Is Police ‘Conflict Management’ Training Working?

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

Photo of John Hagan, solicitor.
John Hagan, solicitor.

Those of us who want to live in a civil society, where violence is always the last resort, and not some version of a Judge Dredd comic, in which a ‘hardcore’ police force shoots people for littering, may have been dismayed by the reaction of some sections of public opinion to a video released this week showing a Metropolitan police officer shouting at a motorist and viciously smashing the motor car’s windscreen with his truncheon, before trying to cut his way in through it with a knife.

In the video the police officer can be seen confronting the motorist (identified in press reports of this story as Leon Fontana), who, perhaps not coincidentally, is a young Black man. My colleague Iain Gould has previously blogged about the dangers of “Driving whilst Black” i.e the perception that black men are disproportionately targeted by the police for traffic stops.

The police have powers under S.163 and 164 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to require drivers to stop their vehicles and produce their licence and insurance and confirm their identity. It does not however empower the police to require that a motorist who has been stopped must exit his vehicle, nor to require that he hand over his car keys.

Whilst it is true that Leon states he is not going to get out of the car, he is otherwise co-operating with the officer, and is not refusing to let the officer check his details. When the officer states that he is concerned that Leon might just drive off, Leon removes his keys from the ignition and places them on the dashboard…then within 30 seconds of the conversation beginning the officer is screaming “Get out of the car! You’re not allowed to drive it!” and starts smashing the windscreen viciously.

It appears that the officer has just received some information suggesting that Leon may only have a provisional licence (this subsequently proves to be incorrect, as it is a case of mistaken identity, cleared up within moments, as soon as other officers become involved…). However the officer immediately reacts to this information by shouting “Get out the car – you’re not allowed to drive it!” and within 15 seconds has started to pummel the side of the car with his truncheon before the man inside has even had a chance to respond. The officer is now screaming his command “Get out of the car!” as if he was involved in a life and death situation rather than a routine traffic stop. If a member of the public had been behaving like this – basically attacking the car and shouting at the top of his voice – he would surely have been arrested. The officer appears to have no impulse control in this situation, and there is no sign that he made any attempt at a reasonable and civil discourse with the driver. Surely this is not how we want our police officers to behave, nor why we empower them with special authority to inflict violence or commit damage to property. The officer was, in my opinion, behaving in a totally unprofessional and irresponsible manner.

As the footage continues, the motorist can be heard telling the attacking officer (in an entirely calm tone of voice) that he has a licence and insurance. The officer informs the motorist “You are not qualified, you’re not allowed to drive” apparently having jumped to an unshakeable belief that the motorist is an unqualified individual without going to the trouble of listening to what he is being told, or making any effort to check documents and establish the driver’s actual identity.

Manifestly, the police are here to reduce violence and aggression in society, not actively introduce it into otherwise calm situations (the motorist had clearly responded to police instructions to stop his car and was talking to them through an open window).

If somebody tells an officer that they have been mistaken for somebody else, surely the officer should spend at least a minute or two investigating that possibility in an amicable manner rather than shouting the person down and smashing his windscreen to pieces? And what purpose was being served by the officer smashing the windscreen – surely he didn’t intend to pull Leon out through it? The destruction of someone’s property by a police officer to make them comply with instructions during a low- level traffic stop is in my opinion a crazy and unjustifiable turn of events.

In my opinion, the police officer’s actions can only be characterised as anti- social, thuggish behaviour which clearly flies in the face of the norms of civilised behaviour as well as the specific training which police officers are given as to how to resolve a conflict situation.

Police officers are extensively taught the techniques of ‘conflict management’ which emphasise that violence must be a last resort after non- violent approaches to resolving the situation in the form of ‘officer presence’ and ‘tactical communications’ are first considered. Does anyone really doubt that the officer pictured in this video could have had a productive conversation with the motorist had he so chosen?

Sadly, as I discovered during my appearance on the Jonathan Vernon Smith (JVS) Show on BBC 3 Counties radio last week, some people do condone the officer’s behaviour.

You can listen to my interview here:

One caller to the show stated “the guy in the car should be prosecuted” whilst another called the motorist a “toe rag” and accused him of “winding up” the officer by the act of filming the confrontation.

JVS himself, perhaps adding fuel to the fire of his listener’s fury, speculated aloud that the police may have believed Leon to be a dangerous criminal with a history of using weapons, and that he might even have had “a gun in the glove box”. However, there was no basis for this assertion. All the evidence available to us is to the effect that the worse the police suspected of Leon was that he was driving without a full licence or insurance, which is a non- imprisonable offence.

The police are entrusted with special powers to use force against other citizens, but it is only right that the officers respect the safeguards that the law has put in place to prevent the abuse of those powers and to ensure that we have a functioning civil society in which people can have trust in the police – without which, they obviously cannot do their jobs and the risk of harm to both officers and citizens generally increases.

Police powers of arrest without a warrant are enshrined in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 S.110. In order to exercise his power of arrest, the officer must have a reasonable belief in its necessity on the basis of one or more of the following criteria –

  1. that:
  • the name of the relevant person is unknown to, and cannot be readily ascertained by, the constable,
  • the constable has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name furnished by the relevant person as his name is his real name,
  1. that:
  • the relevant person has failed to furnish a satisfactory address for service, or
  • the constable has reasonable grounds for doubting whether an address furnished by the relevant person is a satisfactory address for service,

3. that the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to prevent the relevant person:

  • causing physical injury to himself or any other person,
  • suffering physical injury,
  • causing loss of or damage to property,
  • committing an offence against public decency, or
  • causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway,
  1. that the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the relevant person.
  2. that the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question, or
  3. that the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to prevent any prosecution for the offence from being hindered by the disappearance of the person in question.

It is highly questionable whether the officer in this case could have possibly had a reasonable belief that any of the above conditions applied to Leon Fontana. In which case, he had no power to arrest Leon, and no power to use force against his motor car to effect an ‘arrest’ – which renders his smashing of the windscreen not only a civil but possibly a criminal offence.

Contrary to what some of the listeners of the JVS show apparently believe, there is no seventh criteria of “having reasonable grounds for believing the person to be a toerag” nor any power for the police to arrest someone who is filming their encounter, or refusing to exit a vehicle, if there are no other circumstances such as a refusal to identify themselves or an attempt to abscond or obstruct the investigation of a suspected offence on the part of that person.

Here, as we can all hear, Leon was offering to identify himself – or at least was trying to go through that process in a respectful manner with the officer, but was being obstructed by the officer’s unreasonable anger towards him.

This case reminds me of another I have recently been involved with, also a video taped encounter,  in which police officers stopped a car on suspicion of ‘no insurance’ and in which the driver – a middle- aged white man as it happens – resolutely refused to identify himself to the officers involved and repeatedly made it clear that not only would he not exit the car, he would simply not identify himself or produce any documentation. The officers attempted to reason with him for  approximately 8 minutes, before deciding to discharge a CS gas spray into the car.

Whilst I do not agree that the CS gas should have been used, it is perhaps telling that in a confrontation with an older, white motorist the police gave considerably longer to conversation with an individual who was a lot more obstructive, than did the officer in this video towards a young black man.

I am sure that in the present case, all the unpleasantness could have been avoided, if the officer had just engaged in the civil conversation which Leon was offering him.

But you may think I am biased in that assertion, being a lawyer primarily working on behalf of people who believe they have been the victims of police misconduct.

In which case I will call as my next witness, the other contributor to the JVS show that morning, Peter Kirkham, who was formerly a Detective Chief Inspector with the Met.

Mr Kirkham acknowledged that the officer’s behaviour was “not a good example of conflict management skills” and made the point “when you’re dealing with a conflict situation the idea is you’re not making it more aggressive”.

Acknowledging that it was plain from the video that the officer has lost his temper, Mr Kirkham concluded by saying that if he was the supervising officer he would certainly be investigating the conduct of the officer concerned, whose actions could amount to criminal damage if there was no justification for his use of force.

The officer appears to have suffered a moment of madness; sadly for him he must now face the consequences of this. The uniform he wears is a symbol of the special authority vested in him but it does not, and should not, give him immunity from accountability for actions which if perpetrated by a member of the public may well have resulted in a night in the cells.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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Why Police Misconduct Investigations Must Be Reformed

By Iain Gould, solicitor

At 11a.m. on Monday 26 October, two Police officers of West Midlands Police face a disciplinary hearing for gross police misconduct.

The hearing will take place in public. Police disciplinary hearings became public (subject to certain exceptions) on the 1 May 2015.  That change, along with others, was aimed to create a “more robust, independent and transparent” police disciplinary system.

But have the reforms into investigations of police misconduct worked? Read on to find out why I think not.

Police Misconduct Allegation

The two West Midlands Police officers due to be brought to account on Monday face an allegation lodged by my client, Alex Faragher in January 2014. (Alex gave me permission to use her details.)

Ms Faragher’s complaint centered on an incident that happened during an enquiry into an alleged domestic violence assault.

Two male officers attended upon her shortly after the incident but Alex was too upset and distressed to provide full details. The officers subsequently tried to contact Alex on her mobile phone but were unable to get through.  Accordingly, they left her a message but then failed to hang up properly.  Their subsequent conversation was then mistakenly recorded.

In the two-minute recording (an extract of which you can listen to here) one officer allegedly says to the other, “F…….  bitch, I specifically said, “you’re not going to give us the run around are you?” “No I want to press charges” she said. “F……. slag”.

A second officer then referred to writing their own version of her witness statement after her boyfriend had been arrested for assault.  He can allegedly be heard saying, “Either that or the only other thing we do is go back, f….ing draft the statement out ourselves and then just get the bitch to sign it”.

Later that evening, unaware of the voice recording on her phone, Ms Faragher went to Sutton Coldfield Police Station to give her statement to the same two officers.  Ms Faragher believes that her treatment at the Police Station was equally unprofessional because the officers did not take her dyslexia into account. They prepared a statement in her name and on her behalf and persuaded her to sign it without her first being permitted to read it and further because the officers then ignored her requests to amend particular parts of her statement.

It was only upon her return home later that evening that she both saw and heard the voicemail on her phone.  After hearing it, she felt “victimised and humiliated”. She said, “They turned up after 6:30pm and tried to call me and mistakenly didn’t hang up.  I picked up the conversation they then had in the police car that was recorded as a voicemail. I could not believe what I was hearing.” she said.

Photo of Iain Gould, solicitor, who discusses police misconduct investigation reform.
Iain Gould, solicitor, discusses police misconduct investigation reform.

Police Misconduct Complaint

In line with the policy set by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”), one would assume that the resulting investigation would take a relatively short period of time.  When Ms Faragher first complained she gave the police a copy of the recording along with a detailed account of what had happened.  She has since co-operated fully with the investigators.

Despite this, it took an investigator from the Force’s Professional Standards Department six months to finalise their investigation and produce their Complaint Investigation Report.

The Report was inadequate, even after all that time and my client’s help. Although both officers were interviewed under caution on the 3 April 2014, the Report failed to identify the officers’ response to the recording and answer a crucial question: do they accept that it’s them?

Both officers did however provide an account of subsequent events at the Police Station. Both maintained that they had acted properly at all times and any allegation of misconduct (in this respect) was denied.

After consideration, the investigating officer decided to not uphold this aspect of the complaint on the basis that there was no evidence available to corroborate either Ms Faragher’s account or the officers’ account.

But the Investigating Officer concluded that the officers had a case to answer in relation to the allegation that they had spoken about Ms Faragher in a discourteous and disparaging manner. This part of the complaint was upheld and will be addressed at the misconduct hearing.

Complaint to the IPCC

Whilst Ms Faragher was pleased that the officers were to be brought to account in relation to the taped conversation, this was only part of her complaint and the fact remained that the officers’ treatment of her at the station was unprofessional.

The decision of the investigator was, in my opinion, perverse, and designed to protect the officers from further scrutiny and a form of damage limitation.

On my advice, she appealed to the IPCC, the independent police watchdog.

On review by the IPCC in December 2014, it was found that whilst there was no evidence available to corroborate either the officers’ account or Ms Farragaher’s account of events at the police station, the taped recording added weight to my client’s complaint, particularly the comment that the officers would “go back, f….. draft the statement out ourselves and then just get the bitch to sign it”.

Accordingly, the IPCC case worker found that on balance, Ms Faragher’s complaint held “more credibility” and therefore upheld the appeal and decided that there was a case to answer for gross misconduct for both the recording and what happened at the police station.

The police disagreed.

In March 2015, West Midlands Police told the IPCC that they did not accept its recommendation that the officers face a Gross Misconduct hearing about events at the Police station.

In May, the IPCC stated that their original decision held and that West Midlands Police should include the additional complaints.

As a result, both will be addressed at Monday’s hearing.

Justice Delayed

On the face of it, West Midlands Police are harbouring two delinquent employees who should be dealt with as soon as possible.

But it has taken nearly two years from when Ms Faragher lodged her complaint to get them to appear before a Gross Misconduct hearing. All the time those officers have continued to work, although they are now reported to be on restricted duties in “non-public facing” roles.

Natural Justice demands that investigations into alleged police misconduct are full and fair, and that disciplinary proceedings are finalised in an expeditious manner.

Maintaining a system where police investigations are undertaken by officers in the same force leads to a perception of bias. And because there is no limit on the extent of investigation process or the time allowed, the most that the IPCC can demand is that the investigation process “should be proportionate to the nature of the complaint”.

The biggest stumbling block in assuring public trust and accountability in the police is the sense that internal discipline is not implemented effectively.

Cases like Alex Faragher’s show that, while reforms like public hearings may help, there is much more to do.

Contact me for help with you police misconduct matter using the online form below or via my firm’s website.

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Should the police use tasers on children?

This is a guest post by my colleague John Hagan. Like me, John is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police.

Reflecting on my participation in a debate on the use of police tasers against children on the Jonathan Vernon Smith show (BBC Radio Three Counties, listen here) earlier this week, I am reminded of the famous words of Franklin Roosevelt – is it not the case that so often “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”?

Paedophobia

Mr Vernon Smith was advocating the increased use of tasers by the police (items which he described as “wonderfully useful tools” but which I might describe as “guns for electrocuting people”) as necessary to stem what he appears to believe is a rising tide of violent crime, lawless behaviour and societal breakdown particularly in urban areas blighted by poverty and people who, in his words, “have not gone to school”. He seemed to me to be painting a picture of inner- city Luton as something akin to the apocalytpic gang land of New York in the movie “Escape from New York”, and seemed to have a particular concern that the current generation of children, particularly teenagers, was more violent and out of control than 20-30 years ago. He spoke of his belief that there were ever more cases of “extreme violence where youngsters are involved.” This is in fact a common human misconception known as “paedophobia”, or fear of children, which can be found throughout the annals of recorded history. Perhaps because we know ourselves to be growing older we become fearful of the young who will supplant us; perhaps because we know nothing fundamentally bad happened to us in the past, but of course we do not know what the future holds, the present naturally seems more dangerous; perhaps because the news media thrives on the “excitement” of bad news rather than the general mundane civilities of life, it is very common for people to think they are living in a ‘worse’ time than their parents or grandparents did. Such sentiments are found being loudly expressed in every human generation.

Crime Statistics

But that does not mean they are true. The latest UK official crime statistics show, as they have shown in a continuous trend for several years now, that crime generally is falling and that violent crime in particular in at its lowest level since 1981. The April 2014 Crime Survey of England and Wales, prepared by the Office for National Statistics, shows that in 2013 on a proportional level, 2 in every 100 adults were victims of violent crime, compared with 5 in every 100 in 1995. This directly contradicts the basis on which Vernon Smith and others want to roll out ‘armament’ of the police. Violent crime is not rising; they are afraid of phantoms. And such a fear is not, in my opinion, any kind of sound basis for fundamentally changing the nature of policing in this country by replacing an unarmed constabulary with one which is armed with firearms as a matter of course.

I consider this to be the thin end of the wedge of militarisation of the police, leading inexorably towards the American model where every cop has a gun, and the population as a whole has 300 million guns, which is statistically almost one per person. Is that where we want to go ? Escalation – an ‘arms race’ between the cops and the robbers will ensue, and it is simply not necessary. We live in a more peaceful and gentle society than we did 20 years ago. And perhaps, I might have said to Mr Vernon Smith, there are other ways we should deal with the problems of the poverty and lack of education than shooting the children of the poor with taser guns.

Police Taser Abuse

My firm has represented numerous adult individuals who have suffered at the hands of police missuse of tasers. Such situations of “trigger happy” cops, overreacting with use of a taser in situations where it is not justified (such as this case about shooting a man  with a taser who has turned his back on them in his own home, or shooting a drunken man in the back, causing him to fall and knock his front teeth out) will increase as deployment of tasers proliferate and police officers carrying such weapons becomes the norm.

So I certainly do not think we should be using tasers on children, save in the most extreme examples involving older teenagers and real threats to life and limb. The fact that the host of a BBC show can quote with apparent approval statistics showing the increased use of tasers against children as young as 11-14 is I think a warning sign that we must guard our civil liberties against this type of ‘mission creep’ lest we suddenly find ourselves living in a world where such firearms proliferate , and rather than a stern word, misbehaving children are regularly dealt with by electrocution.

Red Tape

Indeed, Mr Vernon Smith who repeatedly accused me of “not living in the real world ” and being “irresponsible” and “very disrespectful” to the police, showed that his sympathy appeared to be with the person who pulled the trigger on the taser gun, rather than the person on the receiving end of it, on the basis that, to paraphrase slightly, there’s a lot of paperwork to fill in if you shoot people. Red tape, eh? An interesting perspective with which I can do nothing but disagree in the strongest possible terms.

Mr Vernon Smith put it to me that if the police wanted tasers was that not a reason to give them tasers? Absolutely not. For all the fantastic and often very brave work that police officers do, let us not forget that giving the police unquestioningly what they ask for is living in a police state. Our society preserves its liberty and happiness by checks and balances. If the police ask for something, I think it is ok to say “No”.

And to expect not to get shot down for it.

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Compensation Claims Against the Police – What’s the Point?

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

On Thursday, I was contacted by a journalist from BBC Hereford & Worcester and asked whether I would comment on the news that the local police force, West Mercia, had paid out £700,000.00 in the past 7 years for compensation claims against the police.

These related primarily to unlawful arrest, assault, and forced searches claims.

The journalist felt that:

  • this was a significant sum of money to pay out;
  • payment of such a sum indicated that there was a real problem with West Mercia Police; and
  • they needed to get their house in order.

As I have represented a number of people who have brought compensation claims against the police in the West Mercia area, I agreed.

You can listen to the interview here:

As you will hear, initially, I was able to remind the listeners that the police enjoy wide powers over the general public. It is incredibly important that we, the public, hold them to account when they exceed those powers either accidentally (by ignorance) or by design (abuse).

When they do transgress it is important that the police:

  • apologise;
  • admit liability;
  • learn from their mistakes; and
  • pay the modest level of compensation that the law provides.

Origins of Compensation Claims Against the Police

Then the interview took a somewhat different course to the discussion I had with the BBC journalist before the interview.

Andrew Easton, the interviewer, asked me why compensation should be paid in unlawful arrest cases; how does a lump sum of compensation help that person?

I was not expecting such a philosophical debate. In essence, he was asking not about compensation claims against the police, or about the amount of compensation paid out by West Mercia Police; instead he was questioning our system of tort law.

This aspect of law dates back to Roman times (another one to add to the Monty Python “What have the Romans ever done for us?” sketch) even though the word “tort” was only referred to in the 1580s in the legal sense. Compensation is paid by one party (the tortfeasor) to the other. The intention is to put the person who has suffered a loss in the position they would have been in if the civil wrong (a tort) had not occurred.

In 2,000 years this is the best solution numerous societies have come up with, despite the drawbacks. We cannot turn the clock back but, when someone has been wrongfully arrested and suffered such an experience, should they instead receive financial compensation?

Why Pay Compensation After an Unlawful Arrest?

For anyone involved in the criminal justice system, it is easy to forget the immediate shock and upset that an unlawful arrest can cause, especially to someone who has no experience of the system and who considers themselves to be a good, law abiding, and upstanding member of the community.

Irrespective of the circumstances of the arrest (in your home, in the street, etc), you are immediately deprived of your liberty and possibly handcuffed, a painful and humiliating experience. You are then escorted to a Police station. Upon arrival, you:

  • are initially detained in a holding room before then being taken into a custody suite, possibly one of the most intimidating places you could wish to enter;
  • are then presented to a Custody Sergeant and the circumstances and reason for your arrest explained;
  • are searched and stripped of your possessions;
  • are quizzed about your general health and welfare;
  • may or may not be entitled to contact someone to advise that you have been arrested;
  • may or may not be told what is going to happen and how long you will be held;
  • are taken to a cell and the door locked. The cell will probably be no more than a 6 foot by 8 foot room with a wooden bench and small toilet. There may or may not be any natural light.

While locked up you are constantly under observation and completely dependent on the police for anything and everything, even toilet paper and the option to flush the toilet should you need.

Depending on how busy the custody suite is and available resources, the detention staff may or may not respond to any requests that you have.

Often, you may find that if you call for assistance over the intercom system (for an update, to consult the codes of practice, for a blanket or for toilet paper), you find that the police cannot respond in a reasonable period of time, or at all.

That is just the beginning.

You may or may not be held for a lengthy period of time (up to 4 whole days), interviewed, be obliged to provide your finger prints, photograph and a DNA sample, and then be bailed to return to the Police station at a later date or charged to appear in Court.

Doesn’t an experience like that deserve compensation?

My interviewer was not convinced; how is receiving an award after making compensation claims against the police going to help, he asked?

Claiming More than Compensation

During the interview, I concentrated on the principle of compensating the victim, a deeply held principle that I believe strongly and which I have maintained throughout my legal career.

My interviewer was right to challenge and on reflection; I consider that the point of paying compensation goes deeper: not only vindicating and compensating victims but (hopefully) deterring similar incidents from happening in the first place, and putting the responsibility for compensation upon the police.

Indeed, primary motives of many of my clients are for the police to learn lessons, to implement better training, and to ensure that such an event does not happen again. Frequently they also tell me that they want an apology, and that if they had received a full and frank apology at the beginning, that they would have let matters lie.

For example, a client I represented several years ago, Audrey White, was assaulted by officers of Greater Manchester Police during an anti-war public demonstration. (You can read the case report here.)

During the course of her case, I established that junior officers had been given inaccurate advice at an earlier debrief as regards the nature and extent of Police powers with regard to removal of “disguises”.

The officers then acted upon that advice in forcibly removing a Gordon Brown face mask that Audrey was wearing for political and theatrical effect causing her injury and upset.

It wasn’t about the money for Mrs. White. She donated her compensation to charity. More importantly for her, as part of the settlement, she received an apology and an assurance that lessons would be learnt.

Compensation Claims Provide Accountability

And what of the just allocation of responsibility?

There is a police complaint system in place but as I have previously blogged here and here, it leaves much to be desired.

As a result, victims are often left with no alternative but to seek redress by pursuing a claim in the civil courts. One such victim was Mr X who I reported on here.

Mr X was assaulted by a Police officer and then prosecuted by the Police for having the temerity to lodge a complaint about the officer shopping on duty.

Despite being found guilty at trial at the Magistrates Court, he was acquitted on appeal when CCTV footage became available that exonerated him. His subsequent complaint to the police was summarily dismissed.

Upon instruction, I sued the police on his behalf and shortly before trial, the Force agreed financial compensation.

During the course of the civil court proceedings, I established that by reason of an entry in his pocket note book, the officer had lied in a subsequent entry in the same note book, in his witness statement and on oath at the Magistrates court.

Following the settlement Mr X submitted a fresh complaint and the officer was interviewed under caution. A police file has now been passed to the CPS to consider criminal charges.

Such accountability for this rogue police officer would not have been possible unless Mr X had brought his compensation claims against the police.

Purpose of Compensation Claims Against the Police

So, what is the point of compensation? Many of my clients tell me that no amount of compensation makes up for the ordeal that they have gone through. They would prefer for the incident to have never happened.

In cases like this we need to remember the benefits that arise not just from the settlement but also the process.

By pursuing compensation claims against the police, my clients get much more than money: they get heard.

For help with your own compensation claims against the police contact me via my firm’s website, using the form below, or on 0151 933 5525.

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Why the New Police Code of Ethics is a Waste of Paper

Picture of Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer) and specialist in actions against the police claims.
Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer)

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

I was interviewed for BBC Breakfast today about the new Police Code of Ethics.

The Code, which you can read on the College of Policing website, serves as a reminder to police officers to fulfil duties that seem basic and obvious.

Described by Chief Constable Alex Marshall as ‘a first for everyone who works in policing in England and Wales’, it applies to all those who work in policing, including volunteers and contractors.

The Police Code of Ethics applies the ‘Nolan’ Principles, which originate from the 1995 report prepared by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and holds at its core the following principles:

  • Accountability
  • Fairness
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Leadership
  • Objectivity
  • Openness
  • Respect
  • Selflessness

In addition, the Police Code of Ethics incorporates the existing Standards of Professional behaviour which covers the following:

  • Honesty and Integrity
  •  Authority, Respect and Courtesy
  • Equality and Diversity
  • Use of Force
  • Orders and Instructions
  • Duties and Responsibilities
  • Confidentiality
  • Fitness for Duty
  • Discreditable Conduct
  • Challenging and Reporting Improper Conduct

Despite referring to the Nolan Principles, I am struck by how little attention they are afforded. In the whole 32 page document only one page sets out the Principles and how they apply to policing in the UK.

As police officers are already obliged to respect and behave in accordance with Standards of Professional behaviour, which take up the vast majority of the new Code, this is merely a re-branding exercise.

What’s required is real reform.

Police Misconduct to Continue

Last year I wrote about why the existing system for dealing with police misconduct, which has been carried over into the new Police Code of Ethics, fails the public.

Then I found myself in the unusual position of agreeing with Sir Hugh Orde, Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers, when he said that it is ‘critical’ that there now be a fully independent police investigation system.

At the heart of any reform must be the introduction of a robust and objective disciplinary system.

The greatest encouragement to police corruption is a disciplinary system which makes no adequate effort to detect and punish corruption or misconduct.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has proved useful but is woefully under-resourced and by reason of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011), the majority of complaints against the police are dealt with in-house by the same Police Force.

As a result, investigations are often simply a whitewash.

Consider, for example, the experience of my client Pamela Boxford-White. She complained to Wiltshire Police following her (unlawful) arrest for Breach of the Peace using the internal police complaints procedure. Unsurprisingly, her complaint was rejected. She was told by a Chief Inspector in Wiltshire Police that the officers who arrested her had no case to answer and that no further action would be taken.

I had to issue civil court proceedings on her behalf to get the apology and compensation she deserved.

Only when government and the police make genuine and robust efforts to tackle corruption and misconduct in their ranks will it stop.

The introduction of a new Police Code of Ethics, while good for media coverage, changes nothing.

 

If you have suffered as a result of police misconduct and want help to sue the police, contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website.

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How the police and government are misleading the public about Taser assaults

Picture of Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer) and specialist in actions against the police claims.
Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer)

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

 I was interested to read in a recent article in The Sunday Times (behind paywall) about Taser assault by the police cases. It seems that the authorities are now going on a public relations offensive. By doing so, they may be deflecting attention from the real harm caused by these deadly weapons. And they are getting help from the government to do so.

Taser assault by the police media reports

Simon Chesterman, the deputy chief constable of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and lead on armed policing for the Association of Chief Police Officers was quoted as saying:

  • the UK police’s training in the use of Tasers is “probably the best in the world”;
  • that “we’re regularly accused of being trigger-happy, but do the maths- we’re not”; and
  • that the voltage sent into the subject’s body is “very low- less than the electricity of Christmas- tree lights.”

The charm offensive may be explained by the fact that public concern about these weapons is increasing and Taser assault by the police cases are more regularly reported in the news.

This week the BBC reported how I won £24,000 compensation for my client Richard Hagan following a Taser assault by the police, and I have previously blogged about the risks of Taser use.

(You can read my thoughts about why Taser use more than doubled in two years, if the police are using Tasers correctly, and if Merseyside Police are using Tasers with excessive force by clicking on the links.)

I am not surprised that the police are keen to defend their use of these weapons, and in certain circumstances, I agree that their use is appropriate. (You can hear my interview on BBC Radio where I explain this by clicking on the link.)

But despite voicing my concerns and the increased news coverage, overall Taser use has increased dramatically from 3,128 in 2009 to 10,380 in 2013. Of this number, there were 1,733 actual Taser shootings. Chillingly, in 2011 a Taser was deployed more than 320 times against under-18s.

Picture of a Taser being discharged.

The problem with reports and statistics of Taser assault by the police cases

Reports often concentrate on the initial impact of the Taser. In The Sunday Times article one victim, Sean Lawless, simply said “It hurt. A lot”. This is understandable, as the shocking (pun intended) visual image of someone being shot with a Taser quickly captures the imagination.

But as the effect of a Taser assault by the police is to incapacitate, the injuries sustained after the initial Taser impact on falling are frequently more severe than if the subject had simply fallen over without being Tasered.

This is because when a person falls, the natural instinct is to raise their hands so as to break the fall. But once Tasered, the victim ‘freezes’ and their muscles are temporarily paralysed, giving them no chance to protect themselves.

In my experience as a solicitor who deals with claims against the police (read about me here) it is this secondary injury, caused when the victim falls, which causes more harm.

(A ‘secondary injury’ is a personal injury sustained by the victim after they are incapacitated by the Taser.)

Naturally, the police would prefer not to discuss these potentially devastating injuries and it seems to me that the government are helping the police to deflect attention from secondary injuries by the way they report on Taser assaults.

The official Home Office report: ‘Police use of Taser statistics, England and Wales, 2009 to 2011’ categorises only seven different types of use: from the lowest state of the Taser simply being drawn; to the highest state of the weapon being fired with the electrical probes making contact and causing the incapacitating effect.

Crucially, the official statistics fail to record the subsequent (secondary) injuries caused after the Taser is fired.

As a result secondary injuries are rarely commented on or reported in the news to the same extent.

This is a mistake. As Richard Hagan’s case (details provided with permission) shows, secondary injuries often affect the victim far more than the initial Taser impact.

Secondary injuries following Taser assault by police

On 7 March 2011, my client Richard Hagan, a bricklayer who was 26 at the time, had been at the Printhouse Pub in Prescot, watching a Liverpool game and having a few drinks.

Shortly after midnight he headed home with his partner and her father. They came upon a group of people arguing in the street. A police car, driven and solely occupied by PC Warren of Merseyside Police, pulled up. The officer told the group, including Mr.Hagan who happened to be nearby, to get on the pavement.

As the police car drove away someone shouted abuse at it. The car stopped and reversed. PC Warren got out and told Mr. Hagan to ‘come here’.

Instead, Mr. Hagan panicked and ran away.

The police officer chased him through a residential area. As Mr. Hagan ran towards a main road, PC Warren fired a Taser ‘stun gun’ into his shoulder and buttock. Mr. Hagan was paralysed by the electric shock and fell forwards onto the road surface. He sustained serious injuries, smashing his front four teeth, lower right incisor, and other facial injuries.

After the assault, which was seen by his distraught partner, Mr. Hagan was arrested, handcuffed and taken to Kirkby Police Station where he was kept in a police cell overnight.

As a result of the assault Mr. Hagan lost the four front teeth and had to have a bridge and crown fitted. He will need more dental work in the future.

You can hear Mr. Hagan describe how he needed about 10 months of painful dental treatment as a result of his Taser injuries in this BBC radio interview:

 

Merseyside Police denied liability and claimed that the force used was reasonable and proportionate. I disagreed. Following court proceedings, I settled Mr. Hagan’s Taser assault by the police claim for £24,000 plus legal costs.

 Unreported Secondary Taser Injuries

Public and media concern with the use of Tasers tends to focus on the 50,000 (or 1,200 if the police are to be believed) volts shot through the victim’s body and the potential cardiac issues that arise, but in my opinion the bigger risk is from secondary injuries.

As Richard Hagan’s case demonstrates, there is a significant danger of head and facial injuries when they hit the ground. These secondary injuries can be far worse than the initial electric shock from the Taser.

But the police officers who defend the use of Tasers seem to be trying to deflect the public’s attention from this.

They talk about training, how careful they are in the use of Tasers, and try to minimise the impact of Taser assaults. They refer to government statistics, which do not deal with secondary injuries, to back up their case.

But by doing so those officers, and the government officials who create the statistics on Taser use, are missing the point.

Even if the training in the UK is “the best in the world”, and the total number of Taser impacts is significantly less than the overall use figure, the weapons are still being used against civilians, including children, with potentially life-changing consequences.

And even if the amount of volts shot through a victim’s body is less than the amount used in Christmas tree lights, it is still enough to cause temporary paralysis and serious secondary injuries.

It is time that the police and government are asked about the effects of secondary injuries as well. Maybe then they will accept that the impact of a Taser assault by the police is more serious than they suggest and moderate the use of these weapons accordingly.

 

If you have been injured after a taser assault by the police contact me using the form below, on 0151 933 525, or via my firm’s website.

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Image credit: Marcelo Freixo on flickr.

 

Why must Court Proceedings be issued in a Compensation Claim Against the Police?

Actions against the police solicitor Iain Gould

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Sometimes I get frustrated when helping my clients bring a compensation claim against the police.

What appears to be a perfectly straightforward case against the police where compensation should be paid can often result in a hard-fought battle.

When this happens I have no alternative but to issue court proceedings and fight for my clients all the way to a Court hearing.

This is expensive, time-consuming, and stressful for all involved, including the police officers themselves who, like my clients, must endure cross-examination at Court.

I had to take another compensation claim against the police to trial last week because the Metropolitan Police refused to settle.

My client, Luke Appleyard, 21, a student at the University of London, will shortly receive £13,250 from the Metropolitan Police after being attacked by a police dog.

(You can read the full case report here.)

So, taking his compensation claim against the police all the way to a jury trial was worthwhile. But was it really necessary?

Compensation Claim Against the Police for Defenceless Student

Photo of my client Luke Appleyard, who I represented in his compensation claim against the police
Luke Appleyard

Shortly after midnight on Friday 9 October 2009, Luke (pictured and details used with permission), of Carshalton, Surrey, was walking with a friend through Carshalton Park.

The park was dark and quiet.

Suddenly, an Alsatian dog appeared running quickly towards them. Without warning, the dog jumped up and bit Luke on his right forearm, which he had instinctively raised to protect his face.

The dog hung on for what Luke estimates was three minutes before Metropolitan Police officers arrived and released it.

Luke’s arm (shown below after the wounds had been cleaned) was bleeding heavily but the police insisted on searching him before getting medical help.

Photo of Luke Appleyard's arm after he had been attacked by a police dog.
Luke Appleyard’s arm after the police dog attack.

He was later told that the dog had been set on him as a result of mistaken identity, and that the police were searching for two robbery suspects.

Mr. Appleyard was taken by ambulance to hospital where his bite wounds were treated. He has since been left with about 20 scars on his right arm which makes him uncomfortable wearing short sleeves in public.

Luke Appleyard had never been in trouble with the police before. After the unprovoked attack, he:

  • was injured;
  • was upset;
  • suffered nightmares;
  • developed a fear of large dogs; and
  • lost confidence in the police.

As he received no apology or offer of compensation from the police, he decided to take matters further.

He found my details online and asked me to represent him in his compensation claim against the police.

After discussing it with him, I decided to take his claim. I initially represented Luke as a legal aid lawyer but later, when funding was withdrawn, acted on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.

I submitted details of Luke’s claim but the Metropolitan Police denied liability, saying that the police dog handler acted within the police’s guidelines when deploying the dog, ‘Storm’.

They claimed that Luke was running away, that the officer shouted a warning before releasing Storm, and that the force used was reasonable and necessary.

As this was a very different version of events to the one Luke had told me, I had no alternative but to take Luke’s compensation claim against the police to a full jury trial.

Compensation Claim Against the Police Wins at Jury Trial

On Wednesday 11 December, at the conclusion of the three-day trial at the Central London Civil Justice Centre, the jury returned a verdict indicating that they did not believe the Metropolitan Police officers’ account.

They heard evidence that the police officer in control of Storm was 110 metres away from Luke and his friend when the dog was released. The police dog handler claimed that he:

  • was able to make a positive identification from this distance;
  • shouted an audible command to Luke to stop running; then
  • released Storm.

I had seen the police officer’s statement long before the trial and was sure that this was impossible.

Manchester United’s football pitch is 105 metres from goal to goal.

Photo of Manchester United's football pitch.
View of Manchester United’s football pitch.

The officer claimed that he could see further than that distance in the dark and positively identify Luke and his friend as the people they were searching for.

The jury disagreed with the police’s version of events. They were not satisfied that Luke and his friend were running, or that the decision to release Storm was necessary or reasonable.

Paying for a Compensation Claim Against the Police

Instead of apologising and offering fair compensation, the Metropolitan Police fought Luke’s genuine claim so that he had no alternative but to go to an expensive, and unnecessary, jury trial.

The legal costs on both sides in Luke’s case will be many times more than the compensation he is paid. Because he won, all costs will be paid by the Metropolitan Police, who in turn are funded by taxpayers.

At a time when the Metropolitan Police’s funding is being closely examined, I hope those responsible will think long and hard about their conduct.

If you want to make a compensation claim against the police contact me, Iain Gould, using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website.

Contact Me:

 

 

Image credit: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Paul: http://flickr.com/photos/vegaseddie/6160401568/

Why Andrew Mitchell got lucky

Iain Gould, Actions Against the Police SolicitorBy Iain Gould, Solicitor

Andrew Mitchell, the ‘Plebgate’ MP and former Chief Whip, appeared at a press conference yesterday in his ongoing case against the police.

Mr Mitchell, who I have previously written about here, is angry that the Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’) declined to prosecute PC Toby Rowland, the police officer at the centre of the story who reported the incident on 19 September 2012.

While his case continues, in my opinion, Mr Mitchell got lucky.

Andrew Mitchell’s disputed case against the police

On 19 September 2012, there was an incident at the gates of Downing Street between Mr Mitchell and PC Rowland.

The police officer declined to allow Mr Mitchell to exit on his bicycle via the main security gates, which were closed.

The officer instead directed Mr Mitchell to a nearby pedestrian gate which he opened for the politician.

In response, PC Rowland claims that Mr Mitchell said,

‘You should know your f***ing place, you don’t run this f***ing government, you’re f***ing plebs.’

Mr Mitchell, however claims that he simply said,

‘I thought you guys were supposed to f***ing help us.’

Although the exact wording of what was said is disputed, both say that the officer warned Mr Mitchell for swearing.

In the following weeks, newspapers published a story quoting the ‘plebs’ comment, Mr Mitchell resigned as Chief Whip, and a Channel 4 investigation cast doubt on the police’s version of events.

Following an expensive year-long investigation, the CPS have decided to prosecute only one police officer, PC Wallis, who claimed to have witnessed the incident in an email to his MP. All other police officers involved, including PC Rowland, will not face criminal charges.

Five police officers face gross misconduct charges, and three face lesser charges. PC Rowland is not among them.

Andrew Mitchell’s response to the CPS

At Tuesday’s press conference, Mr Mitchell explained the personal effects of the ‘Plebgate’ story.

As a result of the alleged lies of PC Toby Rowland, Mr Mitchell claims that:

  • his reputation was destroyed;
  • he was vilified relentlessly;
  • he received over 800 hate emails;
  • he and his family were driven from their home because of the press pack outside;
  • his mother in law was pursued in Swansea;
  • he was spat at in the street; and
  • he lost his job as chief whip.

In a direct challenge to both the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions, the politician said,

‘I wish now to make clear that PC Toby Rowland, who was responsible for writing those toxic phrases into his notebook, was not telling the truth.’

He intends to sue The Sun newspaper for libel. The tabloid was the first to use the ‘pleb’ remark and stands by its story. In suing the newspaper, Mr Mitchell hopes to call PC Rowland to give evidence and allow a jury to decide whose version of events is to be believed in his long-running case against the police.

How Andrew Mitchell is lucky in his case against the police

Both the police and Mr Mitchell agree the basic facts of the incident on 19 September as outlined above.

So, even after a public argument with the police in which Mr Mitchell admits swearing at an officer, all he received was a warning.

Unlike many of my clients, he was not:

  • assaulted;
  • arrested;
  • handcuffed;
  • escorted to a Police station;
  • obliged to provide his fingerprints or DNA sample;
  • required to have his details kept on the Police National Computer;
  • detained in police custody;
  • interviewed; or
  • prosecuted.

Don’t get me wrong, I sympathise with Mr Mitchell and his plight but as a specialist in actions against the police, I believe that Mr Mitchell was lucky to simply end up with a warning.

I am contacted by many clients who are not so fortunate.

Peter Garrigan’s case against the police for fabricated evidence

Picture of Peter Garrigan, a man who won a claim against the police after they fabricated evidence against him.
Peter Garrigan, showing a black eye caused after a police assault.

A few weeks ago, my client Peter Garrigan (details used with permission) was awarded £13,000 compensation after a unanimous jury verdict that police officers had fabricated evidence following a four-day trial at Liverpool County Court.

You can read the full report of his case against the police here.

Mr Garrigan was arrested and assaulted by officers of British Transport Police at Lime Street Station on 19 March 2009 as he attempted to assist his younger brother Daniel.

Daniel was detained by a ticket inspector as he had an invalid train ticket.

The inspector called the police when Mr Garrigan refused to leave his brother’s side.

British Transport Police officers appeared and told Mr Garrigan to leave.

Peter refused and attempted to explain the situation on behalf of his brother.

One officer took Peter’s arm. As Mr Garrigan broke free, telling the officer that force was unnecessary, the officer:

  • pushed Mr Garrigan against a wall;
  • kneed him in the stomach;
  • punched him;
  • forced him to the ground with a ‘leg sweep’;
  • pinned him face down on the train station floor;
  • put him in handcuffs; and
  • arrested him.

Mr Garrigan, who had never been arrested before, was taken to Wavertree Police Station.

Following an interview, Peter was issued a Fixed Penalty Notice for a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act for using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’.

After Mr Garrigan indicated that he would appeal against the notice the police dropped the case against him ‘for procedural purposes’.

In a case against the police which has parallels with Andrew Mitchell’s story, Peter claimed that the police officers who assaulted him lied in their written accounts about how the incident had occurred to cover up the police assault and arrest, and to justify prosecuting him.

The threat of police prosecution hung over Peter for several months. He was stressed and upset as although the proposed prosecution was short-lived, it was of great significance in that a conviction could have ruined his dream of joining the army.

The police assault left Peter with visible injuries to the head, face and shoulders, as well as headaches and pains which lasted for several months.

Peter was determined to take a case against the police for the police assault, unlawful arrest, fabrication of false evidence, and misfeasance in public office.

After three civil court trials (read the case report for why) a jury found that the police officers assaulted Peter and fabricated evidence.

Peter won his case against the police, received an apology, £13,000 compensation, and legal costs.

Another case against the police after acquittal at Crown Court

I have just settled Mr. Thomas’s case against the police for substantial damages and legal costs.

Unlike Andrew Mitchell, Mr. Thomas (name changed), who used less colourful language in his encounter with the police, was prosecuted and convicted at court for a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

He had to appeal to the Crown Court to have his conviction overturned, and instruct me to pursue a civil case against the police to obtain justice.

You can read Mr. Thomas’s case report on my blog.

On 9 August 2008, Mr. Thomas was shopping in Morrisons Supermarket when he saw a uniformed police officer also doing his shopping.

He asked the officer,

‘There is a 9.2 million pound deficit forecast for the next 3 years and you are here shopping for bloody shoelaces and shoe polish.  Do you think this is acceptable?’

The officer replied that he needed shoelaces to chase criminals and warned Mr. Thomas that he considered his conduct amounted to a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

As with Peter Garrigan, the policeman said that he used ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’.

Mr. Thomas was shocked to hear that and advised the officer that he would lodge a complaint as he considered this an unjustified response to a legitimate question.

He visited the nearby Police Station and filed his complaint.

Two months later, Mr. Thomas was charged with breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act and the case proceeded to trial.

The officer gave evidence to the effect that Mr. Thomas was aggressive and intimidating.

CCTV footage, which would have helped Mr. Thomas, was not disclosed by the Police or Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr. Thomas was convicted at the Magistrates’ Court and appealed to the Crown Court.

The CCTV evidence was shown at the appeal. It supported Mr. Thomas’s case that he was not aggressive or intimidating, and that the policeman himself did not seem alarmed or distressed.

Two years after the charges were brought Mr. Thomas’s appeal succeeded and his conviction was overturned.

I was contacted by Mr. Thomas in 2011 and asked to pursue a case against the police for malicious prosecution on his behalf.

I agreed to act by way of conditional fee ‘no win no fee’ agreement.

The claim was denied and I was obliged to issue Court proceedings against Leicestershire Police.

They vigorously fought the claim but shortly before trial Leicester Police agreed to negotiate.

They eventually paid my client fifteen times more than they originally offered in damages and legal costs.

Picture of Andrew Mitchell, 'plebgate politician' involved in a police misconduct matter.
Andrew Mitchell, ‘plebgate’ politician

Lucky man

Andrew Mitchell has been harshly treated by the police, media and his political party.

For a while, he was held up as a poster boy for everything wrong with the out-of-touch Tory party, the elite ruling classes, and modern Britain in general.

He was lucky though.

He was never assaulted, arrested, or pursued in the courts.

He had access to powerful friends and media contacts that could assist him in proving his case.

Afterwards, he could use his public profile to force the authorities to thoroughly investigate. He can pursue a libel case to clear his name.

Compared to my clients above, and the vast majority of us, he remains a privileged man.

If you want to pursue a case against the police contact me via my firm’s website or call 0151 933 5525. Alternatively, read more on my blog www.iaingould.co.uk.

 

British Transport Police ordered to pay compensation after police fabricated evidence

Picture of Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer) and specialist in actions against the police claims.
Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer)

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Yesterday, British Transport Police (‘BTP’) were ordered to pay £13,000 plus legal costs to my client Peter Garrigan after serving police fabricated evidence.

Peter, a 26-year-old Liverpool man, was awarded compensation after a unanimous jury verdict following a four-day trial at Liverpool County Court.

The jury found that:

  • PC Paul Quest of British Transport Police unlawfully assaulted Mr Garrigan;
  • the police unlawfully arrested him, issued him with a Fixed Penalty Notice for breach of s.5 of the Public Order Act and, most shockingly of all;
  • one or two serving officers of British Transport Police fabricated evidence against my client ‘in order to cause him to be punished for  something they knew he had not done or to escape punishment for their own misconduct’.

Compensation claim against the police after fabricated evidence

Peter (shown below and details used with permission) instructed me as I specialise in civil compensation claims against the police. You can read more about me and the work I do by clicking on the link.

Picture of Peter Garrigan, a man who won a claim against the police after they fabricated evidence against him.
Peter Garrigan, showing a black eye caused after a police assault.

I previously wrote about his case as it involved a jury trial, where unfortunately a jury failed to reach a verdict. After another jury heard the evidence, they all agreed that the allegations of police assault, misconduct and police fabricated evidence were proven.

Mr Garrigan bravely took on the police, endured three trials where his evidence was tested under cross-examination, and waited four years for justice. He had never been in trouble with the police before, or since. His impeccable character has been confirmed by this significant court judgment.

His case has parallels with the Andrew Mitchell ‘plebgate’ story, which I have written about here. Mr Mitchell is currently dealing with his own case where the police allegedly fabricated evidence.

This is yet another example of abuse by serving police officers that proves that the experience of Andrew Mitchell is not unique.

Both my client and I hope that the negative publicity and judicial criticism British Transport Police have received will make serving police officers think twice before fabricating evidence in future.

You can read a full case report by clicking on the link.

If you believe that the police fabricated evidence to prosecute you and want to claim compensation, contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website. Alternatively, read more by clicking the home page link.

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Can the Police be trusted to Police themselves?

(NOTE: 10 June 2015. This post has been updated to reflect that two of the police officers involved in the Taser story below were subsequently re-instated to Merseyside Police following their dismissal. My thanks to Jeremy Clarke-Williams of Slater and Gordon for bringing this to my attention.)

 By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Picture of Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer) and specialist in actions against the police claims.
Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer)

A man was forced to pursue numerous appeals to ensure that his police complaint was upheld.

At first blush, this would appear to be entirely unrelated to the Andrew Mitchell story, which I have previously written about.

In fact, they are linked by a common thread:

  • the mis-handling of complaint investigations by senior police officers, and
  • whether police can be trusted to police themselves.

Police Complaint after Taser assault in Liverpool

Picture of a Taser being discharged.In December 2009 PCs Simon Jones and Joanne Kelly, were on patrol in Liverpool with a Sergeant (who has since been dismissed for an unrelated matter), when they arrested Kyle McArdle for urinating in a street.

Mr McArdle was put in the back of a police van and shot with Tasers five times. (You can read my thoughts on the increase in Taser use by clicking on the link.)

The Taser barbs, metal hooks which attach to the body to transmit the electric current, were removed by an officer rather than a medical professional, contrary to guidelines (unless there is an ‘operational necessity’).

To add insult to injury, Mr McArdle was prosecuted for assaulting two of the officers. He was found not guilty at the Magistrates’ Court, and pursued a formal complaint.

Mr McArdle’s initial complaint was made to Merseyside Police themselves. He argued that the use of Taser force in the back of the police van was disproportionate. The police accepted that their officers should receive guidance on the use of their powers only and rejected the rest of his complaint.

So Mr McArdle was forced to appeal to the IPCC. They returned the complaint to the Force to consider whether the use of Tasers would have been considered proportionate if he had been lawfully arrested.

Merseyside Police’s leading Taser instructor said that the Taser assault was ‘necessary, proportionate, reasonable and in line with the officers’ training and Association of Chief Police Officers guidance’.

Given this opinion, the Force maintained their denial.

Mr McArdle again appealed to the IPCC. They re-considered the case and decided that, contrary to Merseyside Police’s internal investigation, the officers involved should have been served with notices for gross misconduct and interviewed under caution. PCs Jones and Kelly were then subsequently dismissed following the misconduct hearing.

UPDATE: I have since been informed that PCs Jones and Kelly appealed their dismissal to the Police Appeals Tribunal (“PAT”) and were re-instated to Merseyside Police following a hearing on 28 June 2014, in which their solicitor states that “the PAT unequivocally rejected the determination of the misconduct tribunal in the clearest possible terms”. Their reinstatement is confirmed in the IPCC’s updated press release which can be read on their website here.

Aside from the officers’ dismissal and subsequent re-instatement, the IPCC Commissioner criticised Merseyside Police’s investigation of the incident. In particular, he said, ‘it is a concern that Merseyside’s lead Taser instructor lacked objectivity and presented as fact the officers’ version of events without challenge’.

Andrew Mitchell’s ‘plebgate’ saga

Picture of Andrew Mitchell, 'plebgate politician' involved in a police misconduct matter.
Andrew Mitchell, ‘plebgate’ politician

The Andrew Mitchell affair (which I have commented about on numerous occasions but most recently here) revealed that the four police officers and their associates initially involved in the saga fabricated evidence about the incident at Downing Street on 19 September 2012.

At a subsequent meeting on 12 October involving three senior members of the police officer’s union, the Police Federation, Mr Mitchell sought to explain his comments and re-iterated that he had not used the word ‘pleb’, which is short for ‘plebeian’, or commoner.

Immediately after the meeting, Inspector Mackaill, one of the officers at the meeting, told waiting journalists that Mr Mitchell had not provided an account of the incident and called for his resignation.

Unfortunately for the officers at both the initial incident, which was caught on CCTV and can be seen here, and the subsequent meeting, which Mr Mitchell secretly recorded, the evidence showed that they had not told the truth.

West Mercia Police carried out an internal investigation into claims the three officers had been trying to discredit Mr Mitchell. It concluded that there was no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct and found that there was no deliberate intention to lie to journalists.

The IPCC, which oversaw the West Mercia investigation, said West Mercia Police had been wrong to conclude the three police officers had no case to answer for misconduct.

Deborah Glass, the IPCC deputy chair, said in her statement that the false account of the meeting provided by the police officers involved ‘indicates an issue of honesty and integrity, not merely naïve or poor professional judgment (sic)’.

She has called for a misconduct panel to be held to establish whether the three officers gave a false account in a deliberate attempt to discredit Mr Mitchell in pursuit of a wider agenda.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the IPCC’s report “made troubling reading”.

Police complaints procedure

Only serious complaints against the Police are directly referred to the independent Police watchdog, the IPCC, for investigation. These include cases involving:

  • death in custody,
  • serious injury,
  • matters involving sexual assault or sexual offences,
  • serious corruption, and
  • certain criminal offences.

All other cases are dealt with internally, by the appropriate police force’s complaints department (also known as the professional standards department (‘PSD’).

Up until May 2012, when the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011) came into force, all complainants had a right of appeal following local and supervised investigations by a PSD to the IPCC.

Now that right of appeal to an independent body is restricted to only the most serious of cases, so that there is less opportunity to hold the police to account.

In both the McArdle and Mitchell cases described above, serious issues meant that the IPCC were involved. The IPCC allowed the individual police forces to investigate and decide whether there was wrongdoing or not. Following internal investigations, the complaints investigators said that there had been no misconduct that required sanction.

On appeal/review by the IPCC however, it was found that such findings were seriously flawed.

So, can the Police be trusted to investigate themselves?

Photo of Sir Hugh Orde, Chairman of ACPO
Sir Hugh Orde, Chairman of ACPO

Speaking on BBC Radio, Sir Hugh Orde, the Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers and a former Chief Constable, said that it is ‘critical’ that there now be a fully independent police investigation system. (You can listen to the interview by clicking here).

I agree. The current system where the police investigate themselves is deeply flawed and, to restore public confidence in the police and the police complaints process, independent investigations in each and every case need to be conducted.

But is it enough simply to point the finger at the IPCC, who would no doubt say that the Mitchell and McArdle cases described above did not fit within the criteria, so that they had no authority to conduct investigations from the beginning?

Don’t the police have some responsibility too?

It strikes me that blaming the investigations process merely deflects attention away from the core issue: trust.

Public trust is damaged when we routinely hear about police misconduct at the rank and file level which is then covered up by their superiors or force complaints departments.

It is made worse when, rather than apologise and accept responsibility, senior police officers and their representatives blame everyone but themselves.

At today’s House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee meeting, the Chief Constables of West Mercia, West Midlands, and Warwickshire Police, will explain why they declined to pursue misconduct charges against the three officers involved in the October meeting.

It is hoped that the meeting will be productive and not merely a repeat of the blame game played out in the media since September last year.

The Chief Constables should be reminded of Robert Peel’s principles to define an ethical police force, and in particular, this quote attributed to him: 

‘The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.’

For more information on pursuing a civil action against the police go to www.iaingould.co.uk. Contact me using the form below or via my firm’s website.

Contact Me:

 

Images:

Taser: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Marcelo Freixo 50123:http://flickr.com/photos/marcelofreixo/8188041975/

Andrew Mitchell: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by DFID – UK Department for…:http://flickr.com/photos/dfid/4603106939/

Sir Hugh Orde: cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Liberal Democrats: http://flickr.com/photos/libdems/3940872401/

Why it’s time for the Police to face the music

Picture of Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer) and specialist in actions against the police claims.
Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer)

By Iain Gould, Solicitor and specialist in actions against the police

Peter Oborne’s article in The Telegraph today (click on the link to access it) makes a number of interesting points about police misconduct in the aftermath of the Andrew Mitchell ‘plebgate’ scandal.

I have previously blogged about the Mitchell case here, where I make the point that the police routinely fabricate and exaggerate evidence, and in this blog post where I question whether an ordinary citizen would receive the same treatment as a government minister.

Mr. Oborne says that, when first hearing about the Andrew Mitchell affair, his initial sympathies were with the police. As The Telegraph’s Chief Political Commentator he frequently sees senior politicians behave in a rude or overbearing manner to people they consider beneath them. With this in mind, it was not hard for him to believe the police’s claim that Mr. Mitchell used the word ‘pleb’ while insulting them.

But his views changed when, after a Channel 4 investigation produced CCTV footage which contradicted the police’s version of events, officers involved in the initial incident were arrested on suspicion of misconduct.

Picture of Andrew Mitchell, 'plebgate politician' involved in a police misconduct matter.
Andrew Mitchell, ‘plebgate’ politician

Further, Deborah Glass, the Deputy Chair of the IPCC, recently stated that a ‘clear the air’ meeting between Mr. Mitchell and serving police officers in the Police Federation resulted in more police misconduct.

She asserts that the three police officers concerned gave a false account of the meeting in order to add more political pressure on Mr. Mitchell, and questions the police’s own investigation which found that those officers had no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct.

As the internal report by the IPCC initially proposed disciplinary action, the matter is continuing with Home Affairs Committee Chairman Keith Vaz demanding an explanation.

Royal Commission into Police Misconduct

Mr. Oborne argues for a Royal Commission to restore confidence in the police who have been rocked by this scandal, Hillsborough, the Jean Charles de Menezes affair, the Stephen Lawrence enquiry, and many others.

One such case he refers to was that of my client Karim Allison. (You can read the case report on my website by clicking on the link.)

Karim Allison was prosecuted after making a complaint about a police officer.

Like Andrew Mitchell, he was the subject of a police conspiracy in that police officers joined together to fabricate evidence against him. Unlike Mr. Mitchell, Karim had to endure the stress and upset of a lengthy criminal prosecution which only ended on appeal at the Crown Court.

It was at that point that he instructed me as a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police.

Despite the high risks involved in accusing the police of misconduct, I pursued Karim’s case all the way to trial.

The police fought hard, denied liability and any wrongdoing, but after the trial a jury found that the officers involved had fabricated evidence. The finding, which was not appealed, confirms on the court record that the police lied to secure a conviction of an innocent man.

Picture of a protester holding a sign referencing Andrew Mitchell, involved in the 'plebgate' police misconduct case.
Protester holding a placard referencing Andrew Mitchell.

Police Misconduct investigation

I support Mr. Oborne’s call for a Royal Commission. There has to be an in-depth and impartial enquiry into at least:

  • police conduct at the lower level, where prosecutions are started and stories fabricated, and
  • at the higher level, where police officers who are guilty of misconduct, fabrication etc. are treated leniently by their superiors in the Police.

There can be no more easy rides for the police. Penalties must be harsher to act as a deterrent to future misconduct.

The option of early retirement must be removed for those in the Police who are found guilty of misconduct, and, where appropriate, they should be prosecuted in the criminal courts to the full extent of the law.

If ordinary citizens like Karim Allison are expected to defend themselves in court when charged with criminal offences, then why shouldn’t their accusers?

If you have been prosecuted for an offence where you suspect the police fabricated or exaggerated evidence, contact me, Iain Gould, using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website.

Contact Me:

 

Images:

Andrew Mitchell: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by DFID – UK Department for…: http://flickr.com/photos/dfid/4603106939/

Protester: cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Alan Stanton: http://flickr.com/photos/alanstanton/8110650330/

Why the police assault in ‘The Newsroom’ is more fact than fiction

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Picture of Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer) and specialist in actions against the police claims.
Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer)

In tonight’s edition of the Newsroom, the fictional HBO drama currently airing on Sky Atlantic, Neal Sampat is subjected to a police assault and wrongfully arrested at a New York protest rally.

His character, played by Englishman Dev Patel, is seen filming the protest and telling the police that he is a journalist, only to be assaulted by a police officer, arrested and held in a police cell. He is freed after an hour when anchorman Will McAvoy (a former lawyer) shows the custody sergeant Neal’s footage of the protest, including proof of the police assault and unlawful arrest.

Aside from being a good story, I am glad that the often- harsh treatment of protesters exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression is now being shown in popular media.

Police assault at a peaceful protest

As a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police I am frequently asked to represent clients who have been subject to a police assault, unlawful arrest and detention and, on occasion, malicious prosecution, simply because they exercised their right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression.

My former client Audrey White (name and details used with permission) received compensation following a police assault when she was protesting at a ‘Stop the War’ rally in Manchester. Mrs. White, who was 56 at the time, is an articulate, successful businesswoman, who was well-known to the police as an organiser and steward at these events.

To get publicity, for much of the day she wore a Gordon Brown facemask while carrying a banner-sized mock cheque which was payable to the ‘Oil Companies and Arms Industry for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq- the sum of 12 billion pounds, the blood of one million Iraqis and the deaths of 300 British soldiers’ and ‘signed’ by Gordon Brown (see photograph below).

Audrey White, Stop the War campaigner, wearing the Gordon Brown facemask which the police forcibly removed.
Police assault Stop the War campaigner wearing a Gordon Brown mask

The protest went off without incident, but near the end, a female police officer and colleague told Mrs. White to remove the mask. When Audrey asked why, they had no answer. Mrs. White refused, so the police officers forcibly removed the mask, dragging her to the ground.

Audrey White suffers from low bone density and was injured in the police assault. She was in pain, upset and humiliated by the police’s shocking and unjustified treatment.

Later, Audrey filed a police complaint about the assault, but as is often the case, the police rejected her complaint saying that their action was reasonable, necessary and proportionate.

Compensation claim after a police assault

Mrs. White instructed me to pursue a civil action against the police. Again, the police denied that they had done anything wrong, arguing that they had the power to remove disguises under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. This Section is meant to prevent people from hiding their identity to the police.

I obtained the police officer’s notebooks, which showed that they did not believe that the mask was being worn to conceal her identity, so that they had no right to remove it.

As such, the police assault was unlawful and breached Audrey’s legal right to freedom of expression.

Following negotiations, I recovered compensation for the police assault, a formal apology, and full legal costs for my satisfied client.

I am glad that The Newsroom highlighted the importance of the civil right to protest, and the police’s often overly- aggressive approach to dealing with protesters. Even though it is fiction set in New York, my client’s experience is remarkably similar, showing that civil liberties are under threat no matter where we are.

 

If you have been subject to a police assault, unlawful arrest and/or detention at a protest rally and want to claim compensation, contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website. Alternatively, read more about me, or more blog posts, by clicking on the links.

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Why have jury trials in actions against the police?

Iain Gould, Actions Against the Police SolicitorBy Iain Gould, Solicitor

It is a little-known fact that some actions against the police compensation claims (specifically cases involving claims for false imprisonment and/or malicious prosecution) can be decided by a jury.

The right to trial by jury in such cases was preserved for such claims against the police after it was abolished for most other civil actions in 1933.

Putting such a case before a Jury does not, however, come without complications.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by zzpza

Hung jury in an actions against the police claim

I am currently representing Mr. G who is suing  British Transport Police for false imprisonment, assault, misfeasance in public office, and malicious prosecution. Although, there is some limited CCTV footage, Mr. G’s actions against the police compensation claim essentially rests on his word against two Police Officers. Last week, his case went to trial before a Jury.

On the fourth day, having heard the evidence, the jury of eight retired.

After a long and stressful week in court, Mr. G hoped for Judgment in his favour in his police compensation claim.

Unfortunately, the jury were unable to reach unanimity.

In the County Court (as in this case) after a reasonable period of deliberation, the Court can accept a majority verdict of 7-1.

In Mr. G’s case, after several hours, it was clear that the jury were unable to agree to that and, in the circumstances, the Judge ordered a re-trial.

As it now stands, he must ready himself for another week in court sometime in the next year, and I will have to prepare his case for trial yet again.

So why bother having a Jury?

Judicial guidance in police claims

By s.69 of the Supreme Courts Act 1981, a party wishing to claim the right to have their case heard before a jury has to apply for it within 28 days of the service of the Defence.

Should either party fail to make such an application, the case must be tried by a Judge alone unless the Court in its discretion orders trial by jury. As May LJ noted in Times Newspapers Ltd v Armstrong (2006),

‘the discretion is now rarely exercised, reflecting contemporary practice. Contemporary practice has an eye, among other things, to proportionality; the greater predictability of the decision of a professional Judge; and the fact that a Judge gives decisions.’

Reasons to keep jury trials in police abuse claims

Given ‘contemporary practice’, why then encourage (as I routinely do) a victim of police abuse to elect jury trial?

Because an individual’s belief in the rule of law is shaken when they are a victim of wrongdoing by the police.

The police are agents of the state. The courts can be considered the same way, and I often hear scepticism of judicial independence and the need to avoid the ‘involuntary bias towards those of their own rank and dignity’ (Frank Cook v Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2011)).

Some might query whether my faith and confidence in jury trials in cases involving police abuse has been knocked.

My answer is an unequivocal ‘no’.

Having taken many civil actions against the police to trial with a jury, I remain convinced that, win or lose, my clients are far more accepting of a judgment given by their peers rather than by a Judge who may be perceived as solitary, conservative and out of touch.

Certainly, Mr. G is un-phased and is keen to have his actions against the police case heard again, confident that a new jury will find in his favour.

For all of us, but especially those making actions against the police claims, it is important that this basic right is preserved.

If you have been a victim of police abuse and want to claim compensation, please click here to read more or contact me, Iain Gould, using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via the contact form at dpp-law.com.

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My Charon QC podcast about actions against the police

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Actions against the police solicitor Iain GouldI was recently interviewed in my firm’s London offices by Mike Semple-Piggott for the Charon QC law tour. We discussed civil actions against the police and police misconduct.

Mike is a popular and experienced blogger who uses the pseudonym ‘Charon QC’ on his many websites. He is touring the country interviewing lawyers, academics and others involved in the legal profession.

The interview was wide-ranging and interesting to do.  I described some of the practical issues of pursuing claims against the police using case studies and current examples. We also addressed public interest issues in the widest sense.

You can hear it here.
 

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Are the police using tasers correctly?

I read with interest about an 82 year man in West London who was tasered by the police.

A taser is the latest weapon in a police officer’s armoury. It is a stun-gun which when applied causes 50,000 volts of electricity to go through a victim’s body, side effects of which include temporary paralysis, nausea, amnesia, loss of bowel/bladder control, vomiting and in extreme cases, the heart can stop, occasionally resulting in death.

The police can use force (and therefore the taser) when affecting an arrest provided it is reasonable and proportionate.

It is in the public interest to establish whether the police have been given proper training and are applying their powers correctly. Can an 82 year old man be said to pose such a threat requiring the use of such excessive force?

I am currently pursuing a similar actions against the police claim for a 50 year old man. The police visited him late at night looking for his son. My client, a heavy set, bald, black man bears no resemblance to his 32 year old mixed race, curly haired son. The police, who had seen a picture and read a description of my client’s son, forced their way into my client’s home and indiscriminately tasered him in the back when he was retreating into his kitchen. At the time, he was entirely defenceless and posed no threat.

As well as the physical evidence in front of them, a simple ID check which they performed minutes later proved that my client was not the person they were looking for. Nevertheless, he was arrested for obstruction and assaulting a constable- this  is being cited to justify their over zealous behaviour. I am now working with my client to pursue his claim against the police.

I consider that both cases raise serious questions regarding the deployment of taser guns in arrest circumstances.

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