Are Police Disciplinary Hearings “robust, independent, and transparent”?

Iain Gould, solicitor, asks if police disciplinary hearings are robust, independent, and transparent.
Iain Gould, solicitor, asks if police disciplinary hearings are robust, independent, and transparent.

By Iain Gould, solicitor

I recently blogged on the case of Alex Farragher whose complaint about police misconduct led to a public police disciplinary hearing.

As of 1 May 2015, in accordance with Section 9 of The Police (Conduct) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, police disciplinary hearings “shall be in public” (subject to the discretion of the person chairing or conducting the hearing to exclude any person from all or part of the hearing).  That change, along with others, was aimed to create a “more robust, independent and transparent” police disciplinary system.

Has it worked?

The Law in Public Hearings

What does “in public” mean? The OED definition is “openly, for all to see or know”.

The concept of open justice has long been recognised.

In Scott v Scott (1913) AC 417, Lord Shaw of Dunfermline said “that publicity in the administration of justice ….(is) one of the surest guarantees of our liberties” and cited passages from Bentham and Hallam in support of the general thesis that in Bentham’s phrase “Publicity is the very soul of justice”.

The principle is just as important now as it was then; in Hodgson v Imperial Tobacco Limited (1998) 1 WLR 1056, Lord Woolf MR relied upon the following passage from Sir Jack Jacob’s Hamlyn lecture, The Fabric of English Civil Justice (1987) where he said:

“The need for public justice, which has now been statutorily recognised, is that it removes the possibility of arbitrariness in the administration of justice, so that in effect the public would have the opportunity of ‘judging the judges’: by sitting in public, the judges are themselves accountable and on trial”.

An application of the principles in Scott v Scott is to be found in McPherson v McPherson (1936) AC 177, a decision of the Privy Council’s in a Canadian case. There the undefended divorce of a well-known politician was conducted not in a court room (though there were empty courts available) but in the Judges’ Library. There was direct public access to the courts, but not to the Judges’ Library. It could be approached from the same corridor which encircled the building and provided direct access to the courts, but only through a double swing door, one side of which was always fixed shut, and on which there was a brass plate with the word “Private” in black letters on it. Through this swing door was another corridor, on the opposite wall of which was a further door to the Judges’ Library. Both this internal door and the free swinging half of the double doors were in fact open during this hearing. The question for the Court was:

“… whether those swing foots with ‘Private’ marked upon one of them were not as effective a bar to the access to the library by an ordinary member of the public finding himself in the public corridor as would be a door actually locked”. (p198)

Their answer, while accepting that no actual exclusion of the public was intended, was that:

“… even although it emerges in the last analysis that their actual exclusion resulted only from that word ‘Private’ on the outer door, the learned judge on this occasion, albeit unconsciously, was ……, denying his court to the public in breach of their right to be present, a right thus expressed by Lord Halsbury in Scott v Scott: ‘every court of justice is open to every subject of the King’.” (subject to any strictly defined exceptions).

In Storer v British Gas plc (2000) 2 All ER 440, the Court of Appeal decided that this fundamental principle was no less important in employment proceedings than in other proceedings. In that case, Mr Storer brought a claim against his employers. At a hearing at the Industrial Tribunal Centre, his claim was dismissed. On appeal, Mr Storer argued that this decision should be quashed on the basis that the hearing had not been held in public.

The relevant facts were as follows:

At the Centre, “12 Industrial Tribunals were sitting on that day.  The lists of cases to be heard in each were on public display.  There was also a list of floating cases, i.e. cases which had not been allocated to a court, but would be heard as and when a court became available.  Mr Storer’s case was one of these.  As the morning wore on, it seemed clear that his case would not be reached unless it was heard in a room not normally used as a court-room.  One was available – namely the office of the Regional Chairman, as that position was unfilled at the time.  As a Judge was available, and as the room was available, the court authorities took the decision to have the hearing there.  They did not consult Mr Storer on this.  The parties (including Mr Storer’s wife) were escorted there by a guide.  No member of the public accompanied them.  It is accepted that Mr Storer’s application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal accurately summarises the geographical situation of the room that was used:

(a)    The hearing was held behind a locked door which separated the area to which the public had access from that part which the learned Judge described as the ‘secure area’ on the second floor of the Tribunal office. This ‘secure area’ [is] protected by the door locked with a bush-button coded lock [which] provides the only means of access to the large open plan office off which the Regional Chairman’s room is located.

(b)   This locked door is clearly marked with a large sign stating ‘Private’ in black letters on a white background.

(c)    All access stairs from the public areas on the ground and first floors to the second floor where [the] locked door is located are marked clearly with a large sign stating”

PRIVATE

NO ADMITTANCE

TO PUBLIC BEYOND

THIS POINT

The Court concluded that the hearing had not been held in public, even if, in fact, no member of the public was physically  prevented from attending. The obligation to sit in public was fundamental, and the tribunal had no jurisdiction to conduct itself in this way.

How Public are Police Disciplinary Hearings?

Both my client Mr E T, and myself, have first hand experience of the lengths to which the police will go to follow the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of it in public police disciplinary hearings.

Following an incident that occurred on 14th February 2013, my client Mr E T lodged a complaint to the Metropolitan Police. The following description is based on his version of events.

Mr T was driving home from work when he was stopped by a police carrier van. Mr T got out of his car. He was told that he had been driving erratically and asked to hand over his car keys. He refused.

Suddenly, one of the officers grabbed hold of Mr T’s left arm and a struggle began. Many other police officers from the police van then stormed out and forcibly moved Mr T towards the pavement.

In doing so, Mr T fell to the ground where he banged his head.

Mr T, with five or more police officers on top of him, was then handcuffed and leg restraints were strapped on him.

Mr T was then told that he was under arrest for breaching s.5 of the Public Order Act. So as to further justify arrest, one police officer then said that he ‘could smell cannabis’ in Mr T’s car.

Mr T was then transported to a police station. En route, Mr T said to both police officers that he was going to sue them for what they had done. An officer said in response “We’ll just say that you assaulted a police officer”.

Mr T was then kept in custody until the next day and after he was interviewed for the alleged offences. Mr T was then bailed to return to the police station a few weeks later.

On his return, he was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.

There was no further action against Mr T in respect of his driving (the reason for his stop), the cannabis allegation or breaching s.5 of the Public Order Act.

At the first opportunity, Mr T pleaded not guilty and his case was eventually listed for trial nearly a year later. At Trial, the CPS without notice or reason decided to discontinue.

Police Disciplinary Hearing Access

After investigating Mr T’s complaint the Professional Standards Bureau decided to bring gross misconduct proceedings against three of the officers.  The police misconduct hearing finally went ahead last week in the Empress State Building, South West London, nearly three years after the incident.

Mr T is intent on bringing a civil claim against the Metropolitan Police for unlawful arrest, assault and malicious prosecution. To find out how the officers performed, I sent my colleague to sit as watching brief.

My colleague met up with Mr T outside the Empress State Building and they went into reception together. Having been frisked by security, Mr T was ushered upstairs to the hearing room. My colleague was denied access as his name was “not on the list”. My colleague queried this given that the hearing was “in public”. He was told it didn’t matter, his name must be on “the list”.

My colleague asked to speak to the Investigating Officer and explained his role. Pursuant to Regulation 30 (3) of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012, Mr T was (irrespective of any argument that this hearing was allegedly being held in public!), entitled to attend the hearing accompanied by one other person as an observer and my colleague was that person. The Presenting Officer promptly authorised entry.

My colleague was then escorted to the hearing. Here’s what appeared on the hearing room door:

Public Police Disciplinary Notice.
Public Police Disciplinary Notice.

 

 

I must say that I found my colleague’s experience intriguing.

Metropolitan Police hold their misconduct hearings at Empress Buildings. According to their website, “any member of the public or press wishing to attend a misconduct hearing may apply to do so but due to limitations on space and capacity, attendance at the hearing will be administered and booked by application”.

Should you be interested, you must then complete and submit an application providing your full name, address and date of birth.

The lucky few successful attendees are then sent a confirmation email but admission to the hearing is conditional. They must produce their personal registration letter (confirmation email) that was issued by the hearings unit and supporting photographic identification (passport, and/or driver’s licence), along with proof of address (ie a recent utility bill).

Needless to say, my colleague reports that no members of the public attended any one of the five days of the hearing.

Police Disciplinary Hearings Restrictions

Having checked out the websites for most of the other police forces in England and Wales, the Metropolitan Police’s conditions are fairly standard. There are however a few quirks here and there.

West Yorkshire Police state that notice of a public hearing will be made not less than five days prior to the hearing but that applications to attend “must be submitted within 48 hours of the notice being published”. This could effectively be a three-day window.

Most stress that space is limited. Thames Valley Police are bold enough to announce that “available space will limit numbers of the public attending to six people including members of the public”.

Should you be fortunate to apply in time, be selected, and have the necessary proof of ID with you, there’s still no guarantee that you will actually sit in on the hearing. Some like Gwent Police openly admit that “The Public/media will be given access to a room at Gwent Police HQ” which will broadcast “a live feed of the hearing”.

Consequences of Police Policy

To increase public trust in our police force, the police should freely and unconditionally open their doors to members of the public at disciplinary hearings.  Otherwise they are in danger of appearing to be (literally) a closed shop and to encourage an assumption that police officers  judging  other police officers do not do so in a fair, unbiased and transparent way.

For example, Deputy Chief Constable of Essex Police Derek Benson claims that “Our intention will be to hold these hearings in public and make them as accessible as possible.”

But his force’s restrictive conditions (shown here) suggest to me that Essex Police (along with other forces) are paying only lip service to the concept of holding disciplinary hearings in public. In reality, they are putting many obstacles and discouragements in the way of the interested public.

This undermines the reputation of the police as being unbiased and effective in the investigation of crimes or misdemeanours committed by their own.

In the case of Storer v British Gas plc, the coded door lock was an actual physical barrier which prevented all access to the public. There was, the Court said “no chance of a member of the public dropping in to see how Industrial Tribunals (as they were then) were conducted, and the fact that none attempted to does nothing to show that this Tribunal was conducting the trial of the preliminary issue in public”.

What would the Court of Appeal make of the various barriers being put up by police forces around the country?

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Why the Police Disciplinary Tribunal Failed Alex Faragher

Photo of Iain Gould, solicitor, who discusses why a police disciplinary tribunal failed Alex Faragher.
Iain Gould, solicitor, discusses why a police disciplinary tribunal failed Alex Faragher.

By Iain Gould, solicitor

This afternoon, a public police disciplinary tribunal decided on the seriousness of misconduct by two Officers who had admitted breaching the standards of expected behaviour.

The hearing was in respect of a complaint lodged by my client, Alex Faragher. I have previously blogged on this case here, where I explained why police misconduct investigations must be reformed and later asked if the police are guilty of gross misconduct.

Sadly, my comments in the conclusion of the earlier post about a perception of bias have been borne out by today’s proceedings.

The disciplinary panel at today’s tribunal was made up of two senior police officers, Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale (Panel Chairman), Detective Superintendent Blackburn, and an independent lay individual, David Bowden.

Police Disciplinary Tribunal Finding

After consideration of the facts and on the basis of the Officers’ record, the disciplinary panel decided that their behaviour was misconduct only rather than gross misconduct.

I am dismayed by this verdict.

Is it right and proper that these two men, who admitted their disgraceful misconduct, continue to be employed as police officers for West Midlands Police?

After much publicity, certain changes have been introduced to the way that police officers are disciplined so as to create a “more robust, independent and transparent” police disciplinary system.

One of the changes introduced is holding misconduct hearings in public. As I have previously said, that’s a start.

Sadly for Ms Faragher and so many others, the system hasn’t changed materially in that the police continue to prosecute, defend, and sit in judgement on themselves.

Disciplinary Tribunal Punishment

Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale said the voicemail comments fell “substantially below what is expected of a West Midlands Police officer”.

However, he added: “The panel assess that the breach does not require the full range of sanctions, and that it amounts to misconduct.”

The punishment? Both Officers have been issued with written warnings.

My client, who attended both days of the police disciplinary tribunal, is extremely disappointed with not only the process, but also the findings, and result.

As a woman who was an alleged victim of domestic violence, all she wanted was to be treated with respect and professionalism. After being treated so badly by the two Officers she feels that the disciplinary tribunal has added insult to injury by letting the Officers off the hook.

She is also concerned that this sends a message about how West Midlands Police treat victims of crimes (in particular domestic violence against women) and that others might be put off reporting crime.

The panel at the police disciplinary tribunal had an opportunity to right a wrong and deal with these concerns. They failed.

Ms Faragher is now en route to ITV studios to be interviewed. The panel at the police disciplinary tribunal and two Officers may think that this matter is now settled. But for her, this story is not over.

UPDATE 29 October 2015: Click here to watch the tv news report.

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Is Confirmation Bias Responsible for Police Taser Assaults on Black People?

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Photo of Iain Gould, solicitor, who discusses reasons for police Taser assaults.
Iain Gould, solicitor, discusses reasons for police Taser assaults.

According to statistics just released by the Home Office to the BBC, black people are three times more likely than white people to be involved in Taser incidents.

The research shows the electric stun gun was drawn, aimed or fired 38,135 times in England and Wales over five years.

In more than 12% of cases Tasers were used against black people, who make up about 4% of the population.

I have long maintained that there is a growing trend for the unnecessary and unreasonable use of Tasers (see here, for example). Now, we have concrete evidence of their disproportionate use against a certain ethnic group.

But why?

One theory is that the police, like the rest of us, are subject to “confirmation bias” which is defined in Science Daily as the “tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions”.

If police officers have the perception that black people are more likely to be involved in criminal behaviour, that they will attempt to evade capture, or forcibly resist arrest, they will consciously or unconsciously seek out proof. Using Tasers during an arrest is just one way of justifying their (unfounded) assumptions.

Photo of Stephon McCalla's back after a police Taser assault.
Stephon McCalla’s back after a police Taser assault.

Taser Assault on Innocent Black Man

An example of police confirmation bias against black people is the case of my client Stephon McCalla (details used with his permission and based on his version of events).

Stephon is a young black man who had never been in trouble with the police. He was walking to his local gym on a sunny day in June 2010 when, unbeknown to him, local police were actively looking for a black suspect who had raped a student at knifepoint.

Mr McCalla was stopped by an officer with a dog who told him that they were looking for someone with his profile.  Stephon gave his name and address and told him he was heading to the gym. The Officer called for backup. Stephon understandably felt uneasy.

10-15 minutes after he had first been stopped, several police vehicles arrived and positioned themselves so as to box Stephon and the dog handler in. Seven white officers alighted. Stephon was extremely alarmed by developments.

Photo showing close up of Taser barb embedded in Stephon McCalla's back after police assault.
Close up of Taser barb embedded in Stephon McCalla’s back after police assault.

Four of the officers approached. At this stage, Stephon had his thumbs in his back pockets with his arms hanging down. One officer told Stephon to “Give me your hands”. Stephon did so and as he did, the officer took hold of his forearm and suddenly said, “He’s going to attack”.

The officer grabbed Stephon’s wrist and tried to force his arm behind his back and handcuff him. Stephon could not believe what was happening and having done nothing wrong and having been given no explanation, resisted.

In response, other officers applied a succession of knee strikes and blows to his body and then five or six punches to his face. Eventually, Stephon felt his leg about to give way and as he began to fall to the ground, he was Tasered to the back. His body shuddered and he fell heavily onto his right shoulder.

Following his arrest, Stephon could see the officers in discussion. They were holding a picture up on a piece of paper. He could see that the picture was of a black man’s face. The officers held it up and were looking at Stephon and looking back at the photograph. One officer said, “We’ve got the wrong man.”

Despite this Stephon was arrested and taken to a local police station. Upon arrival, he still had two of the Taser barbs embedded in his back. A police nurse and Doctor tried to remove the Taser barb from his body but concluded that the barb was embedded so deeply that Stephon would have to attend hospital.

After a short while, Stephon was taken to hospital where with some difficulty, the barb was extracted and stitches applied.

Photo of Taser barbs which were embedded in Stephon McCalla's back.
Taser barbs were embedded in Stephon McCalla’s back.

Mr McCalla was taken back to the police station where he was eventually interviewed.

The police told him that he had been stopped because he bore a strong resemblance to an armed man wanted for a serious offence but that because of how he had reacted, he had been arrested for a public order offence.

Stephon was eventually released on police bail having spent over 14 hours in custody. Several weeks later, he was advised that no further action was to be taken against him.

With my help, Stephon brought a civil action against the police. Liability was robustly denied. Notwithstanding this denial, Stephon’s claim settled for substantial damages plus costs together with an apology following the issue of court proceedings.

Addressing Confirmation Bias

It appears that the police’s confirmation bias that black men like Stephon are dangerous individuals led to this brutal and unjustified Taser assault.

Stephon’s only “crimes” were being black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. His understandable and perfectly reasonable resistance to an unlawful arrest led to the disproportionate use of force, and especially the unnecessary discharge of a Taser when he had already been subdued and was falling to the ground.

The police then showed their true colours by arresting Stephon for a (bogus) public order offence because of how he had reacted, convincing themselves that his conduct was unlawful, and fitting the confirmation bias narrative. (s.5 of the Public Order Act 1986 says that a person is guilty of an offence if he “uses threatening (or abusive) words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour”.)

In light of today’s BBC report and Mr McCalla’s case it seems to me that the police still have a long way to go to address what Sir William McPherson described as an “institutional racist” organisation in his 1999 report about the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. They need to address confirmation bias as well.

 

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

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

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s required is real reform.

Police Misconduct to Continue

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

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

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

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

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

As a result, investigations are often simply a whitewash.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Will the Metropolitan Police Abuse their Body Cameras?

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

I was interviewed on BBC Radio 5Live today about the Metropolitan Police’s decision to pilot a scheme in which 500 front line officers will wear body cameras.

You can hear the interview here:

Body camera debate

There is considerable debate about the use of body cameras, which is not surprising given that the trial, if extended, will ultimately result in 10,000 to 20,000 Metropolitan Police officers using the cameras, with many more around the UK following suit.

In my opinion, such cameras have the potential to be crucial in re-establishing public confidence in the police. They can help members of the public in their fight against police misconduct and at the same time help the police reduce the number of complaints and police abuse claims made against them.

But the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, has said that such cameras will not be permanently switched on and that officers will be able to turn them on and off as they choose.

If this is allowed the body cameras’ role in providing a much-needed check and balance against abuse of police powers will be lost.

Picture of a police officer wearing a body camera.
Police officer wearing a body camera.

Many reasons why continuous recording will never happen have been put forward (Human Rights, employment regulations, and so on) but unless the deployment of such cameras is not subject to stringent guidelines, their effectiveness will be limited.

I would suggest a mandatory rule that such cameras must be turned on during any interaction with the public. If an officer fails to do so, not only should disciplinary action be taken when it is established that the camera was not deployed, but any footage obtained should be excluded from being used as evidence. This would have the desired effect of putting pressure on the police officers on the beat (and their superiors) to ensure that the cameras are routinely used.

As with any new habit, a ‘carrot and stick’ approach would help. The ‘carrot’ is ensuring that the difficult job of being a front line police officer is supported by impartial and contemporary evidence from a video camera. The ‘stick’ reminder of the threat of disciplinary action or a failed prosecution will help to ensure compliance.

Political motive for body cameras?

Unless and until such guidance is issued, the deployment of these cameras is little more than a political quick fix to try to restore public confidence.

What is really required is a change of culture where all police forces adopt a robust complaints system that is open and transparent and where police officers are held to account. The use of body cameras would go some way to providing the transparency required, but without a system of continuous use when interacting with the public, the Metropolitan Police’s motives could be seen as suspiciously self-serving.

If you have a police abuse claim and want legal help, contact me, Iain Gould, using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website.

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Image credit: West Midlands Police on flickr.

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

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

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

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

Taser assault by the police media reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture of a Taser being discharged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondary injuries following Taser assault by police

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

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

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

Instead, Mr. Hagan panicked and ran away.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 Unreported Secondary Taser Injuries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Image credit: Marcelo Freixo on flickr.

 

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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