Suicidal schizophrenic compensated after police brutality

I represented a man sprayed with CS gas when he was desperate for medical treatment. He received £4,000 compensation plus his legal costs in his legal action against the police which went all the way to trial. His barrister at trial was Nick Stanage of Doughty Street Chambers, a leading barrister in actions against the police claims.

David Johnston, 39, from Kirkby, Liverpool had a history of mental health problems including schizophrenia dating back to 1996.

On the evening of January 8 2006, he was found wandering the streets by a friend, Robert Hardaker.

Mr Johnston had taken an overdose of his prescribed medication and drunk a litre of cider.  Mr Hardaker took him back to his house, 481 Southport Road, Bootle, a property he shared with his partner, Tracey O’Keefe. Mr Johnston was depressed at the prospect of losing his children by his ex-wife taking them to America.  Mr Johnston was highly agitated, threatening to kill himself and clearly suffering from some form of mental breakdown.

As a result of this behaviour and at his request, Ms O’Keefe called 999 for an ambulance, although in accordance with standard practice in these cases, the operator also alerted the police.

During a four day trial in Liverpool County Court it was alleged that Mr Johnston had come out of the house in Southport Road shouting abuse, roaring like an animal and flailing his arms about.

Rather than trying to calm the situation down, PC Court sprayed Mr Johnston three times with CS gas before detaining him and taking him to hospital.

Mr Johnston alleged that the officer used the gas like spray paint, saturating his clothes and burning his face, neck, ears, back, chest and legs even though he was holding his hands out in submission and showing he posed no threat.    He suffered severe skin blistering as a result of the attack.

Following a day of deliberation, the jury found that the amount of force used on Mr Johnston by the officer was unreasonable.

On Monday the 20th September, the jury ordered that Merseyside Police should pay Mr. Johnston £4,000 plus his legal costs for the police assault.

This case is a stark reminder to police officers that CS gas is a potent weapon that should only be deployed when an officer is faced with violence or the threat of violence.  On arrival at the scene, PC Court was told and recognised from Mr Johnston’s behaviour that he was mentally ill and needed help.  Unfortunately, his actions exacerbated a delicate situation and only served to harm Mr Johnston.  It raises real concerns as to the actions of PC Court that night and the adequacy of training in the use of CS gas.

Earlier in the proceedings, Merseyside Police had sought to have the claim struck out on the grounds that there was “no arguable case”. I comment on that in a separate post about how the police’s tactics failed to prevent him pursuing his case to trial.

Press coverage of this compensation claim against the police

The BBC and the Liverpool Echo both covered the story, which generated significant interest. It was also reported on Lawtel, the respected online law reporting service.

You can read the David Johnston official judgment from the earlier hearing by clicking on the link.

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