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/

Have South Yorkshire Police really changed?

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

A former chief constable of South Yorkshire, Richard Wells, who took charge in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, recently said that at the time police forces across Britain had ‘a culture of authoritarianism, defensiveness [and] excessive secrecy’.

Mr Wells statement followed publication of a report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel that found that senior police officers waged a concerted campaign, in the form of private briefings, redacted statements and stories fed to a Sheffield news agency, to “impugn the reputations of the dead” and save that of the South Yorkshire Police.

The current Chief Constable, David Crompton maintained in a BBC interview that “South Yorkshire Police is a very different place in 2012 from what it was 23 years ago”.

Is it? My client, Mr A would strongly disagree. 

Attack by police dog

In February 2012, Mr. A, a 19 year-old football fan, was at Hillsborough to watch the derby between United and Sheffield Wednesday.

As he was walking home from the ground he passed a WPC with a police dog. Suddenly and without warning the police dog lunged at Mr. A, biting his right forearm, drawing blood and destroying his jacket, a recent Christmas present from his mum and dad.

Although he was shocked and in great pain, Mr. A asked the officer for her details as he intended to pursue a complaint about the assault by the police dog. She refused and a male police officer ushered him away.

Mr A walked away and met up with some friends who advised him to return to the WPC to insist that she give him her details. Once again, she refused and once again, he was ushered away by the male police officer who belittled and laughed at him as he did so. At  no time was it suggested that Mr A had committed any criminal offence and at no time was Mr A obliged to give his details.

As he walked away, Mr. A saw another man receiving treatment in an ambulance. He had also been bitten by a police dog . Mr. A approached the paramedics, was treated and taken to hospital for dog bite injuries and shock.

Mr. A, a student has never been in trouble with the police before,  complained to the police the next day and agreed to have the matter investigated by local resolution, an informal process I do not recommend. Before then, the police had no idea who he was.

Malicious Prosecution by the police

A couple of weeks later he was visited at home by two uniformed South Yorkshire Police officers. Rather than discuss his complaint, they served Mr A with a Fixed Penalty Notice for breach of s.5 of the Public Order Act on the day of the derby match, ie that he had caused ‘harassment, alarm or distress’.

Dilemma

Mr. A contacted me for advice. He knew that the s.5 charge was made-up nonsense, but that if he accepted the fixed penalty and paid the £60 fine it would be dealt with and he would not have a criminal record, something of crucial importance to a young man with the rest of his life ahead of him.

However, he also knew that South Yorkshire Police had issued the Fixed Penalty notice merely because he had the temerity to complain. They would not have known who he was, and so would not have served him with the Fixed Penalty Notice if he hadn’t approached them the following day to complain.

Ultimately, Mr. A decided to fight the allegation. Mr A  lodged the appeal and waited. It would appear that South Yorkshire Police then bungled their attempt to prosecute. They are now out of time to do so.

I am now representing him in a compensation claim against South Yorkshire Police.

No change

Although South Yorkshire Police’s Chief Constable David Crompton assured us that things had changed, my client was subjected to an entirely unjustified assault and prosecution. I  am not re-assured by the Chief Constable’s words.

It appears to me that the s.5 Public Order Act prosecution was brought to put Mr A in his place. Once again, we would hear the old line of the hooligan football fan being restrained by well-meaning police officers. In short; the same lie South Yorkshire Police peddled in the aftermath of the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy would be repeated following an attack by a police dog at the same football stadium 23 years later.

To put a 19-year-old in this position, where he had to decide between the principle of defending himself from trumped-up charges, or letting the matter lie, is nothing short of disgraceful and points to an institutional failing within South Yorkshire Police which has not been addressed.  Unlike Chief Constable Crompton, I have no doubt that this leopard has not changed its spots.

Iain Gould is a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police compensation claims.

Contact Me: