Metropolitan Police assault at gunpoint leads to substantial compensation

I pursued an actions against the police claim for four young professionals who were mistakenly involved in a bungled stop and search operation. As a result, the Metropolitan Police paid over £23,000 compensation and legal costs.

My clients received 100% of their compensation for this horrific incident.

Armed police assault

Claire Clarke, James Barber, Nicholas Fairbairn and Ruth Fairbairn (nee Watson) are all in their late 20’s and had never been in trouble with the police. They were driving home from a visit with friends at 9.15p.m. on 19 April 2010 when they were stopped by several marked police cars with sirens blaring and lights flashing in Sudbury Court Road, Harrow.

Their Renault Clio hatchback was quickly surrounded by armed officers with their weapons drawn. The police used offensive language and shouted conflicting instructions while pointing their guns at the terrified friends. One of the armed officers smashed the driver’s side window with the butt of his gun, showering the occupants with glass.

James Barber, the driver, was dragged from the car, thrown face down to the glass-covered ground, handcuffed and then taken away for questioning. Nicholas and Ruth Fairbairn were also forcibly removed and handcuffed.

Police mistake

About 20 minutes later they were re-united and informed that the police had mistakenly stopped their vehicle instead of a Renault saloon, which they suspected had firearms in it.

All four were deeply traumatized by the attack. Ruth Fairbairn had a panic attack and Claire Clarke subsequently required counselling. Ruth described the episode as one of ‘total disbelief. It felt surreal, like something from a t.v. police drama.’

Police complaint rejected

The friends complained to the Metropolitan Police and subsequently the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The police accepted that they had made a mistake in identifying the wrong car but blamed this on human error, saying that they had been ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’.

The IPCC supported the police’s arguments and rejected the complaint.

Actions against the police claim

The four friends instructed me as I am a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police, to pursue a compensation claim.

The police denied liability on the basis that they were entitled to stop and search a vehicle which they reasonably suspected to be carrying a firearm, and that the force used was ‘proportionate and necessary’ given the perceived threat.

I argued that they failed to conduct basic checks to ensure that the friends’ Renault Clio was involved in any suspected firearms offence. As a result, I was able to show that the subsequent assaults, property damage and detention, were illegal.

The Metropolitan Police maintained their denial of liability, so I was left with no alternative but to issue court proceedings. Following that, the Metropolitan Police agreed to a round table meeting.

Without admission of liability they formally apologised and settled all four actions against the police claims for a total of £23,050 plus costs.

Press coverage of this actions against the police claim

I was interviewed by the BBC about this case. You can hear the interview by clicking on this link: Iain Gould interview on the BBC re: Fairbairn, Clarke and others

The Telegraph reported the trauma suffered by the friends. In particular, Nick Fairbairn, who described the incident as ‘really bizarre and frightening’.

The Independent described the incident as a ‘bungled police swoop’.

The London Evening Standard led with the entirely avoidable anticipated total cost to the Metropolitan Police. The quoted figure for this actions against the police claim included compensation and both sides’ costs.

The Metro noted that James Barber was on the receiving end of the most brutal assault, being thrown face down onto glass covered ground.

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