Jury Selection and Police Deception

The world will be watching today as the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police Officer accused of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, begins. The distressing footage of Mr Floyd’s death was seen by millions of people and sparked huge protests on both sides of the Atlantic against structural racism and Police brutality. In the US, those protests often turned violent and episodes of looting occurred in several cities.

In those circumstances, the rigorous US procedure of jury selection, designed to weed out any bias or prejudice amongst the Jury towards one side or the other, will be even more complicated and fraught with difficulties. Potential jurors will have to complete a 16-page questionnaire including such questions as how many times they viewed the video of George Floyd’s death and whether they personally participated in any of the sweeping “Black Lives Matter” protests – or, indeed, had homes or businesses damaged during the riots associated with the same.

The jury selection process is therefore likely to be a highly contested ‘battlefield’ between the legal teams for Prosecution and Defence; with each set of lawyers entitled to ask the Trial Judge to dismiss potential jurors on the basis of perceived bias – or even, in a limited number of cases, for no specified reason at all (but what, we might imagine would be bias which is not explicit/ admitted to, but which the lawyers perceive on the basis of a juror’s racial/social/gender profile). Those latter dismissals are themselves open to challenge on the grounds of racial or sexual discrimination.

The selection of the 16 people who will make up the final Jury is therefore likely to take weeks to be completed, before the Trial proper commences. It is not at all uncommon in high stakes cases such as this for each party’s lawyers to bring in specialist ‘jury selection’ consultants who will help them analyse the background of the potential jurors, their questionnaire responses and decide how best to deploy their “peremptory challenges.”

Here in the UK the selection of the 12 members of a Crown Court Jury, to hear criminal cases, is more randomised and subject to much less proactive – or partisan – vetting. UK lawyers, for example, have no right of “peremptory challenge” (to request a juror be dismissed without specifying a reason), and there are no mechanisms designed to ‘balance’ the makeup of the jury on the grounds of race or gender.

Nevertheless, it goes without saying that UK law does require people to recuse themselves, or to be removed by the Judge from a Jury panel, if they are obviously biased or have a personal connection to the parties involved in a Trial (which might mean knowing not only a victim, defendant or witness but one of the lawyers or Police officers involved in the case).

That type of bias/ potential prejudice – close connection with a Police Officer who was part of the criminal investigation – reared its head in a particularly shocking way following the conviction of three men for the murder of Lynford Brewster, a Cardiff man, in June 2016. The three accused men went to trial in December 2016 at Cardiff Crown Court, and were duly convicted by the jury and each sentenced to life imprisonment.

Tragically, one of the members of that Jury was Lauren Jones, the girlfriend of the son of DC Rebecca Bryant of South Wales Police – who shortly after Lynford’s murder had been assigned as Family Liaison Officer to Lynford’s grieving mother, June Whittaker. DC Bryant had been in regular contact with June and other members of Lynford’s family during the investigation, and indeed it was DC Bryant who had accompanied June to the mortuary to identify her son’s body. DC Bryant had also prepared witness statements and was actually present at Court, with Lynford’s family, when the jury including her son’s girlfriend was empanelled.

During the empanelling process a number of potential jurors quite properly ‘disqualified’ themselves by confirming connections with the case – one being the mother-in-law of Lynford’s brother, the other knowing a witness who was a friend of one of the men accused of the murder. Both of these jurors were excused. There can have been no doubt, therefore, that all of the potential jurors were aware of the duty to declare such ‘conflicts of interest’ – but not only did Lauren Jones fail to declare her connection with one of the key officers involved in the criminal investigation, in a terrible dereliction of her duty, so did that officer herself.

In fact, to make things worse, text messages that were later discovered, revealed that DC Bryant actively encouraged Lauren Jones to keep their relationship ‘secret’ –

Don’t tell any of them who u r to me in case they think I’ve told u about it although u know I haven’t xxx.”

The messages also revealed that Ms Jones had another potentially prejudicial connection to the case, as she was a teacher at the school attended by one of Lynford Brewster’s nephews and therefore saw Lynford’s sister on a regular basis as one of the school parents. Ms Jones failed to declare this interest as well, and DC Bryant said nothing about it either.

It subsequently became clear that throughout the weeks of the murder trial, DC Bryant and Lauren Jones (or, as we might say, the Family Liaison Officer for the murdered man’s relatives and a Juror in whose hands rested the fate of the accused) were in regular contact with one another –  engaging in socialising together, sharing lifts home from Court, exchanging texts and telephone calls and – most callously- discussing lying to the Court about Ms Jones having an unavoidable appointment because the Trial dates were putting in jeopardy her pre-Christmas trip to the hairdressers…

When this sordid state of affairs inevitably came to light in February 2017 – someone evidently ‘tipped off’ the Defence lawyers that Ms Jones had a connection with DC Bryant – Lynford’s mother was contacted by South Wales Police with the awful news that DC Bryant’s conduct was being investigated and there was a real prospect of this leading to her son’s killers having their convictions quashed. The devastating effect which this news had upon a grieving mother who at that time was trying to come to terms with the brutal loss of her son can well be imagined. June felt utterly betrayed by DC Bryant, and the mounting ‘nightmare’ of the original verdict being quashed, which would lead to a re-trial and the possibility that the killers might ultimately escape justice, led June to attempt to take her own life in July 2017.  June was discovered by one of her daughters after taking a deliberate overdose of medication, and rushed to hospital, where fortunately the doctors were able to save her life. A terrible double-tragedy for her family had narrowly been averted.

As was sadly anticipated, the Court of Appeal in July 2018 quashed the convictions of the three men accused of murdering Lynford Brewster, and spoke in the following terms about DC Bryant’s reprehensible conduct-

The police inquiry’s dealings with the officer reveal that she lied in the initial stages to two officers about having had any relationship with the juror, leading to the inference that she realized that her connections with the juror were improper in the circumstances. It also appears that she was not truthful about the point at which she knew that the juror was involved in this murder trial.

This material reveals a shocking state of affairs. We have no hesitation in holding that the clearest case of bias on the part of the juror is established. Any fair-minded and informed observer would conclude from the facts that there was a real possibility or danger that the juror was biased. Despite ample opportunity, she failed to declare either her connection with an officer whom she knew was closely connected with the victim’s family or her connection with the deceased’s sister or her concerns about how that person might react if they met following a not guilty verdict. Moreover, the juror had shown herself willing to participate in a deception of the court in order to pursue relatively trivial arrangements for her own private satisfaction. Both parties failed utterly in their civic duty as citizens and both of them must have known that at the time.

Since the officer’s disciplinary proceedings have yet to take place, we say nothing further as to the outcome of them. However, it is crystal clear that this juror should never have sat on this trial and that the assertion of objective bias is fully made out.

In the circumstances, this trial was fatally flawed and the safety of the convictions is totally undermined. The folly of the juror and the police officer have wasted vast amounts of time and cost the public a great deal of money. Moreover, the agony for the victim’s family is inevitably prolonged. We very much regret that fact.

However, there has not been a fair and proper trial because of the conduct of the officer and the juror and in those circumstances it is our duty to act…

The silver lining to these terrible events, is that the three men were eventually convicted, for a second and final time, of Lynford’s murder and their life- sentences re-imposed, in March 2019, whilst DC Bryant was convicted of gross misconduct in June 2019 and dismissed without notice from the Police service.

None of those facts could soften the blow for June, and the other members of Lynford’s close family, of having to live for a second time through the trial re-counting in graphic detail Lynford’s murder, or of having to come to terms with DC Bryant’s betrayal. As June said, after learning of the contents of the text messages between DC Bryant and Lauren Jones – it was as if Lynford’s life didn’t matter to DC Bryant, as if it were all a joke to her.

If ever there was a story to reinforce the importance of Jury members being honest about potential prejudice in a case, this is it. I am currently acting on behalf of June is seeking compensation from South Wales Police for the mental trauma she continues to experience as a result of these events. It was clearly with much regret, and sympathy for June and her family, that the Judges of the Criminal Court of Appeal had to do their duty; it is a profound pity that DC Bryant apparently considered that entertaining her son’s girlfriend and helping her to arrange hair-appointments were of greater importance than her own duty as a Police Officer.

Justice Turns a Blind Eye: When Police Fail to Turn on Their Body Cameras (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog I reflected on the issue of Police Officers carrying out searches and arrests, whilst failing to record these events on their body worn cameras; I expressed my concerns by reference to two cases I am currently bringing against Merseyside Police, but I am aware of the same failings amongst many other Forces including the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands. It is clearly a wide-spread problem, and one which is likely aided and abetted by the apparent reluctance of Professional Standards departments within the Police to treat it with the gravity it deserves. Sadly, I think this is born out of the ingrained attitude of Professional Standards officers who presume – either naïvely or cynically – that Body Worn Video will invariably substantiate the account of the Police who are being complained about, rather than that of the complainant. This type of bias thinking was certainly betrayed by the comments of the complaint investigatior in the case of my client Connor, who seemed to feel that the only reason for bemoaning the failure of the Officers in that case to activate their cameras was because it “could have negated much of the complaint.” No consideration was given to how much of the complaint it could have upheld, of course…

So if this is the problem we are faced with, what is the best solution – does it lie in better training and  “culture change” amongst the Police; harsher disciplinary sanctions for defaulting Officers; a change in evidential law (presumptions in favour of those who have been denied video capture); better application of science and technology –  or perhaps a combination of all of these methods?

Tackling the first issue – Police perceptions of what Body Worn video is actually there for – would be a good starting point. We should ask the question: what is the purpose of the now near- universal deployment of body cameras to all ‘front line’ Officers? Surely the Police have not gone to such great public expense for ‘selfish’ reasons – the cameras should not be there for the protection and purposes of Officers alone, but for the protection of everyone – Police, public, suspects and victims alike – and should not therefore be treated as the ‘property’ of individual Officers to be operated at their discretion (whether actual or in effect, by a failure to properly punish ‘lax’ recording practices).

Moving on from this point, the consequences of not recording the full sequence of stop/search and arrest events should be made clear to Officers and should be far more serious than they currently are, in order to inculcate a culture of compliance amongst Officers who are often choosing to record only half of the picture – or indeed, none at all – thereby undermining both public trust and the efficiency and accuracy of the justice system.

I must say that I am personally in favour of a system of automatic activation of body camera recording modes, as has been suggested by some, to eliminate both innocent ‘human error’ and wilful non- compliance by negligent or actively abusive Officers. Body cameras could be keyed to switch on automatically if certain key words or level of voices/shouting are heard (in a manner similar to mobile phones). It has also been proposed that technology could be introduced to cause a ‘domino effect’ activation of nearby Officers’ cameras when the first goes into automatic record mode, so as to provide a fuller picture/ better angle upon events (experience has shown me that a more accurate view of an interaction often comes from the camera of an Officer standing at a distance, rather than the Officer who is immediately involved in a heated confrontation or tussle). At such a stroke, I believe, a great many of the ‘one person’s word against others’ credibility contests which currently ‘clog up’ the Police complaints process and the civil and criminal courts could be , if not ‘instantly’ resolved, certainly more speedily and equitably dealt with.

I would echo here the words of Mary Fan, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law, who in 2017 published a paper on the problem of missing Police body camera videos, and asserted –

Selective recording and non-recording poses the risk of subverting the promise that led communities across the nation to embrace more surveillance by police body cameras in exchange for improved accountability and transparency. If the problem is left unchecked, rather than being a tool of police accountability, body camera recordings could amplify the problems of a gross imbalance of power.

If the public’s half of the ‘social contract’ in this regard is to accept more intrusive surveillance of themselves by ‘Big Brother’ than ever before – then the surveillance has to flow in both directions, and there should be major questions asked of any assertion made by an Officer which is not backed up by his camera. The Courts, both civil and criminal can play an important part in this; although of course not every such incident actually gets to the stage of judicial scrutiny, for a wide variety of reasons.

Perhaps the acronym GOWISELY should become GOWISER, with the “R” establishing “recording” as an essential criterion of a legitimate stop & search.  

In terms of a search, or indeed an arrest, an inference to resolve any factual dispute in favour of the detained/ arrested person could be adopted by both Police Professional Standards units, Misconduct Panels and the Courts if there is a failure by the Officers on the scene to have recorded events, in the absence of a good reason. And this would not be denying, of course, that ‘good reasons’ do exist in fast-paced, high-stress situations where it is entirely legitimate than none of the Officers involved could pause to operate their recording devices (unless this is circumnavigated by technology, as suggested above).

If in actuality the Officers initiate contact/ dictate the pace of events – as the Merseyside officers certainly did in the two case studies I have provided in my previous blog – then there would almost always be no excuse for non-recording and real disciplinary sanctions should follow for the officers concerned, along with ‘the benefit of the doubt’ being bestowed upon the civilian side of the interaction, in terms of any future complaint, claim or court process; not a wholesale upsetting of the ‘scales of justice’ but as Professor Fan put it, in her 2017 article “a thumb on the scale of inferences” in favour of the member of the public – in the interests of re-setting an imbalance power, for the good of all society.

Some combination of those solutions I feel, is necessary to improve the standards and fairness of UK Policing, and to increase public faith in the same way. You may not agree, but it is certainly a debate which it is essential for us to have, in my opinion.

Read part 1 of this blog post here.

Justice Turns a Blind Eye: When Police Fail to Turn on Their Body Cameras

The Problem

Given the prevalence of Police body-worn cameras on our modern-day streets, what duty should Officers be under to ensure that they activate these cameras during all confrontations/ investigations, to ensure the protection, and equal treatment under the law, of both officers and civilians? Do we need more robust disciplinary treatment of officers who fail to record such crucial interactions as a search or arrest, given that policies requiring the filming of such events seem only to be paid ‘lip service’ by Professional Standards investigations when officers fail to comply without a good reason? And do we indeed need better technology to eliminate human error/ misfeasance and ensure that Body Worn Videos don’t just show half of the picture, and aren’t used simply to serve the interests of Police Officers?

Although I have been aware of this problem for a long time, two cases I am currently dealing with involving Merseyside Police have focused my mind on the issue. Let me outline some of the facts for you.

Connor’s Case

Connor, then aged 19, was on a night out with friends in Liverpool City Centre in January 2020.

Connor was standing on Fleet Street talking to a friend when he was suddenly seized from behind by a Police Officer (PC Graves) who marched him over to a Police van, where other Officers were assembled. 

Three Officers – believed to be Police Sergeant Downes and Police Constables Graves and Wallace – then subjected Connor to a body search, allegedly on suspicion of possession of drugs.  Connor was entirely innocent, and the search was naturally negative, although the Officers repeatedly asserted that Connor must have drugs on him and demanded that he ‘give them up’.  Connor felt that the Officers were treating him in an unprofessional, contemptuous and demeaning way.

The Officers allowed Connor to leave but as he walked away, he used the word “dick head” once, towards the Officers. His loss of temper in this regard was largely caused by the Officers’ repeated, false accusations that he was in possession of drugs.

Connor was immediately overpowered by the Officers, who took him to the ground, handcuffed him and now placed him under arrest for allegedly being ‘drunk and disorderly’ (although Connor says the Officers failed to explain the basis of the arrest at the time, despite the fact they were legally obliged to do so).

It is notable that when the Officers had first approached and searched Connor only minutes before, there had been no suggestion by any of them that Connor was behaving in a ‘disorderly’ manner. The decision to arrest Connor appears to have been an impulsive and vindictive act by the Officers simply because he had expressed his frustration towards them, at what he legitimately believed to be an unlawful stop and search, with a single swear word (and not one, it need hardly be added, likely to make most experienced Police Officers blush or bat an eyelid).

Nevertheless, Connor was taken into Custody and detained for several hours for allegedly “offending public decency”.

Connor naturally brought a complaint in regards to the offence of that evening, which resulted in an admission by the Police that PC Wallace had conducted an improper stop and search of Connor as she had (at the very least) failed to complete a Stop and Search Form until 4 February 2020, over 2 weeks after the event.  Merseyside Police ultimately accepted “No [search] record existed and in the absence of a complaint would likely never have existed.”

Not only had PC Wallace not completed the correct paperwork (which should have been filled out at the time, whether electronically or in writing, and a copy provided to Connor) but on Connor’s account she had also failed to deliver the “GOWISELY” information identifying herself and explaining the powers and the purpose for which she was subjecting Connor to temporary detention and search, which I have discussed at length in a previous Blog.

Furthermore, and of great significance, was the fact that all of the Officers who interacted with Connor were wearing the now standard issue body cameras, and yet none of them activated those cameras despite the fact that the Officers initiated the incident –  i.e. they were not ‘taken by surprise’ by a fast moving chain of events outwith their control.  It was the Officers who made the decision to approach and search Connor, and then to arrest him, and they manifestly would have had time to activate their cameras. 

Their failure to do so has robbed Connor of crucial evidence which could have helped to establish his innocence in the face of the charge of drunk and disorderly behaviour, and would certainly have catalogued the full extent of PC Wallace’s illegal Stop and Search upon him. It would have verified one way or the other the allegations which Connor is now pursuing through the Complaint and civil Claim process against Merseyside Police – including the Officers’ rude and arrogant demeanour and their use of force upon Connor.

In other words, it would have saved a lot of time and money, and potentially a lot of heartache, for everybody involved – Connor and all of the Police Officers.

Despite the fact that the Complaint investigation by Merseyside Police unequivocally established that PCs Graves and Wallace had breached Police Policy by failing to activate their body worn cameras, this was criticised only in the mildest of terms by the Professional Standards Department who simply identified it as requiring a “learning outcome” for the Officers. The PSD investigator gave no consideration at all to how the Officers apparently wilful failure in this regard had undermined Connor’s ability to hold them to account for their alleged misconduct.

Take for example the Complaint investigator’s assertion that “There is no evidence to support the allegation that officers have used inappropriate comments or in any way goaded or antagonised [Connor] which has led to his arrest…”. In fact, if the Officers had complied with Merseyside Police Policy there would have been video footage to conclusively prove or disprove the same; it was the Officers who were the ‘gatekeepers’ of that potential gold mine of evidence, and they who were now benefiting – on Connor’s account – from keeping the door firmly shut upon it.

I personally think it is outrageous that Police Officers are not disciplined, in any meaningful way, for failing to active their cameras in these scenarios.  There is simply no excuse.  The activation of a body camera is the work of split seconds.  I would go as far as to say that in this day and age, any Stop & Search –  and, indeed, arguably arrest – which is not catalogued by a body camera recording should be deemed prima facie unlawful unless there is a very good reason why at least one of the Officers involved (and it is rare for a single Officer to have to deal with such events on their own) did not activate their camera.

Jack’s case

Another very similar matter involving a flagrant breach by Merseyside Police Officers of their own policies and procedures is the case of my client Jack.

As has been highlighted above, Merseyside Police have a written Policy which states that Officers MUST record stop & search encounters (unless an intimate search is involved) and that this is done in pursuit of the laudable objectives of “capturing the best possible evidence” and “promoting public reassurance.” What punishment was handed out in yet another case where Officers failed to do so…? You can probably guess the answer!

Jack, then aged 16 years old, was cycling home when an unmarked vehicle pulled up alongside him and a woman exited the vehicle and grabbed hold of Jack.

A man then also exited the vehicle and joined the woman, and in a state of shock, Jack realised that they were Police Officers.

Jack before had never had any dealings with the Police, and especially in view of his young age, felt intimidated and overwhelmed. 

The male and female Officers subjected Jack to a ‘pat down search’ and then allowed him to go on his way – although failed to issue the obligatory stop/search form to him.

Jack’s mother subsequently lodged a complaint on his behalf regarding this incident and was provided with a copy of the Stop/Search Record which turned out to be entirely inaccurate – it falsely suggested that Jack rather than being on his bicycle, had been a passenger in a vehicle that smelt of cannabis, and that Jack himself had been found in possession of cannabis. 

When Jack’s mother, who thankfully believed her son’s account rather than that of ‘official’ Police documentation, challenged this – Merseyside Police held their hands up and admitted that the record was entirely inaccurate and stated that Jack’s details had been inadvertently mixed up with those of another individual who had been subjected to a Stop/Search by the same Officers.

Clearly however, it was deeply distressing for Jack and his mother to have to live for a period of time with these false allegations hanging over Jack, and for them to continue to have to deal with the persistent concern that perhaps not all of this wholly inaccurate record, associating Jack with criminal drug use, has been properly rectified and removed from all Police systems and records. 

Once again, neither of the Officers who interacted with this teenage boy had seen fit to operate their body cameras. PC Green claimed that she had lost her body camera and was awaiting another one; PC Gregory accepted that he had his camera on him at the time of the Stop of Jack, but asserted that he could not activate it because it was in his pocket – you will be reassured to know that the Officer has since “reflected” on this and decided it may be more “appropriate” for him to wear his camera on his lanyard from now on. He faced no disciplinary sanction for this, although it was noted that the Officer’s line manager would “review and monitor” PC Gregory’s “future performance in the area of stop and search” – a statement of the type of appraisal that I would presume all Officers are supposed to be subject to in any event! The tone of the Police’s response to the complaint on this issue suggested that this clear breach of Policy was, to those tasked with governing Merseyside Police’s standards of professional behaviour – ‘no big deal’.

Once again, this is evidence of a casual disregard by the Police of both their own rules and of Jack’s rights and dignity as a citizen (and a child at that) who was being subjected to the Police’s extraordinary powers of detention/imprisonment, even if only temporarily.

Incidents such as this lead me to suspect that Merseyside Police (and in all probability Police Forces generally) have many Officers who are routinely failing to record Stop and Search interactions with members of the public.  This might of course be hard to prove on a statistical analysis, as it also appears that on such occasions there is a risk not only of the Police not activating their body cameras, but of them also failing to complete Stop and Search Forms – accurately or at all.

How many other individuals have been subject to ‘ghost’ searches in such a manner? 

The Police have in their personal body cameras a  simple tool which, by giving Professional Standards investigators, lawyers, judges and juries ‘eyes’ on the interactions through which these Officers police our streets, can enlighten and raise the standards and fairness of the entire Policing system.

Provided they turn it on.

(All names have been changed).

This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2 to follow next week.

Devon and Cornwall Police Officers Sacked for Dishonesty

In the news this week is what is, frankly, a rare outcome for a Police complaint investigation: two Officers of Devon and Cornwall Police (PCs Kenneth Anscombe and Daniel Care) were sacked for dishonesty.

The two officers were found guilty of gross misconduct after making false statements, and in the case of PC Anscombe lying under oath, apparently in order to secure the conviction of an innocent man. There are few more serious abuses of the particular power and authority of a Police Officer that can be imagined, than using that power to ‘frame’ someone for a crime, and it is entirely right that these Officers were immediately dismissed.

It appears that PCs Anscombe and Care gave false evidence leading to the (wrongful) conviction of a man for the offence of ‘drunk and disorderly’ behaviour, after an incident in Penzance in 2018. Crucially, the man was able to overturn his conviction because of footage of the incident which he had filmed on his mobile phone, and which proved that the Officers were lying.

The Misconduct panel which dismissed the two Officers found that they had made false statements about the man swearing and being aggressive, which were simply not true and were evidently not ‘mistakes’ on the part of the (now ex) Officers, but deliberate mistruths designed to secure a false conviction.

A sadly similar matter was the case of my client Richard Roberts who was the victim of lies told by PC David Norman an Officer of Dyfed & Powys Police, which led to Richard’s unlawful arrest and prosecution.

Richard had been the victim of an assault from an abusive neighbour, who had also committed criminal damage against Richard’s car, causing Richard to telephone ‘999’ for the protection of himself and his family.

Outrageously, it was Richard who then ended up being arrested for a  “Public Order offence“ by PC Norman who made a statement falsely alleging that Richard was shouting, screaming, swearing and using foul language in the Officer’s presence.

Because of previous problems with his neighbour, Richard had set up a CCTV camera (with audio) at the front of his property and the video from that device incontrovertibly demonstrated that Richard had not been shouting or swearing and that the numerous allegations contained in PC Norman’s official statement were patently false.

Although Richard was confident that eventually the CCTV footage would exonerative him, the Police made no attempt to immediately review it, and therefore it did not save Richard the trauma of being detained in police cells for over 44 hours.  

To make matters worse, Richard was subject to a further arrest which considerably prolonged his detention, because PC Norman’s false evidence suggested that Richard had breached an Anti-social Behaviour injunction which was in place regarding his dispute with his neighbour. Richard was so angry and upset at the injustice of what he was being put through, that he started punching the walls of his cell such was his frustration and distress.

It was a few days after Richard’s release from custody that he was contacted by a Sergeant from the Professional Standards Department who had now viewed the CCTV footage and she encouraged Richard to bring a formal complaint against PC Norman, on the basis of what she had seen. The following day, the criminal proceedings for the public order offence against Richard, and the allegation that he had breached the terms of the injunction were also both withdrawn/ discontinued.

It is highly concerning of course, to consider what would happened if the CCTV had not been available and this had been a case of Richard’s word alone against that of PC Norman…the inescapable conclusion is that Richard would have been wrongfully convicted of a criminal offence.

In fact, PC Norman was subsequently arrested for perverting the course of justice and with the ‘tables turned’ in this manner it was Richard who was called as a witness for the prosecution at the Officer’s trial.

Sadly, PC Norman was – despite the weight of evidence – acquitted of any criminal offences. Subsequent police disciplinary action against PC Norman quite rightly found him guilty of misconduct –  but he received a sanction of only a “final written warning“ rather than being dismissed from the Force.

Richard suffered psychiatric injury as a result of these events, and his recovery from the same was not aided by the way that he was subsequently let down by the system – PC Norman ‘wriggled off the hook’ and was able to continue in his career as a police officer despite the clear evidence of his dishonesty. What signal did that send to PC Norman and other officers like him? I would suggest that the message appeared to be that PC Norman’s conduct had no ultimately meaningful consequences, and Dyfed & Powys were prepared to tolerate such behaviour to the extent of keeping this Officer amongst their ranks.

Thankfully, Richard was able to achieve some measure of justice through the civil courts. I pursued a claim on his behalf against Dyfed & Powys Police and Richard was ultimately awarded £40,000 compensation.

I have blogged before about how modern technology in the form of mobile phones and CCTV cameras can prove a great ‘leveller’ in correcting the imbalance of power between ordinary citizens and Police Officers, particularly in counteracting the historical bias which the Courts tend to have in favour of the evidence of our ‘upstanding boys in blue’ and this is yet another salutary example of this phenomenon.

However, the lingering bad taste in the mouth which I am sure most of us are left with after reflecting a little further on this and similar stories, is caused by the realisation of how often in the past Police Officers were able to get away with this sort of flagrant dishonesty and abuse of power, before they were made subject to the era of CCTV and mobile phone ‘surveillance’ from all we Little Brothers (and Sisters)…

In relation to the Devon & Cornwall case, the regional director of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Catrin Evans told the BBC –

The public must have confidence in police officers who have a duty to be honest, act with integrity, and not compromise or abuse their position.”

I absolutely endorse those sentiments; it is just a pity that so often rooting out dishonesty from our Police profession depends on the public catching them at it…

Unlawful arrests and the RSPCA

The RSPCA announced last week that it has decided to abandon its policy of bringing private criminal prosecutions for alleged animal abuse in order to avoid “further reputational damage”, arising from a string of high-profile failures at Court and criticism of how its over-zealous approach was leading to the persecution of innocent and vulnerable individuals.

I myself have experience of misguided attempts by the RSPCA to interfere in the Criminal Justice process, resulting in emotional distress and economic loss for all concerned; after all, if so many Police Officers don’t properly understand the law when it comes to necessity of arrest, can we really expect an animal welfare charity to do better when its staff starts ‘directing’ Police operations?

Take for example my client Courton Green, a Lincolnshire farmer who was subject to arrest in January 2018 on allegations of animal cruelty.

Mr Green ran a farm with approximately 3,000 sheep and 400 cattle.  He was shocked to receive an early morning visit by two Officers of Lincolnshire Police who informed him he was under arrest; handcuffed him despite the fact that he was entirely compliant with their instructions, and whisked him away to Grantham Police Station without even allowing him the time to collect his glasses from a nearby truck.

At the Police Station my client was processed, searched and detained in a cell for several hours. During detention, he was obliged to provide his fingerprints, DNA sample and be photographed – all part of the degrading ‘prisoner’ process which can make even innocent people feel as though they are guilty in some way, or being labelled as criminals.

Mr Green had never previously been arrested and found it all to be a devastating experience. 

In fact, his state of mental distress was such that the Police became concerned about his well-being, had him assessed by a doctor and he was then taken to Lincoln Hospital for a full mental health assessment.

Following the mental health assessment Mr Green was then allowed to return to his farm – primarily because of his responsibility for his livestock – in a state of ‘shell shock’;  indeed Mr Green’s distress continued at such an intense level that over the next few days he experienced stark suicidal thoughts.  Fortunately, he was able to overcome these feelings, but the experience of his arrest and detention (first in a Police Station, and then in a mental health ward) had left him in a very dark place.

Approximately 5 months later, Mr Green received a summons to attend court.  He filed a plea of not guilty to the charges of animal cruelty against him, and his case proceeded to trial in January 2020, where he was indeed found not guilty.

At the trial, Judge Peter Veits ruled that my client’s arrest was unlawful, in the following terms –

“…  the arrest had been unlawful as there had been no attempt … to invite [Mr Green] for interview, he had merely been arrested.  Had he been so invited and refused then the necessity of arrest would have been established…”

Following his vindication at trial, Courton Green instructed me to pursue a claim for false imprisonment on his behalf against Lincolnshire Police.

Mr Green’s arrest and detention had taken place at the behest of the RSPCA, who suspected my client of mistreating an animal, and Police facilities were put fully at the disposal of the RSPCA to allow their inspector to conduct the interview of Mr Green, and then to detain him further whilst the RSPCA inspector consulted with her prosecution unit for a “charging decision.”

The evidence against my client centered around the testimony of an inexperienced farmhand who in January 2018 had witnessed what he believed to be Mr Green using a tractor to ‘behead’ a sick sheep; in fact the sheep was already dead, and Mr Green was carrying out a method of breaking its neck prior to skinning the animal (as the carcass was intended for use as dog food).

Judge Peter Veits at the criminal trial was scathing about the standard of evidence presented by the RSPCA against my client; they were entirely unable to offer evidence to establish “beyond reasonable doubt” that the sheep was not already dead when Mr Green used the tractor as described, and the charges against him were dismissed.

Not only was this a prosecution which should not have been pursued (costing Mr Green £70,000 in legal fees to defend himself), my client should never have been arrested in the first place. Sadly, Lincolnshire Police allowed themselves to be used in furtherance of the RSPCA’s agenda, in dereliction of their own duty to make an independent assessment of the evidence and circumstances, in order to decide whether there was sufficient reasonable suspicion and the requisite necessity to arrest (rather than, for example, arranging a voluntary interview for Mr Green to respond to the charges – which is what should have occured).

Whilst the CPS correctly declined to become involved in the misguided and ill-founded RSPCA prosecution of Mr Green, the Police regrettably allowed themselves to be used as unthinking pawns by an animal welfare charity seeking to operate in the style of a law enforcement agency, causing considerable hardship and suffering to my client as a result.

There have long been concerns that the RSPCA regards itself as  ‘the Constabulary of animal welfare’, and projects a misleading image to the public through its use of quasi- Police uniforms, the ‘right to remain silent’ caution for ‘suspects’, and a policy of bestowing upon its staff titles of rank such as ‘Inspector’ and ‘Superintendent’ – despite the fact that it is entirely a private charitable organization with no special law enforcement powers at all. However, this approach may have historically contributed towards our actual Police Forces adopting a ‘collegiate’ relationship with the prestigious charity; a relationship which is often far too cosy and deferential on the part of the Police.

In 2016 the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee highlighted the “conflict of interest” between the RSPCA’s adopted role of prosecuting animal welfare cases, and its role of campaigning for animal welfare, fundraising and investigating these issues.

The MPs on the Select Committee called for the charity to cease pursuing private prosecutions in cases of animal cruelty, after a report into its activities, but unfortunately this recommendation, and numerous criticisms by members of the judiciary deeply unimpressed by the standard of RSPCA-led prosecutions, fell on deaf ears, and was not enough to save Mr Green from being put through the ordeal of wrongful arrest, detention and prosecution.  

As Mr Green’s Defence barrister, Sara-Lise Howe, said after his Trial “the RSPCA cannot be trusted to fairly and proportionately interpret farming legislation.”

Of greater concern to me however, is the fact that our Police Forces can often not be trusted to fairly and proportionately interpret policing legislation. On ‘necessity’ grounds alone, Lincolnshire Police should have refused to arrest and detain Courton Green, and then a great deal of the pain of this sorry saga would have been avoided.

Having brought a claim on behalf of Mr Green, I have secured an admission of liability from the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, and settlement negotiations are ongoing.

Perhaps this process, combined with the RSPCA’s declared change of policy, will finally get the message through to the Police that they would be well advised to treat RSPCA requests to facilitate a person’s arrest with the same level of detachment and skepticism with which they would approach that of any other group of private campaigners.

IOPC Failures : Watchdogs, Wolves, or Paper Tigers?

Some stark statistics made headlines in the Guardian newspaper recently: Fewer than 1 in 10 Police officers found to have a case to answer for gross misconduct actually end up being dismissed from the service.

Out of 641 officers in England & Wales ‘charged’ with gross misconduct between 2015 – 2020 following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), a mere 54 (8.4%) were dismissed.

Out of a further 848 officers whom the IOPC held had a case to answer for the less serious charge of misconduct, less than half (363) were ultimately found guilty.

Out of 391 cases over the same 5-year period in which the IOPC felt that criminal prosecution of an Officer was warranted, only 69 individuals were actually prosecuted and a mere 22 found guilty (with 4 receiving custodial sentences).

One of the key drivers of this disparity between IOPC findings and eventual outcomes is, in my opinion, the fact that the IOPC is in practice little more than an ‘advisory’ body – they are certainly not ‘judge or jury’ when it comes to Police misconduct; that role falls on the shoulders of internal Police disciplinary panels (if the recommended charges actually get to a Hearing, as there are numerous methods by which Police officers, assisted by their union – the Police Federation – and/or by the support, tacit or otherwise, of their Force’s Professional Standards unit can avoid or delay hearings, or even have the level of charge recommended by the IOPC ‘watered down’).

I have long sounded the alarm that the IOPC, despite its grandiose title, is often just a paper tiger in practice, without the authority – or indeed, in many cases the desire – to truly hold rogue Officers to account. My views were echoed last week by Katrina Ffrench, former CEO of StopWatch, an organisation campaigning for fair policing, who told the Guardian that the figures were “indicative of the IOPC’s inability to hold the police to account in any meaningful way.”

This has very damaging consequences on the ability of individuals and communities to trust that ‘the system’ is on their side when it comes to Police misbehaviour – reinforcing the belief that the Police often have divided loyalties between enforcing the law and protecting their brothers-in-arms from legitimate criticism, all too often skewed in favour of the latter – and perpetuating a sense of anger and unresolved grievance in those who have faced injustice at the hands of the Police.

Also quoted in the Guardian report was a former Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent, Victoria Olisa, who observed that police officers can often “run rings around IOPC investigators”.

Ms Olisa’s experience with the IOPC is mirrored by my own.

  • Take, for example, the case of my client Bryan Allden. As I highlighted in my blog reporting on the £358K damages award I won for Bryan in November last year, the IPCC (forerunner of the IOPC, but don’t be fooled by the change of name into thinking there is any fundamental difference between the current ‘watchdog’ and its predecessor: they basically just re-arranged the letters of its acronym) concluded that the gratuitous overhead baton strike unleashed by PC Knowles upon Bryan, which caused a severe fracture to Bryan’s hand “could just as easily have…resulted in a fatal injury.” Yet West Midlands Police were allowed by the IPCC to let the officer off the hook, by ‘sanctioning’ him only with ‘management action’ in the form of a ‘first aid course’, rather than charging him with gross misconduct. It was exactly this behaviour by the IPCC/ West Midlands Police, rather than the incident itself, which caused Bryan the most mental anxiety and upset over the years that followed – in Bryan’s own words “the savage attacker was protected, not punished for his actions.”
  • Or alternatively, another case involving West Midlands Police ‘calling the shots’ with the IPCC; my client Haydn (aged 12 years old) was assaulted by an Officer, who threw him to the ground, causing  him to injure his back on a concrete surface. The officer denied this allegation, saying that he had reached out to take hold of Haydn, but that Haydn had (coincidentally) fallen spontaneously at that point. It appeared that the Officer may then have threatened Haydn with arrest, possibly as a way of intimidating him into not making a complaint prior to his mother arriving on the scene. The IPCC recommended that the officer involved should attend a misconduct hearing, however West Midlands Police unilaterally rejected this, and proposed to sanction the officer with ‘management action’ only…again the IPCC backed down, and complied with the wishes of the Force. It appeared to me that this was largely because the IPCC were fearful that if they insisted on a misconduct hearing without the co-operation of the Force, then it was very likely the officer would simply get off ‘scot free’ at the hearing, and hence they chose the lesser sanction, that would at least put some marker on the officer’s record. It is very regrettable that the Police watchdog should have to make such a compromise, but is sadly far from unusual.
  • Or the case of my client Susan who suffered the indignity of an officer trespassing in her home, and using force against her during a dispute with bailiffs that frankly, the officer should have stayed out of. The officer in question, a Sergeant with Nottinghamshire Police was originally referred to a meeting for ‘misconduct’ by his Force’s Professional Standards Department but the IOPC upheld my client’s appeal that his actions surely equated to ‘gross misconduct’, and in May 2018 directed that the Sergeant face a misconduct hearing. At that hearing, in early 2019, the Sergeant was found guilty of gross misconduct and sacked; unfortunately, he appealed and, after his appeal, was granted a second misconduct hearing in November 2019. Once again the verdict was gross misconduct and dismissal from the Police service; however, that still wasn’t the end of the matter – the Sergeant appealed again, and was successfully reinstated to the Force, albeit with a “final written warning” on his disciplinary record. In disciplinary terms it seems that some Police Officers have more lives than a cat, no matter how strong the evidence against them, and irrespective of the findings and directions of the IOPC. In response to the claim which I have subsequently brought against Nottinghamshire Police on behalf of Susan, the Force have admitted liability for the trespass, false imprisonment and assault and battery perpetrated upon Susan by the Sergeant – but he nevertheless remains at this time a serving Police Officer.

These problems are exacerbated, in my opinion, by the fact that the so-called ‘Independent’ Office of Police Conduct is far too cosy and intermeshed in its relationship with the Police; almost 30% of all IOPC staff come from a Police background and an even greater proportion of senior investigators (40%) were former Officers.

And the disappointing statistics highlighted above do not include all those misconduct investigations – the vast majority in fact – which are not conducted directly by the IOPC, but are rather ‘delegated’ to the local Professional Standards Department (almost invariably the Professional Standards Department of the Force complained about, not even an ‘independent’ Force). Investigations of which the IOPC ‘washes its hands’  can in fact include such serious matters as broken limbs, life-changing dog bite injuries and armed Police raids on the home of an innocent family.

Interestingly, this very week the IOPC has also come in for scathing criticism from Stu Berry, the chair of the Police Federation of Greater Manchester Police – which represents the ‘best interests’ of serving officers. Mr Berry condemned the IOPC in the following strident terms –

“The IOPC is a state- sanctioned risk to the welfare of police officers and their families in its current form, despite the new name. It was previously the Independent Police Complaints Commission and nothing has altered. This rampant and unchecked misuse of power must change. It has to change.”

His criticism was echoed by Police Federation National Conduct and Performance Lead Phil Matthews, who speaking to the Police Oracle stated “Public trust in the system will erode if people do not think that complaints will be dealt with quickly.”

It appears that the major gripe which Mr Berry and Mr Matthews were expressing, was the length of time for which officers can remain ‘under investigation’, with accusations of misconduct potentially hanging over them for years – although I must call into question the histrionic language (“state sanctioned risk to officers and their families”) with which Mr Berry, in particular, makes his case. Such language from those whose job it is, as Police Federation representatives, to play ‘defence’ for officers accused of misconduct, suggests to me that their criticism is really designed to undermine and weaken the standing of the IOPC, and warn the Government off from bolstering IOPC powers.   

And whilst of course my clients want misconduct investigations to be concluded quickly – I know of one involving the Metropolitan Police in which a legitimate complaint of racial profiling and wrongful detention dragged on for no less than 6 years – their greatest wish is for cases to be dealt with fairly; and all too often, as highlighted above, that is not at all their experience at the end of the process, no matter how long it takes.But the Police Federation, concentrating only on ‘looking after its own’, seem as deaf to the hurt and anger of ordinary people abused, mistreated and violated by the Police as was ex-PC, now convicted criminal Nick Musto, who when unleashing his third, gratuitous baton strike against my client Robert’s shattered leg bone, could apparently only hear the colleague whom Robert had inadvertently fallen upon ‘calling out for help’, and not Robert’s own screams of pain (which for the rest of us with ears to hear, were captured on a phone video made by a shocked member of the public).

So it seems that I and the Police Fed agree that ‘root and branch’ reform is essential for the IOPC; but our reasons why are totally polarised. Whereas many of my clients see an organisation which might as well bear the title “I Excuse PC”, Mr Berry and the Police Fed apparently see the IOPC as ‘wolves at the door’ of innocent officers and their families.

The purpose of the Police complaint system, as defined by the College of Policing in its 2017 guidelines is threefold –

  1. To maintain public confidence in and the reputation of the Police service
  1. To uphold high standards in policing and deter misconduct
  1. To protect the public

It is clear that to achieve such goals, although the speed of the process is a relevant factor, the key is to ensure fairness and transparency of the complaint investigation and a truly impartial outcome. It is my firm opinion that the current misconduct regime falls very far short of such a standard, far too many times.

My answer to this problem would be in the first instance, in opposition to the view of Stu Berry, to grant the IOPC more power (and commensurate funding) to allow it to have initial oversight of all Police complaints (rather than them being filtered through the local Forces) and to rest the final adjudication process in panels convened and supervised by the IOPC itself. Secondly, and of equal importance, I would dilute the links between the IOPC and the Police profession by ensuring that the IOPC recruited staff, investigators and advisors heavily from those communities which do not have such a cosy relationship with the Police as retired officers, and those such as myself who have experience as advocates for justice on behalf of the victims of Police misconduct.

Then, perhaps, we might hit a hat-trick.

Merseyside Police Unrepentant After Wrongful Arrest

I blogged recently about my victory at Liverpool County Court on behalf of my client, Paul Peters, a plumber wrongly accused of theft and arrested unlawfully by DC Mitchell of Merseyside Police.

Paul’s name was finally and fully cleared at the Trial in early January when lawyers on behalf of the Police finally accepted in open Court that Paul was an innocent man – despite the fact they had fought his false imprisonment claim for 6 years – and the Judge awarded substantial damages & legal costs against the Police in respect of Paul’s 2013 arrest.

The story was widely reported in the media, and it came as some disappointment for me to read that rather than striking a humble and contrite tone, and properly apologising for all of the stress and anxiety they had put Paul through for all these years (beginning with his arrest, but continuing in their rejection of his legitimate complaint and the tooth and nail way in which they contested his claim in the County Court, putting Paul at risk of having to pay the Police substantial legal costs should he lose) Merseyside Police seemed utterly unrepentant, telling the Daily Mirror that although they ‘accepted’ the findings of the Court, the claim had been won on a ‘technicality’ only.

This couldn’t be further from the truth and wrongly suggests that the claim was won simply because DC Mitchell failed to fill in the right form, or to say the right words when effecting the arrest; in fact the Judge made a clear finding that DC Mitchell had not believed that it was necessary to arrest Paul, but had done so anyway, probably as a way of utilising the power of search that accompanies an arrest (in a situation where the Officer clearly did not feel he could legitimately persuade the Court to issue a Search Warrant).

That a Police Officer must have necessity to arrest a suspect is the second limb of the test of a lawful arrest, and carries equal weight with the requirement that there be reasonable suspicion of that person; it is therefore absolutely not a ‘technicality’ and for Merseyside Police to describe it in such terms is very concerning.

It would seem that rather than doing the right thing – apologising to Paul, reflecting on the lessons learned and actively ensuring that Officers do not repeat DC Mitchell’s misuse of arrest powers for the wrong reasons – Merseyside Police through their media statement are signalling to DC Mitchell and his colleagues that they stand by the Officer’s actions, and seem closer to condoning than ever condemning them.

The law of this land requires that for any of us to be deprived of our liberty through the Police power of arrest, there must be clear, objective evidence – as well as an honest belief by the Officer – that the arrest is actually necessary; unlike Merseyside Police, I fail to see such an important bedrock of our civil rights as a mere ‘technicality’… and sadly, for as long as the Police continue to display this type of attitude, more people like Paul are going to fall prey to wrongful arrests.

Justice delayed is Justice denied

This week, the Inspectorates for policing, prisons, probation and prosecutions published a joint report highlighting the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Criminal Justice System.  They conclude that the greatest risk to criminal justice comes from the “unprecedented and very serious” backlogs in Courts and in particular the Crown Courts.

The number of ongoing cases in Crown Courts was 44% higher in December 2020 compared to February of the same year.  Latest figures reveal a backlog of 54,000 cases.

The legal system can be bewildering for any victim of crime; and doubly so for those who have suffered serious police misconduct, who  are in reality victims, but who first may face the trauma of being the alleged ‘criminal’ before they have the opportunity to turn the tables on their accusers.

Last June, I highlighted the case of my client John, who in June 2019 was violently assaulted by a Police Officer –  but then falsely arrested for assaulting that same Officer.

Fortunately the Officer and his colleagues were (for the most part) recording events on their body worn cameras and the incriminating footage was preserved.

When John was subsequently interviewed by an independent officer, the footage was watched and the truth of what happened was laid bare.  John was quickly released and advised soon after that no further action would be taken against him.

The original officers’ conduct, however, was now the subject of an internal enquiry and thereafter a formal complaint investigation. Following that investigation, the CPS reviewed the evidence and determined that the officers should be prosecuted for assault and conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

The officers pleaded not guilty and the case was listed to be heard in the Crown Court, with trial to take place in September 2020.

Unfortunately because of the Covid pandemic, the trial was adjourned.  John  has just received notification that the trial has been rescheduled  to take place in September 2021, 2 years and 3 months after the incident…

The outstanding trial is just one of the 54,000  unheard cases stuck in the Crown Court backlog referred to above.

I called John to give him the news.  He  told me that given the passage of time, he’d struggle to remember what happened and then, of more concern said  “I may not bother (attending)”.

This loss of faith in the Justice system is exactly what concerns the Inspectorates who have called for Criminal Justice agencies to work closely together and for the Government to provide national directions as well as the funding, time and access to expertise to help recovery.

As US Chief Justice Warren E. Burger stated in 1970, “A sense of confidence in the Courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty for a free people.”

Maintaining the overall health of a society is of course not just about people’s physical well-being, but also the mental aspects of us all as citizens being able to witness impartial justice swiftly and fearlessly delivered; in this respect the Government needs to prioritise and resource the criminal justice system as vigorously as if it were a limb of the National Health Service itself.

Police Data Breach Disasters

The country awoke this morning to news that a processing error had caused 150,000 records to be deleted from the Police National Computer system (PNC) – along with highly sensitive information including fingerprint and DNA profiles and individual’s arrest histories. The PNC is essential for modern day policing to function efficiently, as it is the means by which criminal justice information and records are shared between the country’s disparate Police Forces.

The Home Secretary clearly has major questions to answer as to how such an error was allowed to occur, one which caused the UK’s visa approval system to be suspended for 2 days, in addition to the obvious constraints it placed on ‘real time’ Policing duties, especially in the context of British Police Forces having lost access to European criminal databases following Brexit.

Whilst the obvious concern arising from this story is the lack of relevant information being available to Police officers who may need it, proper data management of criminal justice records must include not only the preservation of essential information but also the accurate and timely deletion of false or wrongfully obtained records, which by their presence can cause an individual as much trouble as the lack of relevant records can in another context.

Many of my clients quite rightly hold key objectives both winning compensatory damages from the Police for wrongs committed against them and also ‘clearing their name’ – not only in the sense of the moral vindication of receiving an admission of liability, payment of damages or apology, but also the deletion of their sensitive personal data from the PNC, including biometric information and the facts relating to their wrongful arrest/ prosecution, which if not deleted could cause untold grief in terms of future job or travel visa applications.

Often, it seems to me that the Police system of reviewing and deleting such records is subject to far too much human error itself in the form of vast amounts of delay and a lack of clarity as to the circumstances in which records will be deleted, giving Forces a wide discretion to refuse deletion or to take far too long to carry it out.

Take for example the case of my client “Richard Knight” (name changed), who applied for deletion of his records via the Criminal Records Office (ACRO) following a successful claim for damages for false imprisonment, settled after the issue of Court proceedings. Richard is  man of good character, and was especially concerned to have his records for this wrongful arrest deleted, as they related to a false allegation that he had attempted to solicit a woman for sex.

I submitted his request via ACRO in March 2019, with the following grounds providing multiple justifications for immediate deletion/ destruction of not only his biometric data but also the record of the arrest and the allegations accompanying it –

  • The PNC entry/record was entirely in consequence of an unlawful arrest.  Court proceedings were instituted against the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. As a result of the legal claim, settlement terms were agreed in the form of  compensatory damages.  Whilst formal liability was not admitted, the payment of damages at all was indicative of the merits which attached to that claim.  Further, the value of the damages agreed corresponded to the value of the claim, had it been admitted or otherwise resolved by formal judgment.  The Police were also liable for all legal costs arising from the claim.  As a general principal, it would be utterly perverse if a PNC entry was retained in such circumstances.
  • No crime –  Mr Knight had manifestly not engaged in any form of criminal misconduct.
  • Malicious/false allegation – Mr Knight maintained that the account provided by the complainant was untrue and wholly unreliable. 
  • Public interest –   The presence of an arrest record was wholly incompatible with the guaranteed presumption of innocence under the Common Law and the associated guaranteed rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.  Any PNC entry in this particular instance would be a perversity, given the outcome of the civil proceedings brought against the Police. 

ACRO are, in reality, little more than a ‘post box’ organisation (you might say – nothing more than an ‘ACROnym’) whose role is to forward deletion requests to and from the relevant Police Forces. Mr Knight’s application was passed to the Metropolitan Police but it took over 18 months before, in November 2020, his request was finally approved on the grounds of ‘Public Interest’ and the PNC record was deleted.

Until that time, Mr Knight had to live with the knowledge that any Police or other governmental service checks against his name might throw up the stigma of his arrest for a ‘sex crime’ despite his vindication through the civil courts.

Thankfully the situation is now resolved, but perhaps after the Home Secretary has repaired the damage caused by this week’s data loss, she should focus on her equally important responsibility to ensure that inaccurate data, especially concerning false allegations of crime, is not retained for one day longer than is necessary, let alone for years.

Police Apology, or Excuse?

I recently highlighted the case of my client Yvonne Farrell who was wrongfully arrested by Hertfordshire Constabulary, and during her detention stripped and left naked in a cell for hours. The Police rejected Yvonne’s subsequent complaint, but have been brought to book by the claim I commenced on her behalf, which has resulted in a settlement of  £45,000 damages and a formal apology from the Deputy Chief Constable, as set out below:

I am of course delighted with the terms of the settlement, which reflects the serious wrongdoing committed against Yvonne, and the fact of the apology – however, I made the point in my previous blog that Police pride often comes before a full apology, and I am disappointed that whilst DCC Dunn accepts that Yvonne should never have been arrested, and that Hertfordshire Constabulary have lessons to learn as a result, she really doesn’t apologise for the most egregious and distressing thing done to Yvonne, namely her being stripped naked.

I continue to believe that this was nothing less than an act of coercion and humiliation deliberately committed against Yvonne (at the command of a male Custody Sergeant) for the purpose of forcing her to give the Police her personal details, which she was refusing as part of her legitimate protest against an entirely unlawful arrest. DCC Dunn however goes out of her way to assert that the decision to strip Yvonne of her clothes was an act of ‘safeguarding’ – and devotes the longest section of her letter to justifying this.

In this respect therefore, the letter contains at its heart not an apology but an excuse – suggesting that Yvonne has misunderstood the Police’s ‘good intentions’ – and hence, with that failure to accept blame for the worst abuse of Police power perpetrated against Yvonne, does not go nearly far enough.

As I wrote previously, senior officers and force management are often content to put money where their mouth should be; and it is hard to believe that all the right lessons will in fact be learned, when the Police still seek to deny the most serious wrong.

Police Exploitation of the Power of Arrest

Police officers are invested with many extra-ordinary powers vis- a- vis their fellow citizens, and no doubt the greatest of these is the power of arrest pursuant to a criminal investigation: to deprive a person of his or her liberty and make them into a prisoner for the purposes of Police interrogation.

Such a power, which would subject most of us to one of the most onerous and stressful situations we have ever experienced in our lives, must of course be exercised with the utmost discretion by Police officers, and only used when absolutely necessary, in accordance with Code G of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). This is not least because the harm caused to a person by arrest does not end with their release from the Police station: the psychological effects can persist for months, if not years afterwards. Furthermore, in today’s digital and interconnected world of databases, even an entirely innocent person leaving Police custody without charge cannot simply and completely ‘shut the door’ on these events. The fact of their arrest, and their personal and biometric information will in many cases be retained by the Police indefinitely, an electronic ‘ghost in the machine’ which could potentially haunt a person of good character for the rest of their lives, showing up on future Police database checks – including by the Disclosure & Barring Service in respect of employment and by national and foreign Border control agencies in regards to travel. By way of example, an arrest for certain offences, even without conviction and on the flimsiest of grounds, can present major problems for a person from the UK wishing to enter the United States.

In light of the above, it is always very satisfying when I am able to use the civil justice system to set right for one of my clients a wrong committed against them by a Police Officer’s misuse – or even deliberate exploitation – of the power of arrest, arising from that Officer’s misunderstanding – or manipulation – of the “necessity to arrest” criteria.

The most recent such case I have concluded, was that of my client Paul Peters, who was successful in his action against Merseyside Police following a multi-day Trial at Liverpool County Court, which concluded on 8 January.

Paul is a man of entirely good character and a self-employed plumber. In June 2013 he attended the home of a woman I shall identify as AM in order to carry out plumbing works, along with his son, who worked for him. During this work, it was necessary for him to move a wardrobe; nothing untoward occurred.

Subsequently, in mid-July 2013, (apparently 2 weeks after noticing that the cash was missing) AM reported missing money to the police. She gave a statement, in which she said the cash in question (£10,000) was being stored in the bottom of the wardrobe which Paul and his son had moved. However, the statement also made it clear that AM had not in fact seen/ checked on the money since January 2013 and that in the intervening months, before Paul came to work for her, she had numerous other workmen in the house, some of whom had been left un-supervised whilst she was away from the property.

DC Mitchell of Merseyside Police was assigned to lead the investigation and went to speak to AM. AM pointed a finger of suspicion at Paul and his son, though it seemed her only real basis for this was that she felt that Paul had been “indignant” when challenged about whether he had taken the money. Of course, most people wrongly accused of theft would very likely respond in the same way!

DC Mitchell recorded the key problem in the case: the money could have gone missing at any point between January and July. He also apparently questioned whether the money had gone missing at all, and this was part of an insurance scam on the part of AM; or whether her partner, who had access to the house, might have taken it. Despite this, as the investigation continued, DC Mitchell at no point chose to question AM’s partner, even when it appeared that he was taking steps to avoid coming into contact with the Officer.

As noted above, our client and his son were only two in a long ‘roster’ of potential suspects in the form of the dozens of workmen who had been in and out of the house during the half year in question, since the money had last been accounted for. I will, however, pause here to note that of all the workmen who had visited the house, Paul and his son were the only ones who were Black.

DC Mitchell made the following entries in the investigation log –

  • 14/7/13  She has confirmed that she has withdrawn £10K from her bank and placed it in her child’s wardrobe for safe keeping whilst having work done on the property. A number of trades have been in the house both whilst she was in attendance and also not at home. She last saw the cash at the start of Jan 2013. She has only realised it was gone after she had gone into the room and checked the wardrobe and found the cash has gone. With not seeing the cash herself since Jan it cannot be confirmed who has taken the money that was kept in the wardrobe.
  • 5/8/13 Research is required on both Peters. It was my intention to complete this research over the weekend and then be in a position to make a decision about a warrant.
  • 5/8/13  I have considered financial investigations in relation to … Paul Peters and his son…the Criminal Assets Team…They have advised that a Judges Production Order  (JPO). May be a viable means of obtaining financial information… Based on the results of my intelligence research a warrant to search the home address of Peters for the cash in question and anything associated with the case (receipt, red money bands) may be sought.
  • 12/8/13 Prior to my leave I was unable to complete my financial checks with the financial intelligence unit. Information from them is required prior to any JPO. Should they be unable to provide me with the information I will consider making a visit to the home address of … Paul Peters and asking him for the information directly. I am considering this actions carefully as it will alert him to the fact that I suspect that he or his son is responsible for the theft. If one or other of them is responsible, they will have ample time to move or hide the money. Without the information however it may be unlikely that a warrant will be granted.
  • 22/8/13 I have been unable to consult with the financial investigators so far over this case.
  • 27/8/13 The information at this time is not sufficient to apply for a warrant [against PETERS].
  • 3/9/13 I am now looking at completing a Judges Production Order and have sought advice in respect of form completion…
  • 13/9/13 I have been unable to progress this investigation as I have been dealing with[REDACTED]
  • 17/9/13 Unable to progress this investigation today, as I have been tasked with[REDACTED]
  • 19/9/13 Call from AM – I have also advised her…that after looking at the information held about the suspects, there is not enough to proceed at this time against Paul PETERS…there is not enough in PETERS’ background to support the notion that he has taken the money. [A further note on the same day indicates that DC Mitchell had now received and was reviewing the financial accounts of AM and her partner – to consider any wrongdoing on their part]
  • 20/9/13 I am unable to progress this case further today as I have been tasked with [REDACTED].
  • 25/9/13 Unable to progress this matter further today as dealing[REDACTED]
  • 28/9/13 I have been unable to progress this matter today as I have been tasked with prisoner [REDACTED]
  • 8/10/13 PETERS was arrested this morning and his house searched. Nothing of evidential value was found.

Paul was understandably shocked and surprised by his arrest, which DC Mitchell stated in official documentation was necessary “to prevent loss or damage to property” – notwithstanding the obvious fact that if Paul had taken the money this event occurred over 3 months previously.

Paul was bailed to return to the station in December 2013, but when he presented himself there was informed that he was (unsurprisingly) being given an outcome of ‘No Further Action’.

Paul was incensed by what had been done to him, and made a complaint to his MP and to the Professional Standards Department of Merseyside Police – the latter of which was, predictably, rejected by PSD who went out of their way to support and excuse the actions of DC Mitchell and the “necessity” of Paul’s arrest.

The chronology of the investigation, as summarised above, leads to the conclusion, in my firm opinion, that DC Mitchell – having run out of ‘leads’ and now contrary to his own earlier analysis of the evidence (which was that there simply wasn’t sufficient evidence to suspect Paul) – acted on 8 October to arrest the Paul simply in order to kick some life into an investigation that was apparently drifting. He may well have felt under pressure to ‘do something’.

DC Mitchell appeared to have unreasonably abandoned his earlier attempts to progress the matter without arresting Paul, which he had previously accepted was not justified. The only thing that happened between 19 September and the date of Paul’s arrest was that financial information relating to the complainant AM and her partner had been received; logically this cannot have changed the grounds or necessity for arresting Paul Peters and notably there was no attempt to obtain a search warrant of Paul’s address (which requires authorisation by a Magistrate). Presumably this was because DC Mitchell’s view was really still that which he had given in August – that it was unlikely a search warrant would be granted given the paucity of evidence/ grounds for suspicion. Therefore, this was, in my opinion, an arrest which was attempted in order to obtain grounds of suspicion rather than vice versa.

The information available to DC Mitchell was in his own words not sufficient to apply for a warrant. How then did it generate reasonable suspicion that Paul was guilty of theft? In reality it appears that DC Mitchell, realising that he hadn’t enough to apply for a search warrant of Paul’s premises, decided to overcome, or rather circumvent, that legal obstacle by contriving an arrest in order to procure entry to the Paul’s premises. This is precisely the tactic which was deprecated by Eady J in Hanningfield v The Chief Constable of Essex Police EWHC [2013].

Note the following statement in the written response provided by DC Mitchell in early 2014 to the initial complaint brought by Paul – Necessity criterion was to secure and preserve evidence and protect property (the cash). The arrest also enabled a search of the premises under section 32 of PACE.

A wish to search premises under section 32 PACE 1984 is not a statutory justification for the necessity of arrest. At all times there was against Paul only a tenuous deduction made from incomplete information. At most Paul should have been offered a voluntary Police interview. There was no basis for an arrest and detention and the reasons stated on the custody record for the necessity of arrest simply do not bear scrutiny.

When I presented a civil claim to Merseyside Police on behalf of Paul, it was met not with humility or apology but by a very combative attitude from the Force, and in particular DC Mitchell, who appeared to be under the impression that my firm should be reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for having the temerity to question his actions.

DC Mitchell and his superiors attempted to justify his arrest of Paul in October 2013 on the basis that it was necessary to protect/ preserve the missing cash…Despite the fact, acknowledged in the following words by DC Mitchell, that in July 2013 –

“Since there was a two week delay in reporting the cash missing, I concluded there was no immediate need to search the homes of any potential suspects. Had the report being taken on the day of the cash being found missing, then it would have been imperative to conduct searches immediately to try to find the cash.”

How can this square at all with the Officer’s subsequent assertion that at a point in time over 3 months later, it somehow once again became imperative to conduct searches to find the cash?

DC Mitchell stated that his reasoning was that the ‘suspect’ would now feel safe enough to spend the money… This is somewhat obscure and bizarre reasoning to say the least, and DC Mitchell’s assertion that the money was now at risk at 3 months after the alleged event but was not, presumably, at risk 2 months after the event, and equally was going to have disappeared by 4 months after the event, appears to be an entirely random and arbitrary assertion, entirely disconnected from either common sense or objective or specific facts about this case.

Furthermore, it would appear to directly contradict the reason the Officer gave (above) for not feeling it was necessary to enter the premises of the suspect when the crime was first reported 2 weeks after the alleged theft, presumably because it was by then already too late to ‘protect and preserve’ the money as it would have been spent or hidden elsewhere. DC Mitchell was in effect arguing that he thought all along that the money would be in the possession of the suspect (Paul), and he was content to leave it there until such a time as he decided (apparently October, over 3 months after the event) that it was now suddenly at risk of being spent.

At the conclusion of the Trial on 8 January, in which I instructed Mr Nick Stanage of Doughty Street Chambers, one of the country’s leading actions-against-the-police barristers to act on behalf of Paul, His Honour Judge Cadwallader accepted our arguments in regards to the glaring obvious facts set out above regarding the lack of any necessity to arrest and Judgment was granted in favour of Paul for false imprisonment, and he was awarded £8,000 compensation. He will now also be able to use this judgment to assist him in getting Merseyside Police to expunge all records of his wrongful arrest so that it will not besmirch his character in the future or hamper his ability to work and travel where he choses. The importance of this victory goes far beyond the counting of ‘pounds and pence’.

Indeed, it was only half way through the Police barrister’s closing speech that Merseyside Police finally conceded that they now accepted that Paul had no involvement whatsoever with the alleged theft. This was in marked contrast to their response to his complaint and his claim over the preceding 6 years, when not only were the Police offering neither an apology nor even an acknowledgement of Paul’s innocence, but DC Mitchell (in a 2014 statement made in response to Paul’s complaint) actually “doubled-down” by insisting that he personally believed Paul was a thief – despite having absolutely no evidence to support this. Neither the Officer nor his Force showed any humility or contrition until – thanks to Paul’s courageous decision to see this case through to Trial despite all the financial and emotional risks entailed – they were finally brought to book in front of a Judge.

In my opinion, DC Mitchell and those in the Force who clearly supported him in their denial of both Paul’s legitimate complaint and legitimate claim were ‘clutching at straws’ to justify Paul’s arrest…but that did not prevent them using those straws to contest the claim for over 6 years and spend tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayer’s money in doing so.

Holding DC Mitchell and his enablers within Merseyside Police to account over this misuse of their powers against Paul  was absolutely necessary in order not only to enable Paul to achieve a personal sense of vindication, and restore his damaged faith in our law & justice system, but also to teach the Police that we will not as a society accept or tolerate abuses of authority – whether careless, reckless or deliberate.

Violence in Police Custody: When Gatekeepers become Rulebreakers.

When a person is arrested and taken to a Police station, it is required that they be brought as soon as possible before the Custody Sergeant, who presiding behind the desk of the custody suite, will determine whether the suspect should or should not be detained. His role is to establish the grounds and necessity for arrest, decide if they are lawful, and ‘interview’ the detained person to establish (in particular) their personal details and whether they have any requirement for medical treatment.

Although in the circumstances a person under arrest – brought before the custody desk like a prisoner before the king – might not see it that way, the Custody Sergeant’s primary function is to ensure the well-being of that person; to order their immediate release if they have been wrongly arrested (a rare, but not unheard of event), to determine if they are at risk of self harm and to arrange any necessary medical treatment. But they also exercise a great deal of power over the detained person, in particular having the authority to ‘sentence’ a person to the degradation of a strip- search.

The ‘job description’ for a Custody Sergeant is defined by the College of Policing to include the following key responsibilities –

  • Upholding the care & welfare of detained persons
  • Ensuring that all Police staff have due regard to the rights and treatment of persons arrested
  • Maintaining high standards of security and safety within the Custody Suite
  • Recognising at all times the dignity and wellbeing of detainees

Whether Custody Sergeants always act in the best interests of the detainees brought before them is open to question. They are only human, and no doubt have to put up with a lot of ‘aggro’ from people under arrest. This can lead to many Custody Sergeants coming across to detainees as cold, uncaring or arrogant – even sometimes actively antagonistic, as one of my clients found when she was brought into a Middlesbrough custody suite by Cleveland Police officers for allegedly refusing a roadside ‘breath test’ in December 2019.

My client, Catherine, was brought before the Custody Sergeant and what then occurred is fully evidenced by the video and audio recording of the CCTV cameras in the custody suite (which is often the only part of a Police station to have constant audio recording, rather than just ‘silent’ movie footage). This is because, as I have indicated above, the Custody suite is almost like the ‘court room’ of the Police station where the Custody Sergeant (in the role of a quasi- judge) determines whether a person should be detained or released and ‘sentences’ them to detention in a cell, strip –search, or calls for medical treatment etc.

Catherine was extremely unhappy about her arrest, and was letting her feelings be known. A scuffle occurred between Catherine and the Officers escorting her, during which a female officer pushed Catherine’s head down so that it almost connected with the custody desk. It is evident that the Custody Sergeant at this point lost his temper, and he leaned across the desk, waving his pen in Catherine’s face and shouted –

Shut your fucking mouth, you drunken little slut.”

Unsurprisingly, this did nothing to defuse the situation and in my opinion it is reprehensible that the senior officer in this situation, whose role as the ‘gatekeeper’ of the Police station is to be a fair arbitrator and is to ensure the welfare and safety of detainees, should speak to someone in such a hostile and deliberately demeaning and degrading way. This particular Officer was certainly not meeting the College of Policing’s definition of the ideal Custody Sergeant as someone “resolute and compassionate…able to set out logical arguments clearly, adapting language , form and message to meet the needs of different people/ audiences” – although perhaps he thought he was…

A similar dereliction of duty by a Custody Sergeant was that in the recently reported case of Gareth Starr, who was found guilty of gross misconduct for mocking and making fun of a drunken detainee who was staggering around his cell, and who slipped and fell in his own urine. What made this even worse, as Starr laughed at the man and failed to go to his aid, was that he did this in the presence of junior colleagues, setting a terrible example of disrespect for human dignity. Starr apparently “actively discouraged” another Officer from going to give aid to the detainee, because watching him was more “amusing”.  Avon & Somerset Constabulary made it clear that Starr would have been immediately dismissed from the Force, had he not already retired.

Sometimes however, inappropriate behaviour from Custody Sergeants towards the detainees in their ‘trust’ goes beyond disrespect or incivility into actual physical violence. Such was the experience of another of my clients, Kevin who had been arrested by the Metropolitan Police. Kevin did not dispute that his arrest was lawful, and throughout his time in custody was calm and compliant with Police instructions, save for a minor incident when he threw a paper cup, half filled with water on the floor, in frustration at not being given appropriate medication for discomfort that he was suffering. This fairly trivial act of ‘rebellion’ by Kevin seems to have caught the eye of, and riled, the Custody Sergeant behind the desk, who I will identify by the name of Brown.

During his time in detention, Kevin requested permission to brush his teeth, and was accordingly escorted to the ‘shower room’ by an officer. Whilst he was brushing his teeth, Sergeant Brown, entered the shower room and ordered Kevin to “fucking” get back to his cell. Kevin quite reasonably protested about this, on the basis that the other officer had given him permission to be there, but Sergeant Brown ignored him, grabbed Kevin’s arm and started to march him back down the corridor to his cell. A second Officer took hold of Kevin’s other arm during this process, and so he was completely under the control of two Officers. Kevin again protested, saying that there was no need to manhandle him, and that he would walk back to the cell on his own, but was again ignored.

When they reached the door of the cell, Kevin turned to Sergeant Brown and asked him “What’s your fucking problem ? I had permission to brush my teeth. I didn’t refuse to go back into my cell.”

In response to this, Sergeant Brown said nothing, but stepped back and then with his clenched fist, punched Kevin in the face. As blood poured from Kevin’s nose, he was pushed into the cell and the door was slammed shut. His nose quickly became swollen and he was in immediate pain, shock and distress. Nevertheless, despite being well aware of the injury he had just inflicted upon this detained person, Custody Sergeant Brown waited over half an hour before calling for medical assistance for Kevin.

Shortly before calling for the Healthcare Professional to attend upon Kevin, Sergeant Brown made the entry in the Custody Record, which constituted, in my opinion, a clear attempt to cover up the unlawful force he had used upon my client (the abbreviation ‘DP’ stands for ‘detained person’; names have been changed) –

At approx 21:58h I walked down the male cell block to ensure that DP was in his cell as he had left FME’s room and became aggressive and thrown a cup of water over the custody floor, I saw DDO Harris near shower cubicle and I told him that DP needs to go into cell as custody was very busy and I needed him.  As I levelled with shower room I saw DP just standing there, I told him that he needed to go back to his cell as I needed DDO Harris, he just stood there staring at me, I entered the cubicle and took hold of DP’s arm to escort him as he became very vocal, swearing and threatening, he is a large built male, taller than myself.  PS Cartwright was behind me, DP leant down towards me pushing his forehead against mine, I feared he was about to assault me, I tried pushing him away with my left hand but he was tensing his body up, fearing for my personal safety I punched DP once in his face, this caused him to step backwards and away from me, PS Cartwright then pushed him into his cell, DP moved forward to get at us, PS Cartwright slammed the cell door shut.

At 23.08h it was recorded in the custody record by PC Purslow that Kevin wished to speak with an Inspector about the assault he had suffered.  It was clear from this, and subsequent entries in the custody record the staff at the station were well aware that Kevin (unsurprisingly) wanted to pursue a complaint in relation to what PS Brown had done to him.

At 00.18h it was recorded in the custody record by PS Cartwright that ICEFLO (photographs) had been taken of Kevin’s nose and the FME (Force Medical Examiner) had noted his injuries. 

Despite this the Metropolitan Police failed to open a complaint investigation and failed to preserve the CCTV footage which would have proved or disproved PS Brown’s account

When I subsequently commenced proceedings on behalf of Kevin, I invited the Court to draw the logical inference from this presumably wilful failure –

  1. PS Brown, in the entry in the custody record made at 22.29h falsely asserted that my client had pushed his forehead against that of PS Brown and falsely asserted that my client was tensing his body up;
  1. Despite being well aware that my client had initiated a complaint in relation to PS Brown’s actions against him, officers manifestly and presumably deliberately failed to record or action that complaint and failed to ensure that the CCTV footage was preserved; 
  1. The false assertions made in the custody record by PS Brown, and the failure of the Officers to action the complaint as set out above, added insult to injury and were an unconscionable attempt to mislead the Court to the detriment of my client and/or were done with the aim of concealing PS Brown’s unlawful conduct towards my client;

The injury sustained by Kevin was not a minor one; it was established that he had suffered a deviated nasal septum, for which a septo- rhinoplasty operation was required to improve his breathing and the shape of his nose.

Kevin’s mistreatment was all the more reprehensible because it came (literally) at the hands of the one Officer above all others whose duty was to ensure Kevin’s safety and wellbeing, which duty very much included making and preserving a proper record of everything that happened to Kevin during his time in detention – but who instead manipulated the Custody Record to disguise his own unlawful assault upon Kevin, tried to deny him his right to pursue a complaint and allowed to be deleted, the crucial video footage.

Although the Met initially filed a Defence denying liability (and endorsing Sergeant Brown’s version of events) they subsequently caved in and settled the claim well before Trial, agreeing to pay for the full cost of the operation Kevin required to fix his broken nose, and additional compensation on top of that for his pain and suffering, together with his legal fees.

The experiences of Catherine, Kevin and many of my clients are a warning that sometimes the real danger to a detained person, at a time when they are likely to be in a highly vulnerable and distressed state, can sadly come from the very person who is entrusted with responsibility for their care, the man whose ‘prisoner’ they are.

It is entirely right to expect the highest standards of behaviour from Custody Sergeants, and to hold them to account when they fall below those standards…sometimes far, far below.

(All names have been changed.)

Racial Profiling: Black Lives in Police Eyes

In the news this week were plenty of stories which did not bring any Christmas cheer, including a number of items highlighting the continued problem of racist attitudes within Police institutions, and how deeply ingrained this problem still seems to be.

The worst of these was the case of 6 “elite” Hampshire officers who were found guilty of gross misconduct after covert recordings of the Force’s Serious Organised Crime Unit captured a culture of regular racism – including officers wishing death on ‘foreigners’ and referring to the section where a black officer worked as “Africa corner” – in scenes reminiscent of the 1970s time-travel cop drama “Life on Mars.”

During the space of a mere 3 weeks, officers were recorded alluding to a black colleagues as mixed-breed dogs, plantation overseers and zoo animals; ‘jokes’ were told about illegal immigrants drowning in the sea, and killing Albanians with a nerve agent – and this is to say nothing about the sexism and homophobia which was also rife in the unit.

The officers await to hear their fates on 4 January, but they will surely all be dismissed from the Force.

The barrister leading the case against the officers, QC Jason Beer commented “When speaking to a black officer, a colleague puts on a fake Caribbean accent – in fact he was from Ghana. A detail like that doesn’t matter, he was a black man after all.”

This, I think, is getting near to the heart of the problem. The Hampshire officers are a gross example of the worst kind of ‘old school’ Police officers whose hideous attitudes towards everyone who is not a ‘straight, white male’ are the badge of membership of their ‘club’ (and apparently, like an awful broken record, the only form of ‘banter’ allowed in it). I do not for one moment think they represent the majority of officers in this respect, but they do – like the tip of an iceberg – hint at a less dramatic but bigger, wider problem of racial profiling generally, ‘below the surface’ of Police culture. Not overt racism perhaps, but racist assumptions leading to greater Police hostility and suspicion on all levels to ethnic minority groups.

We know, for example, that for a long time it has been evident that taser guns are used disproportionally against black people and likewise during the Covid Lockdown policing powers were used disproportionally against black and other people of ethnic minority appearance. Witness also the case of my client Dwight.

This is a problem which, of course, existed long before the recent Lockdown, and sadly, seems set to long outlast it. I have recently settled a claim for my client Brian Maddox, a black man who I believe was the victim of racial profiling in 2017.

On the day in question Brian was hurrying along a street in Brighton, late for an urgent appointment. He is a man of impeccable character. The only crime he could be accused of? “Running whilst Black” it sadly seems…

Suddenly Brian was accosted by a young white male, whom he now knows to have been a plain clothed officer of Sussex Police (PC Barton).  Coming out of nowhere the young male grabbed Brian’s jacket with both hands. Although it is true that he shouted the words “Stop, Police!” at Brian, in the context of this event Brian would have had every reason to think that he was in fact being mugged. He instinctively sought to extricate himself from the man’s grip.

However, within seconds the first man was joined by a second (also wearing ‘casual’ clothes, and only now known to be a Police Officer) who assisted the first male in tripping and bundling Brian to the ground, during which Brian dropped his mobile phone and continued to believe he was the victim of a robbery.

It is distressing to describe what happened next, but in a scene reminiscent of what happened to George Floyd in America earlier this year, Brian now found himself struggling to breathe, pinned down on a concrete road surface, with a knee in his back.

A female officer – the first person on the scene in uniform – then joined in the ‘pinning’ of Brian by sitting on his legs.

Brian was subjected to intensely tight handcuffing, with the metal biting into his wrists, and then pulled to his feet and searched “on suspicion of possession of marijuana with intent to supply”. He was incredulous and could not believe what was happening to him.

Despite the fact that nothing – of course – was found on him, Brian was kept in handcuffs and transported to Brighton Police station. All of this, humiliatingly, was played out in front of many members of the public on a busy high street. The Police justification for this was that Brian (in attempting to defend himself) had been “resisting” the first plain clothes officer who had accosted him.

Shortly after arrival at the station Brian was “de-arrested” and his handcuffs were finally removed. He was issued with a ‘stop and search’ form and released.

In response to the claim for false imprisonment and assault and battery that I subsequently brought on behalf of Brian, Sussex Police initially denied liability stating that the plain clothes officers had been involved in a drugs ‘sting’ and were seeking to arrest three black men who they suspected of dealing cannabis.

It seems that PC Barton had pursued one of the black men, lost sight of him, and had then fastened onto Brian, the next black man that he saw and given chase to him, believing him to be the drug dealer. PC Barton later admitted that he had only briefly seen the man he was originally pursuing, from a distance of 20 – 50 metres, and therefore couldn’t be sure that Brian was in fact the suspect; however, it seems that Brian’s blackness was enough to trigger an assumption in the officer that he was the ‘wanted’ man, in a way that I firmly believe whiteness alone would not have done.

I issued Court proceedings on behalf of Brian, and notwithstanding their denial of liability, Sussex Police soon came to the settlement table.  I am pleased to confirm that after rejecting their initial, derisory, offer of £1,100. I have now settled Brian’s claim against the police for a sum greatly enhanced.

We have to ask serious questions about how many rank and file Police officers fail to look past the ‘Blackness’ of a person’s appearance, acting as if it were that person’s overriding and most important characteristic, and using skin colour in the absence of any other distinquishing characteristic or mode of behaviour to ‘zone in’ on a black person in a way that ‘Whiteness’ alone would never be used against a white person.

Often, perhaps, is subconscious, but that does little to detract from its harmfulness and hurtfulness; taking a step back to look at the wider problem of ‘racial assumptions’ in the justice system, we can see that there has been yet another case of a black barrister being assumed by Court staff to be the defendant in a criminal case.

The type of attitude that leads to ‘racial profiling’ may not be as grossly barbaric as the behaviour of the ‘Life on Mars’ Hampshire officers, but because it is so prevelant is just as much as a problem and causes untold damage to community relations and the faith and trust that people of colour can have in the Police.

Police Forces need to work much harder to change the mind-sets of their officers generally, and ensure a truly healthy culture of non-racist policing; a task which begins, but certainly does not end, with the throwing out of the rotten apples of the Hampshire SOCU.

Names have been changed.

What price a Police apology?

I have recently received a £40,000 offer of damages from Hertfordshire Constabulary for my client Yvonne Farrell, who was subject to shocking abuse at the hands of several Police Officers.

In August 2018 Yvonne,  a black woman of the Rastafarian religion, was at home when she noticed some activity around her partner’s car, a Renault Megane which was parked across the road (and which was at the time subject to a Statutory Off-Road  Notification).

Out of simple curiosity, Yvonne ventured outside.  She was wearing a loose fitting summer dress and flip flops.

To her alarm, Yvonne discovered that two men operating a tow truck were attempting to take her partner’s vehicle and met her with a rude reply of “None of your business” when she attempted to challenge them.

Yvonne explained that it was her understanding that the road they were on was a private road and hence her partner’s car was not on the public highway, for the purposes of SORN.

The men replied that it was not a private road and then proceeded to clamp her partner’s vehicle.  Yvonne was aware that her partner had certainly not received any prior warning or notification of seizure, and appealed to the men to simply allow her to move the car approximately  3 metres off the road onto private land. The men refused and continued to clamp the vehicle.

So as to stop what Yvonne considered to be an unlawful and unnecessary seizure of the car, she climbed up onto the roof of her partner’s car and sat down.  She attempted to telephone her partner using her mobile, but was unable to get through.

A short time later Police Officers, summoned by the operator of the tow truck, arrived at the scene. They found our client still sitting on the roof of her partner’s car, maintaining her peaceful protest against its seizure. Our client had been entirely calm throughout and at no point had been rude or aggressive to either of the men attempting to take her partner’s car.

Sadly, the Officers rather than attempting to arbitrate the situation in a neutral fashion, immediately took the side of the men who were attempting to clamp/confiscate the car, as Officers are almost invariably wont to do in any dispute between bailiffs/ officials and members of the public.

When Yvonne refused the Officer’s request to climb down from the car they demanded her name. She correctly queried as to whether she was obliged to give the Officers her name; when they told her that she did not, she exercised her right to decline to give them this personal information.

One of the Officers, PC Head, then threatened to arrest Yvonne for “Breach of the Peace”, despite the fact that she could scarcely have been behaving in a more peaceful fashion.  Our client correctly maintained that this was merely a civil dispute and the Officers should not be using their criminal law powers to intervene and take sides in this manner.

After our client again refused to climb down off the car (bear in mind she was doing absolutely nothing other than sitting on top of it, and was not shouting or making any sort of disturbance) PC Head announced that Yvonne was arrested for “Public Order” and grabbing hold of her arm and leg, dragged her from the roof of the car, causing her to land awkwardly on the ground. The Officers then immediately handcuffed Yvonne’s hands behind her; a humiliating, painful and entirely unnecessary (although again, sadly routine) action on the part of the Police.

Yvonne appealed to the Officers to loosen her handcuffs, but was ignored. She was then transported to Stevenage Police Station in a Police van, although not before the incident had caught the attention of a number of local residents, further adding to Yvonne’s humiliation and embarrassment. She was tearful and distressed.

Upon her arrival at the station, Yvonne was brought before the Custody Sergeant, where she again exercised her right to refuse to confirm her identity, knowing that she had done nothing wrong and that she was being unlawfully detained. 

The arresting Officers then falsely alleged that Yvonne had been arrested for “Using abusive language and threatening behaviour” contrary to Section 4 of the Public Order Act. This offence specifically encompasses words or actions which cause another person to be in fear of “immediate unlawful violence” against them. Nothing could be further from the truth, and Yvonne continued to maintain her innocence and her refusal to confirm her identity. It was quite clear that the only person who had been threatened with, or indeed received “immediate unlawful violence” was Yvonne herself, because she had the temerity to refuse the Officer’s demand to get off the car; the arresting officers were thereby using the Public Order Act as a smokescreen for their own violation of that law.

The Custody Sergeant then resorted to threatening to remove Yvonne’s clothing by force if she failed to cooperate with him and when she again refused to give them her name she was taken to a ‘camera cell’ and obliged to remove all of her clothing, including her underwear.

Having seen such tactics utilised by the Police on numerous other occasions, I am firmly of the view that the decision to remove and seize Yvonne’s simple, lightweight summer clothing (which was obviously not bulky, and clearly not concealing anything which could be of danger to Yvonne or the Officers)  was not done out of concern for Yvonne’s safety but rather so as to humiliate, distress and embarrass her with a view to forcing her to ‘confess’ her identity.

After Yvonne’s clothes had been taken from her she was provided with alternative clothing but Yvonne felt it inappropriate for her to don these items on religious and cultural grounds, as her Rastafarian beliefs were that as a woman she should only wear long dresses. Yvonne  was therefore left in a situation whereby she was entirely naked in her cell for almost three hours (during which time a blanket was derisorily thrown on the floor of her cell and at least one male Officer came to the cell door to observe her), before eventually her clothing was returned (why had it been taken in the first place?) and she was allowed to re-dress. During this time, detention staff also refused our client’s request to be allowed to make a phone call, until such time as she gave them her details, a further form of actual, though low-grade, psychological torture.

Meanwhile, a Detective Sergeant had reviewed the evidence and concluded, correctly, that Yvonne’s behaviour did not constitute a “public order” offence. Unfortunately, the Police did not then immediately apologise and release Yvonne, but, as a log which I subsequently obtained shows, put time and effort into considering whether she could instead be arrested for “theft” of the vehicle by sitting on it! That outrageous  idea was, thankfully, soon dismissed – in my opinion it was only given any attention at all because the Police were trying to find excuses for their initial unlawful arrest of Yvonne (a classic example of the Police not using their powers to uphold the law, but to protect themselves from criticism) – but nevertheless Yvonne was kept in the dark about this decision, and her unlawful incarceration continued.

After several hours of detention our client was brought out of the cell and taken to a side room to see her partner.  Under pressure from her partner, Yvonne finally gave her name, date of birth and address to the Custody Sergeant who only then advised her, that following review,  he was satisfied that no crime had in fact been committed and the fact that she could now be released.

Notwithstanding these assurances,  Yvonne was in fact kept in custody for a further 3 hours during which she was obliged to provide her fingerprints, under threat of force and further detention, and she was finally released shortly before midnight, having been detained for almost 11 hours.

No further action, of course, was taken against her.

The following day she attended hospital with bruising to her upper left arm and both wrists, and pain in her back and shoulder. 

Sadly, the psychological affects of this horrendous experience of Yvonne’s would prove even more long lasting than her physical injuries; she developed an anxiety and depressive disorder which has contributed significantly to her decision to relocate from this country to the Caribbean.  

Without legal assistance, Yvonne filed a complaint, which was investigated by Hertfordshire Police’s Professional Standards Department.

The PSD’s findings were set out in a report dated March 2019.  All of Yvonne’s complaints, including unlawful arrest, were rejected.  Specifically, it was stated that there had been a necessity to arrest Yvonne for “unlawful obstruction of the highway”.   This was notwithstanding the fact that Yvonne had not been arrested for obstruction of the highway, but rather for an alleged breach of section 4 of the Public Order Act.

All of this was entirely unnecessary, and amounts to a vast waste of public money and the time of everybody involved.  Yvonne was not committing a crime, and the Officers should not have waded in on the side of the operators of the tow truck, and certainly not in such a heavy-handed and aggressive manner.  The Officers had no power to remove Yvonne from the roof of the car and therefore resorted to lying about her behaviour in order to categorise this as a ‘public order offence’.

All too often in my experience, Police Officers do wrong by following the urge to “over Police” i.e. to see everything through the lens of Policing powers, trying to ‘criminalise’ a situation so that they can exercise their use of force and arrest powers, whereas the situation is actually a non-criminal civil dispute and the Officers are motivated by a perception that their authority is being slighted or ignored.

The fact is however, that Police Officers are not a ‘higher rank’ of individual whom ‘civilians’ must obey in the general course of events and it was entirely lawful (as is now clearly recognised and conceded by the Police) for Yvonne to carry out her peaceful protest and furthermore to refuse to give her details to the Officers attending at the scene.

Sadly, front line Police Officers whose authority is challenged, as I have highlighted in another recent blog post, often respond with the use of force and/or arrest , just as Custody Sergeants so challenged very often make cynical use of their ‘safeguarding’ powers to humiliate and degrade a person by ordering them to be stripped naked so as to compel them to answer questions.

Yvonne’s fight for justice was met with short shrift in the inefficient and unfair Police complaint process, but has now come to fruition thanks to her determination not to give in and the expert advice I was able to provide her with in terms of utilising the strengths of the civil justice system, and commencing Court proceedings. It is important for me to highlight here that Yvonne started this process looking for accountability not compensation, but seemingly had the door to the same slammed in her face by the rejection of her complaint. She has now pursued a meritorious claim, recognised by Hertfordshire’s offer of £40,000, but has still received no apology or even a formal admission of liability. On Yvonne’s behalf I have made it clear that she would accept a lower award of financial compensation than the full value of the claim, if it were accompanied by an apology. I have yet to receive any response from them, but strongly suspect that they will be more inclined to increase their financial offer than put into writing the contrition and humility which Yvonne deserves to receive from them after the flagrant abuse of Police power that was perpetrated against her that Summer’s day.

What price a Police apology? Apparently it is priceless, whilst tax payers are footing the bill for Police pride.

UPDATE: Read my blog post: Police Apology, or Excuse? to find out how matters resolved. The Daily Mail also reported the story.

Taking Advantage of Victims: Police Officer’s Inappropriate Relationships & Sexual Misconduct

A number of recent media reports have highlighted the continued prevalence of the problem of predatory Police Officers who exploit the authority and opportunity of their job for purposes of sexual gratification.

Witness DC Nicholas Pointon who used the police computer system to locate a woman who had previously been involved in a car crash, turned up at her home without invitation and then pursued a relationship with her. A Staffordshire Police misconduct panel convened this month rightly held DC Pointon’s behaviour to be “predatory” and dismissed him from the Force without notice. To make matters worse, DC Pointon, who clearly knew that his sexual pursuit of the woman was a gross abuse of his office had apparently made a false pocket book entry and then attempted to blame an innocent colleague for this.

As Deputy Chief Constable Emma Barnett saidThe public expects police officers to maintain exemplary standards of contact, integrity and professionalism and DC Pointon fell far short of this and undermined trust and confidence in policing so it is right that he is dismissed from the service.” 

Unfortunately, the case of DC Pointon is far from being a rarity. The last month alone has also seen:

·         An unidentified Avon & Somerset Police officer dismissed for using his status for personal advantage, when he wooed a woman he had met online, and whom he was on notice had mental health problems, by sending her a picture of himself in uniform, before meeting her for sex. 

·         Kevin Hathaway, a West Midlands PCSO jailed after starting a relationship with a burglary victim, whom he had met in the course of his duty – and who he frequently met for sex whilst on duty (a very common feature of this type of case in my experience; that the Officer seems to get some perverse sense of extra satisfaction that he is not only transgressing in the fact of his relationship, but that he is transgressing whilst actively on duty and in uniform).

·         DC Rene Murdoch of Surrey Police sacked without notice for gross misconduct for pursuing an improper relationship with a member of the public who he met on duty (and then trying to hide the relationship by deleting messages).

·         An unidentified Devon & Cornwall officer fired for sending sexually explicit messages and images (“sexting”) to a female victim of crime whose contact details he had obtained in the course of his duty (whilst also neglecting the investigation of the crime she had reported, another sadly common occurrence in these cases). 

None of the Officers who have done these things are innocent ‘fools for love’. The Police profession has known for a very long time that such relationships across the line of duty are flagrant breaches of the Police Codes of Conduct. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) have spelled this out time and time again , whilst highlighting concerns about institutional Police failure to control a problem, which on the evidence of the cases summarised above, is not going away.

These offences, often quite rightly recognised and punished not merely as disciplinary matters but as criminal behaviour, are absolute abuses of positions of trust; of the trust of the officer’s colleagues, of the trust the general public has in those given the special powers and confidences of a Police Constable; and above all, of the trust of vulnerable victims of crime who have turned to the Police for help in times of great difficulty or personal anxiety and who instead of being treated with professionalism and respect are eyed up for exploitation by certain predatory Officers, who seem to consider that access to these women is one of the ‘privileges’ of their job.

Over the years I have represented many such female victims of Police sexual exploitation and have won on their behalf hundreds of thousands of pounds of compensation from the Police Forces who are still failing to do enough to weed out the abusers, and stamp out this problem for good.

Knights in Shining Armour?

One of the most dangerous things about putting a man in uniform is the sense of grossly inflated self-importance or impunity that uniform can bestow upon him, putting other people at risk of harm and aggression if the Officer in uniform feels his authority and/or ego is being challenged.

My client Ben Joynes met one such uniformed aggressor in November  2019 in the following distressing circumstances.

Ben was driving home, with his teenage son in his car, when he became aware of a traffic jam ahead. Ben was able to see that a number of Police officers were present, and some individuals were being arrested.

As he waited for the scene to clear, a Police van pulled up behind Ben and an officer whom Ben now knows to be PC Mark Knights approached Ben and asked him to move his car. Unfortunately, there was insufficient space for Ben to do so; PC Knights unreasonably responded by taking pictures not only of Ben’s registration plate, but also Ben and his son. This unjustified action caused Ben to get out of his vehicle, and in turn take a photograph of the Officer. Without warning, PC Knights then attempted to slap Ben’s phone out of his hand- but missed. It is notable, in my experience, that for a cadre of people who are specifically equipped with body worn devices to film those around them whether they like it or not, Police officers seem to have a particular bee in their bonnets about being recorded themselves…

This little incident would have been an unpleasant enough display of bad Policing in itself, but it did not end there. Having returned to his vehicle, Ben was driving off as the traffic started to move forwards again, when he heard the Officer of the law calling him a “fat cunt.”  Understandably upset, Ben got out of his vehicle to remonstrate with PC Knights and started to ask for his name and collar number – whereupon he was immediately head-butted by PC Knights, who then pushed him to the ground, handcuffed him and then dragged him to the back of the Police van. As Ben was dragged away he asked what he was being arrested for, to which PC Knights replied “I don’t know, yet.”

Distressingly, all of this had occurred in front of Ben’s son and Ben was left sitting in the Police van, handcuffed and bleeding profusely from his mouth as a result of the head-butt.

A few minutes later a different Officer came to the van and released Ben. Ben immediately lodged a complaint with Derbyshire Constabulary, though as the weeks went by he became increasingly concerned that no official action was being taken despite the seriousness of the complaint, and that he was being fobbed off with verbal promises that Professional Standards were “looking into it.”

Matters were then escalated when Rob Warner of Crimebodge fame, with Ben’s full permission, commenced a private prosecution against PC Knights by laying information before the Magistrates Court for Common Assault under S.39 Criminal Justice Act 1988 and Corrupt or other Improper Exercise of Police Powers and Privileges under S.26 Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.

This appeared to kick- start the complaint process and the rather tortuously named “Organisational Learning, Culture and Ethics Department” of Derbyshire (trying saying that with a busted lip after a Police Officer has head-butted you) confirmed in August 2020 that PC Knights was being charged with gross misconduct and would in due course appear at a misconduct hearing. The Officer fully admits to head-butting Ben, but claims it was a ‘pre-emptive’ strike in self-defence.

The misconduct proceedings, however, took back seat to the criminal proceedings which had already been instituted by Rob Warner.

That private prosecution was eventually (but quite properly) adopted by the Crown Prosecution Service and I am pleased to report that today following a 2 day trial at Derby Magistrates Court Mark Knights was found guilty of his violent assault upon my client and now inevitably faces dismissal from the force.

I have already initiated Ben’s civil claim for compensation and anticipate that Derbyshire Police will adopt a pragmatic and prompt approach to settlement. Hopefully however they will also take this episode as an opportunity to reflect upon their recruitment criteria and the characters of those upon whom they are bestowing the uniform and powers of a Police Officer.

Locked Up for Lockdown: Police abuse of Coronavirus powers

As we approach the end of the latest period of national ‘Lockdown’, (but prepare ourselves for further restrictions on social life and travel under the regional ‘three tier’ system) questions continue to be asked about the enthusiasm with which police forces have embraced, interpreted, and enforced the extra curricular powers granted to them under the emergency coronavirus legislation (The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020).

Indeed, there is a real danger in extending the powers of the Police to interfere with any given individual’s liberty, particularly by way of ill-defined ‘emergency’ legislation which can lead to ‘inflation’ of those powers in the minds of front-line Officers, and escalations of force and violence, when Officers consider that their newly invested authority is being challenged. FOI data obtained by the Guardian newspaper from 32 Police forces demonstrates that during the initial Lockdown of April – June 2020 crime fell by 15% but there was nevertheless a 12.5% increase in use of force by Officers.

In other words, if Police Constables are not properly trained and directed in how to use such powers sparingly and proportionally, and the more aggressive among them not properly restrained, then use can easily shade over into abuse, whether in the form of excessive violence or unlawful deprivation of liberty.

Witness the example of my client Dwight, who, during the initial Lockdown period in April 2020, was on his way home from a long and tiring shift as a railway worker.

Wrongful arrests under Police Lockdown powers

Dwight is an army veteran who gave 10 years service to this country, service which saw him being ultimately discharged on medical grounds.

At the beginning of the Coronavirus lockdown in March 2020 Dwight was continuing to serve the public at risk of his own health as a key worker on the railway network.

At around 2 am on 18 April, Dwight had just arrived home after a 12-hour shift at work and wanted nothing more than simply to put his head down and sleep. Having parked his car outside the block of flats where he lives, Dwight was intercepted by two Police officers who challenged him to identify himself.

Dwight immediately confirmed that he was a key worker and had just come from work on the railways.

Unfortunately, this was not good enough for the lead police officer who was evidently enjoying his newfound powers of ‘enforcing curfew’ and who took affront at Dwight’s refusal to provide his personal details (which in fact Dwight was under no obligation to do).

The officer boldly  – and incorrectly – went on to assert that if Dwight refused to give his details he was liable for arrest in contravention of “the coronavirus rules“.

Dwight knew that this was incorrect and had a suspicion that the officer was targeting him because of the colour of his skin (Dwight is a black man). All Dwight wanted to do was get to bed, but he nevertheless pulled out from his car his work uniform including his hard hat, high visibility jacket and boots for the avoidance of any doubt.

The Officer’s continued insistence that Dwight had to provide his name so that he could be ‘checked out’ was nonsensical,  as obviously there was, and is, no database of key workers that the police have access to. Dwight had been doing nothing whatsoever which gave rise to any suspicion of a criminal offence.

Dwight validly protested that this whole episode was not only pointless, but was in fact putting them all at risk of contracting or transmitting the virus, as neither he nor any of the Officers confronting him were wearing masks.

I have viewed the body camera footage of this whole interaction and it seems very clear to me that the Officer’s continued harassment of Dwight was not at all in the interests of minimising the spread of the Coronavirus, but was rather motivated by the Officer’s annoyance that Dwight was infringing or rejecting the Officer’s self-perceived power and authority.

One of the Officers then threatened to arrest Dwight for the non-existent offence of ‘failing to give his details’. In frustration Dwight then said that he would phone his manager, who would vouch for him, but perversely, as Dwight attempted to do so, the Officers took hold of him, instructed him to put down his phone and told him he was under arrest “for failing to provide your details”.

The Officers then proceeded to aggressively manhandle Dwight, by pushing him against a wall and handcuffing him to the rear. Dwight was horrified and could not believe what was happening.

Under duress Dwight now provided the Officer with his full name, but unfortunately the Officer was not finished, as he now threatened to arrest Dwight for a ‘Public Order’ offence, as the assault which the Officers had perpetrated on Dwight had caused him to start swearing at them.

The Officer then continued to demand further personal details from Dwight, including his address and when Dwight questioned his authority and motivation in so doing, the Officer announced that Dwight was now “nicked”  “for not giving me your details under the Coronavirus rules.”

Dwight understandably protested that this was nothing short of police harassment.

Unfortunately, the harassment continued as the Officer called for ‘back up’ in the form of further Police units to attend, and threatened Dwight with CS gas spray, using the weapon to force Dwight to kneel on the ground with his hands behind his back. All of this because a tired a key worker had merely grumbled about giving his name to a police officer, who indeed had no right to demand it in the first place, as there was simply no evidence that any offence was being committed.

As Dwight continued his legitimate protest, with around seven Officers now in attendance, one of the Officers started to call Dwight “a fucking idiot” and a “stupid man”.

One of the newly arrived Officers, a female Police Officer, struck a far more reasonable tone, taking her colleagues to one side and suggesting that perhaps they simply needed to let the situation calm down and allow Dwight to go home, which was manifestly all he had wanted to do in the first place. The female Officer also expressed her misgivings at the fact that one of her male colleagues had been swearing at Dwight (as described above) – although it is clear from the recording that her objection was not so much that the officer had spoken and behaved in such an unprofessional way, but rather that his language would have been caught on body camera, and by implication was therefore undeniable…

Dwight once more expressed his absolute frustration at the farcical nature of this situation – he was a key worker risking his own health to do his bit to help fight the virus and keep the country going; and he was being arrested and threatened with violence by the Police when attempting to return home.

Unfortunately, the level- headed advice of the female Officer to her colleagues continued to fall on deaf ears, and after the lead Officer had again berated Dwight for refusing his initial request to provide personal details, Dwight was arrested and taken into custody for an alleged breach of Section 4 of the Public Order Act.

Dwight has naturally instructed me to pursue a claim against the Constabulary concerned, and liability for assault and battery and false imprisonment has been admitted by the Police. The action is ongoing and I strongly suspect that at the end of the case the Officers involved and their senior management will wish that they had heeded the advice of the female Officer to  de-escalate the situation and just let Dwight go to bed.

What a fantastic waste of public money this was – multiple police patrols called in to deal with one man who was manifestly committing no criminal offence; that man being taken into custody after being assaulted and detained for hours in Police custody; and everybody involved being at heightened and unnecessary risk of becoming new vectors in the spread of the Coronavirus which at that point was rampant throughout the country. This was a situation in which the only risk of coronavirus transmission was being engineered by the Police themselves in corralling Dwight, preventing him from getting home, and then calling more of their colleagues to join in.

But more importantly it is a salutary lesson and warning as to the risks of increasing police powers given the common propensity of officers to want to utilise the powers they have to their fullest. Many Officers already tend to react badly to having their authority challenged, and rushing through an apparent and potentially dramatic increase in such powers in a time of emergency, is tempting the type of abuse of power which we saw being perpetrated here against Dwight. Too many Officers, it seems, do not err on the side of caution when they reach a potentially sensitive area at the limit of their powers.

The very purpose of these regulations was to protect public health, not to criminalise people who left their homes – but the Officers involved in Dwight’s case seem to have completely lost sight of this (or indeed, never had sight of it in the first place). It is very concerning to see Officers taking such an aggressive stance – almost as if they were relishing their perceived ‘new’ powers of demanding people’s details and being able to stop anyone they saw in the street. This is the kind of abuse of power which diminishes the trust which people have in the Police, and thereby in the long run diminishes Police authority and effectiveness in fulfilling their core duties of preventing ‘real’ crime. Grabbing people like Dwight off the street – actively preventing him from going through his front door, as if they were playing a game of ‘cops and robbers’ and weren’t going to let Dwight get back to ‘barley’ – is an almost tragically farcical upending of the purpose and intent of these rules: which was to improve public health and minimise contact between individuals; the actions of the Police, calling for backup and manhandling Dwight in a situation where no one was wearing masks, had the directly opposite effect, and, what is more, tend to do longer term damage to the health of the relationship between the Police and the public, which is at all times founded upon proportionate and respectful use by the Police of the extraordinary powers that they have.

The purpose of the Coronavirus Regulations, after all, wasn’t to give the Police extra powers to snoop on people, or to issue fines, but was to encourage as many people who could to remain at home and the first thing Officers should have been doing was directing people to go back inside their houses (which was all Dwight wanted to do!) not preventing them from doing so in order to fine and/or arrest them. We don’t live in a ‘papers please’ Police state, and therefore it is right to criticise and question the Police when many of their officers betray evidence of wishing as though – and acting as if-  we did.

The name of my client in this blog post has been changed.

Halloween Horror of Police Dog Attack

This weekend, various media outlets have reported on the case of my client Jess Andrew who has suffered severe injuries as a result of a Police dog attack at a “rave” on the outskirts of Bristol.

This is a shocking incident which raises real concerns about Police misuse of the powers of violence with which they are entrusted. Whilst the event was illegal, it was a dance party filled with young people having a good time, yet a small army of Police officers and dogs was deployed against them, and this heavy-handed approach by the Police appears to have risked turning the situation into a battlefield.

Police dogs are often anthropomorphised into ‘heroes’, but the fact remains that they are animals with predatory instincts and are not there to serve as faithful companions to Police officers, but as weapons to be deployed, as all weapons should be, as a last resort. What is more, Police dogs are weapons with minds of their own, and are capable of inflicting particularly horrific injuries with the ripping and tending of their jaws.

Jessica Andrew’s right ankle after being mauled by a police dog.

There appears to be no justification at all for the dog in this case either being instructed or allowed to bite Jess, compounded by the lack of care and control displayed by the Police handler who allowed his dog to maintain its attack on Jess for so long.

To date, the Chief Constable of Avon & Somerset, whilst declining to comment on Jess’s case, has nevertheless asserted that “significant violence” was displayed towards the Police by sections of the crowd, and that ‘missiles’ were thrown. Whilst the full facts of what went on in the wider incident remain to be established, I can confirm that Jess herself, as she recounted to The Independent, was doing no more than dancing before the apparently out-of-control dog starting ripping open holes in her leg.

My client has effectively been maimed for life, for the ‘crime’ of attending a dance party. The Police should be held accountable for this, and I urge Chief Constable Andy Marsh to issue a full and frank apology to Jess – in equally prompt and robust terms as his immediate threat to “hunt down” anyone guilty of violence towards Police Officers at this event. The fact is that no Officers suffered any serious injury; the same cannot be said of Jess.

Does the Chief Constable’s vociferous enthusiasm for “hunting down”, and punishing with the full force of the law, perpetrators of violence, extend to Police Officers?

Experience says not; but time will tell.

£83,000 Damages for Police Trespass into Family Home

We are now living through the second in a series of  national ‘lockdowns’ brought on by the Coronavirus Pandemic; an unprecedented era of restrictions in the lives of most of us, in terms of our ability to travel, to see friends and family or even (especially in the earlier months of the pandemic) to access our places of work or education.

Lockdown, whilst alleviating the spread of the virus, has brought its own pressures in the form of isolation, concerns about home schooling and job security, leaving some to complain that they feel like “prisoners in their own homes”. 

If there is one thing worse than being restricted to your own home however, it is having the privacy – even sanctity – of your family home violated by trespassers.

The most grossly obvious example of such an act of trespass would be a home burglary.  A burglary is a traumatic event for anyone to have to cope with, generally causing emotional distress far greater than the mere financial value of any property damaged or stolen. 

A more insidious form of trespass however, is that committed by Police Officers who knowingly or recklessly overstep the bounds of their power on private property, causing emotional distress and even physical harm to the inhabitants, as a Norfolk family who I represented found out in shocking circumstances.

The incident began when PC White and Special Constable Anderson of Norfolk Constabulary attended at the home of my client Linda in order to issue a Police Information Notice (PIN). 

At the time of this visit there were present in the house, along with Linda, her three daughters – 14 year old Annabelle, 12 year old Charlotte, and 5 year old Lucy –  as well as Linda’s sister in law Catherine and brother in law Derek.

Special Constable Anderson requested permission to enter the house (having no Police power to enter without an invitation in the circumstances) and this was duly provided by Linda.

SC Anderson began to explain to Linda that as a result of an allegation of harassment made by her ex-partner, he intended to issue her with a PIN.  SC Anderson omitted to explain, however, that Linda was under no duty to accept the PIN, and furthermore that a PIN did not carry any Statutory force. 

Linda stated to the Officers that she was not happy to be issued with a PIN and that it was in fact she who was the recipient of inappropriate behaviour from her ex-partner, which she had previously reported to Norfolk Police without action.  Linda then insisted that both Officers leave her house immediately.

In a subsequent written statement, SC Anderson confirmed that Linda had indeed requested that he and his colleague should leave the premises, in the following terms:-

“[LINDA] began to shout ‘Get out of my house’.  I replied ‘I will once you have accepted and signed this PIN.’

Under protest, Linda then signed the PIN document.  The fact was, however, that as soon as she had instructed the Officers to leave her home, thereby revoking her consent to their continued presence, the decision of the Officers to remain (and to ‘brow beat’ Linda into signing the Notice) converted their status from lawful visitors into trespassers.

The Police do, of course, have various Statutory powers to allow them to enter or remain upon premises against the owner’s consent – however, not for such a minor matter as discussing or issuing a Police Information Notice. 

Having got Linda to sign the document, the Officers then proceeded towards the front door.  At Linda’s request, 14-year-old Annabelle (holding her 5-year-old sister in her arms) then attempted to shut the lounge door behind the departing Officers, by kicking the door with her foot.  Unfortunately, this clumsy action by a stressed teenager resulted in the closing door striking Special Constable Anderson a glancing blow on his left arm.  This had not been intended by Annabelle who was, frankly, just performing a fairly standard ‘teenager slamming a door’ manoeuvre.

Special Constable Anderson returned to the lounge at this point and stated to Annabelle that it would now be open to him to arrest her on suspicion of assault.  SC Anderson who was over 6 foot in height and wearing body armour, towered over Annabelle, who was still holding her younger sister in her arms.  There was no suggestion that the impact of the door on his arm had caused any significant injury at all. 

SC Anderson then left the room, apparently satisfied that his ‘warning’ to Annabelle was sufficient.

Unfortunately, PC White then stormed back into the lounge and threatened to arrest Annabelle for assault on his colleague.  In response, Annabelle swore at PC White and told him to leave.

In response to this, PC White then grabbed hold of Annabelle’s arm and started pushing and pulling her around, such that Linda had to rescue her younger daughter from Annabelle’s arms. 

PC White then forced Annabelle face down on to the floor and pinned her down, placing his knee against her back.  Annabelle was a slim teenage girl, whilst PC White was a much stronger, taller adult male, both armed and armoured, and his use of force against her was, in my opinion, utterly reprehensible.

PC White then twisted Annabelle around before spraying her directly in the face with PAVA gas, and then handcuffing her in the rear stack position.

PC White also deployed his PAVA spray in a broad sweeping motion towards the adult occupants of the room, all of whom were understandably distressed by the extreme force he was using against Annabelle.

Linda, who had been pushed away by SC Anderson as she attempted to go to the assistance of her daughter, recalls PC White deploying the PAVA spray ‘as if it were an air freshener’.  This was in the close confines of a living room which as well as Annabelle, contained 2 other children, the youngest of whom was only five.

Catherine was also shoved and sprayed with PAVA by PC White, as she attempted to check on Annabelle’s welfare.

Further Officers now arrived at the house, in response to an emergency request which had been made by PC White, and Linda was arrested on false charges of having assaulted PC White in the execution of his duty. 

To Linda’s shock and distress her daughter Annabelle was also arrested (for allegedly assaulting both SC Anderson and PC White) and Linda’s sister in law Catherine was likewise, for supposedly having assaulted PC White.  Neither Linda nor Catherine had in fact done anything other than to protest and attempt to come to the aid of a 14-year-old girl who was being assaulted in the highly distressing circumstances described above.  Nevertheless, both women and the girl were transported to and detained overnight at Bury St Edmund’s Police Station.

All of them underwent the degrading process of being fingerprinted, photographed, having DNA samples taken from them and being incarcerated in a cell.  All were interviewed under caution. 

Linda, Annabelle and Catherine were then released on bail having been charged with assaulting PC White in the execution of his duty, although notably the charge was subsequently reduced to one of common assault against PC White. This was because the Crown Prosecution Service, on review of the evidence, correctly established that PC White had not been acting in the course of his duty at the time of the alleged assaults, for he was at that point a trespasser on the premises having failed to obey Linda’s original instruction to leave the house. 

Disappointingly, the CPS maintained the prosecution of all three of my clients, albeit on the lesser charge; Linda, Catherine and Annabelle maintained their pleas of ‘not guilty’ and were completely exonerated at trial at Norwich Magistrates Court some 4 months later.

At trial, the Court criticised inconsistencies in the evidence offered by PC White and SC Anderson, and in response to a formal complaint that was then brought by Linda, the Professional Standards Department of Norfolk Police admitted that PC White had used unnecessary and excessive force and Annabelle’s arrest was unnecessary in the following terms:-

SC Anderson dealt with Annabelle by speaking to her in an effective manner, however PC White then took it upon himself to further ‘deal’ with Annabelle.  It is considered the actions of PC White, at this stage, were unnecessary and somewhat excessive, and therefore it is suggested that this complaint be upheld, in that instance and the Officer be made subject to Management Action.

Further criticism of PC White was then offered by the determining Officer who reviewed the complaint as follows:-

[PC White’s] decision to arrest Annabelle for an impetuous act which SC Anderson had effectively dealt with, notwithstanding his actions were lawful, on this occasion calls into question his judgment.  I consider that the arrest was unjustified and the matter could have been dealt with without recourse to this.  PC White overreacted in what appears to be an overprotective and unnecessary way which then led to the sequence of events resulting in further arrests.  I therefore consider that the complaint is justified and is upheld.

Notwithstanding that the complaint was (somewhat reluctantly) upheld in this respect, it was disappointing to my client that the only punishment PC White received for his assault upon the family, was the minimal sanction of ‘Management Action’ and furthermore, when I presented a claim on behalf of Linda for trespass, assault and battery, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, the initial response of Norfolk Constabulary was to contest the claim.

Undeterred, I issued County Court proceedings on behalf of Linda which soon caused the Police to cave in and, after negotiation, agree to settle the claim for £29,000 plus costs.

Further claims which I brought on behalf of Annabelle and Catherine were also subsequently settled by Norfolk Constabulary for damages of £30,000 and £24,000 respectively resulting in a total recovery of £83,000 damages for the family.

I think that this amounted to an entirely appropriate sanction against the Police for what was a flagrant abuse of power perpetrated by their Officers, in particular PC White, completely misusing both the weaponry and the powers of arrest with which they had been entrusted to uphold the law, the whole incident beginning with their arrogant decision to ignore Linda’s lawful command for them to leave the property.

After respect for the person, the law begins with respect for the privacy of the home and Police Officers of all people should understand, acknowledge and uphold this. 

The names of all individuals have been changed.

Discrimination by the Police

Given the many headlines arising from the recent U.S Presidential and Congressional elections – not least Donald Trump’s retreat to his golf bunker and refusal to concede defeat – a story which may have passed below the radar was the landmark election of Sarah McBride, a transwoman and LGBT rights campaigner, to the Delaware State Senate, making her the highest-ranking transgender government official in US history.

Although there is greater awareness than ever in today’s world of transgender rights and non-binary or gender-fluid identities, that doesn’t mean that overt, let alone more subtle, forms of prejudice against transgender people have been extinguished, even where such prejudice is most reprehensible of all – amongst the guardians of law and order, as the case of my client Charlie Tatton (name changed) demonstrates.

Charlie is a transgender male (assigned female at birth) who was, at the time of these events, undergoing testosterone treatment and awaiting surgery. In September 2019 Charlie attended at Swansea Central Police Station, having been informed by his neighbours that Police Officers had earlier called at his address, and on arrival at the station, he was arrested.

Charlie was then detained for around 4 hours before being ‘processed’ for release, which included the taking of his fingerprints and a DNA sample. Whilst this process was ongoing, a female Custody Detention Officer (CDO) was searching the Police computer system for data on Charlie, in the same room.

The CDO suddenly piped up “Right, what was your She Name?…What was your She Name, ‘cause you’re a He Name now aren’t you?”

Charlie did not respond, as he found the question offensive, which resulted in the CDO accusing him of causing them “complications.”

Charlie then did offer his previous name, which caused the CDO to respond, in a grossly insensitive and intrusive manner “So are you going through the process? Do you have the paperwork? So what about your bits? Are you male or female down there?”

The CDO then went on to badger Charlie about having “the right paperwork” to confirm his gender and continued to make unnecessary and offensive comments, which seemed to nakedly demonstrate the CDO’s distaste for/ disapproval of transgender people including an accusation that it was “not nice” for male officers searching a transman not to know if he was, as the CDO put it, “a female [down] there.” This was tantamount, in Charlie’s view, to asking “What have you got between your legs?”

Charlie had been in Police custody before, and had never been treated so rudely; following his release, he immediately made a formal complaint.

Unfortunately, the Inspector designated to deal with the matter, decided that the complaint was so minor it could be dealt with by “Local resolution” rather than an investigation i.e brushed under the carpet.

Charlie quite rightly protested this decision, and in December 2019 the Professional Standards Department of South Wales Police acknowledged that the complaint should have been subject to a formal investigation but as the original Inspector had “effectively investigated the matter”, nothing further would now been done.

Charlie then consulted me, and I sent a letter of claim to South Wales Police, seeking damages for breaches of the Equality Act 2010, the only remedy now open to Charlie after the frustration of the complaint process.

The Equality Act allows any person who has suffered discrimination or harassment as a result of any of the following “protected characteristics” to seek restitution through an award of damages-

·         age;

·         disability;

·         gender reassignment;

·         marriage and civil partnership;

·         pregnancy and maternity;

·         race;

·         religion or belief;

·         sex;

·         sexual orientation.

It is an important piece of legislation, which has recently been praised by Pauline Hughes, an Employment Tribunal Judge, for enabling a new generation of Rosa Parks or Martin Luther Kings to teach valuable lessons to institutions which tolerate discriminatory behaviour amongst their staff, or do not do enough to stamp it out.

In response to the claim, South Wales Police admitted liability for violating Charlie’s dignity  and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment for him, through the actions and comments of the female CDO.

The implication of the questions and comments by the CDO was that the CDO had felt that Charlie should be intimately searched by female rather than male officers, which would have been degrading and humiliating to Charlie. Despite Charlie clearly informing the CDO that her line of questioning was both irrelevant and rude, she had nonetheless persisted, abusing the position of authority she held over him, apparently to satisfy her own personal prejudices/ curiosity. Further insult was then added to this injury, when Charlie’s legitimate complaint was initially deemed so inconsequential that it was suitable for local resolution (a decision effectively upheld by PSD, despite lip service to the contrary).

The Police, having admitted liability, made a derisory offer of settlement of only £1,000 causing me to have to commence Court proceedings on behalf of Charlie. I am pleased to confirm that a final settlement has now been negotiated in the sum of £7,500 damages, though as with so many of my clients, Charlie would have appreciated just as much an early and fulsome apology from the Police, and in particular, the CDO responsible.

In addressing Charlie’s complaint, South Wales Police made it clear that they have produced a Transgender Handbook for Police staff, which has been circulated to remind staff to respect the dignity of members of all communities, including the use of “acceptable terminology”. Frankly, I wouldn’t have thought that anyone needed a booklet to tell them not to be so blatantly and unnecessarily rude as the CDO was towards Charlie, but given that it does appear necessary to teach such lessons to certain members of the “Police community”, I would hope that genuine efforts are made to educate staff and change their behaviour (particularly behaviour towards individuals who are already in the very vulnerable and distressing position of being detainees in Police custody) and that those efforts do not just stop at the printed page, as another form of paying “lip service” to a problem without actually solving it.