Why You Should Always Use a Specialist Solicitor to Sue the Police

Just over 2 years ago, a new client emailed me.  Pedro, from South America, had just been acquitted of assaulting a police officer following a trial at the Magistrates’ Court.   He now wanted to bring an action against the Met Police  and was hoping for some “justice”.

I was in London at the time and suggested he call me in the morning.  Later that same day, he replied advising that he had decided to carry on with the same firm that had represented him in the Magistrates’ Court. You can see our text messages below:

After a few days, Pedro called me.  He explained that following enquiries with his criminal defence solicitors he had decided that he wanted me to act.

I obtained Pedro’s file of papers from his criminal defence solicitors and all other available documentation and then met him for a lengthy face-to-face meeting whereupon I took his full instructions.

Following a night out in April 2017,  Pedro had fallen foul of encountered several Metropolitan Police Officers in an incident that resulted in him being violently arrested for allegedly breaching section 5 of the Public Order Act and assaulting 2 officers, during which arrest he suffered multiple soft tissue injuries.  As above, he was subsequently prosecuted and acquitted following trial at Stratford Magistrates’ Court.

In terms of evidence, we had Pedro’s account (somewhat tainted by his admission that during the day he had drank 6 pints of beer and 3 glasses of spirits), the account of 5 police officers and some limited CCTV footage which caught the later part of the incident only.

The first thing I had to do was disabuse Pedro of the notion that just because he had been acquitted, he had a ‘cast  iron’ claim against the Met.

Certainly his acquittal was of paramount importance to his proposed claim for malicious prosecution (no acquittal, no claim).

Furthermore,  the findings of the Magistrates’ Court were certainly helpful to Pedro’s cause and in my opinion, would make it difficult for the police to defend the claim.  Difficult, but not impossible, as the findings of the Magistrates’ Court were not binding upon the civil court and further, involved meeting a different standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt).

At the outset of my contact with Pedro,  I had alluded to the difficulties that lay ahead for him in his proposed claim.  After many years of experience in this field of law, I am accustomed to the trials and tribulations (literal and metaphorical) of pursuing a successful civil action against the police.  I have previously blogged about such issues in my blog, ‘Attrition warfare’ and Pedro’s case proved  no exception.

Once I intimated a claim on Pedro’s behalf, the Met refused to either admit or deny liability and instead offered £3,000 plus costs in settlement.  It was necessary to issue Court proceedings whereupon, of course,  a robust defence was filed denying all liability.

Notwithstanding these hurdles, relying on  my expertise and knowledge of the law, and familiarity with the way the police litigate these cases, I was able to guide Pedro’s case to a successful conclusion and, I am pleased to confirm that I have just settled his claim for £30,000 plus costs. This is 10 times the amount that the Met initially offered him in settlement of his claim.

I am pleased for both of us that Pedro decided to trust me to handle his case.  This is a very specialist area of law, and to get the right result when you are fighting what is often an uphill battle against the Police, you need the right lawyer.

The following is the very kind testimonial which Pedro provided me at the conclusion of his case:-

I contacted Iain Gould. He offered a meeting and straight to the point explanation of what was the cards he had in hands.

The determination to help and winning attitude sounded like an extra ability and not just fancy words i remember reading on “professionals” websites.

During the period of whole process Iain has worked effectively with detail in every action and procedures which provided me with the peace of mind knowing that the someone was going to pay for the injustice i was put through.

In every single legal term and language on documentation received to be signed there was a phone call from Iain followed by explanations of their meanings, how he was going to proceed and different options for me to choose. Due the full trust gained within very short period of time, i have many times just allowed Iain to decide on his own in what was the best and act upon it on my behalf.

Iain has been Amazing throughout the whole process proving that he is a outstanding  professional with exceptional standards and vast knowledge on the subject; I could not have chosen better qualified or any other Person to deal with.

 

(All names changed.)

Will the Police learn their lesson? The illegal strip-search of a minor.

Historically, the term ‘juvenile’ as used in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) has referred to a child under 17.  Section 42 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (CJCA) extended the definition of ‘juvenile’ for the purposes of PACE to include any child or young person who appears to be under the age of 18, establishing the same protections for all those aged under 18 and bringing the definition into line with that of the  UN Convention of the Rights of  the Child (UNCRC).

Safeguards for children/young people

PACE incorporates a number of safeguards for children/young people caught up in the criminal justice system.  Any contact between a child and police officers can be very frightening and distressing and have long-term adverse consequences for vulnerable young minds which are still in the process of maturing. The need for such protective measures should be self-evident.  Self-evident to all except for some Police Officers it seems.

I have just concluded a claim for John, a young man from Merseyside who’s just turned 19.  Back on 23rd  February 2017, John was just 16 and as is evident  from his custody photograph taken that day, a young-looking 16.

At the time, his older brother, Kevin was dating a girl from Scarborough (Lauren).  The weekend before, Lauren had come over and stayed with Kevin and his family.  On the 23rd February, Kevin agreed to drive Lauren home.  John had never been to Yorkshire before so went along for the ride.

Upon arrival at Lauren’s home address in Scarborough, Kevin parked up and he and Lauren went inside leaving John sat in the front passenger seat.

A short while later, a Police van pulled up close by and a number of officers alighted and surrounded the car in which John was sat before one of them opened the front passenger door and asked him where the driver was.  John explained that his brother was the driver, that he was in a house close by and that he would be back soon.

An officer instructed John to step onto the pavement.

John was required to provide his name and date of birth, which he did, thereby indicating that he was a minor, which was apparent in any event.

John was then told that he would be taken to the police van.  John was escorted to the van by two officers.   He was instructed to step inside the vehicle, whereupon he was told he was to be subjected to a “strip search.”  No legal justification or grounds for the search were provided to him.

Unlawful intimate strip-search

John was instructed to pull down his track suit bottoms and underwear, whereupon the officers conducted an extremely intimate search.

Wrongful arrest

To his complete shock John was then informed that he was under arrest on suspicion of possession of cannabis, irrespective of the fact that no drugs had been found upon him.

John was then detained in the police van for an extended period of time (in excess of 60 minutes) until he was transported to Scarborough police station, which was no more than a mile away , where his detention continued.

Following arrival at Scarborough police station, details of John’s arrest were reported to the custody officer, but details of the strip/intimate search were not disclosed, nor was the negative result of such searches.

Despite John requesting that his father be promptly informed of his arrest, John’s dad was not in fact informed until some three hours later by which time he was unable to attend the police station to act as appropriate adult.  Consequently it was necessary for a representative from the Youth Offending Team to do so.

John was obliged to provide fingerprints and a DNA sample and was then detained in a cell until the appropriate adult arrived whereupon he was interviewed. After six hours in custody, John was finally released.  In due course, John received confirmation that no further action would be taken.

The facts of the case would form a great quiz for trainee police cadets as to what Codes of Practice were breached except for the sad fact that this catalogue of terrors was actually perpetrated against a real person. Focusing just on the search, what did the officers do wrong?

  • The strip/intimate search was conducted in the absence of an appropriate adult to which John was entitled.
  • No authorisation  for the search was provided by an Inspector.
  • John was not told of the legal authority for the search.
  • John was not told of any legal grounds for the search.
  • John did not provide, nor could he provide, consent to the search.
  • The strip/intimate search was carried out by a police officer, when it ought to have been carried out by a Registered Medical Practitioner or Nurse.
  • No documentation of the search was kept or maintained, thereby breaching section 3 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
  • Contrary to Code A paragraph 4.2B, no record of the search was made in the custody record.
  • The officers knew that the fact and/or manner of the strip/intimate search rendered it unlawful or a breach of the Codes of Practice but conducted it regardless.
  • The officers knew that the fact and/or manner of the strip/intimate search (in the dark, in a van, without giving reasons or legal authority and without any appropriate adult) was highly distressing and embarrassing to John but conducted it regardless.

In short, the search was carried out with wholesale disregard for every significant safeguard guaranteed pursuant to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Formal complaint

Upon John’s release from police custody, John’s dad – having been notified of what had happened –  immediately lodged a formal complaint which was subsequently investigated by the North Yorkshire Police Professional Standards Department. Following  investigation, the Professional Standards Department conceded that the actions of their officer were in breach of

(i) the statutory provisions relating to strip searches in the Police and Criminal Evidence act 1984, and

(ii) the relevant Codes of Practice thereto.

Disciplinary action was brought against the two officers who had carried out the search.

Civil claim

Once the complaint investigation had been concluded, I was instructed to pursue a civil claim for compensation on behalf of John.  Sadly but unsurprisingly and notwithstanding the findings of the Professional Standards Department, the Chief Constable denied liability and it was necessary to issue court proceedings.

I am pleased to report that following issue John’s case has now settled for £10,000.00 damages, plus costs.

This settlement is a fair award of compensation but monetary compensation was not the priority for John and his family.  As John’s dad said to me just last week, by bringing this action, the family wanted to expose this abuse of police power in the hope that other children/young people will not suffer as John did. The power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is wholly dependent upon public approval of their actions and behaviour and on their ability to police by consent.  The carrying out of illegal strip-searches on children is a gross abuse by officers of the trust and extraordinary power placed in their hands by our society, and it is for the good of everyone that such abuses be highlighted and prevented, in so far as possible, from occurring in the future.

A child’s first real experience of the Police should not be the degrading and humiliating one which John underwent.  If the Police want the next generation to have trust and confidence in them, they should learn the lesson of this case well.

(All names changed.)

Losing the plot: Unlawful Arrests for Terrorism

The Government announced this week that the UK’s terrorism threat level has been downgraded from “severe” to “substantial” and as such the terrorism threat is now at its lowest since August 2014.  “Substantial” is the third of five ratings at which the threat level operates and indicates a terrorist attack “is likely”.

I am quite sure that the risk of a terrorist attack remains real but whatever the level of perceived threat, it’s incredibly important that previous terrorist attacks and/or the current threat level should not affect the way in which Police Officers approach situations, which should be done in accordance with their training and with approved techniques.

Walking whilst black

 I have recently concluded a claim for a young black Londoner (whom I shall identify as “Steven”) where it is blatantly apparent Officers concerned in his arrest and detention lost sight of their powers and responsibilities and carried out what I consider to be an unlawful arrest.  The Metropolitan Police evidently agreed because although liability was disputed they have recently settled Steven’s claim such that he is to receive a five figure settlement award.

Back in October 2014, Steven was walking along Ealing Broadway having been for a haircut, when he was stopped by two Police Officers.

One Officer said that Steven had been stopped because he was suspected of following another police officer from Ealing Police Station.

Steven, who had never been in trouble with the Police, was shocked at the allegation and politely said words to the effect that he had not followed anyone. He told the officers  confronting him that they were in fact the first police officers he had seen all day.

One Officer nevertheless told Steven to “stand over there” and pointed towards a nearby shop. Steven did as instructed.

Unlawful stop and search

The Officer then conducted a pat-down search and asked Steven for his name and address. Steven found the request intrusive but provided the information as requested.

The Officer then said that Steven “looked suspicious” and that he thought Steven was “linked to something that had happened earlier on”.

Steven told the officers where he had been and what he had been doing over the course of the day.

The Officer then asked Steven if he knew “what had been happening on the news as regards to terrorism”. Steven replied, “No.

The Officer said, “Anyone seen acting suspiciously outside a police station is treated very seriously as the police are on red alert.” Steven replied, “I was just going home.

The Officer then repeated the suggestion that a police officer had been followed outside a police station and implied that Steven was the person who had followed this police officer.

It subsequently transpired that a PCSO had earlier that day reported that she had been followed from the Police station by two black males and then several hours later, another Police Officer had left the Police Station and reported that he had been followed by Steven.

Steven again denied the allegation and questioned why he would do such a thing. Steven reiterated that he had simply been on his way home.

More Police Officers, both uniformed and plain-clothed, joined the first 2 Officers on the scene.

Steven was confused and shocked about what was happening to him.

Steven also felt embarrassed, as he was being treated like a criminal, as members of the public in the vicinity were staring at him as he was questioned by the police.

One of the plain-clothed officers told Steven to hand over his phone, so that he could “have a look through it”. Steven did so and provided his password.

After a little while, Steven asked the plain-clothed Officer whether he had found anything on his phone. The plain-clothed Officer replied that Steven had “some nice food on the phone. Steven knew from this that the Officer had been looking through his photographs.

One of the officers then asked Steven what he did for a living. Steven explained that he was a chef.

Steven then heard one of the officers speak into his radio and attempt to verify Steven’s identity. Eventually the response came back that Steven did not have any previous convictions and that he was not wanted by the police.

Throughout this time, Steven repeatedly asked if he could go.

Steven was eventually informed by one of the Officers that he had called for a Sergeant to come down and speak to Steven. The Officer said that the Sergeant was on his way.

Steven, who had been compliant throughout, felt increasingly worried and victimised.

Steven asked how long the Sergeant would be. The Officer said that the Sergeant would be no longer than around five minutes.

After what felt to Steven like 15 minutes, the Sergeant finally arrived on the scene. The Sergeant spoke with some of the Officers, before approaching Steven.

The Sergeant asked Steven for his name and whether he had his passport on him, where he had been that day, and where he had been going when stopped by the police. Steven answered the Sergeant’s questions and explained that he did not have his passport on him.

The Sergeant then said to Steven, “I don’t believe you and your story.” The Sergeant then asked Steven if he was “selling drugs”.

Steven, as a young Black man, immediately felt that he had been stereotyped, targeted and racially discriminated against. This new accusation clearly had nothing to do with the original allegation that Steven had been following a Police Officer.  Steven replied, “No.”

The Sergeant then said words to the effect of,

Coming from where I’m coming from, if you was in my shoes, how would you look at this?

Steven replied words to the effect of,

I was simply walking with an intention to go home and on my way home to get something to eat. I changed my mind and was walking to the bus. What is wrong with that?

The Sergeant ignored Steven’s response and went to speak to some of the other Officers, who were huddled together in a group.

Terrorism, Drugs or Harassment?

A decision was made to arrest Steven and he was handcuffed to the rear.

One of the Officers told Steven he was “under arrest for suspicion of harassment”.

Steven was shocked, distressed and angry.  He could not understand how the position had seemingly changed from an allegation of following a Police Officer, to being questioned about terrorism and drugs, to an arrest for harassment.

The Officers then escorted Steven to a nearby police vehicle and transported to Acton Police Station.

Once at the Police Station, Steven was put before the Custody Sergeant and booked into custody.

Steven was subjected to a pat-down search and had his property removed from him.

Illegal strip search

Steven was then taken to a room away from the custody desk and subjected to a strip search.

Steven understandably felt extremely embarrassed, humiliated and degraded by this experience; like many people who experience a Police strip-search, he felt as though he was deliberately being stripped of his dignity as well as his clothes.

Steven was taken from the room and had his DNA, fingerprints and photograph taken.

Steven was then placed into a small, cold cell.

After a few hours in the cell, a female Officer visited the cell. The officer informed Steven that he was going to have an interview so that he could tell his “side of the story”. She told Steven that he could do this with or without a lawyer but that it might take some time for a lawyer to arrive.

Steven agreed to be interviewed without a lawyer because he wanted to get out of the Police Station as quickly as possible.

Shortly after this, at or around 23:59, Steven was taken from the cell for interview.

During the course of the interview, Steven answered all questions put to him. This included questions about his views on the Police and his views on Syria.

At the conclusion of the interview, Steven was returned to the cell.

Following interview, Steven continued asking the officers what was happening but was told that the people dealing with his case had gone home.

Steven felt trapped and as if he would never get out of the cell.

Steven eventually managed to fall asleep, but periodically woke up due to the noise of the cell-block and thoughts running through his mind.

At some point, Steven pressed the cell buzzer and asked if he could call his family. Steven was worried that his family would be concerned about his whereabouts. He had seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth.

Steven explained to the person who answered the buzzer that the contact  number was in his phone. Steven was informed that his phone had not yet been returned from the lab.

Steven was not able to call anyone else, as he did not know any contact numbers without having access to his phone.

Eventually an Officer attended the cell and told Steven that he could leave the Police Station. Steven was taken to the custody desk.

At the custody desk, Steven was informed that he was being released on bail, to surrender at a later date.

Steven’s property, with the exception of his phone, was returned to him.

Steven was released at or around 16:35.

Steven walked from the police station to the nearest bus stop and caught the bus home.

Release and Complaint

On arrival home, Steven discovered from members of his family that the Police had attended the premises whilst he was at the Police Station and had searched his bedroom.

Members of Steven’s family were upset about what had happened. Again, Steven felt like his privacy had been invaded.

A few days later, two Officers attended Steven’s home to return his phone.  He was told that the Police knew he was “not a terrorist” and that his bail had been “lifted”.

Steven subsequently filed  a complaint. Following investigation, his complaint was dismissed.  He appealed to the Independent Police “Watchdog” (in reality, often the Police “Lapdog” I am afraid) the IPCC.  The IPCC rejected his appeal. They concluded that the stop was justified given the context (i.e. the then terrorist threat level) and the Officers’ allegations of being followed.

Analysis

It’s quite evident that the grounds for Steven’s ‘stop and search’ were questionable to say the least.  On Steven’s account, on the one hand he was told that he had been stopped because of the offence for which he was later arrested and on the other hand he was informed that he looked suspicious and reference was made to drugs and terrorism.  It seems that Steven’s race/ethnicity was a primary factor in the Officer’ decision-making from the outset.

But I believe that the legality of Steven’s arrest for harassment was also highly questionable given that a single act cannot constitute harassment.  The offence is only committed if there is a course of conduct.  If it was not reasonable to suspect Steven of a course of conduct, it could not have been reasonable to suspect him of the offence of harassment.

Furthermore, in respect of the allegation that Steven was a suspect for having followed a PCSO earlier that day, Steven’s description simply did not match the description of the actual suspects (if indeed the men could have been genuinely suspected of having committed an offence or at least one incident that may have formed the basis of an offence of harassment).  It could not have been reasonable to arrest Steven for an offence based on a description of a suspect or suspects that did not correspond to his appearance.  The only feature, it seems, that was broadly similar was the fact that the suspects and Steven were not white as indeed are millions of people in this country. Suggestions about a climate of terrorism/fear about terrorism do not negate the need for every arrest to be founded on reasonable grounds of suspicion.

If it was not reasonable to suspect Steven of having followed the PCSO, even if it had been reasonable to suspect that Steven was following another Officer based on his (entirely innocent) actions, the requisite course of conduct would not have been made out for the purposes of the offence by following that Officer alone.  It would be necessary to show reasonable grounds to establish a course of conduct, which in my opinion could not be shown, because Steven could not have reasonably been suspected to have been involved in following the PSCO.

In the circumstances, Steven’s arrest for harassment was in my opinion entirely unlawful, as was everything that followed afterwards including his degrading strip-search and the search of his home address. This is reflected in the significant damages and legal costs which are now to be paid by the Metropolitan Police in settlement of Steven’s claim.

Conclusion

I believe that it is highly important to pursue claims on behalf of individuals such as Steven as a natural corrective – sometimes the only remedy available – against Police over-reach of their powers of stop search and arrest particularly where the complaint process has failed the victim, as it so often does.

Terrorists commit ghastly, high-profile crimes but the reality is that the percentage of us that they can directly be harmed by their activities is extremely small.  What terrorism is much more effective at doing is creating a disproportionately big climate of fear, whereby, as I am sure is the terrorists intention, they can scare us into harming ourselves and changing the character of our open, liberal, democratic society by swinging towards ‘draconian’ or paranoid policing.  Steven’s arrest and detention was one such over-reaction by the Police, in circumstances heavily tinged with racism, which we must guard against as keenly as we guard against terrorist attacks themselves.

Police abuse of power is a problem which whilst at a much lower-level of wrongdoing is a more pervasive risk and one which could do greater long-term damage to the fabric of our society.

Have you been arrested in your home for a summary only offence?

Traditionally, when someone was accused of a crime, the Police would invariably arrest them, take them into custody and interview them whilst under arrest.

The law has now changed and the police should only arrest if it is considered necessary, so that people who are suspected of committing (in particular) a low level crime are often approached and asked to voluntarily attend to a Police Station for an interview under caution.

Most people when contacted in such circumstances will cooperate with the Police, arrange a date and time and then attend. The alternative is far less attractive; arrest without further notice at any time of day or night.

Notwithstanding this threat, some choose to ‘run the gauntlet’ and risk arrest on the basis that either they’re innocent (and therefore why should they cooperate with a Police enquiry based on false premises) or because they put their head in the sand and hope the issue will go away.

In this scenario, the Police as a general rule don’t give up, but rather double their efforts to locate and arrest the individual (the “necessity to arrest” criteria easily being satisfied when there is a history of non-cooperation/deliberate evasion).

But it’s important to remember that Police powers to enter premises for the purpose of arresting a “wanted” person are specifically restricted to indictable offences only (per Section 17(1)(b) of PACE.)

An indictable offence is an offence that can be tried in the Crown Court (rather than only in the Magistrates Court), such offences are therefore generally more serious.

Thus a potential trap is set for the particular brand of hapless Police Officer who doesn’t give due consideration to the extent of his powers when seeking to arrest an individual wanted for summary only offences who has failed to cooperate with a request to voluntarily attend the Police Station.

A perfect example is a case I’ve just settled against Essex Police.

Stephen and Tom had a fractious relationship with their neighbours Mr and Mrs G that culminated in an incident that occurred one Friday night in May 2018, when Mrs G returned home having walked her dog.  Stephen was outside his house gardening.  Mrs G alleges that when she walked past Stephen, he told her to ‘piss off’.   When challenged as to his behaviour, Stephen allegedly clenched his fists and bared his teeth (causing Mrs G to be frightened and intimidated) and shouted abuse at her.  Upon returning home Mrs G told her husband, who immediately went to confront Stephen.  By this time, Tom came out.  Upon approach, Stephen allegedly lunged towards Mr G swinging his arms, trying to hit him.  Tom then restrained Stephen and Mr G walked away.

Mr and Mrs G then contacted the Police and gave the above account.  Stephen maintains that Mrs G’s allegations as to his behaviour were false.

Officers made concerted efforts to contact Stephen via phone, email and personal visits to his home address over a 2 month period.  Each contact became more and more threatening, the final note suggesting that his vehicle details would be circulated and “Full stop checks required.”

Stephen was adamant that he’d done nothing wrong and refused to be intimidated by what he considered to be Police harassment. Yet further, he did a little homework and established when and where he could potentially be arrested.

Eventually, one Saturday morning  in July 2018, PC Adams and PC Zahir  attended Stephen’s home address when he and Tom were home. To gain entry, the Officers jumped over a locked gate and then knocked on the front door. Tom answered and immediately  advised that the Officers were not welcome, that they should leave and that they were trespassing.  PC Adams explained that he wouldn’t leave until the matter was resolved and asked  Tom if he was Stephen.

Tom questioned the lawful authority of the Officers to be on his premises and PC Adams  specified that this was by virtue of Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 – to arrest for an offence.

Despite Tom making it very clear that he was not prepared to engage with the Officers and that they should leave, PC Adams insisted that they would not leave until the matter was resolved.

By virtue of Tom’s refusal to confirm that he was not Stephen, PC Adams then stated that he was under arrest, as he could not be certain that Tom was not Stephen. Tom was arrested and handcuffed to the front.  At this stage Stephen appeared and it became obvious to the Officers that they’d arrested the wrong man.

Tom was immediately de-arrested and the handcuffs were removed.

As this took place, Stephen retreated to an upstairs bathroom, where he locked himself in.

PC Adams followed and threatened that should Stephen not open the door, he would force entry.

Stephen stated to PC Adams on more than one occasion that the offences he was accused of were summary only offences, (only capable of being tried in the Magistrate’s not Crown Court) hence that Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 did not apply and that he (PC Adams) was a trespasser.

PC Adams rejected Stephen’s representations, maintaining that his presence was perfectly lawful and with that, promptly proceeded to kick the bathroom door open, before affecting Stephen’s arrest and applying handcuffs.

Following his arrest, Stephen continued to insist that Officers were acting unlawfully as trespassers, but PC Adams proceeded regardless.

Stephen was then transported to and detained at his local Police Station.

The arrest details endorsed on the Custody Record clearly demonstrated that both offences under investigation were summary only, specifically harassment and common assault.

The offences of harassment and common assault are always summary only offences.  There was therefore no power for the Officers to enter the premises under section 17 of PACE which is only engaged where the arrest is for an indictable offence.

In the circumstances, I brought a claim for both Stephen and Tom against the Police for trespass, false imprisonment and assault and battery and after negotiation, agreed settlements of £5,000 for Stephen and £2,500 for Tom.

This is yet another example of Police Offices breaking the law by either failing to understand, or flagrantly disregarding the limits of their extensive powers.  As far as summary only offences are concerned, an Englishman’s home remains his castle.

The Police Who Take Advantage of Female Victims of Crime

“Police Officers have got immense power. You know, they can change your life in an instant, by what they believe and what they don’t believe about you. And he made me believe…because of who he was, he impressed upon me that I was a willing party and that I was complicit.” 

“The Police who are abusing their position, sexually and for other motivations, need to be stopped. Police Forces need to be doing more.”

Those are the words of  women who  were interviewed by HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary & Fire and Rescue Services) for their recent report on the subject of abuse of public position for a sexual purpose, entitled “Shining a light on betrayal.” The series of HMICFRS  investigations on this subject, beginning in 2015, have helped this particular category of victims of Police corruption to have a voice which was previously often denied to them; and I am proud to have been able to help many such victims speak out in recent years.

Although progress in rooting out this form of abuse has been made, the report highlighted that some Police Forces in England and Wales have not properly vetted more than half of their Officers and civilian staff, and that this is a major concern given the Government’s proclaimed intention  to find 20,000 new recruits for the Police profession over the next 3 years. Furthermore, several Forces were found to be entirely lacking in software to enable them to monitor how their officers and civilian staff use ICT (information and communication technology) systems. Often, in my experience, abusers working within the Police Force use computer database information, and indeed Police-issued mobile phones and other devices, to target and exploit their victims.

The report quite rightly criticises many Forces for being “far too slow” in combating this devastating form of corruption in public office; a corruption all the more iniquitous as it involves exploiting extremely vulnerable individuals who may not, at least at first, recognise themselves as being victims. One such person amongst my clients, was a woman with severe mental health problems with whom an officer had sex whilst she was receiving treatment in hospital following a suicide attempt.

Shockingly, there is as yet no national requirement to vet Officers who transfer between Forces.  The HMICFRS report expresses “deep concerns” at the amount of Police staff who do not have correct vetting.  This can lead to terrible cases of  exploitation and abuse of highly vulnerable people including, amongst the clients I currently represent, a 13-year-old teenage girl, groomed and raped by an Officer who had visited her family home.

I think it is important to also highlight that abusers are not always Officers, but can include Police staff members employed in scientific, support or administrative roles within the Force. As the NPCC (National Police Chiefs Council) definition makes clear, abuse of position for a sexual purpose encompasses –

“Any behaviour by a police officer or police staff member, whether on or off duty, that takes advantage of their position as a member of the police service to misuse their position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public.”

In light of the above, I was very happy to contribute recently to a documentary on this subject, “Exposure – Predator Police Uncovered”, which is being aired tonight on ITV, and I will conclude this blog by echoing the words of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary – If you are a victim of this form of abuse, or you know someone who is, coming forwards and letting your voice be heard is a vital step towards rooting out this corruption, and the historic Police culture of indifference or ignorance which enabled it to continue for so long.

Electric Shock Therapy? The use of tasers on the mentally unwell

This is a guest post by my colleague John Hagan, solicitor.

As our new Prime Minister Mr Johnson continues to struggle amidst the spider’s web of ‘Brexit’, I have noted how his Government is striving to establish a firm footing on the more straightforward domestic political landscape by pitching itself, after years of Conservative led underinvestment in the Police, as Britain’s ‘Pro-Police Party’.

I am sure we can all recall Mr Johnson’s recent speech at a Police Training Centre in Wakefield, in the aftermath of which he was heavily criticized for appearing to use Police Officers as background ‘props’ to a nakedly political speech in which he lashed out at his enemies and made bizarre comments about dying in a ditch.

This however, is one of the frontispieces of the new Conservative policy; to win back voters by disavowing the politics of ‘austerity’ and replacing the tens of thousands of Officers who were let go under the Cameron and May Governments.

The other frontispiece of that policy it would seem, as recently reported in the Guardian, will be an outlay of £10 million to arm up to 10,000 more Police Officers with the electric ‘Stun’ guns known as Tasers.

Although this announcement was applauded by the Police Federation, Senior Officers represented by the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) have sounded strong notes of caution.

An NPCC source quoted by the Guardian made the following comments:-

It damages policing by consent.  It is not a safe option, it is a less lethal weapon and is still classed as a firearm. Most Chiefs don’t want every Officer to have one.  It should be done after an assessment of risk.  We can think of better things to spend £10 million on.  We don’t welcome it.

Whilst Home Secretary Priti Patel plays on the highly emotive issue of Police Officers being seriously injured in the line of duty, to justify what she obviously hopes will be a vote winning image of a ‘dramatic’ increase in the number of taser wielding Officers,  I believe she should be less interested in sound bites and perhaps more interested in listening to what the most Senior and experienced Officers appear to actually be telling her.

Although fears of fatalities as a result of taser use are in my view overblown, there is no doubt that it is a weapon of extreme violence, designed to electrocute its victim into submission and is far, far above being merely akin to “Just putting your hands on someone…you can have a laugh about it afterwards” as one Taser- happy Officer memorably said to his Professional Standards Department in a case I was involved in some years ago.

It is also of grave concern that tasers are undoubtedly used disproportionality against non-white people and people with mental health issues.

I note that one Chief Constable, at least, appears to have expressed concern to the Guardian about officers drawing their tasers immediately when dealing with situations when the weapons were not required, thereby reducing the chances of a peaceful resolution and instead escalating the situation and the risk of harm to both Officers and the person they are confronting – who, let us not forget – could well be an entirely innocent individual or a very vulnerable person with a mental illness or disability.

That concept of ‘escalation’, and of changing the way that Officers police the streets of Britain, by moving closer to an American model of Officers approaching every situation from a traffic stop upwards, with a hand on their holster, is also a major concern.

Really dangerous criminals, may feel that they are in an “arm’s race” with the Police, and knowing that more Officers have got tasers, equip themselves with even more lethal firearms.

Fortunately of course, those sort of individuals are relatively few and far between.  The number of homicides (murder and manslaughter) occurring each year in our Country, with its population of almost 70,000,000 individuals is rarely higher than 700. This is thankfully not at all comparable to the number of murders in the US, where firearm wielding cops are ubiquitous, and which in 2017 exceeded 17,000 according to FBI figures.

The real risk posed by increased taser use by the Police, in my opinion, is not fatal violence but an increase in incidents of non- fatal but nevertheless very serious assaults which risk inflicting long term physical and mental damage on the health of individuals in situations which could very possibly have been resolved peacefully, had Officers, who in my opinion are sometimes demonstrably lacking the appropriate training and experience, not escalated the situation by going straight for their taser guns.

I think a perfect example of this, is the recent case of one of my clients, who I will identify by the pseudonym of Howard.

This case is a practical example of some of those very concerns that were being expressed to the Guardian by members of the NPCC, in terms of Officers pulling out their tasers far before other non- or less- violent attempts to resolve the situation had been exhausted, and also about the disproportionate use of tasers upon individuals with mental health problems.

Experience has taught me that a lot of Officers on receiving information that an individual with whom they have to deal has mental health problems, automatically seem to go into some kind of panic mode and think that the individual they are confronting is a Hannibal Lecter- type psychopath, instead of seeing them as ordinary individuals, suffering from an illness, or just at a low point in their lives, who need to be met with reason and compassion, not anger and electrocution.

My client Howard, a man of good character, was one such individual going through a low point in his life in December 2018 when he sent a text message to his mother which could be interpreted as an indication that he was going to commit suicide by taking an overdose of pills.

Howard fully accepts that he sent this message in a moment of crisis when he was feeling extremely depressed, but without any real intention of killing himself.

Some time later on the same day, Howard set off to drive to his father’s house to talk about his problems.  En route he stopped off at a Service Station.

Parking his car on the forecourt of the petrol station, Howard went into the shop to purchase a sandwich.  His behaviour at this point (captured on CCTV camera) was entirely normal.

Unbeknownst to Howard, his mother had on receipt of his earlier text message, reported concerns about him to the Police to the effect that he was classed as a ‘high risk’ missing person because of the ‘suicidal message’ that he had sent to his mother and because she had subsequently been unable to get in contact with him.

There was no suggestion in the report made to the Police that Howard was a danger to anyone other than himself, and once his whereabouts had been established, and he was no longer a missing person, it is my view Howard should have been allowed to go about his business as he intended that day.

That is unfortunately not what unfolded when 2 Police Officers who I will identify as PC Oscar and PC George arrived at the Service Station, having been alerted to the presence of Howard’s motor car there by ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras.

PC Oscar approached Howard inside the shop, and enquired as to how he was, to which Howard, not aware that the Police were looking for him, and somewhat confused by the Officer’s questioning, replied that he was “Okay”.

The Officer informed Howard that he was not under arrest, but the Officer would like to talk to him further, although he did not provide any details about what was to be discussed.

Still confused as to the Officer’s purpose, Howard replied that if he was not under arrest he didn’t feel he had any duty to speak to the Officer and wanted to leave in order to go about his business.

Howard then walked out of the shop intending to return to his car and resume his journey to his father’s house.

At this point PC Oscar had not explained to Howard that there were any concerns about his mental health, or that the Officers wanted him to accompany them to a Mental Health Hospital for assessment, which was in fact their intention.

Clearly, it was not possible for Howard to cooperate with the Officers when he was not being told what they wanted.

Unfortunately, rather than attempting to explain why he wanted Howard to talk to him, PC Oscar now followed him out of the shop and attempted to grab him from behind without warning.

Howard, understandably alarmed, backed away from PC Oscar’s assault, and now became aware of PC George, who had been outside the shop, approaching him with a raised taser gun trained upon Howard.

All of these events were captured on the CCTV cameras at the Service Station, and to my mind it is quite shocking that PC George’s first response on seeing Howard was to immediately point a weapon at him.  I think this is exactly the sort of unnecessary escalation of a situation which Senior Officers in the NPCC are concerned about.

Let us not forget that Howard was not wanted on suspicion of any criminal offence, and nor was there any suggestion that he was ‘dangerous’.

The Officers’ job was to check on Howard’s welfare, but rather than explaining why they wanted to speak to him, instead PC Oscar attempted to grab hold of Howard from behind and then PC George then ‘red dotted’ Howard with a taser gun.

In response to this totally unnecessary and bewildering aggression, Howard then adopted a defensive stance with his arms raised to try to shield himself.  He appealed to PC George to lower the taser gun, but the Officer refused to do so.

Howard then began to back away but was pursued by PC George and when Howard had to stop because he could go no further (his retreat was blocked by a wall) PC George then tasered him.

To the Officer’s evident alarm however, the tasering did not work.   Howard was able to swipe away the wires attached to the taser barbs and thereby avoided the full force of the electric shock which PC George was attempting to administer to him.

Howard now attempted to escape from the two Officers, but they closed in around him and beat him into submission on the ground with a combination of blows from their batons, PAVA anti- personnel spray and further use of taser, including the technique known as ‘dry stunning’ where the taser is pressed directly against a person’s skin and then discharged (in this case, directly into Howard’s neck).

As the Officers, neither of whom were injured themselves, overpowered Howard and forced him to the ground, one of them shouted at Howard “We’re here to help you”.

After Howard was left incapacitated on the ground, having been repeatedly tasered and beaten, the Officers then administered further ‘help’ to him by tightly handcuffing his hands behind his back.

Only now did one of the Officers offer some sort of belated explanation that they were detaining Howard under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

Howard was crying in pain and felt close to blacking out.

Other Police Officers now arrived at the scene and Howard was escorted to a Police van, locked in the cage section at the back of the van and taken to hospital.

It had apparently been the initial intention of the Officers to get Howard to go to a Mental Health Hospital for an assessment of his supposedly suicidal frame of mind (although of course, they had not even attempted to explain this to him before ‘jumping’ him).

Now however, because of the multiple injuries he had sustained at the hands of PCs Oscar and George, it was deemed necessary for Howard not to be taken to a Mental Health Hospital, but first of all to A&E for immediate treatment.

Howard was led into the local A&E Department, still in handcuffs. He felt ashamed and humiliated, being in effect paraded as a prisoner.  Howard knew that everyone who looked at him would assume he had committed some kind of serious criminal offence.  Is this how the Police should be helping a non- violent man suffering from depression?

After undergoing x-rays (which revealed that the Officers had fractured Howard’s left hand) Howard was returned to the Police van (thankfully this time not in handcuffs) and taken to a local Mental Health Hospital, where following an assessment he was immediately released, the Staff there having no concerns as to his mental state.

It now appears very likely however that Howard has suffered psychiatric injuries as a result of what PCs Oscar and George did to him, on top of his multiple physical injuries.

All of this arose as a result of what was in my view, a catastrophic error of judgement on the part of PC George.  The tactic the Officers should have been deploying in this situation was effective explanation and communication.   It is likely that if they had done so, violence could have been avoided completely.  However, PC George clearly panicked and because he had a taser available then escalated the situation into one in which the Officers were going to end up hospitalising the man whose welfare they had been sent to ensure.

I am currently advising Howard in relation to pursuing a civil claim against the Police.

Sadly, I think that incidents like this, involving unnecessary taser use, the enflaming of otherwise peaceful situations and serious injury being inflicted to a person believed to be mentally unwell (and who was not a criminal suspect at all) are only likely to increase when Government efforts to rush more Police Officers onto our streets, coincide with an initiative whose primary function appears to be to win the Conservative Party more votes, and put thousands of taser guns into the hands of those inexperienced new Officers.

The final comment I want to pass in regards to this case at the present time, is in relation to the complaint which Howard has already pursued with the Police Force’s Professional Standards Department.

The outcome of that complaint was a ‘whitewash’ which purported to completely exonerate PCs Oscar and George from any wrongdoing and instead to turn all the blame upon Howard.

I was particularly disappointed to read a comment in the Report from the Investigating Officer stating that Howard “needs to take responsibility for his actions” inferring that because he had gone ‘missing’ and had sent a ‘suicidal’ message to his mother, he was responsible for everything that then unfolded.

Clearly that is not the case, and even more so when you consider that Howard was not just an innocent individual but an individual whom the Officers believed to be mentally unwell; the very definition that would justify the Officers detaining Howard so as to present him for assessment at a Mental Health Hospital, would mean that he was not of sound mind and therefore couldn’t be held to account for his actions.

It is strange indeed, that the PSD should seek to defend their Officers from Howard’s (in my view valid) complaint on the basis that he was at the same time incapable of making decisions for himself, and also morally responsible for those decisions.

Clearly that does not add up, and I can only again express my disappointment that the Police did not take the opportunity of Howard’s legitimate complaint to ask serious questions about the deployment and use of taser weapons by their Officers on this occasion and to take the opportunity to give PC George, in particular, appropriate advice and training to try to avoid this sort of situation occurring again.

Instead, PSD appear to have given PC George and his colleague a pat on the back, and rather than learning appropriate lessons from this event, are instead exposing other vulnerable individuals, who may come into the path of taser- wielding Officers with jumpy trigger fingers, to risk of even more serious injury, both physical and mental.

Consenting Adults? Police Officers Exploiting Female Victims of Crime

In a previous blog on the issue of sexual misconduct by Police Officers I expressed concern about those women who don’t come forward and actively report their abuser.  I cited various reasons as to why women may not speak out  including low self-esteem, shame, denial and a general feeling of hopelessness and helplessness as well as a fear of the consequences.

On reflection, there is yet another factor; that of ignorance.  Sometimes the victim of Police sexual exploitation may not realise that they have been exploited or  may think that because they ‘consented’, they are barred from taking action.  I am talking here of victims who have unwittingly been exploited and groomed by a Police Officer and who have actively consented in sexual relations and only weeks, months or years later realised that they were taken advantage of.

Two such victims whom I have represented,  were Clare and Yvonne both of whom I have posted about previously (here and here). Both women

  • had been the victim of domestic abuse by their husband/long-time partner and were therefore vulnerable individuals.
  • were targeted by male Police Officers who were responsible for investigating the domestic abuse and for taking action and providing support to them.
  • were initially charmed and flattered, and responded to the apparent care, concern and attention  of these ”White Knights” who had been sent to protect them and who had all the power, prestige and trustworthiness of the Police profession behind them.
  • voluntarily entered in to a sexual relationship  with these male officers only to realise in time that they were being exploited for the Officer’s own sexual gratification.

Clare and Yvonne  only came to fully realise that they had been groomed and exploited upon contact from a representative  of the Force’s Professional Standards Department that was investigating these officers for trying to instigate or being in a relationship with other female victims of crime and it was only then, that both women realised that they could pursue a claim for compensation.

The impact on both women of this “sexploitation” was that they developed low self-esteem, lack of confidence, loss of trust and emotional pain. The callous behaviour of the Officers towards each of them, had compounded the psychological hurt already inflicted by their previous abusive partners.

I am pleased to report that both Clare and Yvonne either have, or will recover, substantial compensation which in part will fund the cost of therapy.

Over the past year, I have been helping both a radio and television production company who are making programmes to expose the sexual misconduct of serving Police Officers, and I very much hope these projects will raise people’s awareness of this scandal.  In the 3 years to March 2019, IOPC received no less than 415 referrals from all Forces for cases involving abuse for a sexual purpose; we well can imagine the number of cases which went unreported, for some of the reasons I have highlighted above.

I currently act for numerous female victims of police exploitation and invite you to contact me via this website if you would like confidential  and expert advice in relation to your legal rights, if you have suffered in this way from the predatory behaviour of an Officer.