The Price of Justice

I was pleased to be given the opportunity to speak on Channel 5 last week regarding the case of my client Ivan Martin in the documentary series “Where there’s blame, there’s a claim”.

I think it was understandable that the programme concentrated on the level of damages awarded to Ivan, and the other victims of serious personal injury claims (including the horrific Alton Towers roller coaster crash) who were featured in the episode, as obviously there is widespread interest in the amount of money people can recover in such cases, but I would like to take this opportunity to stress that pounds & pence are far from being the be- all and end- all in these claims, particularly in actions against the police which I handle, as opposed to negligently caused accidents. The victims of police misconduct have very often suffered not as a result of an unintended ‘mistake’ (no matter how catastrophic) but rather quite deliberate conduct – such as the misuse of police powers of arrest or a deliberate assault (in Ivan’s case, being shot in the back with a taser gun in his own home) and have then seen this wrong against them compounded by the officers involved – often as a team or institutionally – trying to deny my client justice by telling quite deliberate lies about their conduct,  lies which if believed might result in a criminal conviction and even incarceration – such as the threat Ivan faced when, after being shot by the Officers who came to his home, he was then prosecuted for allegedly assaulting them!

The victims of car crashes or other accidents will first go to hospital to receive treatment, before commencing their fight for compensation, which may or may not be straight forward. My clients will frequently first – after their visit to hospital for injuries inflicted upon them by the Police – have to face prosecution in the Magistrates or even Crown Court on false charges of resisting arrest, obstructing or even assaulting a constable. Only after they have dealt with months of stress and worry, and have cleared their names in the Court, can they bring their own case against the Police in the civil courts.

My clients also often have to go through a lengthy and demoralising process of pursuing a complaint with the relevant Police Force’s professional standards department, resulting most commonly in what feels to many of them distinctly like a ‘whitewash’ of a report – exonerating the investigating officer’s colleagues, and turning blame back onto my client – only to see the same Police Force admit liability/ speedily settle the claim once civil proceedings are commenced, begging the question of the honesty and integrity of the original complaint investigation. Very rare indeed is the apology any Force will offer for the misconduct of its Officers no matter how heinous.

All of this is why I want to stress that whilst compensation in terms of the monetary award of damages is important, the sense of justice being done is always my client’s priority. I think this is in danger of being lost sometimes in media coverage of civil claims which focus only on the amount of “compo”. Indeed, the very title of the Channel 5 series runs the risk of belittling the stories of the deserving people portrayed within it. Yes, we live in a capitalist society where “money makes the world go round” – this is true about everything – jobs, politics, science and medicine – but it does not mean that we only work for money. There is nothing indecent or opportunistic in pursuing a compensation claim after you have been injured or wronged any more than there is in expecting to be paid for the job you do, but in both cases it is about far more than that. We work because we can derive great pride and personal satisfaction from our achievements, irrespective of how much we are paid for them; likewise my clients pursue claims not with pound signs in their eyes, to “grab the money” but for those incalculable but absolutely important things which would otherwise be denied to them – vindication in the eyes of society; self- pride and self- worth; being able to hold to account those invested with special powers over the rest of us, which is absolutely crucial in any liberal democracy; the sense of a wrong being righted and justice being done by the Courts, without which a civil society cannot function, and would run the risk of breaking down into anarchy; to get a fair and proper hearing of their legitimate grievances; to be believed.

This is why I have clients who are prepared to risk exposure to substantial costs in order to pursue a claim where the damages might be only a fraction of that amount – because they are not looking at this ‘claim’ in economic terms but as a matter of principle; they want the feeling of justice won, not money.

This is why another of my clients said these words to me at the conclusion of a very long running and hard- fought case, resulting in a successful outcome at trial after years of stressful litigation –

“thank you so much for believing in me, you’ll never know how much that meant. Without people like you willing to offer support to those who have been wronged, justice would not be possible. The fact you believed in me offered me comfort and gave me the strength to challenge the inappropriate behaviour by people in power, who should be respectful, show integrity and protect. All of which were disregarded in my case causing me 5 years of considerable difficulties and greatly impacted upon my mental health. This not only affected me but also my family. You have now given me the opportunity to put this behind me and continue with my life from where it had stopped 5 years ago. I will always be forever grateful and long may you continue to ensure justice prevails for others who face similar challenges. ”

And this is why Ivan Martin, in his Channel 5 interview wanted to make clear what his priority was in pursuing his claim. Getting that sense of fair play; of those to blame being punished, not a claim rewarded. I will leave the last words to him –

If I was in a job and I done something wrong, there would be consequences for me, so why should they get away with it? I know the rules, they know the regulations, we both should be singing off the same hymn sheet. They do something wrong, consequences for them, end of.

Calculating Compensation in a Claim Against the Police: A lesson in Damages.

Iain Gould solicitorI have previously blogged on the cases of Chris and Claire, both involving serious police misconduct in very different circumstances.

Chris brought a claim for assault against West Midlands Police having been injured by a Police Officer slamming his shield against his head.

Claire brought a claim for misfeasance in Public Office against West Mercia Police having been the victim of sexual exploitation by a Police Officer.

At an early stage in both cases, liability was admitted and an offer of settlement was made.

Notwithstanding the admission and offer, ultimately it proved necessary to issue Court proceedings and against the Police.  Why?

In both cases, the Defendant Police Force refused to put forward realistic offers of settlement and in the circumstances, it was necessary to issue proceedings so as to bring the respective forces to the negotiating table with the threat of a trial.

So how do we go about valuing such cases which at face value are so different?

Basic Principals

There are three types of damages available to victims of Police Misconduct; Basic, Aggravated and Exemplary.

  • Basic damages

Basic damages are designed to provide basic compensation for the loss and injury suffered as a result of the incident. They encompass:

a. pain, suffering and loss of amenity resulting from the wrongdoing (essentially the physical and psychological injuries inflicted);

b. any identifiable financial losses, for example loss of earnings, medical expenses, etc.

  • Aggravated damages

Aggravated damages are awarded at the Court’s discretion in addition to basic damages in exceptional cases where;

  • The Police have acted to aggravate the basic loss by causing injury to feelings, for example by insulting, humiliating, degrading, distressing and/or outraging the Claimant: and
  • It could result in the Claimant not receiving sufficient compensation for the injuries suffered if the award was restricted to a basic award only.

Accordingly, aggravated damages are usually only awarded in serious claims of wrongdoing.

The Court have given guidelines on the circumstances which might justify an award of aggravated damages including;

i. humiliating circumstances at the time of the incident: or

ii. any conduct of those responsible which shows they have behaved in a high-handed, insulting, malicious or oppressive manner.

iii aggravating features can also include the way litigation and trial are conducted.

Other factors which might found a claim for aggravated damages include;

a. if the conduct took place in public;

b. a lack of apology from the Police;

c. if the Claimant was physically or verbally abused;

d. if the Police were motivated by prejudice;

e. if the Police attempted to obstruct the investigation of a complaint by the Claimant;

f. any other feature of the Police’s conduct throughout the case.

Aggravated damages start at around £1,680 and go up to a maximum of about twice the award for basic damages according to the lead case of Thompson and Hsu v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.

  • Exemplary damages

An award of exemplary damages is even more exceptional than an award of aggravated damages, as the object of exemplary damages is to punish the Police rather than to compensate the Claimant.

Exemplary damages can only be awarded if the Police’s wrongdoing constituted oppressive, arbitrary and/or unconstitutional action.

Exemplary damages will not normally be awarded at less than £8,400 according to the guidelines set out in the case of Thompson and Hsu.

Chris’ case

I have previously provided a full description of Chris’ case in my blog. (Read it here.)

As a result of the Police Officer’s actions in smashing his shield against Chris’s head, Chris suffered injuries as follows;

  • A superficial laceration of several centimetres to his right temple that required closure with surgical glue that was tender/painful for 6 weeks and which left a small indented scar that was only visible on close inspection.
  • Headaches for several months, initially as a consequence of the direct blow to the right side of the head and subsequently as a result of the tension caused by the stress of the complaint process.
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.

By the time I was instructed, Chris had made a full recovery from his injuries.  Although he had immediately attended the hospital following the incident, he had not sought any further medical treatment.

In addition, Chris’ jacket had ripped in the melee, he missed some time off work and he had incurred some normal expenses.  All in all, his additional losses totalled £250.

  • Basic Damages

Notwithstanding the violent nature of the assault and how serious his injuries could have been,  Chris’ injuries were relatively modest.

So as to value Chris’ claim for Basic Damages, I referred to the Judicial College Guidelines which provide appropriate brackets for awards of damage for personal injury.  Of relevance was the guideline for “trivial scarring” (£1225 – £2250) and “minor brain or head injury – headaches” (£1575 – £9100).  I valued Chris’ claim for personal injury to be worth in the region of £3500.  Together with his claim for additional losses (£250), I therefore valued his claim to be worth £3,750.  So, how did Chris end up recovering £17,500?

  • Aggravated Damages

I was satisfied that this was a clear case where aggravated damages should be awarded, particularly in light of the relatively low award of basic damages Chris would receive for personal injuries (which as I have stated above,  were surprisingly minor notwithstanding the officer’s violent attack).

Why?

Sergeant A attacked Chris with his shield which he used as a weapon, specifically he turned his shield and hit Chris with the edge of his shield, a technique known as ‘blading’.  This is a technique taught in public order training specifically to be used only when encountering serious levels of violence or to quote West Midlands Police’s own complaint investigation report, “as a last resort”.

Further Chris was struck to his head (on what West Midlands Police describe as the “final target area”) and his injuries could have been so much more serious.

The incident occurred in full public view and could in fact have caused a far bigger public disturbance because both Chris and a number of his friends were angry and began to remonstrate with Police Sergeant A and other officers.

The officer’s conduct amounted to a gratuitous attack; it was deliberate rather than accidental.

The officer (and several of his colleagues) told lies about Chris’ behaviour, stating that Chris was abusive, aggressive and threatening.

Yet further, the conduct of Police Sergeant A was condoned by his supervising Inspector who stated that “from the start of the police operations, officers had been instructed to be robust but fair in their policing style and he believed that Police Sergeant A had performed his role in exactly the manner in which he expected”.

Furthermore, an additional aggravating feature of the case was in my opinion the Defendant’s Professional Standards Department deliberately failing to investigate Chris’ complaint adequately and objectively and perversely concluding that the actions of Police Sergeant A were lawful, necessary and proportionate.  Such a failure and conclusion upset Chris and exacerbated his legitimate sense of grievance.  The Defendant’s response to his complaint was designed to improperly shield (sadly no pun intended) Police Sergeant A from a finding of misconduct or other legitimate criticism.

Overall, I felt that the Court would award aggravated damages around twice the amount of basic damages ie something in the region of £7,500.

  • Exemplary Damages

Somewhat exceptionally, there were a number of features of this case that I considered made it an appropriate case for an award of exemplary damages.

On Chris’ account and that of Sergeant X (the Officer who lodged a separate complaint against the offender Sergeant A), Sergeant A had deliberately attacked Chris.  Notwithstanding that the officer was in no danger throughout the incident and therefore the force used was excessive and disproportionate.  Such action was clearly oppressive and arbitrary.

Furthermore, there was in my opinion a real prospect that Chris would establish at trial that the complaint process overseen by an Inspector was in reality a cover up.

By this stage, I had assessed Basic and Aggravated Damages combined to be worth in the region of £11,500.

I was of the opinion that the Court would consider this to be inadequate compensation for what Chris had been through and award exemplary damages in the region of £8,500.

Conclusion

I considered Chris was likely to recover approximately £3,750 in basic damages, £7,500 in aggravated damages and £8,500 in exemplary damages, ie a total of £20,000.

At an early stage of the case and without sight of any medical evidence, West Midlands Police offered £750 settlement.  On my advice, Chris rejected this offer.  After medical evidence was commissioned and full details of his claim presented, West Midlands Police offered £3,000 maintaining that his “needs are more than adequately met by a basic award”.  Notwithstanding West Midlands Police’s admission of liability, there was still a significant dispute as regards Chris’ demeanour at the time (according to West Midlands Police, “argumentative”, “abusive” and “argumentative”), and whether the complaint investigation had been pursued improperly and/or inadequately and whether the decision of the Professional Standard’s Department as regards the complaint was perverse, as I argued, or simply “within a range of reasonable conclusions arising from the material available”.

Allowing for litigation risk, I advised Chris to put forward a counter offer of £15,000.  16 months later and just 1 month before the trial window, the Defendant (in my opinion to avoid embarrassment of its officers at trial and a storm of adverse publicity), put forward a revised offer of £17,500.  Allowing for (significant) litigation risks, I had no hesitation in advising my client to accept.

Claire’s case

Claire was the unfortunate victim of sexual exploitation by PC Jordan Powell.  I have blogged about her case previously which you can find here.

As a result of PC Powell’s exploitation, Claire suffered psychological injuries specifically;

i) Immediately following the incident, she experienced disturbed appetite, disturbed sleep, low mood and a degree of weight loss.  She also lost confidence, which affected her self-esteem.

ii) Further, she felt “dirty”, “used” and “stupid” and as though she had done something wrong.  She felt that PC Powell abused her trust.

iii) Claire’s view of the police was also affected by the incident and she experienced negative thoughts towards the police.

In the circumstances, I felt it appropriate to commission a report from a Psychiatrist.  Following examination, the Psychiatrist concluded that; Despite the abuse Claire had suffered at the hands of her ex-husband, there was no evidence of significant psychiatric history.  However following the relationship with PC Powell, Claire had experienced marked psychological disturbance.

Prior to the expert’s assessment, Claire had received numerous counselling sessions for between six and nine months which she found to be helpful and beneficial.

The expert found that Claire was not experiencing any symptoms of acute mental disorder at the time of his assessment but that she had experienced some degree of psychological disturbance directly related to the incident with PC Powell, which led to issues that required addressing in formal therapy.  The expert opined that Claire experienced features of an Adjustment Disorder, with predominant disturbance of other emotions.  Although these acute symptoms resolved around two months after the end of the relationship with PC Powell, Claire had continued to express negative thoughts towards men and the police, which had been exacerbated by the incident, and continued to experience problems with confidence and self-esteem, although she was coping well and her capacity to work, care for her children and carry out activities of daily living had not been affected.

In respect of prognosis, the expert concluded that  it would be favourable if Claire received a further course of therapy, specifically Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (“CBT”) to fully treat her residual symptoms.  The expert was of the view that Claire should make a full recovery within four months of commencing treatment.

Claire subsequently underwent nine sessions of CBT.  In the discharge report, the CBT therapist confirmed that Claire had engaged well with treatment and she had  achieved a full recovery.

Basic Damages

Once again, I referred to the Judicial College Guidelines. According to the Guidelines, there are a number of factors to be taken into account in assessing psychiatric claims, namely: the injured person’s ability to cope with life and work; the effect on relationships with family, friends and those with whom they come into contact; the extent to which treatment would be successful; future vulnerability; prognosis; and whether medical help has been sought.  In respect of claims relating to sexual and physical abuse, the fact of an abuse of trust is relevant to the award of damages.

The Guidelines provided that for minor injury, the appropriate  psychological bracket was £1290 to £4900.  For the application of this bracket, the level of award would reflect the length of the period of disability and the extent to which daily activities and sleep were affected.

There were a number of features of Claire’s case that were relevant to determining the appropriate level of award; she obviously struggled with a number of symptoms, particularly in the first two months when she displayed symptoms of an Adjustment Disorder and the injury was most acute, and thereafter with the ongoing effects but overall her ability to cope with life and with work was not significantly affected. Further, Claire’s relationships with her family, including her children, and friends were not affected.  However, her relationships with men in general were affected, as was her relationship with the police. Recommended treatment was successful and Claire made a full recovery within 3 years.

I determined that there was a basis for saying that this was a sexual abuse case because, notwithstanding that the sexual contact between Claire and PC Powell could potentially be viewed as ‘consensual’, PC Powell’s abuse of power was a sexual abuse of power, in that he improperly commenced a sexual relationship with Claire.  There was undeniably an abuse of the trust that members of the public ought to have in the police.  It was also relevant to take into account that Claire did not necessarily recognise or acknowledge the abuse of power until just before or shortly after the relationship had come to an end.

Taking all matters into account, I assessed damages for Claire’s personal injury to be worth approximately £4000.  In addition, there was a claim for treatment cost and travel expenses of just under £1,000.  So Claire’s claim for Basic Damages was valued at £5,000 – £8,000.  So, how did she end up with £25,000?

Aggravated Damages

In my opinion, this was again a clear case where aggravated damages should be awarded,  particularly in light of the relatively low award of basic damages Claire would receive for personal injuries (which in some ways reflected the fact that Claire was of strong character and for which she should not be inappropriately penalised).

Why?

PC Powell targeted Claire because of her status as a vulnerable victim of domestic abuse. Further it was relevant that at the time the improper relationship started, Claire was in fear of her ex-husband and had sought the protection of the police.

It was also relevant that the incidents took place in Claire’s private sphere, including exploitation of her personal mobile telephone number, which she had provided to the police for contact in relation to the reports she had made to them, and progressed into her home, where Claire lived with her children, who were also vulnerable by virtue of their age.

The sheer number of messages Claire received and their explicit content was relevant, as was the fact that PC Powell was on duty during the course of much of his contact with Claire and at least on some occasions he was in uniform.

It was also an aggravating feature of the claim that Claire was the one to end the relationship, not PC Powell, which suggests that the relationship would have continued but for Claire’s realisation that the relationship was an abuse of PC Powell’s power.

In the circumstances, I concluded that this was an appropriate case for an award of aggravated damages around  twice the basic award and therefore expected Claire to recover between £8000 and £10,500 in aggravated damages.

Exemplary damages

There were also a number of features of this case that I considered made it an appropriate case for an award of exemplary damages.

While potentially the type of conduct involved in this case could give rise to exemplary damages on its own since an admission of liability for misfeasance in public office necessarily amounted to an admission that the officer acted with malice or bad faith, what really strengthened Claire’s claim for exemplary damages was the fact that PC Powell had abused other victims, which suggested that he was allowed to act with impunity, by his superiors  and further that PC Powell had a previous similar misconduct finding against him from 2008 but was nevertheless still serving, and yet further that rather than setting up a complicated ‘honey trap’ operation West Mercia could and should have contacted Claire much earlier so as to prevent or at least minimize PC Powell’s involvement with her.

This means that not only did PC Powell abuse his power but West Mercia Police knew that there was a risk of him doing so and took no or no appropriate action to prevent PC Powell from serving and/or protecting women to whom he posed a risk.  It appears no steps whatsoever, beyond the bare misconduct finding, which amounted to a ‘slap on the wrist’ had been taken to ensure that PC Powell would be prevented from abusing his powers and causing harm to vulnerable women.  It beggars belief that PC Powell was permitted not only continuing as a serving police officer but was specifically allowed to deal with vulnerable victims of domestic abuse on his own, taking into account his history.

In the circumstances, I concluded that despite the exceptional nature of the award, there was a real prospect that a Court would award exemplary damages to reflect the clear abuse of PC Powell’s power and the failure by West Mercia Police to prevent PC Powell from abusing his powers, in spite of his known history, and furthermore for the length of time it took for PC Powell to be investigated and thereafter convicted, which necessarily caused further distress to Claire. I felt that Claire could well recover exemplary damages of around £10,000.

Conclusions

I considered Claire was likely to recover between £4000 and £7000 in basic damages/damages for personal injury, £1000 in special damages. £10,500 in aggravated damages and around £10,000 in exemplary damages, i.e. a total of £25,500 – £28,500.

Settlement

At an early stage of the case and without sight of any medical evidence, West Mercia Police offered £3,000 in settlement.  On my advice, Claire rejected this offer.  After medical evidence was commissioned and full details of her claim were presented, West Mercia Police failed to  respond.  In the circumstances, I issued court proceedings. West Mercia Police instructed external solicitors and over several months, further offers of settlement were made (and rejected) – £9000 and £15000 – until eventually I was able to successfully negotiate a settlement of £25,000.

Both Claire and I were incredibly frustrated by the drawn out process that West Mercia Police forced us to adopt, in Claire’s words “rubbing salt in the wound”, but ultimately delighted with the settlement.   I am really pleased that having achieved justice in what she described to me as a ‘David & Goliath’ situation she is now able to move on with her life.

Calculating Compensation

As can be seen from the above, calculating compensation in a claim against the police is not straightforward, and could be a minefield for a person who does not have the advice of a specialist police claims lawyer.

Awards of ‘basic’ damages are often modest in cases of police misconduct if the physical injuries inflicted are not severe, notwithstanding the reprehensible nature of the wrongdoing, and therefore it is essential that the tools of the civil law, in the form of an injured person’s right to ‘aggravated’ and ‘exemplary’ damages are fully utilised to achieve a fair and just amount of compensation.

After all, an injury suffered ‘accidentally’ is not the same as one deliberately inflicted through police assault, abuse, false imprisonment or other form of misconduct.

As the conduct of both West Midlands and West Mercia police show in the cases of Chris and Claire, the police will normally start by offering a low award of ‘basic’ damages only to try to buy the case off cheaply, and the advice and assistance of an experienced practitioner in this area of law, such as myself, is essential to understand how to obtain aggravated and exemplary awards, and properly hold the police to account for their wrongdoing.

Contact me for help with your civil actions against the police compensation claim by completing the online form on this page.

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.

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Why “Driving While Black” Might Get Easier

Iain Gould, Actions Against the Police Solicitor

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

By tackling the fictitious criminal offence of “driving while black” Home Secretary Theresa May might be about to make a real difference in many people’s lives.

Driving while black” is where police officers stop, question, and even search black and minority ethnic drivers who have committed no crime, based on the excuse of a road traffic offence.

The Home Secretary has ordered that the “best use of stop and search” code be extended to vehicle stops under the Road Traffic Act. The new rules will require police officers to record the driver’s ethnicity, the reason for the stop and the outcome.

She intends to make the changes because “One of the things I am very clear about is that I didn’t take action on stop-and-search to see the police using other things in a way that could be questioned.”

The rule change is intended to improve transparency and tackle the disproportionate targeting of black and minority ethnic drivers. It is hoped that such a move will restore relations between the police and public.

This is why we should be cautiously optimistic.

Stop and Search Circumvented

In 2014 police forces were encouraged to voluntarily sign up to the “best use of stop and search” scheme, which was intended to limit blanket Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994) stops, keep better records, and publish them online.

At first glance, it appears to be working. The Home Office reported, “In the year ending March 2015, there were 541,000 stops and searches conducted by police in England and Wales, a fall of 40% compared with the previous year.”

But, as Mrs May pointed out, police forces are now using “other things”, including the Road Traffic Act.

Under section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, a person driving a “mechanically propelled vehicle” or riding a cycle on a road must stop on being required to do so by a constable in uniform or a traffic officer.

Failure to stop is a criminal offence.

The Power to stop in section 163 is complimented by the powers in sections 164 and 165.

These provisions require the driver (and supervisor, if the driver is on a provisional licence) to produce certain documentation, such as a driving licence, certificate of insurance and MOT test certificate of roadworthiness where an officer “has reasonable cause to believe to have committed an offence in relation to the use on a road of a motor vehicle”.

The police can also demand names, addresses, and dates of birth of the driver, owner (if different), and supervisor of the driver (if on a provisional licence).

Again, failing to provide this information is a criminal offence.

These sections are so wide that the Road Traffic Act is open to abuse, allowing miscreant police officers to circumvent the stop and search rules which require a “reasonable suspicion” that the driver is carrying an unauthorised weapon or drugs.

Manipulating the law in this way can have serious consequences, as my client D E will confirm.

Stopped for “Driving While Black”

My client, D E, is a disabled black man from Dagenham who was the victim of a dubious Section 163 Road Traffic Act stop in April 2012.

On the day in question, he was driving his Vauxhall Astra to Dagenham Sunday market. He was with his friend and cousin, who are also black males.

Mr E maintains that he was driving within the 30mph speed limit along Wood Lane, when at about 7:50a.m., they passed a marked police car coming the other way. He made eye contact with one of the officers. As the police car passed, the driver put on his sirens and lights, turned and followed Mr E’s car.

(We later found out why the police stopped Mr E. One officer recorded that the Astra “drove past us seemingly at high-speed”. In subsequent court papers, it was suggested that the officer considered a high-speed as any speed over the set speed limit in that area. So, perhaps 31 mph?)

Mr E immediately pulled over, got out and spoke to one of the officers. The officer asked for Mr E’s full name and date of birth and returned to the police car so as to check his details on the Police National Computer. The officer’s colleague came out and asked for the same information. Again, Mr E gave his details.

Both officers told Mr E that this was just a routine check. Accordingly, Mr E was shocked when he felt someone grabbing him from behind. He turned to see the first officer trying to handcuff him and asked “Why are you arresting me? I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Disabled Man Assaulted

D E can only walk short distances with a stick and is otherwise wheel-chair bound due to avascular necrosis, a chronic degenerative disease which particularly affects his hips and legs. The disease cuts off blood supply to bones, eventually leading to their fracture and collapse. It can be accelerated by physical trauma. Mr E is registered disabled because he is in constant pain similar to severe arthritis.

While the first officer attempted to handcuff him, Mr E struggled to stay on his feet. The second officer came over and performed a “leg sweep”, causing Mr E to fall to the ground. The first officer told Mr E to stop resisting, that there was a warrant out for his arrest, and that he was now also under arrest for assaulting a police officer.

Mr E felt himself being handcuffed to the rear.  He then felt pressure being exerted upon him by the officers through what felt like a knee in his back and a hand on the back of his head forcing him down. He had difficulty breathing, told the police repeatedly that he was disabled and begged to be let go.  Other officers arrived.

A number of officers took hold of Mr E’s legs, brought them up behind his back, and crossed them over. Mr E says he nearly passed out with the pain.

By this time there was an audience of Mr E’s companions, 6-10 male and female police officers, and concerned onlookers.

Nudity Exposed

Mr E said that during the struggle his jeans and underpants came down, exposing his buttocks and genitals.

As officers sought to escort him to a police van, they pulled his underpants up but his jeans remained around his ankles.  He was then forced to walk with his trousers around his ankles but was unable to keep up with the pace of the officers and so was effectively dragged to the van to be taken to Freshwharf Police Station.

Mr E’s nightmare did not end there.

At the station Mr E denied that he was wanted or that he had assaulted any officer. The Custody Sergeant advised Mr E that he would be kept in overnight, taken to court in the morning, and that anything he wanted to say could be said in interview later. D E was then asked to provide the Custody Sergeant with his name, but he initially refused on the basis that he had already given it to the two officers who were standing with him.

Rather than simply asking his colleagues, the Custody Sergeant threatened D E that he would be “Tasered” if he did not co-operate.

Mr E was then put in a cell and eventually interviewed without a solicitor.

After 6 hours in custody, Mr E was charged with assaulting both police officers causing actual bodily harm, and released on bail.

By this stage, it was accepted that the outstanding warrant did not relate to Mr E. In fact, it was for a white man with the same details.

Failed Prosecution

Mr E pleaded not guilty and attended numerous court hearings before trial at Barkingside Magistrates’ Court.  At the trial on 30 July 2012 both officers gave evidence to support alleged false statements made in their notebooks about the incident.

At the end of the prosecution case Mr E’s criminal defence solicitor successfully had the proceedings struck out on the basis that his client had “no case to answer”.

Following a search on the internet, Mr E contacted me given that I specialise in civil actions against the police, to investigate a compensation claim.

The officers claimed that they stopped my client for speeding, but Mr E was sure he was driving within the speed limit. My client is adamant that his only crime was “driving whilst black”.

Having stopped my client, the officers then aggravated matter by failing to carry out proper checks.

My client provided his full details immediately upon request. An officer then completed a name check via his police radio.  He was advised that a person with my client’s name was wanted for failing to attend court for minor traffic offences.

But rather than complete any further checks (which would have revealed that the suspect was a different skin colour) my client’s case was that the first officer approached him from the rear and took hold of his left arm.  My client instinctively reacted by turning and attempting to push away the person who had taken hold of him. The officers then sought to handcuff my client and a struggle ensued.

I pursued the case on the basis that, it is established law that if a police officer restrains a person but does not at that time arrest (or intend to arrest) him, the officer commits an assault even if an arrest would have been justified.

As such when the officer took hold of my client, he assaulted him and Mr E was well within his rights to resist.

Unfortunately, my client’s reaction then triggered an alleged overzealous and disproportionate response in that he was aggressively taken to the ground, unlawfully arrested and then prosecuted for an offence which if found guilty could have landed him in jail (the maximum sentence is 5 years).

Compensation Paid

D E needed hospital treatment for the injuries sustained in the police assault, and a psychiatrist diagnosed him as suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder for which he underwent a course of counselling.

Having intimated a claim, the Metropolitan Police denied liability. I was obliged to issue court proceedings on behalf of my client. Notwithstanding the denial and after numerous offers, I was finally able to achieve an out-of-court settlement of £22,500 plus legal costs.

Caution

In D E’s case the police officers involved abused an existing law (the Road Traffic Act) to fulfil their aim (of effecting a stop and search).

This approach, while effective, has not gone unnoticed, leading to Theresa May’s announcement and a 2015 report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. The report’s authors said “it is certainly the case that many people assume that being stopped by a police officer when they are in their car has the same status as being stopped and searched (in the street) when, in fact, the level of scrutiny and accountability that the officer is under is significantly less than is the case for stop and search.”

HMIC added that it had “serious concerns about there being no requirement to record these stops” and “forces cannot demonstrate to us that they are using these powers effectively and fairly”.

I hope that the proposed reforms to this abuse of the Road Traffic Act will have a similar effect to the “best use of stop and search” code, which has led to dramatic reductions in the use of that tactic.

But experience shows that the police can be quite creative in manipulating the law. When they are limited in using one approach (stop and search) they quickly find another (abuse of the Road Traffic Act).

As ever, Government, local communities, and lawyers must remain cautious.

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

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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.

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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.

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Why the Metropolitan Police Won’t Apologise to Lord Bramall

Solicitor Iain Gould explains why the Metropolitan Police won't apologise in this blog post.
Iain Gould, solicitor, explains why Lord Bramall won’t get an apology from the Metropolitan Police.

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Recently the Metropolitan Police was in the headlines because it refused to formally apologise to Lord Bramall over its treatment of him during an investigation into historic child abuse allegations.

The Metropolitan Police raided Lord Bramall’s home in March 2015 and he was later interviewed under caution on 30 April 2015. He strenuously denied the allegations and said that “There wasn’t one grain of truth in the allegations” made against him.

In mid-January 2016, the Metropolitan Police finally declared that there “was insufficient evidence” to pursue charges against the 92-year-old Second World War veteran over the historic abuse inquiry.

Sir Max Hastings, military historian and friend of the peer said that Lord Bramall had “been through absolute hell” over the allegations. He said that in pursuing the investigation of historic abuse, the Metropolitan Police had lost sight of a “sense of justice and fairness” towards those accused and that “decency demanded” an apology.

This is why he won’t get one.

Metropolitan Police Statement

Patricia Gallan, Assistant Commissioner Specialist Crime and Operations, said in a statement: “The Metropolitan Police accepts absolutely that we should apologise when we get things wrong, and we have not shrunk from doing so.

“However, if we were to apologise whenever we investigated allegations that did not lead to a charge, we believe this would have a harmful impact on the judgments (sic) made by officers and on the confidence of the public.

“Investigators may be less likely to pursue allegations they knew would be hard to prove, whereas they should be focused on establishing the existence, or otherwise, of relevant evidence.”

Miss Gallan also said that she recognised “how unpleasant it may be to be investigated by the police over allegations of historic abuse. For a person to have their innocence publicly called into question must be appalling, and so I have every sympathy with Lord Bramall and his late wife and regret the distress they endured during this investigation.”

The force had a duty to fully investigate “many serious allegations referred to us every year” and should do so “irrespective of their status or social standing”, the statement went on.

“It stands to reason that we cannot only investigate the guilty and that we are not making a mistake when we investigate allegations where we subsequently find there is no case to answer,” the assistant commissioner said.

“I accept that we can always learn and improve,” she insisted.

Wrongful Arrest Apology Sought

But do the Metropolitan Police “learn and improve” and apologise when they “get things wrong”?

My client Mr K (name withheld for confidentiality reasons) would disagree after he was wrongfully arrested in October 2013.

Mr K had previously served the Community as a part-time magistrate but that experience had not prepared him for a late night visit from police officers and a night in the cells.

Unbeknown to Mr K, on 12 February 2013, the County Court had imposed a non-molestation order against him in response to a series of spurious and vindictive allegations made by his ex-wife.

The non-molestation order was ordered to remain in force until 11 February 2014 at 11.59pm and provided that Mr K was, amongst other things, forbidden to use or threaten violence, intimidate, harass or pester, or communicate directly with his ex-wife. His only means of contact with her were to be through her nominated solicitors. Crucially, the order included a power of arrest so that if my client breached the order, he was liable to be arrested and brought before the Court.

Upon service of the order, my client contested it, saying that it had been supported by untrue and unfounded allegations and included a draconian power to arrest.

The Court agreed and, on 6 June 2013, discharged the non-molestation order, which was substituted with a “General Form of Undertaking”. In that both my client and his ex-wife effectively promised to not harass each other. As such, the threat of arrest for alleged breach of the non-molestation order was withdrawn.

On 9 October 2013, Mr K’s ex-wife reported a breach of the (now defunct) non-molestation order, claiming that my client had sent her emails. The Metropolitan Police decided to investigate and arrest my client.

On 11 October 2013, two officers attended my client’s home address at about 10.30pm. They told Mr K that he was to be arrested for breach of the terms of the non-molestation order.

Mr K told both officers that the non-molestation order had been discharged and replaced with a “General Form of Undertaking” which he had in his house. He offered to show it to the officers but they refused. They told Mr K that:

  • they had been instructed to arrest him;
  • they would not consider his documentation; and
  • he could give an account at the Police Station.

My client was dressed in his pyjamas, was not allowed to change, and was humiliatingly led outside in front of his neighbours to a waiting marked police van. He was taken to Ilford Police Station where he was processed and imprisoned in a cell overnight.

The next morning, Mr K was interviewed during which he produced the documentary evidence confirming that the non-molestation order had been replaced by an “Undertaking”. The interview lasted for less than 5 minutes and he was soon released without charge.

Complaint Against the Metropolitan Police

In November 2013, Mr K, upset at his treatment during the embarrassing and frightening episode, submitted a formal complaint to the Metropolitan Police’s Directorate of Professional Standards.

The Directorate’s long-winded investigation ended in mid July 2014. The Force thanked Mr K for raising the issue and confirmed that the officers’ behaviour had been unsatisfactory and breached professional standards. It accepted that Mr K’s arrest had been unlawful and upheld his complaint.  But no apology was forthcoming.

My client felt that the officers’ punishment (“management action”) was wholly inadequate and lodged an appeal.

Following review by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) in October 2014, it was considered that management action was indeed appropriate but that, in addition, the Metropolitan Police should “give consideration” to Mr K’s request for a written apology.

(It was presumably considered that an apology would go some way to satisfy Mr K that he had been wronged, that the Metropolitan Police recognised what they had done wrong, and would learn from their mistake.)

Despite this clear recommendation from the IPCC the Metropolitan Police again failed to apologise.

Compensation Claim

Having exhausted the complaint process, Mr K felt that he had no alternative but to pursue a civil action against the police. He sought me out as a specialist in actions against the police following an internet search.

After carefully considering the facts I took Mr K’s case and demanded an apology on his behalf. I also intimated a compensation claim, alleging, false imprisonment among other things.

Following investigation, solicitors acting on behalf of the Metropolitan Police responded with a financial offer of settlement without admission of liability or an apology.

As is so often the case, whilst compensation may provide vindication and some comfort to my client, what he really wants is an apology. Despite Mr K’s repeated requests, a recommendation from the IPCC, and numerous requests from me, the Metropolitan Police have failed to do this simple, and free, thing.

The Force could easily address this, even while negotiations about compensation continue. At this point there is nothing to be gained by refusing to apologise, so why not do it?

Decency Demanded

My client’s experience is not unique. Mr K is one of many clients that I have represented (and continue to represent) who has to fight tooth and nail for justice. Unlike Lord Bramall, most are not in the public spotlight with friends and family in high places who can bring the police to account.

The Metropolitan Police’s response to Mr K (offer compensation with no admission of liability or apology) is in line with my experience of their general policy. A policy that fails to recognise what I consider to be its moral and economic duty as a public organisation to apologise when in the wrong, resolve issues quickly, and avoid lengthy and expensive legal battles.

I certainly do not recognise Patricia Gallan’s statement that the Metropolitan Police apologise “when we get things wrong”. Her statement reads more like a defence of their practices and indicates an unsympathetic attitude, despite the platitudes.

Sadly for Lord Bramall, Mr K, and countless others, the “decency demanded” by Sir Max Hastings for an apology does not seem to exist at Britain’s largest police force.

 

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