“At approximately 1.30a.m., I heard someone banging on the front door and then my mum going to answer it. The noise was unbelievable; if it had been any louder the door would have ‘gone in’.
I could not think who would be knocking on the door at that time of night.”
(extract from witness statement of John Spencer)
I helped John and Susan Spencer sue the police in a civil compensation claim in which John received £40,000 and Susan £10,000, plus full legal costs.
The following case report is based on their account of an incident which occurred at the family home in the early hours of the morning of 8 August 2010 when they were visited by Merseyside Police officers. As you would expect, the police dispute this version of events. Both clients have consented to me providing this case report.
John Spencer, 37, (pictured) lives with his mother, Susan, and her partner Eric, in Seaforth, a North Liverpool suburb. A former postman and currently unemployed due to ill-health, John was asleep in bed when he was woken by loud banging at the door followed by voices.
Susan, who was awake downstairs as she had a sore hand and didn’t want to disturb Eric, answered the door to be confronted by two policemen. They told her that they were calling to speak to John about improper phone calls he was supposed to have made to a former friend earlier that evening.
She told the police their information was wrong and gave them three reasons why he could not have made the calls:
- their home phone line had been disconnected;
- no one had a mobile in the house with any credit on it; and
- John had not left the house so could not have accessed a phone any other way.
Despite this clear explanation the police still insisted on speaking to John. His mother called him down and Mr Spencer independently confirmed what she had said.
The first policeman started issuing a harassment warning notice. The official warning, issued under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, meant that John may be arrested if he acted in a manner in future which caused the Complainant any form of harassment, alarm or distress.
John was sure the police were mistaken and had done nothing wrong. He decided to go back to bed and headed upstairs, effectively exercising his right to refuse to accept the harassment warning notice.
But instead of leaving, seconds after John closed his bedroom door, the first police officer forced his way into the bedroom, violently pushing the door open.
- grabbed terrified Mr. Spencer by the throat;
- repeatedly punched him to the face and body with his closed right fist;
- without warning, sprayed numerous bursts of CS gas directly into Mr. Spencer’s face;
- held him face down on the bed restricting his breathing; and
- with the help of a colleague he pulled John’s arms back to handcuff him.
Mrs Spencer, who had followed the two officers up the stairs, tried to pull them off her son. She was restrained and had to watch the vicious assault unfold, which John estimated took 10 minutes.
In desperation and self-defence, John, who was being held face down on the bed by two much larger police officers and could barely breathe, bit the first officer’s left hand.
The policeman released his grip, left the room shouting “he’s bit me, he’s bit me”. John, who was wearing only his boxer shorts, was taken downstairs into a waiting police van, transferred to another vehicle, and taken to Copy Lane Police Station. On his way there he vomited several times due to the effects of the CS gas.
At the police station Mr Spencer was told that he had been arrested for assaulting a police officer. He was refused bail and held for 1 day, 6 hours and 23 minutes and was formally charged with a breach of Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The maximum sentence for this offence was 5 years’ imprisonment.
Following a brief appearance at the Magistrates’ Court John was refused bail and remanded in custody at HMP Walton for a further six days until he was bailed at a second court hearing.
John had to endure the constant stress of the prosecution and numerous further court hearings, during which he repeatedly protested his innocence. On 12 January 2011, some five months after the initial incident, he was acquitted at Liverpool Crown Court after a full jury trial despite both policemen giving evidence to support the serious charge of assaulting a police officer.
Decision to Sue the Police
Understandably, after the stress of the criminal trial, John Spencer didn’t want anything more to do with the police. But, he was determined that both his own, and his mother’s, treatment at the hands of these police officers should be punished. He knew that he would have to make a civil claim and that by suing the police he might have to go through another trial at which he would have to face his attackers.
John’s determination came from his belief that the police officers involved wrongfully arrested him and provided false evidence in their notebooks and signed witness statements.
The first police officer said that John had been verbally abusive, that he was physically aggressive, and that he punched and head butted him.
The second officer backed his colleague by saying that he witnessed John’s punches and head butts and heard the first officer give several warnings before spraying CS gas.
Mr Spencer said none of this was true.
He asked me to help him sue the police as I am a solicitor who specialises in these claims.
After taking details from John and his mother and reviewing witness statements and other evidence used in the criminal trial, I considered that there was sufficient information to investigate whether to sue the police, but the limitation date was fast approaching.
I sent a letter of claim and issued Protective Court Proceedings to preserve John’s case from being statute-barred and effectively lost.
I explained in the letter of claim that in my opinion:
- the arrest and detention were unlawful because they were not founded on a reasonable suspicion that John had committed an arrestable offence, or other lawful authority;
- further (or in the alternative) the arrest was not necessary ‘to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question’;
- if a power of arrest did exist, that the power was unreasonably exercised; and
- that the decision to arrest was unlawful as the arresting officer failed to act in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Code of Practice which states that the use of the power of arrest must be fully justified and exercised in a proportionate manner.
As a result:
- the use of force was unlawful and amounted to an assault;
- the officers’ continued presence at the family home after John refused the harassment warning notice constituted trespass; and
- the prosecution brought against Mr Spencer was malicious and brought without reasonable and probable cause.
I claimed compensation for the assault, loss of liberty, distress, discomfort and inconvenience. I also demanded aggravated and exemplary damages for the additional humiliation and suffering caused as well as the police’s arbitrary, oppressive, and unconstitutional conduct.
Finally, I demanded disclosure of the police officers’ notebooks, witness statements, Use of Force form, CS gas statement, and other evidence.
In response, Merseyside Police’s solicitor made limited admissions and offered £10,000 to settle John’s claim. If not agreed, she said that we should enter into ‘alternative dispute resolution or some form of mediation’.
It was clear that John had suffered both physical and psychological injuries and so at this point we were not in a position to contemplate settlement. (I commissioned reports from both a GP and psychiatrist.)
But the offer put John in an impossible situation: would he be better off accepting it or should he carry on knowing that he might end up with more, less, or nothing at all? As an out-of-work man with little appetite to see the inside of a courtroom again, the temptation to accept £10,000 and move on with his life was huge.
After discussing his options with me, John rejected the offer and agreed to proceed with his claim.
The medical evidence that I had commissioned confirmed that the police assault left John with numerous injuries, including:
- cuts and bruises to his head, legs, and wrists;
- extensive bruising to his body, lower back and ribs;
- two black eyes;
- after effects of the CS spray, including vomiting, severe burning to the eyes and nose, and headaches;
- permanent scars from the handcuff injuries to his left wrist and hand; and
- post-traumatic stress disorder.
I served full court proceedings. In their formal Defence the Force admitted wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, and the unlawful use of force. They denied everything else, saying that their officers:
- ‘honestly but wrongly believed that there was reasonable and probable cause for the prosecution’;
- denied any malice in the prosecution; and
- denied that any officer fabricated an account of the matter at any time.
I pressed on with the case and obtained an order from the Court to have the matter dealt with by judge and jury, instead of judge alone.
Then Merseyside Police’s solicitor doubled her offer to £20,000. If rejected, she suggested a round-table meeting.
After another meeting with my client, we decided to reject this offer and meet with the Police.
Negotiations at the meeting on 19 June 2014 went well. Merseyside Police’s offer increased from £20,000 to £32,000 fairly quickly, then up to £39,000, then to £40,000 plus legal costs, at which point we settled Mr Spencer’s claim.
John Spencer is delighted with the settlement, which is four times more than he was originally offered, and justifies his determination to sue the police.
Susan Spencer’s Claim Against Merseyside Police
We were able to settle Mrs Spencer’s claim at the meeting on 19 June as well.
Mrs Spencer, who witnessed the two police officers actions, later described the assault on her son as ‘ferocious’ and ‘savage’. She was deeply disturbed by what she saw and was also affected by the CS gas which left her nauseous, disoriented, and with sore eyes.
She was also arrested at the scene for obstructing the police while she tried to protect her son from the assault. Susan had never been in trouble with the police before and in desperation accepted a caution so as to be released from the police station as soon as possible.
Susan asked me to sue the police for her. I issued proceedings and also entered into negotiations to settle her claim. The police initially offered £6000 and thereafter £8000.
At the round table meeting the police repeated their offer of £8,000, but we eventually agreed on £10,000 plus costs. She too is satisfied that it was worth her while taking legal action against the police and feels vindicated by the result.
Press Coverage of the Spencers’ Claims Against the Police
The BBC reported how John was ‘mentally destroyed’ by the incident. John was also interviewed for BBC TV and Radio after the settlement. You can hear the radio interview by clicking on the ‘play’ button below:
If you want to sue the police contact me using the form below or via my firm’s website or on 0151 933 5525.