Beware MOJ’s tactics to reduce access to justice

It’s imperative that prisoners should not be deterred from claiming compensation arising from sentence miscalculation notwithstanding tactics employed by the MOJ’s solicitors at the Government Legal Department. In my experience, errors can frequently be made, leading to people spending days longer in custody that they should do. Whilst it is right that those who have committed offences should ‘serve their time’. It is equally right that once that time is up, their liberty be restored to them.

The MOJ are now as a matter of policy arguing that sentence miscalculation claims should be allocated to the small claims track of the County Court.

The small claims track is intended to provide a proportionate procedure by which straightforward claims of not more than £10,000 in value can be decided and where legal fees are not recoverable. This then effectively prevents a private individual from instructing a lawyer, as they will not be able to recover the cost of the lawyer’s fees even if they are successful. Legal Aid is also unavailable.

Allocation to the small claims Court represents a massive cost saving for the MOJ; not only do they avoid paying legal fees but the policy has a deflationary effect upon damages recovered in that Claimants will be put off making a claim because they will have to do so without a lawyer, it encourages Claimants to undervalue their claims and accept offers that are too low and therefore significantly affects access to justice for what is a wrongdoing of clear constitutional importance. Meanwhile, with the Claimant ‘at their mercy’ as a party without legal representation, the MOJ itself has all the financial and professional resources of a government department and will of course send its own team of lawyers from the GLD to Court, irrespective of the cost.

The MOJ’s central argument is that a person imprisoned without lawful authority is entitled to compensation irrespective of any question of fault. On that basis, the MOJ argues that such claims are not complicated and don’t require legal representation. The MOJ relies on the Evans (No.2) [1999] Q.B. 1043 decision which suggested a daily rate for false imprisonment at just under £100 back in 1989 (albeit now updated for inflation). However, there is a wide range of other cases which suggest that damages in such cases should be counted in not merely hundreds, but thousands of pounds.

The MOJ argument fails to take into consideration that there is a second element to an award of damages for false imprisonment, that of injury to feelings.

In most claims for sentence miscalculation, the individual Claimant knows full well that he is being wrongly detained and his protests to prison staff are often neglected or ignored. Often this state of knowledge or level of mental suffering is disputed and it’s in these cases that legal representation is crucial; to make these arguments, to challenge the MOJ in cross examination and to ensure a fair award of compensation by reference to extensive case law.

In a recent case for sentence miscalculation that I handled, the MOJ disputed the Claimant’s state of knowledge/efforts to complain by relying upon a 42 page rebuttal statement from a prison official with 8 exhibits spread over 37 pages (which included the Claimant’s external movements, custodial warrant, transfer report, email correspondence, phone record, complaint history, cell history and release paperwork), sought to call that witness by video link and instructed specialist London Counsel who in advance of the final hearing served a 12 page Skeleton Argument and a 309 page Authority Bundle comprising 11 different judicial decisions.

Prisoners who have suffered false imprisonment by sentence miscalculation should push for the maximum level of compensation that they are entitled to utilising specialist solicitors and not being cowed by MOJ tactics.

A wide range of damages are awardable in false imprisonment claims, dependent on a number of evidential factors, relevant case law and the arguments advanced by the lawyers for each party. The MOJ know full well that those Claimants who are represented by solicitors get more money, hence their cynical policy of trying to push these claims into the Small Claims Court, so as to deprive Claimants of legal representation. I know how to defeat these tactics and ensure that my clients get the maximum compensation available.

Passport to Prison? Unlawful Arrests In The Airport

It’s holiday season and many will be travelling abroad and as such will need to pass through Passport Control at our ports and airports.  This then is a great opportunity for the Police to arrest those identified on the Police National Computer as “wanted”, whether because they are suspected to be involved in a reported criminal offence or because there is an outstanding warrant for their arrest for failure to attend Court.

But what happens when that “wanted” marker has been erroneously added to an individual’s details so that the arrest is a mistake?

In the first instance, the arrest is probably technically lawful because the arresting officer, in relying upon the PNC marker had the necessary reasonable suspicion to arrest.

So, instead, it is necessary to bring an alternative claim in negligence, or under the Human Rights Act, or Data Protection Act. Such claims can be brought when a lawful arrest has been directly caused by an earlier breach of an individual’s rights, either as enshrined in Statute or Common Law.

Sometimes the individual arrested has, by unfortunate coincidence, the same name as the real offender, in which circumstances it seems mistakes can too easily occur.

Take for example my client David Farrington. David was at the London City Airport in September.  He was booked on a British Airways flight to Amsterdam, where he was scheduled to meet his girlfriend.

As he proceeded to board the aircraft, he was stopped and detained by four Police Officers from the Metropolitan Police.

He was advised that he was under arrest as a result of an outstanding warrant issued by Lewes Crown Court in August for failing to appear in respect of breach proceedings linked to the imposition of a community order.

David immediately made it clear to the Officers that he had no knowledge of the warrant and that they had the wrong man.

Despite his protestations he was handcuffed and removed from the airport in the presence of fellow holiday makers and airport staff, a humiliating experience.

He was later transferred into custody at Barking and Dagenham Custody Centre.

Following his arrival into Police custody, David was able to notify his parents that he was under arrest.

David’s parents immediately set off on a lengthy journey to Lewes Crown Court in an attempt to understand on what basis David had been wrongly identified as the subject of the warrant.

Upon their arrival at Court, they established that the only information which had been contained on the warrant was the name, date of birth and address of the wanted man.

The real offender bore a similar, but not identical, name to David: the offender was David Farrington, whereas my client was David Charles Farrington.

David’s parents were able to demonstrate, by the production of identification, that the offender was not their son.

Following investigation, it transpired that details of the warrant had been entered onto the Police National Computer (PNC) by Sussex Police. Sadly, David’s personal details, as opposed to the actual offender, were entered onto the system.

Eventually, Sussex Police were able to furnish the Metropolitan Police with a photograph of the real offender, together with details of his fingerprints.

Neither the custody photograph, fingerprints nor the described physical features of the actual offender corresponded to David, and after 8 and a half hours, he was finally released from Police custody.

I pursued a claim on behalf of David and he recovered £6,000 in compensation plus his legal fees.

Sometimes, the arrested individual does not share the same name and his association with the real suspect is a mystery.  Take Stephen Dami.  In July, he was scheduled to fly with Ryanair from Stanstead Airport to Ibiza for a lad’s holiday.  He proceeded through check in, security and the boarding gates and was ready to board his flight when armed police approached him.

He was requested to provide his passport. Upon production, he was advised that he was under arrest in respect of an outstanding warrant that had been issued in May.

Stephen had no knowledge of the offence referred to by the officers, but despite protesting his innocence, he was detained and escorted to Stanstead Airport Police Station.

On arrival at the Custody Centre, Stephen was advised that he was wanted for failing to answer a Summons issued at Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court on 2 June.

During his period in custody, doubts began to emerge as to whether Stephen was indeed the person wanted for arrest.  These doubts were well founded. First the Summons was issued by the Juvenile Court, whereas Stephen was then 22 years. Second, the wanted man was of black ethnicity, whereas Stephen was not. Third, the wanted subject was Portuguese, whereas Stephen was British (but of Middle Eastern complexion).

After 3 and a half hours in custody, Stephen was released from custody with no further action.

Despite making enquiries as to whether he could rebook another flight, nothing was available and he had to return home, his holiday with his friends ruined.

Following his release, enquiries with Greater Manchester Police revealed that the outstanding warrant had been linked to Stephen because, they said, he had a similar name to the suspect, “Stephano Damil.”

I pursued a claim for Stephen and he recovered £3,500 in compensation as well as his legal costs.

Rashid Khan was in some ways luckier than David and Stephen.  He was arrested upon his return from holiday, but detained for longer.  He had been on a skiing holiday with his family and friends to Andorra.  Upon landing at Stanstead Airport, his name was called out to go to the front of the plane.  He went forward and was met by 2 officers of Metropolitan Police who escorted him off the plane, where 3 armed officers were waiting.  He was advised that he was under arrest for trespass with intent to commit a sexual offence the previous August at a hotel on the Isle of Wight.

Rashid stated that firstly, he had never been to the Isle of Wight and secondly that at the time of the alleged offence, he had been out of the country.

By now, other passengers were leaving the plane via the steps including Rashid’s wife, young daughter and family friends.

Rashid was placed in a waiting van and taken to Braintree Police Station whilst his wife had to manage his traumatised daughter and all their luggage.

Rashid was then “booked in” to Police custody during which he made available to the Custody Sergeant his passport which proved that he had indeed been out of the country at the time of the alleged offence.

Eventually after 12 and a half hours in custody, Rashid was released.

Following investigation, I established that the real suspect shared the same name and a similar date of birth as my client.  The investigating officer had asked my client’s local force to make discrete enquires to confirm if Rashid Khan had recently worked on the Isle of Wight. Only if enquiries established this, was Rashid Khan to be arrested.

Local officers spoke to my client and established that he was very unlikely to be the suspect.  Notwithstanding this, 2 weeks later the interviewing officer inexplicably sent a request to the PNC Bureau to have my client circulated as “wanted” rather than placed on a “Locate/Trace” capacity only.

Once again, I pursued a claim on behalf of Mr Khan and he recovered £5,000 in compensation plus legal costs.

Everyone I think has heard of passengers’ entitlement to compensation if a flight is unreasonably delayed…I would respectfully suggest that you contact me for advice as to your further rights of compensation if the delay you experience in the airport is not at the baggage carousel…but in a Police van!

Hopefully, this won’t happen to you and I wish you and your families all the very best for the forthcoming ‘holiday season’.

Blue Lies Matter

Did you know that lies come in three different colours ? Reading a psychology paper this week I noted that whereas the term for an entirely self-serving lie is a “black” lie, and the term for a “selfless” lie (e.g so as not to hurt someone’s feelings) is a “white” lie, the phrase “blue lies” has been applied to that category of falsehoods whereby someone is lying for the benefit of their team or “side”, to the detriment of another group. So they are simultaneously selfish and beneficial.

Commenting on the predilection of the current American President for telling – often outrageously hypocritical and blatantly false – lies, an article written by Jeremy Adam Smith in Scientific American (24 March 2017) commented as follows, on the subject of “Blue Lies” –

If we see Trump’s lies not as failures of character but rather as weapons of war, then we can come to see why his supporters might view him as an effective leader. From this perspective, lying is a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s campaign and presidency.

Common experience tells us that Police Officers are prone to such lies; to “protect” their colleagues, and ensure the “bad guys” get their just desserts, we might imagine. Indeed, in America there is a term for this: “testi-lying” or Officers telling falsehoods on oath in Court in order to ensure the conviction of a person they deem to be an undesirable criminal – whether or not on this occasion the actual evidence proves that the person “did it”… Blue lies are considered by psychologists to actually strengthen the bonds of loyalty within members of a group, community or gang (that latter word once being memorably used by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to describe – approvingly – his Officers).

So, although the phrase “blue lies” might be relatively new, the phenomenon it refers to is surely as old as the hills. One good thing we have to thank modern technology for is that it is increasingly likely that Officers will be caught out in their falsehoods, because of the prevalence of video recording technology across our society – and particularly, easily accessible in people’s pockets in the form of mobile phones.

The issue of independent video evidence “catching out” a Police Officer’s falsehoods was a key factor in a case I recently concluded on behalf of two clients from West Yorkshire, gentlemen of Asian origin whom I shall identify as Shahid and Hashim.

Shahid and Hashim, along with Shahid’s nephew Mohammed, were minding their own business in a parked car when approached by two officers of the West Yorkshire Police  – whom I shall identify as PC Michaels and his female colleague, PC Kirby.

Although the three men were not doing anything other than sitting in a car chatting, the two officers immediately adopted a suspicious/ hostile attitude towards them and began to demand their personal details. As I have made clear on many previous occasions in this blog, we do not live in a society where the Police have the power to demand that you identify yourself to them (unless they already have a reason to suspect you are guilty of committing a crime, which certainly did not apply here – unless being Asian sitting in a car is as suspicious as being Black whilst driving one…).

Shahid began to record his conversation with PC Michaels on his mobile phone, as he (correctly) did not believe he was obliged to give his name on demand. PC Michaels then asserted that he had the power to demand Shahid’s details because (in the Officer’s words) Shahid was “Committing anti-social behaviour”. When challenged, PC Michaels refused to specify what this “antisocial behaviour” was – no doubt because there wasn’t in fact any!

Shahid and PC Michaels remained at loggerheads until the officer decided to snatch Shahid’s phone out of his hand, and pull Shahid out of the car. PC Michaels then walked away across the car park, causing Shahid to follow after him insisting – politely – that the officer return his phone. Unfortunately, PC Michaels, obviously unhappy with Shahid’s continued refusal to identify himself, then produced his handcuffs. This caused Shahid considerable alarm, and he backed away from the officer. PC Michaels pursued Shahid, spraying him in the face with CS gas, and then handcuffing him whilst Shahid was incapacitated from the gas. The officer then marched Shahid to his nearby Police van, forcing Shahid to follow him by pulling on the handcuff chain as if it were a “lead” and incarcerated Shahid in the back of the van.

Whilst these events were going on, Hashim attempted to record matters on his own mobile phone, only to have this snatched from him, in turn, by PC Kirby. When Hashim followed Shahid to the Police van, protesting about Shahid’s unlawful arrest, he was then shoved by the officers up against a wall, also handcuffed and arrested.

Notably, at this point, neither officer had told Shahid or Hashim what specific offence it was they were being arrested for – no doubt because “talking back” to Police officers and refusing to identify yourself in an otherwise peaceful and law-abiding situation, are not actually crimes.

Both of my clients were then transported to Huddersfield Police Station, where they learned for the first time that they were being accused of assaulting a Police Officer (PC Michaels in Shahid’s case, and PC Kirby in Hashim’s) and breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act. These charges quite literally added insult to injury as the very reverse was true; it was Shahid and Hashim who had been assaulted by the officers, and Shahid in particular required after-care for the effects of the gas used upon him. The false charges, and the threat of a custodial sentence hanging over them, were very distressing to my clients, particularly Hashim who was only a teenager at the time.

The criminal charges against my clients proceeded all the way to Trial at the Magistrates Court. In support of the charges against Shahid, PC Michaels in particular made a statement in which he alleged a number of untruths, including that he had informed Shahid during their initial conversation that he was being detained for the purpose of a Stop & Search under the Misuse of Drugs Act. In fact, the mobile phone footage which Shahid had preserved showed incontrovertibly that PC Michaels had not said anything to Shahid about a drugs search, but had rather been insisting that Shahid identify himself because of (unspecified) “anti-social behaviour”.

The clearly recorded conversation between the officer and Shahid went like this –

PC:     I am an Officer in uniform and I have got a power to require your name and address.

S:            Regarding What?  Anti-social behaviour?

PC:         Anti-social behaviour regarding a report we have had that I am not obliged to disclose to you at the moment.

And a little further into the conversation –

PC:         What is your name?

S:            Regards to what?

PC:         I have got the report.

S:            Anti-social behaviour, you know what, you’re making it up.

PC:         I don’t have to explain it to you.

S:            I know what you’re doing; you’re just making it up now.

PC:         No I’m not.

Needless to say, PC Michaels did not have any “report” relating to Shahid, and does indeed appear to have been, as Shahid put it “making it up” in order to get his details.

Certainly, PC Michaels as recorded on the phone was saying very different things to what he purported in his later Statement to have said; it was clear to all on viewing the footage that the Officer had said nothing about a Stop & Search for drugs.

This evidence was played at Court, and I am pleased to confirm that the cases against both of my clients collapsed, the Crown Prosecution Service discontinuing all proceedings against both of them after watching the footage.

The way was now clear for my clients to re-set the scales of justice by bringing their own proceedings against West Yorkshire Police in respect of claims for assault and battery, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. I instituted County Court claims on behalf of both Shahid and Hashim.

As is their wont, West Yorkshire Police legal services initially put up a robust defence on behalf of their officers, denying any wrongdoing and seeking to argue that the arrest of both of my clients was lawful.

Fortunately, the brief mobile phone footage that Shahid had been able to film (before his phone was snatched by PC Michaels) was not the only video evidence available; we were able to obtain CCTV footage of the car park from a nearby sports centre, and thus able to conclusively expose other “blue lies” told by the two officers in their statements for the criminal proceedings.

In particular I highlight the following –

  • Both officers alleged that PC Michaels suffered an unprovoked “shove” from Hashim, whom PC Kirby describing as “running” towards her colleague; CCTV footage showed this to be completely untrue. Hashim had walked peaceably around the car, trying to film what was happening to Shahid on his own phone.
  • PC Michaels alleged that Shahid had broken away from him, whilst the officer was trying to carry out a search, and made off across the car park – the CCTV footage showed that in fact (as reported by Shahid) it was PC Michaels who, having taken Shahid’s phone, stalked off across the car park with it, and Shahid who had to follow after the officer (not the other way around).
  • Likewise, the CCTV footage failed to support the officers’ assertions that they had been the victims of violence from my clients – rather it showed PC Michaels using his gas spray apparently without provocation, and PC Kirby repeatedly shoving Hashim (not the other way around).

I am pleased to report that after several months of contested litigation, the Police once again backed down before Trial and agreed to pay both of my clients considerable damages; £25,000 for Shahid and £15,000 for Hashim. West Yorkshire Police had obviously realised the truth, that when you get into Court, there are no longer such things as defensible or justifiable partisan “blue lies” – there are just black and white facts, and the truth will out.

BAME: Rounding Up The Usual Suspects

Back in September 2017, David Lammy MP produced his Government sponsored report on the treatment of black and ethnic minority (BAME) people in the criminal justice system in England and Wales.  He concluded that

“BAME individuals still face bias, including overt discrimination, in parts of the justice system.”

I was thinking about Mr Lammy’s findings when recently bringing to a successful conclusion a claim for my client, Edward and his younger brother Simon, both British Citizens of Black African heritage.

Back in April 2016, Edward and his brother were arrested for attempted murder.  The night before, a man had been shot outside a local pub.  A witness saw the offender fire a gun from a specific vehicle carrying two men.  The vehicle was subsequently identified as being used by a Mr Thomas.

By the following evening, Avon and Somerset Police established that Mr Thomas was at a particular location in Bristol.  Firearms Officers attended and were given direction by the Senior Investigating Officer from the remote ‘Operations Room’.

Officers forced entry and the occupants of the premises were “called out” to find Mr Thomas.  Mr Thomas was soon identified and arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

Mr Thomas’ arrest had been planned by the Senior Investigating Officer and detailed in a considered arrest strategy.  No other males were identified within this strategy.

Following Mr Thomas’ arrest, Officers entered the address to search for the firearm used and any other evidence.

The house was connected to another (via an internal door) in which my client and his brother lived. They were at home at this time.  Drawn to the commotion, my client considered that the actions of the Officers in seeking to search both premises was unlawful in the absence of a warrant and made representations to that effect to the Officers. In fact, unbeknownst to Edward the Officers could rely upon Sections  18 and 32 of PACE having just arrested Mr Thomas.

It was at this time that the Firearms Tactical Advisor in the Operations Room directed the Officers on site to arrest “any other males of a similar age group” to the prime suspect, Mr Thomas. It was on this basis that Edward and Simon were also arrested.

Both brothers were transported to custody where the Custody Sergeant recorded and authorised detention on the basis that both Edward and Simon fitted the “descriptions of the offenders”.

A second  Senior Investigating Officer had only just come on duty (and in fairness stepped in to cover “at short notice and with the minimal of briefing”) and within minutes of his arrival in the Operations Room, “the room exploded into a frenzy of activity” with the forced entry and arrest of Mr Thomas and confusion as regards the layout of the premises.

Against this background the Firearms Tactical Advisor directed the arrest of Edward and Simon. But on what basis?  The Firearms Tactical Advisor’s job is to act as a communications link between the Operations Room and the Operational Firearms Commander at the scene relaying information and command decisions.  He is not in a position of command and the Firearms Tactical Advisor  was quick to lay responsibility  for the decision to arrest the brothers on the Senior Investigating Officer.  The Senior Investigating Officer in turn could not recall giving any such command and neither officer made any record of the grounds and reasons for the decision to arrest.

For an arrest to be lawful, it must be founded on reasonable grounds. This necessitates consideration of whether, objectively, it was reasonable to suspect the individual of the offence for which he was arrested.

In the Court of Appeal decision of Buckley and Others v The Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police it was stated that:

“Suspicion is a state of mind well short of belief. The threshold for establishing reasonable grounds for suspicion is a low one. It is an inherent possibility in the need for diligent investigations of serious offences than an innocent person may be arrested on reasonable grounds. Importantly, the correct approach to judgment upon the lawfulness of arrest is not to separate out each of the elements of the constable’s state of mind and ask individually of them whether that creates reasonable grounds for suspicion; it is to look at them cumulatively, as of course the arresting officer has to at the time.”

It is clear that the test for reasonable suspicion represents a low threshold for an arresting officer to meet. What is required to reasonably suspect a person of an offence falls far short of what would be required to charge them and thereafter to ultimately convict them of the same offence. The relevant information is that which was available to the arresting officer prior to the arrest, not any information that might have been gained afterwards, for example, during interview.

Notwithstanding this low threshold, it was clear that no Officer could argue that he had a reasonable suspicion to suspect Edward and Simon of being involved in the shooting.

This failure didn’t, of course, stop the Senior Investigating Officer in a subsequent review try to retrospectively justify arrest on the basis that Edward and Simon had been found in the company of Mr Thomas (albeit 16 hours after the shooting had occurred!).

It was therefore evident at an early stage that the arrest of Edward and Simon was unlawful, the arresting Officer not having reasonable suspicion to arrest.

Both brothers were kept in custody for 28 hours.

After 16 or so hours, both men were interviewed.  Both denied any knowledge or involvement. As their time in custody approached 24 hours, the Investigating Officers decided that they needed more time and so sought an extension.  The brothers criminal defence solicitor, Peter Denton, argued that they should be released immediately.  He argued quite rightly that there was “not a shred of evidence ……  that could credibly raise a reasonable suspicion that they were involved in the offence”.  Notwithstanding Mr Denton’s robust replies, the custody  limit was extended by a Superintendent given the “multiple lines of enquiry”that were ongoing and given that this was a “serious and complex case”, it was “reasonable and necessary for the investigation to be extended.”

Eventually the brothers were released on Police bail which was extended for nearly 9 months until they were eventually advised that no further action would be taken.

Shortly after this notification, Edward happened to be watching a TV programme in which I was interviewed. He made contact with me the next day.

Avon and Somerset Police soon enough offered £5,500 each to Edward and Simon in settlement. Some clients (and dare I say lawyers) are in this game for a quick deal. I advised my clients to reject these offers and fight on to recover a more just award of compensation. I’m pleased to confirm that after the institution of Court proceedings and extensive negotiations, both claims settled for £24,000 and £19,000 respectively plus legal fees.

Both of my clients strongly felt that if they were white, they would not have been arrested.  Reflecting upon Mr Lammy’s findings (of institutional racism within the criminal justice system)  and my own experience  of having represented many  young black people who have been unlawfully arrested (read more here and here),  I do believe that the perception of black people, and black men especially, as being more prone to criminality is rife amongst Police Officers and that this prejudice informed the decision to arrest my clients Edward and Simon.

Festival Season and the dangers of ‘Wild West’ Policing

I have often used this blog to highlight occasions when Police officers, for a variety of reasons, overstep their powers. However, the imminent approach of this Summer’s Festival Season puts me in mind of risks posed by aggressive or improperly trained security industry personnel/ bouncers overstepping their own powers (such as they are) and acting like a quasi- Police force within the territory of the Festival, behaving in fact like a ‘Wild West’ posse making up the law to suit themselves.

Unfortunately, experience tells me that when members of the official Police Force encounter disputes between members of the public and security staff, they tend for reasons of bias or convenience, to side with the security agents  and penalise the (often innocent) victim of their heavy- handed treatment, leaving such victims to have to come to solicitors such as myself to seek redress via the civil justice system.

One such gentleman was my client Jack Cooper (whose name has been changed for the purposes of this blog), who had an unfortunate run in with security personnel at the Isle of Wight Cowes Festival in August 2016.

Mr Cooper, a successful business man based on the South Coast, was visiting the Cowes Regatta with his friend Andrew. After spending a few hours in the festival site, enjoying the events and with nothing untoward occurring, Jack and Andrew made their way towards the exit. En route Jack was ‘caught short’ and needed the toilet; unfortunately the portaloos were all occupied, so Jack urinated behind them (into the waters of the quay), out of sight of members of the public.

He was however spotted by a private security guard who approached and instructed him to leave the site immediately; Jack confirmed that he would do so – and that, indeed, it was already his intention to leave.

Jack tried to continue towards the exit gate, where his friend Andrew was now waiting for him. Spotting Andrew sitting at a table near the gate, Jack attempted to walk towards him (so they could leave together) whereupon he was without any warning physically assaulted by the security guard. The security guard grabbed hold of Jack’s arm and attempted to force it behind Jack’s back (as if he were a Police Officer effecting the arrest of a violent criminal). In shock, Jack tried to pull away from the security guard, but then not wishing to escalate the situation let the man re-take hold of his arm. Jack explained that all he wanted to do was get his friend, and then it was absolutely his intention to leave the festival site.

Despite Jack’s reasonable behaviour, he was then set upon by approximately six of the security guard’s colleagues, who forced both of Jack’s arms behind his back and pushed him face down onto the ground. Jack could not believe what was happening to him.

Jack was then pulled to his feet by the security guards and marched, with his head bent down, through the gates and outside the festival grounds. Once outside the gates, however, the security personnel did not let Jack go but instead forced him face-down to the ground for a second time, and now applied handcuffs to tie his hands together, which was a painful and humiliating experience for my client. Jack felt significant pain building up in his left wrist and appealed to the security guards to loosen the cuffs, but to no avail. He was being held down on the concrete surface of the ground, close to the quay wall.

Despite offering no physical resistance or threat to the guards, Jack was held down and restrained in this position for about five minutes, during which the pain in his wrist increased and the security guards continued to ignore his request to loosen the cuffs. All of this was taking place in full view of numerous members of the public.

Police officers then arrived, whereupon Jack’s handcuffs were removed, though not before he had lost feeling in his left hand.

Jack was then issued with a Dispersal Notice by the Police officers, under Section 34 of the Antisocial, Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, requiring him to leave the area and not return for a period of six hours, something which he had fully intended to do before being set upon by the gang of security guards.

The Dispersal Notice was not issued because of anything the Police themselves had witnessed, but evidently on the basis of whatever they were told by the security staff.

Jack then proceeded back to the marina, where his own boat was docked, but owing to the injury to his hand he was unable to operate the vessel, which had to be sailed back home by Andrew.

Very shortly after these events, Jack instructed me to pursue a claim for compensation against the security personnel, who were all employed by a firm called Blueline Security, purportedly “specialists in event management and security services.”

After considering Jack’s account of these events I quickly identified that he had strong claims against the Security Company for assault and battery and also false imprisonment.

Security guards employed by private companies may often behave as if they are the Police Force of a Wild West town, but the reality is that they are not warranted constables and have no greater powers than you or I do to effect a ‘citizen’s arrest’ or to deploy force in the prevention of crime. Notwithstanding Jack having ‘a wee’ behind the toilets, nothing he did could have justified the overwhelming force used against him, and/or the decision to detain (and in particular handcuff him) when he was already voluntarily making his way from the site of the Regatta.

Indeed, it was subsequently established that the totally excessive application of handcuffs to Jack’s wrists had caused nerve damage, which continued to plague him for months afterwards with numbness/ pins and needles in his left hand and which necessitated hospital investigations.

I wrote a letter of claim on Jack’s behalf, which Blueline Security disputed, hiding behind the fact that the Police had issued Jack with a Dispersal Notice (although of course this had only occurred as a result of the one-sided story told to them by the security staff, and the issuing of a Dispersal Notice is not tantamount to a criminal conviction or even a caution). Blueline argued that our client had been aggressive and that their use of force upon him, including handcuffs, was legitimate “self-defence”. It was quite clear however, that the only person who had been injured in this incident was my client and I knew he would come across as a strong and honest witness, and so had no hesitation in acting upon his instructions to pursue this matter to Court.

In response to County Court proceedings, Blueline Security initially filled a Defence repeating their complete denial of liability for either assault or false imprisonment. Amongst the outrageous allegations put forwards in the Defence was a suggestion (made for the first time) that Jack had had to be restrained to prevent him attempting to injure members of the public! One would wonder why, if Jack had been behaving in the extremely violent and anti-social manner that Blueline were suggesting, the Police would have been content to simply let him walk away once they had taken his handcuffs off…

I strongly believed in the truth of my client’s account, and was able to judge this in the context of my long experience of pursuing claims against private security companies; the truth is that they often harbour individuals who behave as if they are Police officers, but without having any of the training or self-discipline of (the majority of) law-enforcement professionals.

Long before Jack’s case was listed for Trial, and notwithstanding the Defence filed, Blueline Security duly agreed to settle Jack’s claim in the sum of £9,000 damages, plus legal costs.

Enjoy this Summer’s festival season – from the cow-fields of Glastonbury to the sailboats of Cowes – but beware the dangers of security guards behaving like an undisciplined private Police Force.

On Duty and On The Pull ? Police Officers Sacked for Sexual Misconduct

I recently came across the case of PC Roscoe, a serving Greater Manchester Police Officer. Whilst on duty, he entered a woman’s house by consent,  but then,  after telling her she was ‘absolutely gorgeous’, tried to kiss her.  She immediately said ‘no, no, no, no’ and wagged her forefinger at him.  She was shocked by his behaviour ‘as he had definitely crossed the line’. In the circumstances, the woman reported him and the case was referred to the IOPC for investigation.

PC Roscoe denied that the incident happened but a misconduct hearing found that the officer had acted as the woman alleged and that such behaviour was gross misconduct.  Surprisingly, however,  PC Roscoe was not dismissed, and instead was given a final written warning.  A spokesman for the IOPC stated something that must be manifestly obvious to all but a few serving Police Officers, “Police Officers must not abuse their position to make unwarranted approaches to people for their personal gain”.

The case has striking similarities to a case that I have recently concluded for my client, Karen.

Back in May 2016,  Karen’s friend’s  13 year old son had gone missing and turned up at Karen’s home address.

In the early hours of the next morning, PC Campbell attended Karen’s home address so as to check on the child’s welfare.  Karen invited PC Campbell in.  Karen was asked for and provided her personal details including her mobile phone number.  PC Campbell did not seem too concerned about the child and instead began flirting with Karen, for example asking how she would respond if he asked her out.  Karen did not engage.

Karen then showed PC Campbell out.  As Karen opened the door, PC Campbell turned and stood with his back against the door and asked Karen ‘for a kiss’.  PC Campbell then leant towards Karen.  Karen pulled away but the hallway was very narrow and Karen felt trapped/cornered.  Karen was both intimidated and shocked and embarrassed because the child was stood behind watching.  PC Campbell then left.  Karen was very concerned that PC Campbell might seek to return.

Approximately 10 minutes later, Karen received the first of a series of withheld calls to her mobile number to which she did not pick up. Sometime later, the child looked out the window and noticed that PC Campbell was sat in a patrol car outside the house. Karen’s phone rang again and this time Karen answered.  It was PC Campbell.  PC Campbell advised that he was calling to check he had the right number.  Karen confirmed it was.  Karen subsequently noted that PC Campbell had driven off.

Sometime later, PC Campbell rang Karen again and advised that he would have to return to see her again to complete some paperwork.  Although unhappy, Karen felt she had no option but to cooperate.  Karen asked the child to stay with her until PC Campbell had returned and left again.

Approximately one hour later, PC Campbell returned to Karen’s home address.  Although Karen felt worried she felt she had no choice but to allow him in.  PC Campbell asked several questions and completed some paperwork.  Once again PC Campbell sought to flirt with Karen and said “Are you sure you won’t change your mind?”  Once again, Karen did not engage.

After a few minutes, PC Campbell got up to leave.  Karen showed him out.  On this occasion, PC Campbell stepped out but then put his foot over the threshold so as to prevent Karen from closing the door.  Again, PC Campbell leant forwards towards Karen and sought to kiss her.  Again, Karen pulled away.  PC Campbell then stepped away and Karen shut and locked the door.  Again, Karen was scared and intimidated and concerned as to what the Officer might try next.

Later that same day, and across the course of several days thereafter, Karen received a series of suggestive and flirtatious text messages from PC Campbell.

Karen found PC Campbell’s behaviour to be disturbing and inappropriate.  Approximately 2 weeks later, Karen spoke to officers in regards to an unrelated  matter.  During this encounter, Karen said in an off the cuff remark, “At least you’re not trying it on”.  Karen was encouraged to explain her remark and she explained what PC Campbell had done.   At the time, Karen was in a vulnerable state.  Furthermore, she was concerned that if she reported PC Campbell, her complaint would be dismissed and he would retaliate against her. Initially therefore, Karen refused to cooperate with the Police investigation. Notwithstanding Karen’s position, PC Campbell was then arrested  for misconduct in public office. Karen was encouraged to cooperate with the formal investigation into PC Campbell and given various assurances as regards safeguarding and being kept updated.

Karen was extremely upset and traumatised by PC Campbell’s behaviour and as a result had lost trust and confidence in the police. After significant pressure to cooperate was levied, Karen did eventually provide a witness statement.

Disciplinary proceedings were brought against PC Campbell who in September 2017 was found guilty of gross misconduct and dismissed.

I subsequently brought a claim against the Merseyside Police Force.  Although liability was neither admitted nor denied, I was after negotiation able to agree a settlement of £10,000.00  in compensation for PC Campbell’s outrageous and sexually intimidating conduct towards Karen.

Do Police Officers really need their disciplinary watchdog, the IOPC, to spell out in black and white that they should not use the ‘opportunities’ presented by their job to try to pursue women into kissing them (at the very least)?  The examples of PC Roscoe and PC Campbell show that sadly they do.

 

 

Are Probation Companies wrongly sending people to prison?

The Chief Inspector of Probation this week declared that the privatisation of Probation Services is “irredeemably flawed”.  Dame Glenys Stacey concluded in her final annual report that it would be “safer” if the supervision of offenders was back in public ownership.

Back in 2014, Probation Services in England and Wales were split between the National Probation Service for serious offenders and 14 private Community Rehabilitation Companies or CRCs for low and medium risk offenders.  By the end of September 2018, more than 150,000 offenders on probation – more than half the total across England and Wales – were being managed by these private CRCs.

Dame Glenys Stacey told BBC Radio 4 that “In practice these Companies have understandably focused on meeting contractual requirements and targets” but in reality, professional probation work was so much more than simply a series of transactions, “it is skilled, with a large amount of professional judgment”.  The Chief Inspector highlighted a number of concerns;

  • Supervising offenders by telephone only, usually after an initial meeting.
  • Housing needs are met less often (54% of private cases compared with 70% of public cases).
  • Inadequate protection for victims and their children when domestic abusers return to their community.
  • 22% of offenders released without knowing where they were going to sleep that night.
  • High workloads and performance targets leading to professional standards being compromised.

I read Dame Glenys Stacey’s report with interest, particularly given that I am often asked to represent people who consider that they have been failed by the Probation Service.  One such individual is Neil Rogers whose claim against Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company exposed the mismanagement of probation services in respect of both simple monitoring and professional judgment.

Back in 2014, Neil was living at 403 Tiene Road, Liverpool.

In June 2014, Neil was sentenced to a determinate sentence of imprisonment of three years.

In or around late October 2015, it was arranged via Shelter, the housing charity, that, upon release from Prison, Neil would live at hostel accommodation at 10 St Jerome’s Street, Liverpool (“the hostel”).

On the morning of 30 November 2015, Neil was released from Prison on licence to serve the remainder of his sentence in the community under the supervision of Merseyside CRC, with a licence expiry date in May 2017.

Upon release, Neil attended the hostel and moved in, purchased a mobile telephone and then attended the office of Merseyside CRC as required, where he met Shirley Temperance who had responsibility for his supervision at that time.

At this meeting, Neil provided the address for the hostel to Shirley, as well as his new mobile telephone number.  Additionally, Neil provided Shirley with a further two addresses at which he could be contacted via friends.

Shirley informed Neil that if there were occasions when he was not staying at the hostel overnight that he should inform Merseyside CRC as to where he would be staying instead.

Unbeknownst to Neil at that time, and despite him having provided the address for the hostel as his current address to Shirley, (and, indeed, Shirley subsequently calling out to see him at the hostel), 403 Tiene Road, Liverpool was incorrectly recorded as Neil’s current address in the Company’s records.

On a number of occasions thereafter, Neil contacted Merseyside CRC to confirm that he would be staying at an address other than the hostel overnight.

In or around May 2016, Neil left the hostel and moved in with one of his friends and informed Merseyside CRC that he had moved.

Throughout this time, Neil attended all Probation appointments required of him.

Subsequently, Neil was due to attend an appointment at the Company’s Liverpool office on 8 November 2016, with Mr Bodger, who had taken over responsibility for Neil’s supervision.

Neil was unable to attend the appointment on 8 November 2016 and contacted Merseyside CRC in advance of the appointment in order to arrange an alternative date on which to attend the office.

Neil’s appointment with Mr Bodger was accordingly rescheduled for 11 November 2016.

On 11 November 2016, Neil duly attended his appointment with Mr Bodger at the office.

At the conclusion of the appointment, Mr Bodger provided Neil with a letter confirming that his next appointment would be at the office on 10 January 2017.

By this stage, Neil had retained the same mobile telephone number since November 2015. The mobile telephone number was active throughout this time, and able to receive telephone calls and text messages.

On or around 15 December 2016, unbeknown to Neil, another Merseyside CRC employee, Mr Senior, decided to request revocation of Neil’s licence.

Mr Senior’s “Recall Report” stated, inter alia:

Mr Neil Rogers has been managed by Merseyside CRC since his release on 30th November 2015. 

The terms and conditions of licence are:

 5.

i Be of good behaviour and not undermine the purpose of the licence period.

ii Not commit further offences 

iii Keep in touch with the Supervising Officer

iv Receive visits from the supervising Officer in accordance with instructions give by the supervising Officer 

v Resident permenantly (sic) at an address approved by the Supervising Officer and obtain the prior permission of the Supervising Officer for any stay of one or more nights at a different address. 

Since release on 30th November 2015 and up to 6th September 2016, Mr Rogers attended all scheduled appointments and complied fully with his licence conditions. 

Given he was assessed as Low Risk of Harm and fully compliant, Mr Rogers was on 8 weekly (2 monthly) reporting. 

He failed to attend his next appointment scheduled for 8th November 2016 and the requisite warning letter was sent which also instructed him to attend a further appointment. 

Neil Rogers’ case manager has also attempted contact via his registered mobile phone but again to no avail. 

On 5th December 2016, the case manager visited the registered address at 403 Tiene Road. 

It was clear that this address was occupied as it could br (sic) seen that festive lights were on in the property. Despite several attempts no person(s) answered. 

A note was subsequently pushed through the letterbox instructing Neil Rogers to urgently make contact. 

On 14th December 2016, the case manager revisited the address and again it was clear that the house was occupied. No response was received so a hand delivered letter signed by the case manager was posted through the letter box (sic) instructing Mr Rogers to make urgent contact by 4 pm 15th December 2016. If he made no contact then recall proceedings would be initiated. No such contact has been made.

Further, the recall report stated:

All requisite formal warnings have been sent. A number of attempts to contact via his registered mobile phone number both by text and call have also met with no response.

Two personal visits by the case manager to the registered address and hand delivered letters posted directly have failed to establish any re-engagement or contact with Merseyside CRC.

The recall report gave Neil’s last recorded address as 403 Tiene Road.

The recall report stated:

Any Other Possible Addresses: N/A

The recall report recorded no mobile telephone number for Neil.

The recall report was endorsed by Mr Senior’s manager, who recorded:

Report and recommendation supported. It is concerning that Mr Rogers has fallen out of contact and this frustrates the aims of supervision. Therefore at this time there is no alternative but to request revocation of his current licence.

On the same day, in direct response to the recall report, the Secretary of State for Justice revoked Neil’s licence and recalled him to prison under section 254 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

The revocation stated:

You have been recalled to prison because the Secretary of State is satisfied that you have breached the following conditions of your licence:

5iii Keep in touch with the supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by the supervising officer

Shortly after midnight on 31 December 2016, Neil was returning home when he was approached by Police officers who took his details.  To his shock he was informed that, according to the Police National Computer, he was wanted for recall to prison due to a breach of his licence conditions and accordingly he was arrested, taken to a nearby Police Station and then on to prison.

He was incarcerated for the next 28 days.

A few days prior to the date on which Neil was due to be released, he was able to speak to Mr Bodger and ask for an explanation as to why he had been recalled to prison.

Mr Bodger informed Neil that he was no longer responsible for his supervision and that the responsibility for his supervision had transferred to Mr Senior.

On 27 January 2017, Neil was released from prison.  The same day, Neil attended the office of Merseyside CRC and met with Mr Senior, who informed him that concerns had been raised about Mr Bodger’s recordkeeping and that Mr Bodger was no longer employed by the Company.

In all the circumstances, it appeared that Mr Bodger had failed to keep accurate and/or up to date records regarding Neil’s contact details or his attendance at appointments and that by reason of those failings, Neil had wrongfully spent 28 days in custody.  Specifically, Mr Bodger had failed to record Neil’s attendance at the office on 11 November 2016, leading his colleague Mr Senior to believe that Neil had breached the terms of his licence by going “AWOL”.

Although Mr Bodger was the real ‘villain’ of the piece , and it was his dereliction of duty/incompetence which lead to Neil being sent back to Prison, the situation was compounded by the failure of the other Probation staff who had dealt with Neil to record his proper address and telephone number.  This caused Mr Senior to attempt to contact Neil at an address where he had not been living for several years.  When I reviewed Neil’s probation file from Merseyside CRC I was shocked at the amount of errors and inaccuracies in it – not just mere ‘clerical errors’ but the kind of blatant mistakes which could, and did, lead to a man losing his liberty.  In my opinion, it should have been obvious to Mr Senior that the file was riddled with errors and that an out of date address was being used.

Being sent back to Prison in these circumstances was a real hammer blow to Neil’s confidence, mental health and the fragile relationship he had started to re-establish with his estranged family. Thinking that there was no smoke without fire, Neil’s family did not believe that he had been recalled to Prison through no fault of his own, and this destroyed their trust in him.  This really was a terrible injustice, as in reality Neil had done everything he could to get his life back on the ‘straight and narrow’ since coming out of Prison in 2015, including getting a job and complying with all of his Probation requirements.

Whether privatised or not, the Probation Service rarely put their hands up and admit fault and so it was no surprise that when I intimated a claim on behalf of Neil, liability was denied by Merseyside CRC.  I issued Court proceedings and the Company maintained its denial, asserting that Neil had failed to keep them informed of his changes of address.  It was not even admitted by them that Neil had indeed attended the pivotal appointment with Mr Bodger on 11 November 2016 – but fortunately Neil had the letter given to him on that occasion by Mr Bodger, to prove that he had.  Even in light of that letter, Merseyside CRC continued to try to deny and frustrate the claim.  However, I am pleased to confirm that shortly before trial, Solicitors representing the Company backed down and we agreed a five figure settlement plus costs.

More importantly than the money, I trust that the vindication brought by this Court settlement has gone a long way towards helping Neil rebuild his relationship with his family, who will now hopefully see that he was telling the truth about his recall to Prison – as well as serving as a wake-up call to Merseyside CRC and other Probation companies to invest properly in staff training, management and supervision. Though, if what I have uncovered in this case is anything to go by, it seems future Chief Inspectors of Probation are going to have their work cut out to make the service fit for purpose.

(Names and addresses changed.)