Should the Police “Arrest First” and Investigate Later?

Iain Gould solicitorBy Iain Gould, solicitor

The head of the National Crime Agency, Lynne Owens has been in the news. According to The Sunday Times and quoted in The Telegraph, whilst Chief Constable of Surrey Police she told police officers investigating rape cases to “arrest first” and investigate later.

Owens, who is now head of the National Crime Agency, is said to have made the changes when she was Chief Constable for Surrey Police between 2011-2015.

According to the report, minutes from a September 2015 meeting called by the then Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey, Kevin Hurley reveal that Owens was asked how the force was going to improve their detection rates for rape.

The minutes record: “The chief constable was keen to ensure officers were robustly pursuing offenders. Officers tended to receive an allegation then wait to make an arrest after gathering evidence. They needed to change this and make an arrest first and then gather the evidence.”

Nick Ephgrave, then Deputy chief constable and who now leads the force, told the meeting that the tactics had raised the rape detection rate from 6 per cent to 15.8 per cent, a significant turnaround in a year.

It is obviously satisfying to see a Chief Constable adopting a robust approach to the investigation of crime but it is imperative that Police forces operate within the legal powers conferred upon them. In my dealings with various Police forces, I am afraid however that tactics of arresting prior to sufficient evidence to form the basis of reasonable suspicion being gathered first are not necessarily limited to Surrey Constabulary. An arrest on suspicion of a sexual crime, such as rape can have serious long-lasting consequences for the person arrested if they were in fact entirely innocent, and have been arrested by the Police simply as part of a ‘fishing expedition’ which effectively amounts to an abuse of Police power of arrest, as I shall explain.

Robert’s Case

I have recently concluded a case on behalf of Robert (name changed for obvious reasons), a student who when just 16 years old, was arrested by North Wales Police on suspicion of rape.

In the summer of 2013, a music Festival took place in North Wales. Robert attended along with several friends.

Towards the end of the festival, a female complainant, Ms A made a complaint to a crisis worker that she may have been raped the previous evening.  Ms A ‘s initial account was as follows;

“I went to the toilet block, talking to two lads.  I went to a tent…..  I don’t remember anything else but I think I have been raped because it hurts down below.  I think I remember one of the boys wearing a red puffa jacket”.

Ms A subsequently gave a statement to the police.  Her recollection of the evening was vague due to her consumption of a large amount of alcohol.  She recalled that the previous evening, she had visited the site toilets with a friend, GH.  While she was waiting outside the toilets for GH, she started a conversation with an unknown white male.  Ms A started kissing this male.  She was then introduced to the unknown male’s friend, “Robert” who was “mixed race” and who was wearing a distinctive red puffa jacket.

Ms A’s next recollection was of consensual oral sex with the white male in a tent.  Ms A also recalled something hard being pushed into her vagina.  Ms A remembered saying “stop, it hurts and I can’t do this”, getting dressed and then leaving the tent.

Ms A was examined by a paediatrician who concluded that she had received trauma to her genital area and that the marks were consistent with an attempt at intercourse.

GH was interviewed and he recalled he had seen Ms A and the unknown male kissing and then walking off together followed by “Robert”.

Several days later, friends and family of Ms A contacted North Wales Police to report that they had identified the mixed race male in the red puffa jacket introduced as “Robert” as my client.

On the basis of this information, several Police officers travelled to my client’s home address and arrested him on suspicion of rape.  Robert was 16 years old, is of mixed race and had never been in trouble with the Police before. He was taken to a Police Station. This was despite the fact that Ms A had never alleged that the mixed race male had any sexual contact with her, but rather his white friend.

At the Police Station and without the least evidential or reasonable foundation, the circumstances of arrest were said to be;

“The Detained Person has been identified as being responsible for rape.  Circumstances are that the I/P recalls being in a tent at the festival and being subjected to rape. D/P has been identified via clothing worn and full description of a male seen with the I/P prior to the incident”.

The necessity for the Claimant’s arrest was said to be to “allow the prompt and effective investigation”.

My client was obliged to provide his personal details.  He was then searched, his personal belongings including his mobile phone seized, and he was then placed in a holding cell where he was subsequently joined by his mother who had been obliged to travel to the Police Station separately.

Robert was subsequently taken for interview. He answered all questions truthfully and directly. The interview was rather meandering and in fact was a fishing expedition rather than fact based enquiry. On review, it was apparent that the officers had no information whatsoever to implicate Robert.  After 58 minutes of questioning, the Duty Solicitor intervened and put it to the interviewing officers that their questions resembled questions which would ordinarily be put to a witness rather than a suspect.   The relevant passage of the interview is as follows:

Solicitor: Sorry, the two times she’s described having sex, oral sex with a white man and then sex, you haven’t given any description as to the person she’s having sex with then.

IO:  No there is no description actually in the notes here I’ve got.

Solicitor:   So that has led you to arrest him as opposed to a voluntary interview or anything.

IO:  The clothing description and …

Solicitor:  She doesn’t say she’s …………….  red puffa jacket

IO:  The jacket also with the description as well, Robert is seen in the vicinity heading in the same direction.

Solicitor:   Is that just because you have a name? Because you’ve been able to pick a name up.

IO:  Hm hm

Solicitor: You arrested him and used him to get your information, that is disgraceful, Robert is 16 and has never been in trouble before.

IO:  I understand the point you’re making.  I’ll make a note of that.

Solicitor:  I’d like you really to get on and finish this interview because it’s disgraceful

Thereafter, the Police advised Robert that he was to be released on Police bail. The Duty Solicitor again made robust representations as to why Police bail was wholly inappropriate and that Robert should be released NFA (no further action). On the basis of those representations, the issue was reconsidered and a decision made to release Robert without charge.

Finally, in the early hours of the morning, Robert was released. Notwithstanding his release, the Police retained 2 T-shirts belonging to Robert and his mobile phone which were eventually returned several weeks later.

Robert was understandably shocked by what happened to him but equally satisfied that he had done no wrong.

Robert is in my opinion a young man going places and despite his arrest was not going to be deterred from getting on in life. He continued his studies and successfully passed several ‘A’ Levels 2 years later.

Robert was however left with a fear of intimacy with girls; he was concerned that if he developed a relationship with a girl, a similar allegation could be made. He was particularly fearful if he drank leaving gaps in his memories. A Psychologist concluded that this fear represented a chronic adjustment disorder but that with time, he would overcome these issues.

The Law

For any arrest to be lawful, it must be founded on reasonable grounds. This necessitates consideration of whether, objectively, it was reasonable to suspect the Claimant of the offence for which he was arrested. It is also necessary to consider whether the arresting officer honestly suspected the Claimant of the offence for which he was arrested. Further, it is necessary to consider whether the decision to arrest was a lawful exercise of discretion, applying the Wednesbury principle of reasonableness: see Castorina v Chief Constable of Surrey (1996)

Castorina was followed in the more recent case of Buckley and others v The Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police [2009]. The following was stated by the Court of Appeal in Buckley:

“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 the 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.

Every arrest must also meet the requirement of necessity. Section 24(5) of PACE 1984 sets out a number of criteria for the consideration of whether an arrest is necessary.

The application of the necessity criteria was considered in Richardson v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police [2011], in which a schoolteacher successfully challenged the lawfulness of his arrest for assaulting a pupil, after he had attended the police station voluntarily. The decision in Richardson was then considered in Hayes v Chief Constable of Merseyside Police [2012]

In Hayes, Hughes LJ, having acknowledged that it might be quite unnecessary to arrest a schoolteacher who had attended the police station voluntarily, said that the correct test for the assessment of whether an arrest met the requirements of necessity was:

“…(1) the policeman must honestly believe that arrest is necessary, for one or more identified section 24(5) reasons; and (2) his decision must be one which, objectively reviewed afterwards according to the information known to him at the time, is held to have been made on reasonable grounds…”

The Claim

On Robert’s behalf, I intimated a claim against the Chief Constable of North Wales Police. Following investigation, liability was denied. In relation to the commission of the offence, the Police asserted that there were clearly reasonable grounds on which the arresting Officer was entitled to suspect that an offence of attempted rape had been committed by Robert:

  1. A complaint of rape had been made by Ms A;
  2. The paediatrician had concluded that Ms A had received acute trauma to her genital area;
  3. The marks were consistent with an attempt at intercourse;
  4. Ms A identified a mixed race male as being present when she began kissing the unknown white make and went back to his tent;
  5. Ms A could recall walking back to the tent with the unknown white male and the mixed race male;
  6. This mixed race male was described as wearing a red puffa jacked and being in his late teens/early twenties;
  7. Robert was 16 years of age and of mixed race.
  8. Enquiries by Mrs A’s friends and family identified that this mixed race make was Robert;
  9. The descriptive match with Robert was sufficiently proximate to implicate him (see inter alia, Armstrong -v- West Yorkshire Police [2008] EWCA);
  10. Ms A had been under the influence of alcohol and accordingly had an impaired personal recollection of events.

 In terms of the necessity of Robert’s arrest, his arrest was plainly necessary to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence and the arresting Officers was entitled to form the view, as he plainly did, that the relevant necessity ground for arrest was made out.  

As settlement terms could not be agreed, it was necessary to issue Court proceedings.

Court Proceedings

On Robert’s behalf, I argued that:

(a) There were no reasonable grounds to suspect Robert of the commission of the offence for which he was arrested.  I relied in particular on the following facts which individually or in aggregate negated reasonable suspicion;

i) Ms A performed oral sex on a white male.  Robert was of mixed race

ii) Ms A gave no description of the male who allegedly attempted to rape her.

iii) Despite being able to identify Robert by name and description, Ms A did not allege at any stage that Robert had himself committed the or any offence.

iv) Robert was identified as being an associate of the possible suspect.  It was apparent that the Police had arrested him so as to gather information as to the identity of the suspect,   not because of any reasonable or otherwise, suspicion to arrest.

(b) The arresting officer did not reasonably believe that lawful grounds for arrest existed;

(c) The arresting Officer did not at the material time honestly and reasonably believe that it was necessary to arrest Robert on suspicion of any offence or for any other lawful reason; alternatively

(d) There were no reasonable grounds for believing that for any of the reasons specified in s24(5) of PACE it was necessary to arrest Robert.  There was no evidence that this young man of good character would not have answered questions voluntarily; further or alternatively

(e) The arresting officer failed to have any or any proper regard to the requirements of PACE Code of Practice G and in particular paragraph 1.3. of the said Code which requires that ‘officers exercising the power (of arrest) should consider if the necessary objectives can be met by other less intrusive means’; further or alternatively

(f) The arresting officer in deciding whether to arrest Robert failed to exercise his discretion lawfully or at all; further or alternatively

(g) At no material time were there reasonable grounds for believing that Robert’s detention at the police station was necessary for any of the reasons specified in section 37 of PACE or at all.

The arrest and detention having been unlawful, it followed that all touching of Robert amounted to assault (ie to search and take his fingerprints/DNA sample) and that the seizure of Robert’s property amounted to trespass to goods.

As is so often the case, the Police denial of liability was nothing other than strategic manoeuvring and after 6 months of further prevarication, I am pleased to report that the Police agreed to destroy Robert’s personal data (fingerprints, DNA and photograph) and expunge the record of arrest from all local and national Police records and pay compensatory damages of £15,000 plus full legal costs.

The case highlights a more worrying trend in Police tactics employed in the investigation of sexual crimes; ‘arrest first, investigate later’, which may give the victim and Police and Crime Commissioners anxious for positive ‘detection’ rates some comfort but fails to take into account the catastrophic impact it can have on any innocent individual who is caught up in such an investigation.

 

Read more of my blog posts about actions against the police here.

Are Police the Real Football Hooligans?

Iain Gould solicitor, asks if police are the real football hooligans.
Iain Gould solicitor, asks if police are the real football hooligans.

By Iain Gould, solicitor

Last week we saw the ugly side of the beautiful game return; images of wanton violence by football hooligans in Marseille at the start of the Euros.

Although only a minority were involved, the trouble tarnishes all football fans who become by default a hated group viewed with suspicion, even hatred, by the police and the public at large. The fans’ comfort, conditions and even their civil liberties are ignored. They can be herded, corralled, subjected to casual violence and anything can be believed of them.

It is against this backdrop that the prospect of bringing a successful action against the police on behalf of a football fan accused of hooliganism or disorder could look hopeless especially in the absence of compelling CCTV footage or other evidence.

Step forward Chris, a man of exemplary character from Birmingham.  Chris supports Birmingham City FC (someone has to!) and has done since he was a lad.

On the 16 January 2011, Chris, then 23 years old, had been in a pub situated close to the City ground in Birmingham with friends watching the televised derby match between Birmingham City and Aston Villa.  During the game, he drank 4 pints of lager.  At the end of the match Chris and his friends left the premises to meet up with another friend who had been to the match itself.  The group joined thousands of other fans who were heading away from the ground.

The group passed another ‘Birmingham City’ pub, outside which a large number of supporters had gathered.  There was also a large contingent of uniformed Police Officers decked out in full riot gear. For whatever reason, the Police officers began to surround the group and usher them forward and away from the pub believing that trouble was going to erupt between the 2 groups (quite why, is a mystery as both groups of fans supported Birmingham City).

So as to achieve their objective, the officers began to use their shields to push Chris and his friends along.

Here’s Chris’ description of what happened next;

“A number of police officers began to surround us. The officers were wearing uniforms, fluorescent jackets and helmets and carrying round shields.  Initially they began to shout “move on” even though we hadn’t stopped moving forward at any time.  Then they started to repeatedly and aggressively push us using their shields, shouting “Move on” despite the fact that we were still moving along voluntarily.

One officer was immediately behind me.  He was Asian, approximately 6’ 2”, medium build, in his early 30s.  He pushed me with his shield 2 or 3 times hitting my back and elbows really hard, so much so that I was shunted forwards.

A second officer who was white, smaller, about 5’ 8” and in his early 40s came running from behind the Asian officer and began pushing me forwards, hitting me harder with his shield, up to 10 times.  Again, I was shunted forward and caused to trip and stumble.

The force used by the 2 officers and their colleagues against me and the others in the group was wholly unnecessary.  We were voluntarily moving forwards at all times and posed no threat to anyone else.  They seemed to be hitting us for the sake of it.

 I was becoming increasingly annoyed.  I turned to the white police officer and put my right hand onto his shield and asked him to stop pushing.  I shouted “fuck off, we’re moving”.

 I turned around with a view to proceeding forward when the officer used his shield and hit me yet again. 

 I turned to remonstrate again and when I did, I noticed a third officer come charging towards me from the back and in between several police officers including the white officer referred to above.

 As the officer charged, he raised his shield above his head, turning it sideways and slammed it into the right side of my head.  With the force of the blow, I stumbled backwards. I turned and the officer then hit me again a second time, to the rear of my head at the bottom of my skull/top of my neck.

Chris realised that he was bleeding.  He had a throbbing pain in his head and neck.  He was shocked and outraged as were his friends.  He staggered away.  Despite his obvious injuries, no officer stepped forward to offer first aid or assistance.  Chris and his friends walked on to a nearby pub where he tended to his injuries and took a photograph.  Later, he returned home.  It so happens that his sister, a serving Police officer with a different police force was visiting their parents.  She accompanied Chris to hospital.  Whilst waiting to be treated, she had the good sense to write down his detailed account of events.  He was later examined; a 1.5cm cut to the right cheek was noted. The wound was cleansed and closed with glue. The laceration left an indented scar which was cosmetically disfiguring and permanent.  In addition to the laceration/scar, Chris suffered daily headaches which gradually resolved over the months ahead.

Are police the real football hooligans? This photo of a riot shield injury shows the damage they cause.
Photo of Chris’ injury caused by a police officer’s riot shield.

Notwithstanding Chris’ detailed description of events, it is important to bear in mind that;

  • he accepts that he had drank 4 pints during the course of a relatively short period of time (1 ½ – 2 hours) immediately before the incident;
  • he accepts that he verbally remonstrated with officers and physically grabbed an officer’s shield;
  • this was a volatile football derby game which inevitably carried with it a perceived high risk of football related violence or disorder;
  • the Police are present in large numbers supposedly to protect not injure;
  • there was reportedly no CCTV footage of the incident.

Although Chris was a man of good character who could provide cogent witness evidence, in context, to an outside observer, the prospects of a successful civil action against the Police might seem slim.

Unfortunately, when the offending Police Officer’s evidence is considered, that outside observer might conclude the prospects of success were next to impossible because of course the officer who struck Chris, Sergeant A gave a very different account;

“As we pushed the group back, I saw one of the group stand still and face towards us.  He grabbed out and grabbed hold of my Police shield as I pushed towards him.  I told the male to “move back”.  I saw the male’s body weight drop and his eyes became fixated on me.  His shoulders dropped and his fists were clenched.  I honestly believed the male was going to attack me.  The male then shouted “Come on then you cunt”.  At that point I was two feet away from the male.  I was unable to reach for any of my personal safety equipment due to holding my police shield.  My visor was down on my public order helmet.  Due to the nature of the incident and the weather conditions my visor was slightly steamed up and my visibility was not as clear as normal.  I used my shield and punched out with the front of the shield which impacted on the male’s face.  The front of the shield made a direct hit with the male’s face which immediately stunned him.  I hit the male as hard as I could, but only struck him to the face once.  I would describe the male as being 6 foot 2 inches tall, 25 years of age, dark hair, thick set.”

Other officers offered some corroboration for Sergeant A’s account.

The Inspector on duty reported as follows;

“As they reached the bus stops underneath the railway bridge, some of the group were leaning back against the shields, trying to stop.  Officers had to physically push them with their shields to keep them moving, as I instructed.  I saw one youth in particular, face the officers and push back hard at the shields.  He continually shouted at the officer directly in front of him telling him to “fuck off!”.  I was 10 – 15 yards from this and I saw the officer to be Sergeant A.  I saw Sergeant A push hard with his shield held in front of him in a correct, trained, manner, forcing this youth backwards, preventing him from stopping.  I could hear Sergeant A shouting clearly “move back” and “get back”.  The youth was resisting going backwards and tried to grab Sergeant A’s shield”. 

Later on, he noticed the same youth who by now “had a small trickle of blood to his left cheek.  I recognised this youth to be the same one that was pushing at Sergeant A’s shield as he was the most aggressive and volatile amongst them.   The injury was so minor I did not feel he required medical attention.

 From the very start of the policing operation, including the match ‘briefing’, it had been stressed that officers must be robust but fair in their policing style.  It is my opinion that Sergeant A had performed his role in exactly the manner which I, and West Midlands Police, expected.

 I have performed a number of duties as a PSU Commander with Sergeant A as one of my Serial Officers.  He has an excellent leadership style and receives a great amount of respect from his team.  When I perform PSU Commander duties at ………….  football matches, Sergeant A is one of the first names on my list that I would want on my PSU.  This is because I can rely on his firm policing style at times when it is needed but in a proportionate manner.

 In relation to the allegation that Sergeant A had used excessive force I can say that I completely and utterly dispute the allegations.  If I had felt that Sergeant A had acted inappropriately I would have dealt with the incident myself”.

The Asian officer described by Chris added further corroboration; he said he was “looking in the direction of Sergeant A and said to him, “Come on then you cunt”.  I could see that he looked extremely aggressive and he had his fists clenched.  Sergeant A then hit him with his shield towards his face.  This appeared to have the desired effect and the male moved on”.   Other officers gave a similar account.

Shortly after the incident, Chris lodged a formal complaint.  6 months later, Chris received a 20 page investigation report.  It transpired that another officer present had misgivings about the conduct of Sergeant A and no doubt in difficult circumstances had reported Sergeant A to his Inspector who in turn reported to Professional Standards.

Sergeant X recorded that;

“I directed my serial to gently nudge the group with their shields to push them up the road… As we were doing this the serial, which consisted of 6 officers plus myself were explaining to the group why they needed them to move.  I noticed the other serial headed by Sergeant A were also using their shields to nudge the group up the road.  My serial was at the front/side of the group and I was situated behind them so I could monitor the group.  Sergeant A’s serial was behind the group containing them.  Both serials were moving the group away from the ground.  As we were moving the group they were somewhat reluctant and slow moving, two or three members of the group began to take exception to our actions and question our intentions, they were using phrases such as “stop fucking pushing us”….  They wasn’t being aggressive, just ‘arsey’ swearing at us.  At this point we continued to nudge the group gently up the road.  One officer from the serial to my left… ran through the others quickly and hit male 1 with the flat of his shield in his back.  I noticed that this was Sergeant A….  At the time male 1 had turned to face and ask “what the fuck you pushing us for?” as he has turned that is when Sergeant A moved forward to strike him in the back.  He hit male 1 hard as he stumbled violently forwards and managed to stay on his feet by putting his hands on the wall underneath the railway bridge.  When this male re-gained his balance he turned toward Sgt A and said “what the fuck did you do that for you twat?”….  Sergeant A has then struck male 1 again causing him to stagger backwards.  Male 1 then remonstrated with Sergeant A as to why he kept hitting him….  Male 1 was still shouting…. clearly unhappy with what had happened, his hands were open and not making a fist and although very vocal he was not offering any physical threat….  I then saw Sergeant A turn his shield so that the edge/rim was pointing towards the male 1.  I know this technique is taught in public order and is called ‘Blading’.  This is taught to be used only when encountering serious levels of violence and as a last resort.  Sergeant A has pulled the shield back above his head and struck the male with it.  Both strikes were towards the male’s head and face area on the right side….  I felt Sergeant A wasn’t in any danger throughout the incident and felt that his use of force in this situation was inappropriate.”

Another officer who was in Sergeant X’s serial also said that he “saw a round shield above officers’ heads at one point” but that he could not identify the officer it belonged to.

Notwithstanding Chris’ account and that of Sergeant X, the Professional Standards Report dismissed the complaint by concluding;

“Sergeant A describes Chris as standing directly in front of him and threatening him directly. The accounts provided by the Asian officer corroborate Sergeant A.

 It must be noted that when officers use any ‘use of force’ technique it is the responsibility of that individual officer to account for and justify that action based upon their perception of the incident.

 The incident was obviously volatile with a potential for major disorder.  Whilst Chris states that he was moving on as requested; he clearly was offering some resistance to simply moving on.  In the circumstances, Sergeant A therefore used necessary force.  Sergeant A has stated that he felt in fear of his safety based upon his perception of the incident.

 Whilst the area targeted by Sergeant A raises some concern, the question to be addressed is whether the force used is actually excessive. The investigating officer feels that having considered all of the evidence; the force used upon Chris by Sergeant A was necessary, proportionate and reasonable in the circumstances.

Really?  Even allowing for some resistance from Chris, or at worst, threatening behaviour, was the officer’s use of his riot shield as an offensive weapon necessary, proportionate and reasonable in the circumstances?  In my opinion this was a typical Police ‘whitewash’ of a legitimate complaint.  The report’s conclusions were nothing other than perverse.

Chris lodged an appeal to the Independent Watchdog, the IPCC.  On review, the case worker concluded that Sergeant A had, on the balance of probability used the edge of his shield to hit Chris.  The case worker went on;   “The use of the edge of the shield is a recognised method and (force) guidance quotes that “In certain circumstances where the officer feels that there is no other alternative available to them and it is reasonable in the circumstances and absolutely necessary to the level of force being used or threatened, then the edges of the shield can be used by being driven towards the offender.   This use must be the minimum amount necessary and proportionate to the seriousness of the circumstances they find themselves in”.

In the circumstances, the Professional Standards Department’s findings were overturned and the IPCC directed that Sergeant A be reprimanded.

On Chris’s instructions, I subsequently brought a civil claim for compensation against West Midlands Police. The initial response of West Midlands Police was to neither admit or deny liability but offer £750.

Notwithstanding the findings of the IPCC, it was clear that West Midlands Police were not going to properly compensate Chris without a fight.

On Chris’s behalf, I issued Court proceedings.  Although West Midlands Police then belatedly admitted liability they continued to fail to recognise the serious nature of their officer’s misconduct and the implications this would have as regards the likely award of damages that a Court would make.  After a succession of offers and only a short while before the final hearing, West Midlands Police offered and Chris accepted a final settlement of £17,500 plus costs.

So justice was done; but not before the police had – as is their habitual practice – closed ranks against Chris and tried to deny his legitimate complaint. Where would we have been without the honesty of Officer X, who did the right thing and spoke out against wrongdoing by one of his colleagues? Frankly, in my experience, too few officers are willing to speak up or criticise their fellow officers in these situations. The eventual settlement reached with the police was over 20 times as much as their initial offer. There was absolutely no need for the Police to drag this matter out as long as they did, but it seems that the general police mentality when faced with a case like Chris’s is that in these situations, any fan who gets injured ‘must’ by definition have been doing something wrong. Given this aggressive ‘us versus them’ approach to the policing of football fans, cases of police brutality subsequently compounded by a prejudiced refusal to admit any fault on their part, are sadly all too common.

Contact Me:

 

 

Why Paul Ponting’s Strip Search Was Wrong

Photo of Iain Gould solicitor, explains strip search law referring to the case of his client Paul Ponting.
Iain Gould solicitor, explains strip search law referring to the case of his client Paul Ponting.

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

You may have read in today’s papers (Daily Mail, Liverpool Echo) that my client, Paul Ponting, is suing Lancashire Police for compensation following his arrest and strip search in June 2014.

To strip an individual of their clothes following their arrest is one of the greatest invasions of privacy and bodily integrity that the State can perpetrate.

Here I explain the law about strip searches and how it affects Mr Ponting’s case.

(N.B. Paul Ponting has given his consent to publicity and agreed to me using details of his case here, which are based on his version of events.)

Arrest and Strip Search

At the time of his arrest Paul Ponting was a successful 42-year-old businessman and father-of-two. He owns computer shops and lives in Ormskirk, West Lancashire.

In 2014 Paul told Lancashire Police that an ex-employee was harassing him via an online hate campaign. On the evening of 18 June 2014, two uniformed police officers visited Paul and his wife at home to tell them that the police would not be taking action against the ex-employee. Mr Ponting was upset about this and an argument developed. The police arrested him for a minor public order offence and an alleged (but in any event minor) assault against one of the officers.

Paul was taken to Skelmersdale Police Station. He was frightened and worried as he had never been arrested before and was unfamiliar with the process. What happened next is in dispute. Paul’s behaviour is variously described in the Custody Record (which is completed by the Custody Sergeant, not the Claimant) as “erratic” and “violent”. (The available CCTV footage would suggest otherwise.)

The Custody Record also says that Mr Ponting refused to engage in the Risk Assessment Process (whereby the arrested person provides details about their general health). As a result, the Custody Sergeant wrote that he should be stripped of his clothes. The Sergeant justified this decision by stating that it was not possible to determine if Paul had anything on him likely to cause harm to self or others.

Paul was taken to a police cell. There he was violently manhandled, assaulted, and forcibly stripped naked by FOUR police officers. You can see photographs and CCTV footage of his painful and degrading experience here.

Paul began to experience chest pains while in police custody. He was rushed to hospital where his injuries were recorded as “multiple bruises and superficial lacerations to the limbs and a swollen left lateral hand”. He was later bailed to return to the police station where he was eventually charged.

Mr Ponting was prosecuted all the way to trial. Thankfully he was acquitted of all charges at Ormskirk Magistrates Court in November 2014.

Paul’s experience at the police station was humiliating, degrading, and undignified. He contacted me for advice as I specialise in civil actions against the police. I am now helping him bring a compensation claim against Lancashire Police for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault, and malicious prosecution.

The Law in Strip Search Cases

Searching detainees is understandably important: it protects the safety of arrested persons; reduces the risk of harm to police staff; and allows material to be seized that may be subject to legal proceedings. But in my experience, all too often an arrested person’s dignity is ignored and a strip search effected on the flimsiest of excuses.

The rules about searches are rightly strict. The courts say that careful consideration should be given by custody staff before authorisation and execution of a strip search. (See Patricia Zelda Davies (by her litigation friend Zelda Davies v. Chief Constable of Merseyside Police and Just for Kids Law and Children’s Rights Alliance for England (Interveners), Court of Appeal [2015] EWCA Civ 11.)

And, as well as this clear guidance provided by the Court of Appeal, the police must consider:

All this means that:

1.      The custody officer should decide the extent of the search and the subsequent retention of any article that the detainee has with them. Officers must document the decision-making process on the Custody Record and include:

  • the reason for the search
  • those present during the search
  • those conducting the search and,
  • a record of any items found or seized.

2.      The custody officer should explain to the arrested person why it is necessary to carry out the search. Custody officers may seize clothing on the grounds that they believe the arrested person may use them to harm themselves. However, custody officers should, when deciding to remove clothing, balance the need to protect the right to life with the importance of ensuring that an arrested person’s dignity is respected.

3.      The search must be conducted with proper regard to the sensitivity and vulnerability of the arrested person and every reasonable effort must be made to secure the arrested person’s cooperation. Only if they do not consent may the officer(s) use reasonable force to carry out the search/removal of clothes (Section 117 of PACE).

Police Failures in Paul Ponting’s Case

Paul Ponting was rapidly taken from the police van on arrival at the police station, through to the Custody Desk, and then into a cell where he was forcibly stripped naked. This suggests that little or no consideration was given to Paul’s rights, or his dignity.

And if Lancashire Police suggest that its officers were concerned for Paul’s wellbeing whilst in custody, I will argue that more consideration should have been given to alternative and less invasive measures. The College of Policing guidance states:

“Officers should not automatically see strip-searching individuals for their own protection as the best way to prevent them harming themselves.”

On the facts, the police’s conduct was unjustified. I do not understand why a normal “pat down” search of Paul’s person, without removing his clothes, could not have satisfied the officers that he was not carrying anything of potential danger. Furthermore, belts and socks, which could be used to self-harm, can be removed without requiring an individual to be stripped naked. There was simply no need for Lancashire Police officers to strip Mr Ponting of his clothes and his dignity. And to then prosecute him all the way to trial on bogus charges simply added insult to painful injury.

Mr Ponting is right to pursue his case, despite recent government efforts to make it harder for claimants to seek justice and hold police officers to account. By taking action against Lancashire Police he is shining a light on their poor practices, and, hopefully, encouraging the Force to change its approach to strip searches.

Contact me for help with your actions against the police via the online form below or my firm’s website.

Contact Me:

 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Photo of Iain Gould solicitor, explains his respect for people who bring actions against the police.
Iain Gould solicitor, explains his respect for people who bring actions against the police.

By Iain Gould, solicitor

I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who to take actions against the police.

Their fight for justice can be a hard, long, and stressful process. Why? Because they have to:

  1. know enough about the law and police procedure to determine if they have a valid complaint and/or potential claim
  2. be mentally strong enough to take action against the police
  3. be determined to find a suitably qualified solicitor they can trust, given the considerable financial risk of litigation.

People often get help with the first part. Duty solicitors at police stations, family and friends, research on the internet, can all help identify wrongs. But the rest is down to the individual.

How matters progress often depends on their past experiences. Many of my clients have never been in trouble with the police and often still trust them, despite what happened.

As a result, they (perhaps naively) think that the police complaint process is fair and impartial. This view is not unusual. Research commissioned by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) found that:

“those that had the least amount of contact had much higher expectations of police behaviour and were therefore more willing to complain about a range of potential misconduct.”

Sadly, trust in the police complaints process is often misguided. Often, only when it fails do we find out if the person involved is truly determined to seek justice. One such person was my client, Mr R (name withheld at his request), from London. His story shows why I have such respect for people who brings actions against the police.

Racial Abuse Arrest

On 26th February 2014 my client, a professional, middle-aged white man got into an argument with a black woman after parking his car on the narrow street in front of his home. The woman verbally abused him for blocking the path of an oncoming car while he adjusted his road-side wing mirror to stop it from being damaged. He responded by telling her to park her own car behind his to let the traffic pass. Their exchange involved the use of coarse language and ended when the woman took photographs of his car and said that she was going to report Mr R to the police for racial abuse. She told Mr R that, even though she knew he had not racially abused her, she was confident the police would take her seriously, and not “some fat, angry, white guy”.

More than 3 weeks later, on 20th March 2014 at 9:30am, Mr R was shocked when 11 Metropolitan Police officers turned up at his home.

An officer told my client that he was under arrest for using “racially aggravated threatening words and behaviour” following the incident on 26th February.

Mr R vehemently denied that he had been racially abusive. The police refused to listen and told Mr R that they were taking him to his local police station. He was not allowed to shower but was allowed to dress under close supervision of an officer. During this process, one of the officers flippantly said to my client “Your taxi is waiting, the meter is running”.

Mr R was “booked in” before the Custody Sergeant. The circumstances of his arrest were recorded as “Officers investigating an allegation of road rage have cause to believe this male is involved.  Allegation of racially aggrieved (sic) Sect 4 POA.  Arrested to interview, prevent harm.”

The reason for arrest was recorded as “to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the detained person”. My client was searched and his personal possessions removed.

He requested pre-interview disclosure information. The Custody Sergeant refused, saying, “We don’t, not to people like you”.

Mr R asked for the Duty Solicitor. He was then photographed, his fingerprints and DNA sample taken, and locked in a police cell.

The Duty Solicitor and officer in charge saw Mr R at approximately 11am.  The Duty Solicitor told my client that he had also not been given any pre-interview disclosure information and that he had been advised that the alleged victim, the foul-mouthed woman, had not even been interviewed. Given that the police appeared not to have crucial evidence Mr R immediately asked how they could justify his arrest.  The officer in charge realised they were on shaky ground on this point and tried to dismiss it, saying that he was about to interview the alleged victim at 12pm.

After several hours of detention, an Inspector visited Mr R in his cell for his custody review.  He told Mr R that “I have authorised your further detention”.  My client immediately challenged the officer, saying that he had pre-judged the further detention without hearing from Mr R or his solicitor.

The Inspector agreed to investigate and authorised my client’s release. At 4pm Mr R was released on police bail and told to return to the Police Station on 9th April.

Police Complaint Farce

Readers will be in no doubt that Mr R is an intelligent man. He felt aggrieved that:

  • the police could not justify his arrest having failed to obtain the victim’s evidence first, even though the incident occurred over three weeks earlier.
  • they failed to invite him to attend for a voluntary interview, instead sending 11 officers to his home causing Mr R and his family great embarrassment, shock, and distress.
  • he had been mistreated during arrest and at the police station.
  • the police denied his reasonable request for information.
  • they pre-judged his further detention and delayed his release.

In his opinion, he had the legal grounds for a complaint. Mr R is also confident, determined, and articulate. Consequently, he had the first and second traits of people willing to take on the police.

My client lodged a formal complaint within a few days of his arrest which was handled by an Inspector in the same division as the arresting officers. Incensed by his treatment so far, Mr R’s priority was to ensure that he would not be re-arrested when he returned to the police station on 9th April.

The investigating Inspector agreed that Mr R could attend the Police Station on 9th April as a volunteer.  During interview, Mr R established that the so-called “victim” had just been interviewed earlier that day (9th April), despite being told previously that she was going to be interviewed on the same day he was arrested (20th March). The allegation of racial abuse was put to Mr R which he vehemently denied. The case was referred to the CPS for advice and Mr R was informed that his complaint could not be investigated while the police waited for the CPS’s input.

Eventually, on 21st May, Mr R was advised that no further action was to be taken against him.  Mr R understandably felt aggrieved by the actions of the Metropolitan Police and pursued his complaint.

To say he was given the run-around would be an understatement:

  1. His complaint was (wrongly) dealt with internally by the Metropolitan Police, rather than being referred to the IPCC. Mr R described this as “akin to getting Bernard Madoff to investigate customer complaints about his own investment scheme”.
  2. The Inspector who initially investigated the complaint failed to apologise, even though he confirmed that “You were circulated as a suspect on the 05/03/14 to facilitate a prompt and effective investigation and protect a vulnerable person.  On reflection, once the vulnerability passed the decision to arrest could have been reassessed and could possibly have been investigated utilising less intrusive methods”.
  3. Dissatisfied with the response, he appealed. The same Inspector dealt with the appeal. In January 2015 he said: “the investigation process could have been progressed without the requirement for arrest however the arrest itself was not unlawful”. Despite this, Mr R made some progress when the Inspector finally said “I wish to apologise for the distress this incident has caused you and accept our failings in how we progressed this investigation.  To be clear, this investigation did not require your detention in custody to secure your account, nor was it necessary to affect a prompt investigation”.
  4. Mr R was dissatisfied with the apology for “distress” only, and, among other things, with the Metropolitan Police’s failure to admit his unlawful arrest and false imprisonment, or to confirm that they had breached professional standards. He appealed to the IPCC.
  5. In March 2015, a year after the arrest, the IPCC confirmed Mr R’s view that his complaint was not suitable for Local Resolution and should never have been dealt with internally. It also confirmed that the Inspector’s response to the appeal was effectively a re-hash of the initial investigation, and that the matter should be sent back to the Metropolitan Police for a re-investigation.

Instructing an Actions Against the Police Solicitor

By this time, Mr R was despondent. He, like many, was initially reluctant to engage a solicitor. I suspect this was because he felt comfortable dealing with the complaint himself and wanted to avoid issues about legal fees, trust, and confidence in his legal representation.

He found me on Google and got in touch. At this point, the third trait (finding a suitable solicitor) kicked in and we vetted each other.

I was frank with Mr R. I offered no guarantees but, on the strength of his instructions and the documents he provided, I felt he had a viable compensation claim for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.  I was confident enough to act under a Conditional Fee (“no win no fee”) Agreement, in which I only got paid if he won.

After the IPCC’s criticism the Metropolitan Police Inspector who originally investigated Mr R’s complaint completely changed his tune. He now confirmed in a third report that, in his opinion, “The arrest was unnecessary and therefore unlawful. Your complaint has been upheld”.

Despite this, Mr R remained unhappy with the complaint investigation. On my advice we focussed on his civil claim for compensation. I intimated a claim.

I explained to my client that the Inspector’s opinion was not binding on the police in the civil claim. Unsurprisingly, the Metropolitan Police’s legal department failed to either admit or deny liability suggesting that “the matter could have been investigated utilising less intrusive methods”.  (my emphasis) They put forward an offer of £2,500.

I advised Mr R that this offer was too low in my opinion. I suggested we put forward a counter-offer and, if the police did not accept it or make a reasonable offer, to issue court proceedings. This was not an easy decision for him to make.

It is a common misconception that “no win no fee” agreements also mean “no risk”. In fact, when the Claimant issues court proceedings they are at risk of paying the Defendant’s legal costs if they do not win or beat an offer. Litigation is not cheap and the police instruct expensive lawyers. It is not uncommon to see legal bills in actions against the police for over £50,000.

The decision to issue court proceedings required Mr R to trust my judgement. He knew that I have the necessary skills, expertise, and confidence which come from practising in this area of law for over 20 years. I was also invested in his success because I was risking my firm’s money and time by acting under a “no win no fee” agreement. But irrespective of the level of confidence and trust, there are no guarantees.

After weighing the options Mr R took my advice and authorised me to issue court proceedings.

In response, despite their previous offer and failure to increase before proceedings, the Metropolitan Police put forward a revised offer of £6500.

Better, but not enough.

Mr R authorised me to negotiate further. I eventually settled his claim for £7400, nearly three times more than the first offer, plus legal costs.

Here’s what Mr R said about my service:

“I was happy with every aspect of advice that you gave me, along with the guidance that you offered, I negotiate contracts for a living, and am quite legally aware. However, the threat of issuing proceedings against the Metropolitan Police caused me concern.  Your constant encouragement that everything was ok along with your experience and attention to detail impressed and bolstered my confidence, I was also happy with the result”.

Specialist Legal Help

People often complain direct to the police to get answers, accountability, and sometimes compensation. They do this without legal representation because they trust the police to investigate their complaint in a fair and just manner, without bias.

Instead, what they get is delay, avoidance, and a strong institutional bias against the person bringing the complaint and in favour of the officer(s) involved. They often only seek a solicitor’s help when they have lost all faith in the police complaint system.

In April 2016 there were 134,785 practising solicitors in England and Wales. Search Google for “actions against the police solicitors” and you’ll get 127,000 results. How hard can it be to find a good one to take on the police?

Answer: not so easy. This is because actions against the police solicitors work in a complicated, niche area of law. There are many lawyers out there who specialise in either criminal defence or civil litigation. There are few who cover both and also have the necessary background, skills, and attitude to risk to take on the State.

People have to spend time to find a solicitor they can work with, potentially for years. They have to look beyond the promises made on slick websites and make sure the solicitor is the right one for them.

Mr R knew enough about the law in actions against the police, had the courage to take them on, and the determination to find a specialist solicitor with whom he could work. He has my respect.

 

For help with your civil actions against the police contact me via the online form below or my firm’s website.

Contact Me:

 

 

What You Need to Know About the Deletion of Records from National Police Systems

Iain Gould solicitor, explains what you need to know about deletion of records from national police systems.
Iain Gould solicitor, explains what you need to know about deletion of records.

By Iain Gould, solicitor.

In my experience as a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police, when an individual has been wrongly arrested, their priority is not necessarily financial compensation. Instead, they often seek:

  • an acceptance of wrongdoing;
  • an apology; and
  • deletion of records and data from national police systems obtained as a result of the arrest.

Data held in police systems can include the record of arrest, fingerprints, DNA sample and custody photograph.

This issue is particularly important for individuals who have no prior arrest history and who consider such retention of personal records with grave suspicion.

How Records Are Deleted from Police Systems

In certain cases subject to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) the individual’s DNA profile and fingerprint record should be automatically deleted by reason of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (the “PoFA”). See below: 

1 Destruction of fingerprints and DNA profiles 

After section 63C of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 insert—

“63DDestruction of fingerprints and DNA profiles 

(1)This section applies to— 

(a)fingerprints— 

(i)taken from a person under any power conferred by this Part of this Act, or

 (ii)taken by the police, with the consent of the person from whom they were taken, in connection with the investigation of an offence by the police, and

 (b)a DNA profile derived from a DNA sample taken as mentioned in paragraph (a)(i) or (ii).

 (2)Fingerprints and DNA profiles to which this section applies (“section 63D material”) must be destroyed if it appears to the responsible chief officer of police that—

 (a)the taking of the fingerprint or, in the case of a DNA profile, the taking of the sample from which the DNA profile was derived, was unlawful, or

 (b)the fingerprint was taken, or, in the case of a DNA profile, was derived from a sample taken, from a person in connection with that person’s arrest and the arrest was unlawful or based on mistaken identity.

 (3)In any other case, section 63D material must be destroyed unless it is retained under any power conferred by sections 63E to 63O (including those sections as applied by section 63P).

 (4)Section 63D material which ceases to be retained under a power mentioned in subsection (3) may continue to be retained under any other such power which applies to it.

 (5)Nothing in this section prevents a speculative search, in relation to section 63D material, from being carried out within such time as may reasonably be required for the search if the responsible chief officer of police considers the search to be desirable.”

It is important to note the exceptions at points (3)-(5), and be aware that the PoFA does not deal with custody photographs (stored on the Custody Suite Imaging System, “CSIS”) and the associated police national computer (“PNC”) record and/or entry.

As a result, unless an application is made under the Record Deletion Process (“RDP”), even if DNA and fingerprints are destroyed, the PNC records and custody photograph will be retained by the police until the subject is deemed to have reached 100 years of age.

How to Seek Deletion of Records from National Police Systems

Irrespective of any complaint or civil claim pursued, the individual can apply for the destruction of all of his/ her personal data under the Record Deletion Process. Click on this link for guidance and the application form issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers Criminal Records Office (“ACRO”).

Applications can be submitted to ACRO or the individual police force concerned. The applicant must state the grounds for having their records deleted and provide proof of identity/current address. The guidance suggests that the evidence and grounds for deleting records from national police systems will be then be examined by a chief officer. If agreed, the expectation is that any records held will be deleted.

There are no set criteria for the deletion of records. Chief officers must exercise professional judgement based on the information available.

The following are some examples of circumstances in which deletion will be considered:

  • Malicious/false allegation. When a case against an individual has been withdrawn at any stage, and there is corroborative evidence that the case was based on a malicious or false allegation.
  • Proven alibi. Where there is corroborative evidence that the individual has a proven alibi and as a result she/he is eliminated from the enquiry after being arrested.
  • Incorrect disposal. Where disposal options are found to have been administered incorrectly, and under the correct disposal there would be no power to retain the DNA profile. In such circumstances, consideration should be given to deleting records.
  • Suspect status not clear at the time of arrest. Where an individual is arrested at the outset of enquiry, the distinction between the offender, victim and witness is not clear, and the individual is subsequently eliminated as a suspect.
  • Judicial recommendation. If, in the course of court proceedings, a magistrate or judge makes a recommendation that an individual’s records should be deleted.
  • No crime. Where it is established that a recordable crime has not been committed. For example, a sudden death when individual is arrested at the scene but after post-mortem it is determined that the deceased person died of natural causes and not homicide.

Metropolitan Police Record Deletion Process

For deletion of records held by the country’s largest force, the Metropolitan Police (“the Met”), applications must be submitted to the Early Deletion Unit (“EDU”).

It is not a straightforward process, as my client, Mr M, would confirm.

Mr M (name withheld to preserve anonymity) was arrested on 31 July 2012.

A month earlier an employee of Metropolitan Police was driving his car when he saw two individuals arguing in a car upfront.

The female passenger allegedly slapped the male driver (Mr M) and in response he allegedly punched her in the face.

At the next set of traffic lights, the Met employee parked in front of the car and got out to speak to the couple. He allegedly noted that the female, Mr M’s girlfriend, had injuries to her face and obtained their details.

Several days later the Met employee submitted a report about the incident.

Given the priority that domestic abuse is given, the case was investigated.

Unfortunately, there was a significant delay because:

  1. the police failed to get to grips with the location of the incident; and
  1. there were a large number of people at the Met passing the matter around.

During the investigation, Mr M’s girlfriend was contacted on a number of occasions.

She denied that she had been assaulted and further, refused to lodge a formal complaint. Notwithstanding this, a decision was made to invite Mr M to attend a police station for voluntary interview a month after the incident.

Upon arrival, despite attending as a volunteer, Mr M was summarily arrested.

He was detained in custody for 3 1/2 hours during which time he was interviewed.

Mr M was then bailed to attend the police station on 4 September 2012 where he was again detained in custody for a further 4 hours during which time he was interviewed again.

Ultimately, he was charged and bailed to attend court.

Mr M pleaded not guilty and eventually the Crown Prosecution Service discontinued proceedings on the basis of insufficient evidence.

Mr M searched the internet for guidance and, given my track record of success in this area, contacted me for legal help.

My client’s priority, as a man of exemplary character, was the destruction of all personal data held. He also sought compensation for his false arrest, detention, and the stress of court proceedings.

Mr M could have lodged an Application to the EDU shortly after the Crown Prosecution Service decided to discontinue proceedings. On my advice, he delayed, because, I advised, a complaint about the police’s conduct should come first.

Complaint Against the Metropolitan Police

After discussing the case, I explained to Mr M that he did not have grounds to complain with the Met’s decision to investigate.

But what was objectionable was:

  • the delay; and
  • inviting Mr M to attend a police station for a voluntary interview followed by an immediate decision to arrest at that time, which was said to be necessary so as “to allow a prompt and effective investigation.”

I submitted a complaint against the Metropolitan Police on Mr M’s behalf and agreed to act in his civil action against the police for compensation.

As is often the case, the complaint was dismissed by the Metropolitan Police.

On my client’s behalf I appealed to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”).

Following review, Mr M’s complaint was upheld by the IPCC.

This mattered because the legality of arrest was initially considered by the Met’s “Professional Standards Champion”. As they initially dismissed my client’s complaint I am sure that the application for deletion of records would also have been rejected.

Civil Claim Supporting Deletion of Records

Despite the IPCC’s positive findings its decision was not binding upon the police.

As a result, when I submitted Mr M’s compensation claim to the police citing wrongful arrest, the Metropolitan Police denied liability.

In the circumstances, I had no alternative but to issue court proceedings to seek justice for my client.

Although liability was disputed, solicitors on behalf of the Met offered to settle his claim out of court. This confirmed my view that Mr M’s claim was entirely justified, despite the Met’s formal denial.

After extensive negotiations, Mr M settled his compensation claim for £6500 plus legal costs.

Despite this, in previous negotiations with the Met, it has been made clear that destruction of personal data has no relevance to any civil claim and that a separate application must be lodged to the EDU.

I used the supportive decision of the IPCC and offer of settlement to persuade the chief officer to agree to the deletion of my client’s records.

Delay in Deletion of Records

You would think that it would be a relatively quick and easy task to delete records. After all, they were easy enough to create when Mr M was arrested. Not so.

My application to delete his records was acknowledged in mid-January 2015. As is standard, the (laughably misnamed) Early Deletion Unit advised that it would take “up to 12 months” for a decision about deletion to be reached.

Notwithstanding several reminders, no decision was made by mid-January 2016. The EDU advised that “there is no statutory time limit for processing these requests and they may take up to 12 months or longer, due to the volume of similar applications currently being dealt with by the MPS”.

See redacted letter below:

The Metropolitan Police's Early Deletion Unit say that deletion of records requests can take up to 12 months or longer.
Redacted letter from the Metropolitan Police’s Early Deletion Unit confirming that requests may take up to 12 months or longer.

You may wonder how many requests are processed at the EDU. In response to a recent Freedom of Information Act request, the Metropolitan Police said that they were unable to provide this information because, remarkably, “This information is not recorded in a searchable electronic format”.

And yet, in another Freedom of Information Act request, the Met confirmed that:

“As of the 18th September there were 164 requests awaiting decision by the
Commander. These are regularly reviewed by the Commander and dealt with on
a priority basis. The outstanding requests awaiting decision are not
attributable to any staffing issues.”

In any event, I am pleased to confirm that the EDU did eventually process Mr M’s application. In mid-March 2016, the EDU ironically advised that the case was “eligible for early deletion”.

And you might think that now that a decision has been made, the offensive data would be deleted forthwith. But no, the EDU advise that “the deletion process may take several months to complete”.

See redacted letter below:

The Metropolitan Police wrote this letter to solicitor Iain Gould about deletion of records from their police systems.
Letter from the Early Deletion Unit confirming that Mr M’s case was “eligible for early deletion”.

Despite this, my client is extremely pleased. His arrest has been recognised by an independent body as unlawful, he has received financial compensation for his unlawful detention, but most importantly, ALL personal data obtained as a result of his arrest has been (or will be) destroyed.

His case proves that deletion of records from national police systems is possible, but it takes perseverance and knowledge of the system.

Contact me for help with your actions against the police using the online form below or at www.dpp-law.com.

Contact Me:

 

 

How Police Abuse Powers for Sexual Gain

Photo of Iain Gould, solicitor, who discusses police abuse.
Iain Gould, solicitor, discusses how police abuse their powers for sexual gain here.

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

I recently contributed to an investigation lead by the BBC Radio 5Live team about police abuse of powers for sexual gain.

You can hear the first part of the programme here:

Part 2 will be broadcast on 5Live on Sunday 3 April at 11a.m.

During my career as a solicitor who specialises in Actions Against the Police, I have acted on behalf of several victims of sexual exploitation by police officers.

Police officers have wide powers, status, and influence. Their role is to protect and serve the public. Each case of police abuse represents a serious betrayal of the trust and confidence that individuals, and the wider public, should have in them.

In 2012 the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) reported on this issue. (The Abuse of Police Powers to Perpetrate Sexual Violence). The report explained that “It is not possible to know precisely how many people have been victims of police officers or staff abusing their powers. There is no evidence to suggest it is commonplace, but nor can we be confident that all such cases are reported.”

It gave six examples of police abuse of power for sexual gain and concluded that forces were not doing enough to stop this type of corruption.

The authors urged “senior leaders in the police service to be alert and determined to root out this kind of abuse of power,” and said “Police forces should maximise every opportunity to prevent, or at least reduce, the likelihood of police officers and staff from engaging in the behaviours described within this report.”

But are they?

If the experience of my client “Clare” is anything to go by, I doubt it.

Police Misconduct

PC Jordan Powell joined West Midlands Police in 2004.

In September 2007, PC Powell was sent to investigate a report of a house burglary. The woman who made the report (not my client Clare) had been having domestic issues with her ex-partner. He was the suspected burglar.

Powell began texting flirtatious messages to the woman and a relationship developed culminating in PC Powell visiting her home whilst on duty and having consensual sexual intercourse.

The ex-partner found out and made a complaint. In 2008, PC Powell received a written warning for misconduct.

Despite this, it would appear that little was done to monitor and supervise his activities to prevent further abuses of power, in particular with Clare.

Continued Police Abuse

Clare was the victim of domestic abuse by her ex-husband. He was arrested on a number of occasions.

In 2010, Clare reported a burglary to the police and accused her ex-husband of stealing some of her jewellery. The case was handled by PC Powell and went to court, where Clare’s ex-husband was successfully prosecuted.

In May 2012, Clare reported further domestic abuse by her ex-husband and obtained a non-molestation order. The order could not be served on him so she attended her local police station for advice. She was again dealt with by PC Powell, alone.

Subsequently PC Powell texted Clare on his private mobile phone.

Some text messages were exchanged and in one Clare thanked PC Powell for his help. PC Powell responded by asking Clare to keep his number and to call or text if she needed help. He ended his text with a ‘X’ which Clare took to mean a kiss. She wasn’t comfortable with this.

Soon afterwards, Clare’s ex-husband breached the non-molestation order. Clare texted PC Powell to report the breach. There were further texts between them and one of the texts again contained an ‘X’ from the police officer.

The following day Clare sent PC Powell another text to report a further breach of the order by her ex-husband. PC Powell texted back saying that he would meet her at home. He ended the text with an ‘X’.

Again, Clare wasn’t comfortable with the ‘X’ in the text message but was not confident enough to challenge it because Powell was a police officer. PC Powell went to Clare’s home with another officer and took a statement.

Clare and Powell exchanged further texts. She admits that she was flattered by the attention.

Over the next few days, the exchanged text messages became more suggestive. It wasn’t long before PC Powell started visiting Clare in the middle of the night while he was on duty to have sex with her.

The relationship between PC Powell and Clare ended in July 2012. Clare felt PC Powell wanted to control the relationship and was visiting just for sex.

Honey Trap

PC Powell was caught when his own Force became suspicious and set up a “honey trap” operation using an undercover female officer.

The officer pretended to be a victim of domestic violence and rang police in June 2012. PC Powell was sent to her home, which was fitted with covert recording equipment, to investigate the complaint. Within a couple of hours of leaving, PC Powell had sent the “victim” flirtatious text messages from his personal mobile phone.

As part of the investigation, officers from West Mercia Police’s Professional Standards Department visited Clare who was brave enough to provide a full account as to what had happened.

Shortly afterwards, PC Powell was arrested and prosecuted for misconduct in public office. At trial the court heard how, on the day before his arrest, Powell sent text messages to three women asking for sex. He was jailed for 15 months after pleading guilty to three charges of misconduct in public office.

West Mercia Police dismissed Powell at a special case hearing chaired by the Chief Constable. In a statement issued after the dismissal hearing quoted by the BBC, the Deputy Chief Constable acknowledged that “Incidents of this nature have the potential to seriously damage the trust placed in us by those communities.”

Sickening Abuse

PC Powell clearly abused his position for sexual gain. He targeted vulnerable women. He then groomed them with compliments and flattery. Numerous sexual relationships developed.

What could his own force do to prevent such abuse?

West Mercia Police maintain that they did everything possible; that PC Powell was a “lone wolf”.

Maybe. But in light of the misconduct finding by the Force in 2008, West Mercia Police knew that PC Powell posed a risk, and yet they appear to have done little or nothing to monitor and prevent him from abusing his position.

As I said in the 5Live interview, it beggars belief that PC Powell was not dismissed in 2008 (when he was only given a written warning), and allowed to deal with vulnerable victims of domestic abuse alone.

What of Clare?  She says, “It sickens me to think about what PC Powell has done to me and other women. I have, thanks to him, had my self-confidence and esteem shattered, my trust in men and the police robbed. He has in my eyes, behaved more appallingly than my ex-husband, he abused his power as a Police officer; someone you trust and invite into your home and life, at a time when your whole world is falling apart”.

Civil Action Against West Mercia Police

With my help, Clare is now suing West Mercia Police for compensation.

In fairness to the force, the Assistant Chief Constable apologised at an early stage and the Force’s legal department admitted liability early on. Only quantum (the value of Clare’s claim) remains to settle her claim against the police and help her move on with her life.

As a result of PC Powell’s abuse, Clare has suffered psychological damage and has undergone lengthy counselling.

Although full details of her claim were presented in September 2015, West Mercia Police failed to offer suitable compensation and/or actively engage in settlement negotiations.

To progress matters, I had no alternative but to issue court proceedings on Clare’s behalf. This is a serious step, especially for Clare, who has never previously made a claim for compensation and is unfamiliar with the process.

I urge West Mercia Police put forward a reasonable and realistic offer to settle Clare’s claim. By delaying it they are inflicting a second injustice on her and delaying her recovery.

The Chief Constable also needs to conduct a root-and-branch review of Force procedure. As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This appalling abuse of police powers demands strong leadership and control.

If you want help with your police abuse claim contact me using the online form below or at www.dpp-law.com

Contact Me:

 

Is Legal Aid Affecting Domestic Violence Reporting?

Iain Gould, solicitor, asks - Is Legal Aid Affecting Domestic Violence Reporting?
Iain Gould, solicitor, asks – Is Legal Aid Affecting Domestic Violence Reporting?

By Iain Gould, solicitor

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary reported this week that police forces across England & Wales are on the verge of being “overwhelmed” by “staggering” increases in reports of domestic violence.

The HMIC, which has statutory responsibility for the inspection of Police Forces in England & Wales, confirmed in its recent report on the police’s response to domestic abuse that the number of domestic violence related crimes increased from 269,700 (in the year to August 2013) to 353,100 (in the year to March 2015), an increase of 31% (see page 10 of the report).

Zoe Billingham, HM Inspector of Constabulary, described this as “a staggering increase in domestic abuse related crime” and added that the workload in many specialist police investigation units is “becoming overwhelming”, affecting the quality and speed of some investigations.

Is this “staggering increase” attributable to a rise in domestic violence cases?

The HMIC suspects not.

The report confirms that calls for assistance to the police for domestic violence related incidents fell by 10% in the 12 months to March 2015.

Instead, the Government watchdog states that the increase could be partly because police forces are:

  1. “actively encouraging” victims to come forward; and
  2. logging crime more accurately.

This would reflect “a determined effort by police leaders to make domestic abuse a priority”, the report says.

Legal Aid and Domestic Violence

I have no doubt that domestic violence has become a priority for some forces but there remain many areas of concern. For example, improving frontline police officers’ attitudes and understanding of domestic violence.

(For more on this read my recent blog posts on the experience of Alex Faragher here, here, and here.)

Another factor to explain this “staggering increase” in reported domestic violence is an unintended but foreseeable consequence of changes in entitlement to Legal Aid.

In April 2013, Legal Aid was withdrawn for almost all private family cases including:

  1. contact and residence over children; and
  2. financial issues.

This greatly reduced eligibility for Legal Aid in family matters, but people can still apply for Legal Aid if they can show “evidence” that they have been the victim of domestic violence in the previous two years. This includes:

  • an arrest for a relevant offence;
  • a caution; or
  • a conviction.

Domestic Violence Evidence

Despite these changes being introduced over two years ago, most people still think that Legal Aid is generally available in family matters.

When seeking advice, people may be surprised to find out they will have to pay for legal help privately or represent themselves in Court, unless they can prove they are a victim of domestic violence.

In the circumstances, some may be tempted to raise false allegations of domestic violence in order to secure Legal Aid.

The changes to Legal Aid introduced in 2013 mean that there is now a financial incentive to fabricate domestic violence in a family law matter.

This can result in serious miscarriages of justice, as an ongoing case of mine shows.

Domestic Violence Wrongful Arrest

My client Mr X (details withheld for confidentiality reasons) believes that his arrest by the police was a direct consequence of his ex-partner’s wish to secure Legal Aid funding for legal help with custody arrangements for their (then) four-year-old son.

Mr X and his partner broke up. He wanted regular contact with his son.  Unfortunately, his ex-partner refused to attend mediation and routinely cancelled informal arrangements. So in June 2014 my client lodged an application to Court to formalise access.

At the first Court hearing in July 2014, my client’s ex-partner agreed to mediation and the hearing was adjourned.

But in mid-August 2014 the ex-partner went to her local police station to report an alleged assault by my client that she said occurred on 15th December 2012.

She alleged that during an argument Mr X kicked her leg resulting in a broken fibula.

She told police that she had attended her local hospital for medical treatment and that to protect her then partner Mr X, she provided an entirely different account to hospital staff, stating that she was injured falling over her dog.

The Officer dealing with the complaint made an entry on the police system that police local to my client should arrest him.

On 15th August 2014 it was recorded that Mr X’s local force had declined to arrest because of the delay between the alleged incident and the complaint.

Instead, on 18th August 2014, the officer assigned to the case arranged with Mr X for him to attend a police station at 6pm for an interview under caution. The relevant entry on the police system contains no reference that the officer in charge was contemplating arrest.

My client attended the police station on the date and time agreed.

Mr X was shocked and confused when, instead of a voluntary interview, he was arrested in the station foyer on suspicion of Grievous Bodily Harm.

During interview under caution, Mr X denied any involvement and said that the assault complaint was a complete fabrication.

He was later released on bail pending further enquiries until 24th September 2014.

On 1st September 2014, the officer in charge recorded on the police computer system:

I am concerned that even with medical evidence it will not pass the full code test as there is very little prospect of conviction due to the time delays and the complainant told the hospital and her family that the injury was caused by falling over the dog”.

 Despite this my client was subsequently re-bailed on 29th September 2014, 21st October 2014, and 17th November 2014.

On 31st October 2014 the Crown Prosecution Service recommended no further action.

Abuse of Legal Aid System

My client should never have been arrested.

Following his experience, he lodged a complaint against the police. Somewhat unusually, but, no doubt, recognising the strength of his argument, Mr X’s complaint of unlawful arrest was upheld.

This was on the basis that there was no necessity to arrest him as he attended voluntarily for the interview on 18th August 2014.

On the back of this decision, Mr X contacted me to bring a civil claim for compensation against the police.

Despite his complaint being upheld, as expected with this particular police force, liability was denied.

I am now in the process of instituting Court proceedings and have no doubt that his claim will succeed and he will be compensated.

But no matter how much compensation he receives (and the level of compensation available is regrettably modest), I suspect this will be of little comfort to my client. He has suffered:

  • the embarrassment and humiliation of arrest;
  • the stain on his good character; and
  • his life being put on hold for three months while on police bail.

Significantly, the arrest (based on false allegations) meant that the ex-partner got Legal Aid for expert help in the family proceedings to fight his application for regular contact with his son.

My client had to pay his family lawyers privately which added to the strain in a matter of great personal importance.

I hope that other people will not suffer like my client and that malicious accusations of domestic violence are not being used in a cynical attempt to “play” the Legal Aid system.

My concern however is that the recently reported HMIC figures suggest that this is exactly what is happening.

 

Contact me for help with your civil action against the police using the online form below or at www.dpp-law.com.

Contact Me: