 2019.
In June 2019, with the wheels of justice again turning ever slowly the misconduct proceedings against DC Bryant concluded and she was dismissed from South Wales Police without notice for gross misconduct in relation to her failure to reveal her relationship with the Juror Lauren Jones; her advice to Ms Jones to withhold relevant information about her hair appointment, and her initial denial to her Superior Officer about her relationship with Ms Jones.
That grossly reckless misconduct by the Officer had not only given Lynford’s murderers an opportunity to escape punishment for their terrible crime, but had almost cost June her own life. The conduct of the Police Officer in this case almost beggars belief.
The panel at DC Bryant’s gross misconduct hearing correctly concluded that her conduct was not a ‘one off’ error of judgment but was in fact a continuing breach of her duty throughout the period from the end of November 2016 to 20 December 2016.
It goes without saying that June was entirely in agreement with the decision to dismiss DC Bryant from the Force, but she was dismayed at the length of time which the process had taken and the fact that throughout the over two years that elapsed between the revelations of February 2017 and the misconduct hearing of June 2019 DC Bryant had been allowed to continue as a serving Police Officer receiving her full salary.
June subsequently instructed me to pursue a claim against The Chief Constable of South Wales Police, who is vicariously liable under the Police Act for DC Bryant’s misconduct. I brought Court proceedings on behalf of June and in late December 2020 South Wales Police admitted liability for negligence on the part of DC Bryant, although they attempted to argue that the Officer had not committed the much more serious tort of misfeasance in public office because she had not intended to sabotage the men’s convictions and did not “foresee the possible adverse consequences that might flow from her actions”. The Police sought to argue that Bryant genuinely thought she did not need to disclose her relationship with Lauren Jones because she (Bryant) was not a witness in the case – despite the fact that she was clearly an integral part of the Police investigative team – and that she did not overlook an ‘obvious risk’.
I strongly rejected that assertion; to argue that DC Bryant, an officer of some 20 years experience on the Force, had merely made an innocent and genuine ‘mistake’ was, frankly, insulting everybody’s intelligence.
The case I brought on behalf of June was on the basis that DC Bryant’s actions were so recklessly indifferent to the obvious likelihood of causing harm to June that they to all intents and purposes were comparable to acts of misfeasance carried out with deliberate malice. Recall that in one of the many text messages DC Bryant had exchanged with her son’s girlfriend, she expressly encouraged the younger woman not to “tell anyone who you are to me”. That was not the act of an innocent person; it was the act of an officer who knew what she was allowing to happen was wrong and highly risky – but simply didn’t care enough to stop – gambling, as it would turn out, with June’s life in the process.
As the Court of Appeal commented in their judgment upon the original trial verdict, any “fair- minded and informed observer would conclude from the facts that there was a real possibility or danger that the juror was biased.”
DC Bryant had willfully ignored the principle that justice must not only be done – it must be seen to be done. Instead, DC Bryant had betrayed her duty as a Police Officer, and had betrayed the very family whose care she had been entrusted with as Liaison Officer all for…what? DC Bryant had acted not for financial or personal gain or out of animus towards the family but, it seems, just in the interest of letting her son’s girlfriend sit on the jury of an ‘exciting case’ and to share this experience with her for their own amusement, or, dare we say it, entertainment.
I have recently concluded June’s claim for a significant sum of money which will now be invested in a Personal Injury Trust for the benefit of herself and her family as she continues along the road of recovery. June was devastated by the loss of her son, and still finds it hard to come to terms with the fact that one of the very people whose job it was to assist her to recover and to heal by helping her through the criminal justice process, in fact tore open the wound again and prolonged June’s anguish for two long years during which she was tormented with thoughts that her son’s murderers might escape punishment for their actions.
Contemplating the atrocious way in which DC Bryant put minor conveniences and satisfactions in her own personal life ahead of those of a family grieving for a murdered brother and son, is a stark reminder of how right it is that Police Officers should be held to account not only for deliberately targeted harm, but all the pain and hurt they can cause by selfish and reckless dereliction of their duty, and abuse of power.
I was recently instructed by Michael Turnbull (name changed), a married family man of exemplary character. Several months before, he had been out shopping when he received an urgent call from his wife to return home. He left the shopping trolley half full and did so immediately not knowing what the issue was.
Upon his return, Michael established two officers from the Merseyside Police Serious Crime Unit were in attendance. Michael was advised that an indecent image of a child had been linked to an IP address utilised by a device or devices at his home, and that they had a warrant to search the premises.
Michael felt bewildered and bemused.
Michael and his wife were told that a team of officers would now attend and commence the search.
Eight uniformed officers then entered the house and a large amount of IT equipment was seized and then bagged up.
Eventually, after approximately three hours, all officers left, taking the seized items with them.
Michael was devastated and he and his wife and children then left the house so as to ‘escape’.
Michael and his family went to a local park. After approximately 30 minutes, Michael’s wife received a telephone call from an officer requesting that they return to the premises.
Michael was terrified a decision had been made to arrest him or his wife and/ or that Social Services would be intervening, and their children might be taken from them.
Michael and his family returned home. A few minutes later, an officer attended and explained that there had been a mistake and that the premises had been misidentified. Thereafter, Michael’s property was returned.
Although it’s not yet known exactly how his premises had been mis-identified, it is understood that investigators made an error when identifying the IP address.
Understandably Michael felt extremely worried about the impact of the raid and the consequences it would have on his life. He worried about how he would have to explain himself and justify his actions. Would anyone believe that this was a case of ‘smoke without fire’?
But Michael’s biggest issue was how the incident had fractured his belief system as far as police and policing are concerned, and that he had lost his faith in the competence and trustworthiness of the law enforcement system.
Prior to this incident Michael had no relevant medical history of psychological symptoms. Michael was a robust and resilient individual, with no predisposition toward psychological illness or disorder.
However, Michael’s immediate experience of the incident included a sense of shock, bewilderment, and disbelief; a sense of unreality; he felt a loss of control. He experienced significant anxiety, about the impact the incident might have on his relationship with his family, his customers and his standing within the community. Subsequently, he became angry about what had happened to him. He questioned core beliefs he held about the world of policing and about himself, such as whether the police can be trusted and whether the police can keep us safe. Finding his worldview seriously challenged by his experience of the incident, he struggled to adjust.
In a recent report that I commissioned from the eminent Psychologist, Dr. Helen Card, she reported on a similar case in the following terms-
“An individual’s view of the world and how they operate within it is usually based on a set of core beliefs or assumptions about the world, the self, and others. It is believed that the world is benevolent and is generally a safe place where more good happens than bad; and that most people have good intentions and can be trusted. It is believed that the world makes sense because it is orderly, just, and logical. Assumptions are made about the self as being worthy, fortunate and lucky, deserving of good things, decent and capable. These personally held assumptions about how the world works allow the individual to make sense of the world and their role withinit, helping them to feel safe, capable, and in control of what happens to them. If an individual believes that the world is “just”, they are likely to assume they can protect themselves from negative experiences by behaving in a way that is “right” or “good”. When events challenge or shatter these assumptions, significant distress can occur and the individual can feel anxious and helpless in a world that suddenly seems threatening, dangerous and filled with bad people.”
Michael is now struggling along the road to recovery after just such a wrecking of his assumptions of safety and security, through this horrifying glimpse of just how ‘easy’ it is for an innocent person to face accusations of a heinous crime which, if maintained for any length of time, could seriously blight their future well-being and relationships.
Sadly, this is not the first time in the last year that I have had to blog about the real risk of wrongful arrest posed by IP address ‘data errors’. There is no doubt that those in charge of the machinery of state power must take the utmost care to ensure that innocent people are not crushed within the wheels of justice, particularly by reason of simple ‘admin’ errors in this digital era where a single incorrect number could risk derailing a person’s life. The watchwords, once again, are power and responsibility.
I am pleased to confirm that justice was seen at Liverpool Crown Court yesterday, where four Merseyside Police officers involved in an unconscionable attempt to frame my client Mark Bamber for an offence which had in fact been committed against him by one of their number, were convicted of perverting the course of justice.
Mark was subject to a brutal and unprovoked attack by PC Darren McIntyre after officers had been called to his house in Ainsdale, Merseyside.
The incident occurred in June 2019, when officers accompanying ambulance staff requested permission to enter Mark’s home to carry out a welfare check on Mark’s partner, who suffers from mental health issues. The ambulance had earlier been called by Mark’s partner, but then cancelled because she was feeling better.
At the insistence of the ‘lead’ officer, PC McIntyre, Mark let the four officers, as well as the paramedics, into the house, notwithstanding his own view that this was no longer necessary. Mark was disgruntled by the arrogant and aggressive attitude of PC McIntyre who had threatened to arrest Mark for “obstruction” when he originally refused to allow the emergency team in, on the basis that his partner no longer needed them.
Whilst the paramedics went to speak to his partner (who had gone to bed) Mark waited in the kitchen, and when PC McIntyre entered the room, Mark asked for his collar number, intending to put in a complaint about the officer’s attitude. In response to this, McIntyre warned Mark that he was getting on the officer’s “nerves”, told Mark to “wind your fucking neck in” and again threatened to arrest him for ‘obstruction’ with the words “I will put you in the fucking car” – despite the fact that no ‘obstruction’ could possibly be said to be taking place.
When Mark responded to this goading with the words “Are you sure?”, PC McIntyre launched a totally unprovoked assault upon him – punching Mark in the face and chest five times, before performing a ‘leg sweep’ manoeuvre to take Mark violently to the floor. Whilst Mark was in shock and bleeding from the facial injuries inflicted upon him by PC McIntyre, the officer continued his assault, crushing him against the ground, and handcuffing Mark’s arms behind his back. Mark’s glasses had been knocked off during the assault and were now broken; more seriously, Mark himself was suffering significant discomfort to his face, ribs and wrists.
Mark couldn’t believe what had happened to him, in the safety of his own home. What the three other Police officers made of their colleague’s assault upon Mark is a moot point – but what they did was very telling. Of these three officers, one, PC Garrie Burke, did not have his body camera running; the other two, female officers Laura Grant and Lauren Buchanan-Lloyd had been recording events – but quickly switched off their cameras when their colleague began to assault Mark. This was despite the fact that PC Grant had initially tried to calm her colleague down, and must have known that what he was doing was wrong. PC Buchanan- Lloyd later said in interview that she and PC Grant discussed covering up the evidence of McIntyre’s unprovoked assault upon Mark by claiming that the batteries on both of their cameras had simultaneously ‘died’ – but decided that this might sound too suspicious.
All of this was all the more distressing to Mark because it was being witnessed by his partner – the person whose welfare was supposed to be the entire purpose of the emergency visit was now having to watch to her horror as Mark was beaten up in front of her. Indeed, as Mark’s partner tried to record what was happening to him/ intervene to save him from the assault she herself was arrested – for “obstruction” – attempting to obstruct a criminal assault it would seem?
Mark was led out of the house in handcuffs, and initially taken to Southport Hospital for treatment for the injuries inflicted on him by PC McIntyre – however, no sooner had his cuts been stitched and his chest x-rayed, he was transported to Copy Lane Police Station and advised that he was under arrest for assaulting an emergency worker – specifically, PC McIntyre. The justification for his arrest was given in the following terms in the Custody Record-
“ Assault Police – call … to assist AMBO with a female at location for unknown reason. History of violence towards AMBO. Male opened the door confront and refused entry. States that he cancelled the AMBO warned and failed to desist. Female seen in bedroom to be seen by AMBO. DP continued aggressive behaviour. Warned DP has then elbowed the Officer to the left side of his nose. DP has been struck and then taken to the floor. Handcuffed to rear and C and A no reply.”
This was of course a travesty of the truth, and on hearing that account Mark immediately said to PC McIntyre “You’re a liar.”
Indeed, PC McIntyre knew full well he was a liar – and therefore he and his three colleagues took steps to disguise the true sequence of events. Firstly, the two female officers failed to ‘upload’ to the Police computer system the footage from their body cameras – the footage which would have shown that Mark did not ‘elbow’ PC McIntyre, and that instead McIntyre had struck first with repeated, furious punches. PC McIntyre did upload his own body cam footage, but as is often the case, because it was filmed from a camera worn by a participant in the struggle, the angle of the camera was too close/ obscured for the truth to be seen. McIntyre obviously thought he could ‘get away’ with his deception as long as his colleagues’ footage was not viewed – and remember, the two female officers had deliberately stopped recording, so that McIntyre could continue beating Mark without an ‘audience’.
One would have thought that the main purpose of Police body cameras is to capture evidence of crimes being committed; but not, apparently, when it is an Officer who is committing the crime.
To compound their wrongdoing, all four officers then collaborated in writing statements which provided a false and distorted version of what had happened. McIntyre in his statement falsely alleged Mark had been attempting to head-butt him, and omitted to mention the fact that he had repeatedly punched Mark. He also claimed that Mark had made no comment in response to being ‘cautioned’ whereas the body camera footage had clearly recorded Mark responding with the words “I haven’t touched you…you punched me.”
At a later date, McIntyre met with the other three officers for two and a half hours in a room at Maghull Police Station, as they attempted to ‘massage’ the evidence in order to exonerate the real perpetrator (McIntyre) and frame Mark.
One of the female officers involved in this incident, Buchanan-Lloyd, was, rather tragically, a newly qualified officer only 5 weeks into her career and supposedly under the tutelage of PC Grant. It is in my view despicable that the more senior officers involved roped her into their criminal conspiracy, and makes you shudder to think how many other officers are ‘initiated’ in this way into a culture of ‘police might makes right’, under the pressure of not ‘ratting out’ a fellow officer.
For a month following this incident, Mark had the threat of court proceedings on the false charge of assaulting PC McIntyre hanging over him; fortunately, after Mark was granted ‘no further action’ in regards to the allegations against him, the pendulum swung the other way. In response to Mark’s complaint, an internal Police investigation was commenced and PCs McIntyre, Grant, Burke and Buchanan-Lloyd were all in turn interviewed on suspicion of criminal offences.
Following a 4 week trial at Liverpool Crown Court, all of the officers were convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, with PC McIntyre also being convicted of Actual Bodily Harm In respect of his assault upon Mark. Sentencing will follow next month.
Unfortunately this showcases in one incident many of the worse aspects of Police abuse of power – arrogance; gratuitous bully-boy violence; an attempt to frame an innocent man and officers ‘closing ranks’ and collaborating to hide wrong doing by one of their colleagues – demonstrating a shocking contempt for the very justice system they are supposed to be upholding. If evidence were required, this shows that Police corruption is not confined to our history books or to our TV screens, and reinforces in my mind the need for us to be assured that body cameras are kept rolling during every arrest, search and home entry situation – sadly in order to ensure we can properly police the very people who are wearing them…
Update: the Liverpool Echo has since added to its reporting on this story.
“McIntyre was both the thug who assaulted my client and the ringleader of the criminal enterprise which he and his colleagues embarked upon to cover it up.
“He deserves this punishment, which I trust will send a powerful message to all other officers who think that they are above the law.
“This type of Police corruption – the attempt to frame a person who is in fact a victim of Police violence – has been around for generations, but has now been dragged into the full light of day by modern technology.
“Let us hope that Policing culture itself continues to change with the times, and that next time it is not the cameras which catch the likes of ex-PC McIntyre in the act, but his own colleagues – who should have arrested him on the spot, but in fact did worse than nothing, conspiring in his attempt to criminalise an innocent man.”
I recently blogged about the case of my client Courton Green who is pursuing a claim for damages for unlawful arrest. The arrest was instigated by a private charity, the RSPCA, who in my experience behave as if they were a quasi- government agency with their self-appointed titles, uniforms and in their relationship with the Police.
I echoed the criticisms which many have made, both in the case of Courton Green and others, that the relationship between the RSPCA and the Police is unhealthily close and all too often the Police appear to be led by the RSPCA into criminalising innocent individuals and pursuing completely ill-founded and inappropriate prosecutions.
Unfortunately, misdirection and misuse of Police resources by what we might describe as law enforcement ‘amateurs’ does not end with private organisations like the RSPCA, but encompasses actual Government agencies who should know better, such as the Environment Agency.
The Environment Agency (EA) is a non-departmental public body supervised/sponsored by DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and is a successor to both the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Pollution, with a remit which includes flood forecasting/prevention and the regulation of industrial discharges (i.e control of waste and pollution).
It was under the Environment Agency’s remit to investigate alleged criminal infringements of environmental law, that it became involved in the lives of my clients Mark and Lisa Walters, two farmers.
The Environment Agency made an application to the Magistrates’ Court for a search warrant to enter and inspect Mark and Lisa’s home under Section 108/Schedule 18 of the Environment Act 1995.
The purpose of the search warrant was to examine business records, belonging to Appleby Recycling, for evidence of alleged unauthorised waste activity. Appleby was a company run by a close relative of Mark, which operated on land owned by Mark.
In the early hours of the morning Mark and Lisa were in bed when they were awoken by loud banging and kicking noises from the front door of their home.
Mark jumped out of bed, got partially dressed and answered the front door, where he was met by the terrifying sight of a large group of men, dressed all in black and armed with crowbars and batons – his immediate impression was that the group of strangers resembled a paramilitary force and he at first believed that his home was being subjected to an aggravated burglary.
We now know that these individuals were officers of the local Police Force, who had been enlisted by the Environment Agency to be the ‘muscle’, as it were, to allow them to execute the search warrant.
The men ordered Mark to step outside, but initially he refused to do so having received no indication from the group as to who they were and not wishing to abandon his family to whatever their intentions were.
As a result, Mark found himself being aggressively manhandled to the floor, where his arms were pulled behind his back and handcuffed to the rear.
As Mark lay defenceless and handcuffed upon the floor, he was threatened by the Police with “150,000 volts” should he make any movement. At this point, several Officers were training their taser weapons upon Mark.
Indeed two of the tasers were actually pressed down onto Mark – one on his neck, and the other on his leg – causing him to be in further terror that he could be electrocuted at any moment.
All of this was overwhelming for a man who had simply been in bed a few minutes before. He was a man of good character with no history of violence; it seems that the Environment Agency investigators had ‘put’ the Police up to this show of force/ level of aggression by expressing concern about the fact that Mark had a firearms licence – although this is hardly something unusual in the farming community, and was absent a single scrap of evidence that Mark would refuse/ resist the search in any way.
Lisa and their teenage daughters had now also been awoken and startled by this invasion of their home and Mark was caused to feel further distress at the thought of how terrified his wife and children were at the threat both to himself and themselves.
Mark was forced to disclose the whereabouts to the keys of his gun cabinet (which was not – of course – the actual purpose or subject of the search) and was roughly manhandled by the officers. His reasonable request to use the bathroom before he was taken from the premises (as it was clear he was going to be) was denied, causing him further discomfort.
Mark was then marched out of his house and to a police vehicle outside.
Mark was now officially informed that he was under arrest in relation to suspected involvement in illegal deposits of waste by Appleby Recycling and was cautioned. He was then driven away at speed to a distant Police Station and taken into custody.
All of this was a shocking and bewildering sequence of events. As noted above, Mark was a man of good character who had never before had any adverse dealings with the Police.
Later that evening Mark was interviewed by officers from the Environment Agency before being released on bail after over 12 hours detention. He felt the force used against him, as well as the fact of his detention was all completely unnecessary and that he had been deliberately humiliated, disempowered and oppressed by this collusion between the Police and the EA. He had no involvement in any ‘illegal waste’ activity, and his innocence would in due course be vindicated by the total collapse of the case against him.
Whilst Mark was being detained at the Police Station, officers of the Environment Agency carried out a full and extensive search of his family home – which resulted in no documentation actually being recovered or seized.
Lisa Walters, despite her distress, had the presence of mind to request sight of the warrant which the Police/Environment Agency officers were purportedly executing, but this was refused.
No information was disclosed as to the purpose of the search, which Lisa noted was very haphazard – with officers overlooking computers but searching through her daughter’s underwear drawer. During the course of the search the lead Environment Agency investigator was noted by Lisa to have a ‘Pink Panther’ ring tone on his mobile phone – suggestive of a cocky and unprofessional approach by an ‘amateur Policeman’ in my opinion.
Lisa was left feeling as though the family had been burgled, such was the sense of disrespect towards and violation of the family’s privacy and belongings by the EA and Police officers.
It subsequently became clear that execution of the warrant had been unlawful from the start, owing to non-compliance with the provisions of Section 108 (6) of the Environment Act 1995.
Section 108 (6) of the Environment Act 1995 provides that –
Except in an emergency, in any case where it is proposed to enter any premises used for residential purposes, or to take heavy equipment onto any premises which are to be entered, any entry by virtue of this section shall only be effected –
After the expiration of at least 7 days notice of the proposed entry given to a person who appears to the authorised person in question to be in occupation of the premises in question, and
With the consent of the person who is in occupation of the premises; or
Under the authority of a warrant by virtue of Schedule 18 to this Act.
Accordingly, it was a legal requirement that any entry/search of residential premises, such as Mark and Lisa’s home, required the prior issuing of at least 7 days’ notice to the occupiers. No such notice was provided to Mark or Lisa and the resulting entry/search was entirely unlawful.
I pursued claims on behalf of Mark and Lisa against both the Environment Agency and the Police for Trespass to Land, Assault and Battery, False Imprisonment and Misfeasance in Public Office.
Initially both parties denied liability, with the Police asserting as follows –
“The Environment Agency requested Police assistance to effect the arrest of your client as he was a firearms licence holder with 4 firearms recorded, and had been confrontational with the EA in past meetings.”
The Police went on to make it clear they were acting “under the direct instruction” of the Environment Agency, and were present as “agents” of the EA only.
For their part, the Environment Agency sought to argue that the failure to give notice was a mere “technicality”, that their officers had “acted in good faith” and that Court proceedings would be “vigorously” contested.
Notwithstanding this, I am pleased to report that good sense prevailed and the EA agreed to settle Mark and Lisa’s claims for £25,000.
This case to my mind is another example of how gung-ho amateurs (in the form of the Environment Agency officers) can lead much more hardened and experienced law enforcement professionals (in the form of the Police) into making rash judgments and taking unlawful actions. It is entirely possible that both the EA and the Police were delegating the ‘thinking’ part of this operation to the other.
The mischief of this bungled ‘raid’ on a terrified young family’s home, was then compounded by a typical police predilection for (in effect) converting a search warrant into an arrest warrant by assuming (or so it would seem) that because the Court had granted the right to search for items connected with a criminal offence, there must therefore be authority to arrest as well.
That of course was not the case; the warrant insofar as it had been granted (not that it was properly executed in any event) was a search warrant and not an arrest warrant.
Police powers to arrest Mark on suspicion of any environmental offences were governed by the usual provisions of PACE i.e. the need for reasonable suspicion of the offence to be accompanied by objectively reasonable necessity to arrest.
Mark could (and should) have been invited for an interview as a voluntary attender, as the ultimate settlement of this claim amply demonstrates. Instead he was treated as if he was the suspected member of some kind of organised crime group. The Police should have thought twice about not only the legitimacy of Mark’s arrest, but – in the first place – the decision to use force, including the deployment of multiple taser officers against a peaceable man. The fact that he was the holder of a lawful firearms licence in no way justified such brutal tactics – but the Police in their reply to the claim trotted out one of the worst and most execrable excuses in the book i.e ‘they were just following orders’ from the Environment Agency.
I would hope that both the Environment Agency and the Police have learnt important lessons from this fiasco – such as understanding the basic legislation which governs the exercise of their powers.
The Environment Agency has a number of hugely important jobs to do in protecting the very fabric of our country and the health of the nation; but pretending that it’s the FBI shouldn’t be one of them.
One of the primary roles of the National Probation Service is public protection. To ensure the public are protected from offenders who present a high risk of serious harm to other people, the National Probation Service has the authority to recall offenders from the community back to prison where they are in breach of the terms of their release or when it seems that the risk they pose can no longer be safely managed in the community.
I have previously blogged about situations when probation companies have got it wrong and have by mistake recalled prisoners who have not in fact breached their licence conditions, see here and here.
But Probation can also get it wrong in failing to ensure that prisoners who do breach their licence conditions are recalled to prison, allowing those individuals the opportunity to harm others.
A particularly high profile case is that of Joseph McCann who whilst on release from prison committed multiple violent and sexual offences in April and May 2019. His case was the subject of significant media scrutiny and ultimately a review by the Chief Inspector of Probation who identified significant failings in McCann’s supervision by Probation Staff, as well as policy failures at a higher level.
Sadly, the McCann case is not a one off.
I am currently acting on behalf of Helen Roberts.
In early 2016, Helen met Simon Dorset and after a few months of dating, moved in with him.
When she first met Mr Dorset, he identified himself as Simon John North. He told her that he had been in prison for armed robbery offences and that he was subject to stringent licence conditions.
Whilst Simon was indeed on licence, in fact his sentence did not relate to armed robbery but rather multiple rapes, kidnap, attempted kidnap, wounding, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and false imprisonment; all offences which had been committed against Simon’s former partner. He had been sentenced in his real name, Simon Dorset to a discretionary life sentence at Liverpool Crown Court in September 2004. His tariff was set at 7.5 years which expired in 2011, and he was released in July 2015 at the discretion of the Parole Board.
Mr Dorset was released with standard licence conditions together with additional conditions as follows;
To reside at an Approved Premises (AP),
Not to approach his victim,
To observe a curfew at the AP from 19.00 to 07.00,
Daily AP reporting,
To inform his Probation Officer of any intimate relationships,
To observe an exclusion zone.
Helen quickly established that Mr Dorset was a controlling, manipulative, possessive and violent man. She was kept prisoner in her home and beaten and raped by him on multiple occasions. She was, in short, trapped in a mentally and physically abusive relationship and was unable to extricate herself.
In May 2017, Helen became pregnant.
In August 2017, Merseyside Police received a report that Mr Dorset was committing domestic abuse against Helen, and yet no action was taken.
In September 2017, Mr Dorset told Helen that they would be relocating to Huddersfield.
Upon relocation, the level of emotional and physical abuse Helen suffered escalated.
On several occasions, Helen was able to briefly escape to a Women’s Refuge.
In January 2018, Helen gave birth 6 weeks prematurely. Several days after doing so, on or about 23 January 2018 and after having visited the baby in hospital, Helen managed to escape from Mr Dorset and alert the Police.
Mr Dorset was soon arrested and following investigation, he was finally recalled to prison.
Mr Dorset was subsequently prosecuted for various offences relating to his abusive relationship with Helen and – remarkably – another woman and in June 2019 was found guilty of multiple counts of rape, controlling and coercive behaviour, threats to kill and false imprisonment. He was given a further life sentence with a minimum of 32 years in prison.
Following the conclusion of the criminal case, the National Probation Service carried out a review of Mr Dorset’s probation.
Prior to his release in 2015, an Offender Assessment System (OASys) assessment was carried out and Mr Dorset was assessed as high risk of serious harm to others.
The National Probation Service (NPS) was responsible for Mr Dorset’s supervision whilst on licence. In October 2015, management of Mr Dorset was transferred from Probation Officer OM2 to OM3.
In a Victim Summary Report (VSR) prepared by the NPS in March 2020, OM3’s management of Mr Dorset was found to be far from satisfactory and lacking in a number of respects. In October 2016, Mr Dorset’s risk of serious harm was reduced to “medium”, but without proper analysis or approval. Further, OM3’s supervision of Mr Dorset was found to be “superficial” with;
Insufficient attention paid to his mental health;
Insufficient focus on his specific risk factors and offending behaviour and in particular his lifestyle by reference to disclosures and changes in his circumstances; and
Insufficient regard paid to his lack of engagement.
Yet further, the VSR also stated that there had been insufficient higher management oversight of OM3’s management of Mr Dorset (and later OM4’s management of Mr Dorset) such that OM3’s failures went unnoticed.
In March 2017, management of Mr Dorset was transferred from OM3 to OM4.
Once again, the VSR found OM4’s management of Mr Dorset to be “superficial” with records not being filed contemporaneously and when records were filed, as being “incorrect and not factual” such that the reviewer had “little confidence in his recording.” Again, the VSR established that there had been insufficient management of Mr Dorset, such that OM4’s failures went unnoticed.
My client is now bringing a claim against the Ministry of Justice for negligence and violation of her human rights in that had NPS properly supervised Mr Dorset, he would not have been in a position to abuse Helen mentally and physically from March 2015 until his recall in January 2018.
I am pleased to report that in response the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) – the governmental parent body of the NPS- have confirmed that they are willing to negotiate settlement and I am in the process commissioning medical evidence and investigating the value of the claim.
The public needs to have confidence that violent and dangerous offenders when released from prison will be properly monitored and the risks that they pose minimised, and I am pleased that the MOJ appears to recognise this; although hopefully in the next such scenario it will be preventative measures rather than damage limitation which we see the NPS performing.
When a relationship breaks down and there is an allegation of abuse, it is common for either one or both parties to apply to the Family Court for either a Non-Molestation Order and/ or an Occupation Order.
A Non-Molestation Order is essentially an injunction aimed at stopping one ex-partner from taking certain abusive actions, for example harassing or pestering the other. It is a Civil Order that is granted by a Judge or Magistrate and typically lasts 12 months.
Occupation Orders often go hand in hand with Non-Molestation Orders and are used where the home is jointly owned or rented and it is necessary to restrict or exclude access.
Often, either the Non-Molestation Order or the Occupation Order will carry a power of arrest in the event of a breach.
The precise stipulation of these Non-Molestation Orders or Occupation Orders can often be incredibly complicated especially when young children and/or a family pet is involved, and arrangements for “access” are required so that people still get on with living their lives whilst observing certain restrictions about contact and location etc.
In my experience, Police Officers routinely misunderstand and misinterpret such Orders and this can have terrible consequences.
Take for example my client Elaine Webber. As at October 2019, Elaine and her husband were living together in the matrimonial home whilst in the midst of an acrimonious separation and divorce.
To try and accommodate both parties and their children, elaborate Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders were drafted and agreed by which Elaine and her estranged husband were forbidden from ‘molesting’ the other and by which they each had access to certain sections of their home at set times.
The agreement was ratified by a Court Order and the relevant sections were as follows;
Non Molestation Order
The following non-molestation orders are made against both parties
Neither party shall harass or pester the other or encourage any other person to do so.
Neither party shall cause or threaten physical harm to the other or encourage any other person to do so.
Neither party shall remove or restrict or otherwise obstruct the other’s use of their personal chattels including cars.
Neither party shall denigrate the other or display verbal abuse to one another, particularly in the presence of the children.
The family dog shall not be permitted into the family home save when the respondent is allowed access to the property. For the avoidance of doubt the dog shall be permitted in the basement flat with the respondent at all times.
The following non-molestation order is made against the applicant only;
The applicant shall not remove, hide or otherwise meddle with the respondent’s medication.
The following non-molestation order is made against the respondent only;
In the event that funds that are not joint funds, have been removed by the respondent as of today’s date as accepted by the respondent…….. and insofar as they have not already been returned, the respondent shall return those funds to the account from which they were debited.
The occupation of the family home shall be regulated as follows:
The respondent shall occupy the downstairs separately-accessed self-contained flat from ……. (hereon) and must not occupy the family home and its surrounding gardens, land and outbuildings save as follows:
On week 1 from 7am until 8.30am on Tuesdays and Fridays and from 3.45pm until 10pm on Wednesdays and Fridays;
On week 2 from 7am until 8.30am on Mondays and Wednesdays and from 3.45pm until 10pm on Mondays and Thursdays;
On week 1 from 7am until 11.30am and from 3.45pm until 10pm on Saturdays and on Week 2 from 7am until 11.30am and from 4pm until 10pm on Sundays.
At all times when the applicant is abroad on holiday – the applicant shall give the respondent no less than one week’s written notice of her trips abroad.
While the respondent has access to the family home as set out above, he must not enter or attempt to enter the marital bedroom or the office or the upstairs flat.
While the respondent has access to the family home as set out above, the applicant shall be permitted to use the marital bedroom, office and lounge, but shall not use other parts of the property save for access.
The applicant shall not enter the basement flat during the respondent’s occupation of it as per the terms of this order above.
The Order was to remain in place until financial matters had been agreed between the parties or by one year ahead whichever was later.
The Order ended with the following;
Note to Arresting Officer:
Under section 42A of the Family Law Act 1996, breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. It is an arrestable offence and it is not necessary to obtain a warrant.
“A person who without reasonable excuse does anything that he is prohibited from doing by a non-molestation order is guilty of an offence.”
Family Law Act 1996, section 42A(1).
So, the Court Order made it plain that the Non Molestation Order carried with it a power of arrest, but the Occupation Order did not.
About three weeks after this Order was drawn up, Elaine went out with a friend for the evening. She returned to the premises at approximately 21.30.
Upon arrival, Elaine found the front door wide open and the premises in darkness.
Elaine was concerned for the welfare of her youngest son and so entered the basement flat.
Such entry was in breach of the Occupation Order but not the Non-Molestation Order.
Elaine found her children watching TV. Her youngest child was due in school the next day and she reminded him of his pending bedtime.
At this, Elaine became aware that her estranged husband was filming her on his mobile phone and whilst doing so reciting the terms of the Court Order.
Satisfied that her son was well and would be going to bed shortly, Elaine left, thinking nothing more of the situation and she then retired for the evening
In the early hours of the next morning Elaine was woken to loud knocking and shouting on her bedroom door.
Elaine opened the door and established that two Police Officers had gained entry to the house.
Elaine was advised by the Officers that she had breached the terms of the Court Order and that she was to be arrested.
Elaine was confused but immediately felt that she had been ‘set up’ by her husband.
Elaine was allowed to dress and was then obliged to accompany the Officers to a nearby parked car.
Elaine was then transported to her local Police Station where she was processed and placed in a cell.
In due course, Elaine was interviewed where she answered all questions.
Elaine was then returned to her cell. Eventually, she was charged with breaching the Non Molestation Order and kept in custody overnight to attend Court the next day.
The next day, Elaine was taken in handcuffs from the Police Station to a waiting van and then on to her local Magistrates Court. On arrival, Elaine was again placed in handcuffs and taken to the cells beneath Court.
Eventually, Elaine appeared before the Magistrates and was represented by the Duty Solicitor. On advice, she pleaded not guilty.
Elaine was granted bail and was released.
Elaine was subsequently obliged to attend Court on two further occasions. At the later hearing, she was advised that proceedings were discontinued.
What a travesty. Elaine had breached the Occupation Order because of concern for her youngest child, but was not in breach of the Non-Molestation Order. There was no power of arrest attached to the Occupation Order and yet she was arrested, detained for 32 hours, transported to Court and then obliged to attend Court on two further occasions.
Elaine is now pursuing a claim for compensation for her unlawful arrest and I anticipate recovering a five figure sum on her behalf.
Relationship breakdowns can be stressful enough without the Police wading in heavy-handed, failing to act objectively and misunderstanding and misinterpreting key documents.
All too often Police Officers seem to operate under a mind-set of ‘arrest first, ask questions later’ rather than properly considering whether there are alternatives to arrest and, indeed, whether there is actually a power of arrest at all. The onus on the Police to exercise intelligence, discretion and caution when it comes to arresting a party to a messy and complex matrimonial family dispute should be all the greater.
Many of you may have read the disturbing story of the death of Jack Barnes at the hands of Manchester Metrolink staff in October 2016, following the verdict of unlawful killing pronounced by the Coroner’s Court last month.
Jack, aged 29, had been on a night out with friends in Manchester when the group had become involved in a dispute with Metrolink staff. Jack foolishly but harmlessly swung a drawstring bag at the Metrolink workers, causing four of them to “take the law into their own hands”. Four Metrolink CSRs (Customer Service Representatives) breached all of their training and policies by pursuing Jack from the station, before catching him almost a mile away, and holding him down on the ground outside a restaurant on Deansgate.
Body camera footage captured one of the Metrolink ‘posse’ – Stephen Rowlands, a former Police Officer – threatening to put Jack ‘to sleep’. The camera then recorded Jack on eight separate occasions telling the men who were holding him down that he couldn’t breathe but – in a scene shockingly reminiscent of what happened in the last few moments of George Floyd’s life – his desperate pleas for them to ease the pressure on his neck were ignored. Within moments, Jack suffered a cardiac arrest and although an ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital, he never left it, dying there some seven weeks’ later from his injuries.
Jack’s grieving mother told the BBC that in her view the Metrolink staff had hunted her son down like an animal.
Greater Manchester Police had initially arrested the 4 Metrolink CSRs, including Mr Rowlands, who gave evidence to the Coroner’s Court about his 13 years of experience with that self-same force and the ‘restraint techniques’ he had learned as an Officer, but released them without charge.
Metrolink’s explicit policy for situations such as this was for their staff to ‘walk away’ – not give chase to somebody for a mile, and then assault him as if they were some kind of private Police force, administering their own ‘rough justice’.
Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour by private company staff with security or quasi- security roles, acting out what we might consider to be Police or paramilitary fantasies, or just their own anger and aggression, is all too common.
I am currently acting on behalf of David Roberts (name changed), who in October 2020 was shopping in a well-known chain store in London.
David was challenged by a security guard as he was on his way out of the store, having just purchased an umbrella. Because the item had only cost £4, David had declined a ‘paper receipt’ from the cashier, as he was entitled to do. David told the security guard that all he needed to do was radio the cashier and she would confirm that his umbrella was ‘legitimate’ but the man was unhappy with this and tried to drag David physically back to the cash desk, breaking the umbrella in the process…when David then demanded the man’s name so he could make a complaint, the security guard refused.
The cashier had now corroborated that David’s (now broken) umbrella had indeed been purchased by him, and so he was begrudgingly offered a replacement for the one their colleague had broken – however, a stand-off then developed when the security personnel refused to tell David the name of their colleague who had first been aggressive with him, and even threatened to ‘call the Police’ on him – clearly all designed to frustrate his attempt to complain, and to intimidate him into going away.
When David refused to do so (until he knew the man’s name) 3 of the security guards commenced a vicious assault upon him – apparently continuing the argument in the only language they understood: David was dragged to a ‘back room’, being struck by the security guards along the way, and subjected to a tirade of abusive language.
In the back room, whilst one of the security guards took David’s phone (with which he had been recording their interactions on the shop floor) others pinned David down on the ground. His arms were held down, and one of the men knelt on his neck/chest; once again this is an incident which raises the unavoidable spectre of George Floyd in our minds. It could all have ended in tragedy, though fortunately, unlike George Floyd or Jack Barnes, David would escape with his life.
The assault ended when the Metropolitan Police – called by a third party – arrived, and not a moment too soon, in my opinion.
Now the tables have been turned and the men who assaulted David are facing investigation, and hopefully prosecution, by the Police and CPS; but David is still left with the physical and mental scars of what happened to him, and the thought of how much worse it might have been.
Far too many security staff, it seems, are itching for the slightest excuse to flex their muscles, power- fantasies or whatever other urge drives them. One of the most shocking aspects of the incident was how complacently the security guards, bullies in uniform, apparently thought they could get away with this.
As soon as the criminal process is over, I will be instituting civil proceedings on behalf of David against the security guard’s employer for the loss and damage they have caused to him, and both David and I hope this will teach a retailer which boasts one of the most well known ‘high street’ business names in the UK a valuable lesson about the quality and calibre of men whom they employ and supervise.
We don’t live in the ‘Wild West’ – that era of hair-trigger violence and vigilante ‘justice’ – but it, unfortunately, seems to live in the hearts and minds of too many security staff, employed at high profile businesses and venues, whose behaviour threatens the life and limb of anyone these cowboys take a dislike to.