Claim Against the Police after an Armed Police Raid

I never said it would be easy.

When I took instructions from Ishtiaq (‘Ish’) Malik about his family’s claim against the police after an armed police raid, I explained that these cases are not straightforward.

Despite the warning, Ish (details of him, his family, and their claim, are used with permission) was determined to seek justice following the armed police raid at his home.

After nearly two and a half years, they got it when they received five-figure compensation and a full explanation of what happened.

In this case report I will explain the background to their compensation claim against the police, the difficulties we faced, and how we overcame them.

Background to this Claim Against the Police

Ish Malik, is a British Asian man. He is tall and of slim build. He was 29 at the time of the incident.

At 03:53 on 6th October 2011 Ish was in bed with his wife, Wajiha. Their 5-year-old daughter, Aribah, was in her room.

Mr. and Mrs. Malik woke up when they heard banging noises in the hallway outside their flat. They thought they were being burgled. As they went to the front door, it was smashed open.

The terrified couple was confronted by a number of armed men pointing guns at them.  (Ish later described seeing a blue light on his chest from the laser sight of a gun.) The men shouted a succession of contradictory commands.  One told Mr. and Mrs. Malik to freeze; another told them to put up their hands.

The disturbance woke Aribah. When Ish heard his daughter screaming and crying he started to go to her, only to be told ‘Freeze or we’ll strike you down’.

Aribah and Wajiha watched in horror as Ish, who was wearing only a vest and his boxer shorts, was manhandled, handcuffed to the rear, and taken out of the flat without explanation.

The armed men, who were now clearly police officers, did not explain what was happening to Aribah and Wajiha, who were kept in the living room while an armed police officer blocked the doorway. Other officers searched the flat and went through their things.

After 10-15 minutes Ish was allowed to join his wife and daughter. The family was then informed that the police had made a mistake and that someone would be sent to fix the door.

The Maliks were understandably terrified and upset by this traumatic incident, which caused them to suffer psychological trauma long after the raid.

Making a Claim against the Police

The raid happened on Ishtiaq’s 29th birthday. Instead of a present or a cake, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner sent him what Mr. Malik estimates were 8-10 armed officers.

Determined to seek answers, Ish contacted me as I am a solicitor who specialises in helping people claim against the police.

After a lengthy interview and careful consideration, I decided to take his family’s claim against the Metropolitan Police on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.  I felt that the Police should be held to account to explain the raid and agreed to investigate further. But as with all claims against the police, I did not make any wild promises of overnight success. There are no guarantees when it comes to making a claim against the police.

I explained that for reasons best known to themselves, the police often defend seemingly hopeless cases, dragging them out for years if they can.

Despite this, the Malik family were determined to press on. They were as interested as me to find out why the police chose to raid their family home in the middle of the night.  Finding this out was easier said than done.

Metropolitan Police Delay

I submitted a claim against the police on the Malik family’s behalf.

The Civil Procedure Rules, which govern claims against the police made in England & Wales, encourage a respondent to the claim to investigate and then either accept or deny liability in a set period of time, known as the ‘protocol period’.

If liability is denied, they must disclose evidence in support to explain why. The time limits are strict and, in the event they are ignored, claimants have the right to either lodge an application for pre-action disclosure (of relevant documents) or issue proceedings.

But, despite the rules and strict time limits, the Metropolitan Police’s legal representatives failed to confirm the Force’s position and explain what had happened within the protocol period.

They did, however, offer some compensation to Ish and his wife, Wajiha.

This was not good enough for my clients, or for me, as we all wanted more than just money.  (Even if the case was just about money, in my opinion the sums offered were low on the basis of the information I had at that time so I advised my clients to reject them.)

The police ignored a number of prompts so, to ensure that this claim against the police progressed, I issued court proceedings.

This is not something I do lightly. There are serious costs consequences when court proceedings are issued. They are expensive and raise the stakes considerably. But, without co-operation from the Metropolitan Police, we had no alternative.

It was only when we received the Metropolitan Police’s defence a year after the incident that we got some details about what had happened. And even though the Police had filed a defence, I had to serve a formal ‘Part 18 Request’ for further information to clarify it.  It was another 7 months before some limited documentary evidence was disclosed in support of the denial and a further 7 months before crucial documentation was made available.

It took a long time for all the evidence from the Metropolitan Police to come through. This is not unusual in my experience. As I explained to my clients at the beginning, police forces routinely delay and avoid claims against them. When they do get round to dealing with matters they often deny liability without a satisfactory explanation.

And, in this case, as in so many of the claims against the police I pursue, there is a complex legal argument to be considered.

Legal Defence to a Claim Against the Police

The Metropolitan Police’s defence was that they were searching for an individual suspected of a violent crime earlier that day. The suspect, a 17-year-old black youth, had been arrested several weeks before and his address had been recorded on the Police National Computer at 1a, 188 Wellington Road.  The Police sent an armed unit to arrest him because of the risk of further violence.

When the armed police arrived at 188 Wellington Road, they established that there was no flat numbered 1a.  Following review they decided to enter No. 1, my clients’ flat.

I accept that this was a difficult decision.  Entry to Flat 1 was clearly on the basis that it was the address that most closely resembled Flat 1a.

But the legal question to be addressed was:

Was adequate thought or care given to ensuring that the correct address was entered?

The answer would only be known after a trial.

This was an arguable case which could have gone either way.

If, as I submitted, the police failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that their information was correct before conducting the raid, my clients would be entitled to compensation.

But if, as the police argued, they acted properly on the basis of the information held in the Police National Computer, they would be protected from liability for any potential claim. Then the only way to recover compensation would be if it was found by the Court that the police’s conduct after entry was unlawful, i.e. that it was not necessary to physically restrain Ish because he bore no physical resemblance to the suspect. (Ish was a 29-year-old British Asian; the suspect was a 17-year-old black youth.)

Outcome of this Claim Against the Police

As with so many claims against the police, both legal arguments had merit. This is why these cases are so hard to predict, and why I avoid making promises of success.

After proceedings were issued and a defence filed, the Police put forward revised offers. Curiously, they offered less compensation to Ish but more to Wajiha, again without any explanation.

With the case progressing towards trial, the reasons for the armed raid now known and supported by evidence, and with my clients’ agreement, I was able to discuss settlement terms with the Metropolitan Police’s solicitors.

In February 2014, over two years after the raid, I settled the family’s claims against the Metropolitan Police for a five-figure sum plus legal costs. The settlement amount was more than twice the Police’s original offer.

Ultimately, the settlement reflected a reasonable compromise but the Metropolitan Police could have saved my clients a considerable amount of additional upset and frustration by adopting a more proactive approach to disclosure (of both facts and documents) and entered into meaningful negotiations earlier.

If they had done so, they would also have saved themselves (and the taxpayer) a small fortune in legal costs.

As I explained to my clients at the beginning, it was never going to be easy to claim against the police. Despite the difficulties and delays they are satisfied with the outcome. They received an explanation and compensation, which is all they wanted when they approached me.

 

If you want help with a claim against the police contact me, Iain Gould, using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website.

Contact

“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.

Background

John Spencer

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:

  1. their home phone line had been disconnected;
  2. no one had a mobile in the house with any credit on it; and
  3. 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.

He then:

  • 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.

Criminal Prosecution

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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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’;
  3. if a power of arrest did exist, that the power was unreasonably exercised; and
  4. 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.

Contact Iain Gould, solicitor:

 

%d bloggers like this: