Reflections on 2016

Iain Gould solicitorGreetings to all of you as we come to the end of another busy year; a time for reflection on what we have done and what we hope to achieve in the year to come. I trust that your year, like mine, has been a challenging but rewarding one and a healthy and happy one but if it has not, then here’s hoping that next year will bring you better fortune.

The major political upheaval of 2016, the “Brexit” vote has caused repercussions in the legal sector as we enter a period of great uncertainty ahead but this has not stopped the government’s intended plan to “reform” the Personal Injury sector in favour of the giant insurance companies who contribute so much to the war-chests of the Tory party. We are currently in a ‘consultation’ period which could see people stripped of the right to obtain legal representation in claims worth less than £10,000, and indeed significantly reduce or even bar the recovery of damages for certain types of ‘soft tissue’ injury.

This is clearly going to have a knock-on effect in the area in which I specialise, actions against the police, as it will add another line of argument with which Defendant police forces can try to (effectively) strip Claimants of their right to legal representation by seeking to get cases allocated to the Small Claims track of the County Court. This is something which Defendants in my experience are seeking to do with increasing frequency but which I am pleased to say I have successfully opposed on many occasions. This is because the monetary value of a claim is not the only factor which the Court will consider when it comes to deciding whether a case is suitable for the Small Claims process. Strong reasons why actions against the police Claimants should (in my opinion) always be allowed the benefit of legal representation include the importance of the actions themselves. These types of cases which revolve around not mere ‘accidents’ but often very deliberate abuses of police power including assault, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, as well as the complexity of the legal issues and the number of witnesses/ length of trial which police claims involve.

So whilst ultimately the changes to the Small Claims limit may not prove a major obstacle to future claims being brought by my clients, other obstacles in the path of access to justice remain which have also been scattered there as indirect consequences of the government’s reforms over the last 5 years (which might also be characterised as their “war on personal injury claims”).

For example, the government’s abolition of the right to recover the costs of your legal expenses insurance policy as part of your claim continues to cause major obstacles to those who are wealthy enough not to qualify for legal aid (most working people) but who are not lucky enough to be amongst the top 1% of the country who could fund a legal claim out of their own pockets with no concern over having to pay tens of thousands of pounds to the Defendant if they lose. A mechanism to protect losing Claimants in personal injury claims – Qualified One Way Costs Shifting (QOCS) – exists and was specifically brought in to recognise the fact that otherwise thousands with valid claims would be ‘scared off’ making a claim if they did not have insurance to cover the other side’s costs if they lost (and the cost of that insurance outweighing their likely damages made it simply not economic to obtain). However, despite repeated calls from police claim lawyers such as myself and indeed the Civil Justice Council itself, the government appears to have no intention of extending ‘QOCS’ to cover those who have suffered significant wrongs (such as loss of liberty) at the hands of the police, but who may not also have suffered an injury. This leaves other claims which do involve injury allegations, but also other aspects including wrongful arrest, in a difficult ‘half-way’ house situation and it is dispiriting for me not to be able to advise my clients with certainty that they will have QOCS protection for their claims. As a result, I have seen clients with valid claims becoming ‘frightened off’ pursuing the matter because their inability to obtain practical insurance cover, coupled with the likely costs of paying the Defendant if they lose, makes it too risky an option for them financially.

One might cynically conclude that even if the government didn’t intend this side effect of its ‘root and branch’ reform of the personal injury sector, they are indirectly benefiting from it and are highly unlikely to change it for reasons of political expediency. If you are in the process of slashing police budgets (officer numbers down 20,000 since 2010) so as to cut central government costs, you are unlikely to enact a law to make it easier for valid claims to be pursued against the police (and by extension the public purse) even though it is undoubtedly the right thing to do.

Another side effect of the government’s anti- personal injury claims agenda has been to drive more and more accident claims practitioners to look for alternative sources of work. Lawyers without the specialist experience which I have in this area are therefore starting to ‘dabble’ in police claims which can have severe adverse consequences for their clients. You need somebody who knows what he is doing!

The government has also signalled intent to impose a system of ‘fixed costs’ across claims of all types and values which will also have an adverse effect upon access to justice for those who have been the victims of police wrongdoing. ‘Fixed costs’ really means ‘Capped costs’ and restricts the amount of legal costs a lawyer can recover from the Defendant even if all the work he has done to win his client’s case is entirely reasonable, necessary and proportionate. Inevitably, lawyers will be less willing to take cases on if they are not going to be fairly recompensed for the significant amount of time and resources they have to put into a legal claim against the police which are claims often fought ‘tooth and nail’ by police forces who have far more resources at their disposal than any single individual who has suffered at their hands. ‘Fixed costs’ will not prevent the police ‘throwing the kitchen sink’ at a clam if they wish to (exacerbating the ‘David v Goliath’ situation) which already faces anybody who wants to bring a claim against what is effectively a State institution. The resources available to a police force (financially and in terms of access to legal representation) are so much greater than those of most members of the public and the police very often adopt antagonistic attitudes towards claims, displaying a mentality of not wanting to admit wrongdoing. They may be prepared to ‘over spend’ in the defence of a claim to purposely ‘stringing it out’ by making the litigation process as difficult as possible so as to exhaust the financial resources (and more importantly the willpower) of the individual Claimant.

Nobody could think that this is right; checks and balances between

a) the rights of individuals without major financial resources, and

b) richer and more powerful individuals or state agencies,

appear to be being systematically dismantled by the government’s ‘reform’ process. Checks and balances established over many centuries during which time our legal system grew to be one of the fairest and most admired in the world. But what now lies ahead?

So we are undoubtedly in the middle of an era of fundamental attacks to our justice system and in particular access to justice, changing fundamental tenets of the age-such as old Common Law of this country and including the right to recover damages for personal injury and to be put financially back in the position you would have been had the wrong against you not been committed in the first place. This situation is unlikely to improve if, as part of the Brexit process, the government abolishes the Human Rights Act (as it has previously threatened to do) stripping a whole layer of additional protections and civil liberties from the citizens of this country.

But the fight for justice will go on. There are obstacles but we can overcome them. The judiciary recently took action to disapply ‘fixed costs’ rules in personal injury cases where a Claimant beats a settlement offer he has previously made. This is certainly a step in the right direction and one which may be echoed by a higher court ruling in regards to QOCS to establish that the protection given to that law does apply to claims against the police even if only very minor injuries were suffered. After all, we do not live in an autocracy and regardless of the government’s agenda, the legal profession, (especially in the persons of the higher judiciary) can fight back to modify the law and establish new precedent to set parties back on a more level playing field.

And personally, I’ve fought against the odds on behalf of my clients before and won, and I believe we can continue to do so despite the obstacles in our path. The determination of the Hillsborough families in their 27 year campaign for justice shows that setbacks and obstacles are what they are, but are not the end.

This year I and my clients have celebrated several noteworthy victories in diverse, challenging and interesting cases:

  • 6,500 awarded to a London man arrested and incarcerated by the police despite voluntarily attending for interview at a police station
  • £35,000 for a man who was asleep in his bed only to wake to find himself under attack and being dry stun tasered by officers who unlawfully had invaded his home
  • £26,000 for a young mother who was falsely arrested on suspicion of sexual abuse of her own 3-year-old daughter as a result of a reckless police investigation
  • £17,500 for a Birmingham City Fan smashed in the head with a police riot shield
  • £13,000 for a young football fan bitten without cause by a police dog
  • £25,000 for a victim of domestic abuse groomed and sexually exploited by a police officer
  • £15,000 plus destruction of his personal data (including DNA sample and fingerprints) of a young man arrested without reasonable suspicion for rape (in my opinion, the police never suspected he was the culprit at all but reprehensibly wanted to use the ‘pressure’ of the arrest to make him provide them with a statement regarding the person they really suspected)
  • £22,500 for a disabled young Black man wrestled to the ground by two police officers after a ‘routine’ traffic stop (in my opinion, a traffic stop that was in the first place without any foundation other than that of ‘driving whilst Black…’)
  • £63,500 for a man who fled to this country to escape persecution at the hands of Robert Mugabe’s tyrannical regime in Zimbabwe, who suffered a severe beating at the hands (and feet) of British police officers after speaking up on behalf of another young man who was being assaulted by bouncers.

I continue to relish the challenge and the fight. I derive immense satisfaction from these victories which always go so far beyond ‘mere’ monetary compensation in what they give back to my clients such as the sense of justice, restored dignity, faith in society, personal satisfaction which they absolutely deserve.

Most of us aspire to do something meaningful with our lives, to serve something greater than them, to have something to look back upon with pride at the end of each and every year. I consider myself immensely privileged and fortunate to represent people who have been mistreated by the police; to be able to fight on their behalf and secure for them the vindication that they deserve and to help them hold the police to account for the greater good of the individual and society, to play my part in making the system fairer.

It goes without saying but deserves to be said at this time of year in particular, that I couldn’t do what I do without the bravery and determination of my clients who have overcome the trauma of their suffering at the hands of the police to come to me in the first place and have the strength of their convictions and the character to see through to the end what can often be a bitter and hard-fought but ultimately rewarding legal battle.

So at this time of year, as ever, I just want to say to all of my clients – past, present & future – that you have my utmost respect and I am proud to be continuing the fight for justice on your behalf into 2017 and beyond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Principals

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

  • Basic damages

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

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

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

  • Aggravated damages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a. if the conduct took place in public;

b. a lack of apology from the Police;

c. if the Claimant was physically or verbally abused;

d. if the Police were motivated by prejudice;

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

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

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

  • Exemplary damages

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

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

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

Chris’ case

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

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

  • A superficial laceration of several centimetres to his right temple that required closure with surgical glue that was tender/painful for 6 weeks and which left a small indented scar that was only visible on close inspection.
  • Headaches for several months, initially as a consequence of the direct blow to the right side of the head and subsequently as a result of the tension caused by the stress of the complaint process.
Are police the real football hooligans? This photo of a riot shield injury shows the damage they cause.
Photo of Chris’ injury caused by a police officer’s riot shield.

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

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

  • Basic Damages

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

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

  • Aggravated Damages

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Exemplary Damages

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Claire’s case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Damages

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

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

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

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

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

Aggravated Damages

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Exemplary damages

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

Settlement

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

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

Calculating Compensation

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

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

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

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

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

Why West Mercia Police Paid £25,000 Compensation for Misfeasance in Public Office

Iain Gould solicitor
Iain Gould, solicitor.

I have previously written about ‘Clare’s’ case; a young vulnerable victim of domestic abuse groomed and sexually exploited by a serving Police Officer, PC Powell.

I am pleased to report that Clare’s case has now been successfully concluded; on my advice, Clare brought a claim against West Mercia Police for misfeasance in public office and successfully recovered £25,000 compensation plus her legal costs.

Clare first contacted me shortly after PC Powell had been sentenced to 15 months imprisonment at Gloucester Crown Court for Misconduct in Public Office. PC Powell had admitted that:

  • When acting as a public officer he wilfully neglected to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducted himself
  • To such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in his office without reasonable excuse or justification.

per Attorney General’s Reference number 3 of 2003 [2004] EWCA Criminal 868.

Clare felt that PC Powell’s personal behaviour was reprehensible but that West Mercia Police were also at least partly responsible, as PC Powell had been warned for similar misconduct in 2008 but had been allowed to continue in office without adequate supervision, and in particular had been allowed to continue to have conduct with victims of domestic abuse.

On review, it struck me that Clare had a potential civil claim for misfeasance in public office, an ancient tort originally developed during the eighteenth century for the benefit of electors willfully refused the right to vote and increasingly deployed in civil actions against the police in more recent times.

What is misfeasance in public office?

In order to establish a successful claim for misfeasance, the Claimant must show that:

  1. A public officer;
  2. Exercised a power in that capacity; and
  3. The officer intended to injure the Claimant by his/her acts.  This is known as ‘targeted malice’; or
  4. The officer knowingly or recklessly (in the subjective sense) acted beyond his/her powers.  This is known as ‘un-targeted malice’; and
  5. The officer’s act(s) caused damage to the Claimant; and
  6. The officer knew or was subjectively reckless to the fact that his/her act(s) would probably cause damage of the kind suffered by the Claimant.

If misfeasance can be established against a serving Police Officer then his Chief Constable, and therefore in effect the whole Force as an organisation, becomes ‘vicariously’ liable to pay damages to the wronged/injured party.  In a case like Clare’s this would be an eminently fair result, owing to the failings of the Force and Senior Officers in allowing PC Powell to prey upon domestic abuse victims (as highlighted in my previous blog).

Proving Clare’s Claim

In support of the claim for misfeasance, it was clear that PC Powell was acting as a public officer in the West Mercia Police Force when he abused Clare:

  • PC Powell was responsible for investigating crimes and incidents in which Clare was a victim and for taking action and providing support to Clare in respect of the same.
  • PC Powell engaged in sexual relations with Clare during his working hours and whilst on duty (and on a number of occasions whilst wearing his uniform).
  • In all the circumstances, there was clearly a very close connection between PC Powell’s conduct and the performance of his duties, such conduct having taken place in the performance or purported performance of his policing duties and his relationship with Clare having been established through the position of authority he held as the investigating officer in her case.

During the course of his office, PC Powell exercised powers as a Police Officer and  was responsible for the following acts:

  1. Sending and receiving text messages and telephone calls of a personal and sexual nature to Clare, a victim of domestic abuse.
  2. Requiring Clare to attend at the police station on a number of occasions.
  3. Attending Clare’s home address on a number of occasions.
  4. Instigating and engaging in a sexual relationship with Clare, a victim of domestic abuse.

Although often difficult for Claimants to prove bad faith on the part of the officer, here it was blatantly apparent that PC Powell acted with malice in that he:

  • Knew that Clare was a vulnerable victim of domestic abuse and that she would, or would be likely to, respond to apparent care, concern and attention on his part and thus knew and intended or did not care that he could injure Clare, by instigating an inappropriate sexual relationship with her;
  • Specifically targeted Clare as a vulnerable victim of domestic abuse in order to exert control over her and for his own sexual gratification;
  • Instigated a personal and sexual relationship with Clare in flagrant disregard for his professional duty as a Police Officer assigned to her case.

In all the circumstances, it was apparent that PC Powell knew of, or was reckless to the risk that his acts would probably cause harm to Clare, but proceeded to act, indifferent to that risk

By reason of PC Powell’s conduct, Clare had suffered material damage, specifically she reported psychological trauma as a result of the relationship and such injury was reasonably foreseeable specifically;

  • Immediately following the incident, Clare experienced disturbed appetite, disturbed sleep, low mood and a degree of weight loss.  Clare lost confidence, which affected her self-esteem.
  • Clare felt as though PC Powell had sexually exploited her.  Clare felt ‘dirty’, ‘used’, and ‘stupid’, and as though she has done something wrong.  Clare felt that PC Powell abused her trust.
  • Clare’s view of the police was also affected by the incident and she felt very negatively about the police. Clare said that she would be reluctant to contact the police for assistance in the future.

Notwithstanding the broad nature of this civil wrong, the Courts have routinely issued warnings to lawyers against actions for misfeasance in public office being brought unless there is clear evidence to support a contention of dishonest abuse of power (see Masters v Chief Constable of Sussex [2002] EWCA Civ 1482)  Unlike claims in false imprisonment and assault, the burden of proof lies squarely on the Claimant at each stage. It is a difficult burden to overcome in the absence of clear evidence of bad faith.

Notwithstanding these issues, I was confident of success and agreed to act on behalf of Clare by way of ‘no win no fee’ agreement.

I believe that my robust presentation of Clare’s case encouraged West Mercia Police to admit liability early on. It is a pity that they did not agree settlement terms swiftly but that will be for another blog.

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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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.

Contact Me:

 

 

Is Police Taser Policy Working?

Is police Taser policy working? Solicitor Iain Gould, considers the evidence. By Iain Gould, Solicitor

The relentless rise in the police use of Taser “stun guns” is confirmed by the latest Home Office figures. The statistics show that police in England and Wales drew their Tasers more than 10,300 times last year, an increase of 55% since 2010.

These statistics are, to a large extent, understandable, as more and more front-line officers are equipped with the devices. This trend seems set to continue as, if it were up to the Police Federation, all front-line police officers would have the opportunity to carry Tasers (confirmed in a unanimous vote on 09 February 2015).

It’s easy to see why the police are so keen on them. The Association of Chief Police Officers like that “Taser provides an additional option to resolve situations, including the threat of violence, which can come from any section of the public.” Senior officers tell us that “The Taser is low-level officer protection equipment that is both safer and more appropriate to be used in many circumstances than a baton or firearm.” (Humberside Police Chief Superintendent Steve Graham). And, According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, “The normal reaction to the discharge of a Taser is pain, coupled with loss of some voluntary muscle control… Recovery from these effects of the Taser should be almost instantaneous, once the discharge is complete.”

So, according to the police, it’s all good. Carry on. But really, should we be concerned?

Taser Risks Exposed

Notwithstanding police claims that Tasers are low-level and safe, police policy seems to reflect the reality that the use of Taser is in fact a relatively high level use of force (IPCC review of Taser complaints and incidents 2004-2013) and that arming all officers with Tasers is effecting “compliance by pain” rather than “policing by consent” (Amnesty International press release 24 November 2008).

For this reason, Steve White, Chair of the Police Federation, said that “Any officer authorised to carry Taser must be fully trained to do so and there are strict procedures and safeguards in place to ensure all officers are fully accountable.”

But is this just hollow propaganda? Are officers fully trained? Are procedures followed? Are police officers held to account?

Consider the ongoing case of my client Mr S (name withheld for privacy reasons).

Police Taser a Peacemaker

On 21 June 2013, Mr S went to his son’s ex-girlfriend’s flat to mediate in a disagreement over access to their baby son.

Mr S arrived at the same time as two police officers. His son’s ex-girlfriend’s mother allowed the officers entry but blocked Mr S and then sought to slam the door in his face. Mr S accepts that he held his ground and may have gripped the door frame. At this, one officer pushed Mr S away and said, “go away”.

Mr S accused the officer of assault and asked for his badge number. The officer replied, “I am the police” and shut the door.

Mr S felt that the officer’s conduct was unacceptable and thought about lodging a complaint. He approached the officers’ vehicle to look inside for details of the officer’s identity. He accepts that he may have accidentally caught the wing mirror of the car with his hip but he did not deliberately kick or punch it.

Mr S returned home. A short while later, the same officers arrived.

One of them advised Mr S that he was under arrest for public disorder. Mr S asked what he had done wrong. The policeman sought to handcuff Mr S who accepts that he resisted by stiffening and raising his arms in the air. There was a minor struggle for no more than 10 or 15 seconds.

Suddenly, Mr S heard a pop, which he described as “like a firecracker” going off. He felt intense but short-lived pain. The right side of his body went into an involuntary spasm and convulsion. His body “felt like jelly”. He momentarily lost his balance but was caught by the officers who grabbed Mr S’s arms and handcuffed him to the rear.

Mr S was put in the back of the officers’ patrol car. The handcuffs had been applied extremely tightly and he asked one of the officers if the handcuffs could be loosened. They refused.

The police drove him to the local Police Station where the handcuffs were finally removed.

At this stage, Mr S felt terrible. His chest hurt from where the barbs of the Taser had pierced his skin. The ends of his fingers were still trembling. He felt generally unwell. His wrists were sore and painful.

Despite his own situation, as Mr S is a full-time carer for his mother, he thought only of her wellbeing. His priority was to get out of the police station as quickly as possible.

He spoke to a duty solicitor before his police interview. He was advised that he had been arrested for both a public order offence and resisting arrest.

The police told Mr S’s solicitor that if his client accepted a fixed penalty notice for the public order offence, no further action would be taken in relation to the allegation of resisting arrest. The solicitor said that accepting the notice and payment of the fine would not be an admission of guilt. Conscious of the proposed deal, when interviewed, he deliberately underplayed the officer’s unlawful conduct and excessive use of force.

A short time later, Mr S was brought out of his cell and issued with a fixed penalty notice which he subsequently accepted and paid.

Police Complaint and Claim

Mr S was angry about the incident in which, he felt, the police deliberately injured and humiliated him. He lodged a formal complaint. In response, the police offered to resolve his complaints by local resolution.

Mr S then researched instructing a solicitor to help. As I specialise in civil actions against the police he asked me to handle his complaint and bring a compensation claim for both wrongful arrest and assault.

After a lengthy investigation process involving no less than two appeals to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”), his local police force have finally admitted that the use of Taser and handcuffs was inappropriate.

This only came about after the IPCC’s extremely critical comments of both PC B (the officer who Tasered Mr S) and his police force.

In a review of Mr S’s appeal, the IPCC caseworker said, 

“I would question whether PC B gave enough emphasis to the first element of the National Decision Model, which is to communicate. He does not appear to have made any attempt to communicate with Mr S beyond challenging him about hitting the police car then, when Mr S argued back, telling him he was under arrest. The matter then quickly escalated to the use of force. This is precisely why the National Decision Model places so much emphasis on good communication – in order to diffuse difficult situations, so that they use of force will not become necessary.”

Police officers are entitled to use force to make an arrest provided that it is reasonable and proportionate to the threats presented. But, the caseworker continued, “Mr S was not waving a weapon and he had not assaulted anyone. He was in his own house and not a danger to the public. He had not been violent, or threatened violence, towards the officers”.

In conclusion, the caseworker reported that “the situation should not have been allowed to develop to the point where the use of Taser became necessary. More effort should have been made, in line with the National Decision Model, to engage Mr S in dialogue about why his behaviour was not acceptable” and “in situations where the police are confronted with members of the public who are adamant that they have done no wrong, often the best approach to adopt is one of communication and dialogue. A skilled officer will make every attempt to defuse a potentially volatile situation, rather than, in this case, a quick escalation to the use of force.”

Irrespective of the police officer’s rash behaviour, what was even more concerning was his attitude to the use of Taser and his perception of its seriousness. In his interview, the officer said:

“… It’s worth raising that people’s perceptions of use of Taser is that it’s quite serious and it’s quite high up on the scale of things, and in actuality it isn’t, it’s quite low down, it comes in at the same level as just putting your hands on somebody. (my emphasis in bold)

He went on:

“….If you have to put hands on someone and you’re struggling with them it makes them angry and human nature is makes you angry as well, and Taser just eliminates that completely because there is no reason to get worked up about anything, it’s just an instant thing and straightaway it stops somebody and generally their response is quite positive, I’ve found… the control is immediate, there is no reason for anybody to get injured, and the person will then generally, you know, have a chat with you afterwards and sort of chat to you about the Taser, and you didn’t like that much and you can be friends about it.” (again, my emphasis in bold)

Quite clearly, just putting your hands on somebody is not the same as inserting barbs into their skin and discharging a 50,000 voltage electrical current through their body, causing extreme pain and loss of muscle control. The officer’s apparent naiveté about the physical and mental impact of being Tasered calls into question his training and fitness to carry a weapon.

Inadequate Taser Training

The officer’s comments led to the IPCC caseworker making a somewhat exceptional recommendation under paragraph 28A of Schedule 3 to the Police Reform Act 2002. The IPCC demanded that the police force concerned should review the training provided to officers to ensure that:

  1. The training conforms with national guidance about when, and for what purpose, a warning is given about Taser discharge, and
  2. Sufficient weight is given in training to the potentially harmful physical and psychological effects of discharging a Taser, and the benefits of using communication to defuse a difficult situation.

In addition, the caseworker criticised the police force’s handling of Mr S’s complaint. The caseworker said that, “it should never have been treated as a matter suitable for local resolution given that the complaint, if proven, could amount to gross misconduct. As such, it ought to have been subject to a full investigation from the start, with the IPCC, not the force, being the relevant appeal body. Moreover, the matter should have been referred to the IPCC at the outset in line with the requirement to refer all cases where Taser has been used and a complaint is made”. 

Last Resort

Mr S was traumatised by not only his wrongful arrest but also the excessive and disproportionate use of force against him.  He is currently undergoing counselling and in due course I will present full details of his physical and mental injuries and hopefully negotiate a settlement.

In view of inappropriate Taser use such as this incident, it is right that public concern about the increasingly routine deployment of police Taser should remain high. I accept that there are legitimate reasons for using Taser weapons in policing. Used correctly, it can be a valuable tool in assisting police officers to manage difficult and challenging situations.

But it is essential that officers are taught and understand that the device should be a last resort and not as, in Mr S’s case, a default choice where other tactical options, including communication could be effective. And where police officers fall short, their forces should to act quickly to address officer failures and accept responsibility. Only then will the public have confidence in the police’s policy on the use of Tasers.

Contact me for help with your police Taser assault claim using the online form below or via my firm’s website.

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Why the Metropolitan Police Won’t Apologise to Lord Bramall

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

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

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

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

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

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

This is why he won’t get one.

Metropolitan Police Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrongful Arrest Apology Sought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complaint Against the Metropolitan Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compensation Claim

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

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

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

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

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

Decency Demanded

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

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

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

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

 

For help with your civil action against the police contact me via using the online form below or at my firm’s website http://www.dpp-law.com.

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