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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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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How False Imprisonment Claims Can Be Made Against Private Security Companies.

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

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

I recently settled an assault and false imprisonment claim for my client, Mark Holt. (He has agreed to me giving his details.)

Mark, 53, is a prominent local businessman and peace campaigner who has never been in trouble with the police before.

You can read his case report here.

False Imprisonment at a Train Station

On Tuesday 10 January 2012, Mark Holt (pictured below) was returning home from a day out in Liverpool with his wife. He attempted to pass through the ticket barriers at Liverpool Central Train Station but was prevented from doing so by a ticket inspector, and was then assaulted by a private security guard.

The guard was employed by Carlisle Security, a sub-contractor of Merseyrail, the station operators.

Photo of Mark Holt, who made a false imprisonment claim against a private security company.
Mark Holt, who made a false imprisonment claim against a private security company.

Mark, who was not misbehaving, was put in a headlock and forced to the ground by the guard, smashing his right front tooth and cutting his lip. He also injured his neck, shoulders, and back in the assault. He suffered psychologically and needed medical treatment.

Another Carlisle Security guard came to assist in pinning Mark to the ground while British Transport Police Officers were called.

To (literally) add insult to injury, the first security guard gave a false statement to the police who attended saying that Mark:

  • had thrown a punch, which missed;
  • that he was abusive and disorderly; and
  • that the guard restrained him out of fear for his own safety.

The police accepted this (false) version of events and arrested Mark for a breach of section 4 of the Public Order Act.

Mark was kept overnight in a police cell before being released twelve hours later on police bail.

The police later dropped the case.

Claim for Assault and False Imprisonment Against a Private Security Company

Private security companies will understandably be liable if their employees assault or imprison members of the public unlawfully but what about when a third-party, in this case the Police, imprison the individual? Who, if anyone, is liable?

Upon arrival, the Police Officers were given a version of events by the security guard. Although never challenged, I expect that the officers would say that they quickly formed a reasonable suspicion that a Public Order offence had been committed by Mark, so they were justified in arresting and detaining him.

The 12 hour detention would also be justified by the Police. They would say that as Mark had had a drink it was reasonable for his rights to be delayed at the Police station while he was ‘bedded down’ for the night. The next morning, he was interviewed and then released on Police bail.

So, on the face of it, the Police had acted lawfully.

But could the security company be liable instead for Mark’s arrest and imprisonment by the Police? Could they be liable for the officers’ actions even though the Police themselves had acted lawfully?

According to Lord Bingham in the case of Davidson v North Wales Police (1994), if a person merely gives information upon which a Police Officer decides to make an arrest, that person would not be liable. If on the other hand, that person’s conduct amounted ‘to some direction, or procuring, or direct request, or direct encouragement, that they (the police) should ….arrest’ that individual would be liable to an action for false imprisonment.

Here, I was of the opinion that the security guard had procured the Police Officers to act as they did and therefore the security company would be liable for both assault and false imprisonment.

CCTV Footage Helps Prove the False Imprisonment Claim

I obtained CCTV footage which proved that the security guard had assaulted Mark. It also showed the police attending and Mark being handed over to them by Carlisle Security’s guards.

In the circumstances, I claimed damages for Mark against Carlisle Security Ltd.

After I submitted the claim, Carlisle Security’s Head of Legal also reviewed the CCTV footage and responded by explaining that the company provide ‘byelaw enforcement officers’ who have the power to arrest and detain or issue penalties to passengers breaking Merseyrail’s byelaws.

He felt that his company’s security guards were acting correctly as they were assisting Merseyrail staff in enforcing byelaws, as they felt that Mark was not in a fit condition to travel. So he denied liability for Carlisle Security.

Following review by the company’s insurers, this denial of liability was retracted and liability admitted.

However, the insurers refused to settle at a reasonable amount so I issued proceedings for Mark Holt’s claim for assault and false imprisonment and eventually settled it for four times more than their original offer. This meant that Mark received a five-figure sum plus legal costs.

Private security guards, or ‘byelaw enforcement officers’, may seem like a cost-effective way for public transport operators to enforce their laws.

But, without the proper training, and recognition that their guards are acting with police-like powers, private security companies are at risk of more false imprisonment claims.

If you have a false imprisonment claim and want compensation contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website.

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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/