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.

 

 

 

 

Why Paul Ponting’s Strip Search Was Wrong

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

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

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

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

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

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

Arrest and Strip Search

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Law in Strip Search Cases

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

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

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

All this means that:

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

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

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

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

Police Failures in Paul Ponting’s Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 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.

 

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.

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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 did Christopher Jeffries’ false imprisonment claim fail?

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

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

I read on the BBC website today that Christopher Jeffries, the man wrongfully accused of the murder of Joanne Yeates in December 2010, has accepted a written apology and a small amount of compensation for damage to his home following the police search.

Nick Gargan, the Chief Constable of Avon & Somerset Police (shown below) has written to Mr. Jeffries and was interviewed on camera confirming that:

  1. Mr. Jeffries is no longer a suspect in the case, and
  2. that the police regret the suffering he experienced as a result of them not making it clear that Mr. Jeffries was no longer a suspect on his release from bail on 5 March 2011, and
  3. inviting Mr. Jeffries to meet with him to ‘discuss any lessons’ the police could learn from his treatment and experience.
Picture of Nick Gargan, Chief Constable
Nick Gargan, Chief Constable of Avon & Somerset Police

However, no compensation has been paid for Christopher Jeffries’ claimed ‘false imprisonment, breach of human rights, and trespass to person and property’.

False imprisonment and reasonable suspicion

As I outlined in a blog post I wrote for Charon QC last year, Mr. Jeffries’ case for false imprisonment was on thin ice from the beginning due to the very low threshold the police need to meet to justify an arrest. Having a ‘reasonable suspicion’ to arrest means merely something more than a hunch, but less than formal proof.

It would appear that, nearly three years on, Mr. Jeffries has accepted the strength of the police’s defence to his false imprisonment claim. No doubt this will be very disappointing for him.

Alternatives to compensation in an actions against the police claim

The failure of such a high-profile claim for false imprisonment shows how difficult actions against the police claims can be. Despite this, as a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police, I have successfully recovered compensation for many people against police forces throughout England & Wales, and continue to represent numerous clients in their false imprisonment claims. You can read some case reports of police claims I have successfully pursued here.

But these cases cannot be measured purely in financial terms. Often my clients seek not only compensation, but like Mr. Jeffries, they also seek an apology and assurance that lessons will be learned.

Despite the failure of his false imprisonment claim, Christopher Jeffries has had his name cleared. He has received a very public apology from the Chief Constable, libel damages from eight newspapers, and public sympathy and support from Lord Chief Justice Judge, who described his treatment at the hands of the tabloid newspapers as ‘vilification’.

No doubt he also feels that, after three years in which his life changed immeasurably, enough is enough.

If you believe you have a false imprisonment claim and want help, contact me, Iain Gould, using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website. Alternatively, please read more about me here.

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Image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Policy Exchange: http://flickr.com/photos/policyexchange/6760509047/