Can the Police be trusted to Police themselves?

(NOTE: 10 June 2015. This post has been updated to reflect that two of the police officers involved in the Taser story below were subsequently re-instated to Merseyside Police following their dismissal. My thanks to Jeremy Clarke-Williams of Slater and Gordon for bringing this to my attention.)

 By Iain Gould, Solicitor

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

A man was forced to pursue numerous appeals to ensure that his police complaint was upheld.

At first blush, this would appear to be entirely unrelated to the Andrew Mitchell story, which I have previously written about.

In fact, they are linked by a common thread:

  • the mis-handling of complaint investigations by senior police officers, and
  • whether police can be trusted to police themselves.

Police Complaint after Taser assault in Liverpool

Picture of a Taser being discharged.In December 2009 PCs Simon Jones and Joanne Kelly, were on patrol in Liverpool with a Sergeant (who has since been dismissed for an unrelated matter), when they arrested Kyle McArdle for urinating in a street.

Mr McArdle was put in the back of a police van and shot with Tasers five times. (You can read my thoughts on the increase in Taser use by clicking on the link.)

The Taser barbs, metal hooks which attach to the body to transmit the electric current, were removed by an officer rather than a medical professional, contrary to guidelines (unless there is an ‘operational necessity’).

To add insult to injury, Mr McArdle was prosecuted for assaulting two of the officers. He was found not guilty at the Magistrates’ Court, and pursued a formal complaint.

Mr McArdle’s initial complaint was made to Merseyside Police themselves. He argued that the use of Taser force in the back of the police van was disproportionate. The police accepted that their officers should receive guidance on the use of their powers only and rejected the rest of his complaint.

So Mr McArdle was forced to appeal to the IPCC. They returned the complaint to the Force to consider whether the use of Tasers would have been considered proportionate if he had been lawfully arrested.

Merseyside Police’s leading Taser instructor said that the Taser assault was ‘necessary, proportionate, reasonable and in line with the officers’ training and Association of Chief Police Officers guidance’.

Given this opinion, the Force maintained their denial.

Mr McArdle again appealed to the IPCC. They re-considered the case and decided that, contrary to Merseyside Police’s internal investigation, the officers involved should have been served with notices for gross misconduct and interviewed under caution. PCs Jones and Kelly were then subsequently dismissed following the misconduct hearing.

UPDATE: I have since been informed that PCs Jones and Kelly appealed their dismissal to the Police Appeals Tribunal (“PAT”) and were re-instated to Merseyside Police following a hearing on 28 June 2014, in which their solicitor states that “the PAT unequivocally rejected the determination of the misconduct tribunal in the clearest possible terms”. Their reinstatement is confirmed in the IPCC’s updated press release which can be read on their website here.

Aside from the officers’ dismissal and subsequent re-instatement, the IPCC Commissioner criticised Merseyside Police’s investigation of the incident. In particular, he said, ‘it is a concern that Merseyside’s lead Taser instructor lacked objectivity and presented as fact the officers’ version of events without challenge’.

Andrew Mitchell’s ‘plebgate’ saga

Picture of Andrew Mitchell, 'plebgate politician' involved in a police misconduct matter.
Andrew Mitchell, ‘plebgate’ politician

The Andrew Mitchell affair (which I have commented about on numerous occasions but most recently here) revealed that the four police officers and their associates initially involved in the saga fabricated evidence about the incident at Downing Street on 19 September 2012.

At a subsequent meeting on 12 October involving three senior members of the police officer’s union, the Police Federation, Mr Mitchell sought to explain his comments and re-iterated that he had not used the word ‘pleb’, which is short for ‘plebeian’, or commoner.

Immediately after the meeting, Inspector Mackaill, one of the officers at the meeting, told waiting journalists that Mr Mitchell had not provided an account of the incident and called for his resignation.

Unfortunately for the officers at both the initial incident, which was caught on CCTV and can be seen here, and the subsequent meeting, which Mr Mitchell secretly recorded, the evidence showed that they had not told the truth.

West Mercia Police carried out an internal investigation into claims the three officers had been trying to discredit Mr Mitchell. It concluded that there was no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct and found that there was no deliberate intention to lie to journalists.

The IPCC, which oversaw the West Mercia investigation, said West Mercia Police had been wrong to conclude the three police officers had no case to answer for misconduct.

Deborah Glass, the IPCC deputy chair, said in her statement that the false account of the meeting provided by the police officers involved ‘indicates an issue of honesty and integrity, not merely naïve or poor professional judgment (sic)’.

She has called for a misconduct panel to be held to establish whether the three officers gave a false account in a deliberate attempt to discredit Mr Mitchell in pursuit of a wider agenda.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the IPCC’s report “made troubling reading”.

Police complaints procedure

Only serious complaints against the Police are directly referred to the independent Police watchdog, the IPCC, for investigation. These include cases involving:

  • death in custody,
  • serious injury,
  • matters involving sexual assault or sexual offences,
  • serious corruption, and
  • certain criminal offences.

All other cases are dealt with internally, by the appropriate police force’s complaints department (also known as the professional standards department (‘PSD’).

Up until May 2012, when the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011) came into force, all complainants had a right of appeal following local and supervised investigations by a PSD to the IPCC.

Now that right of appeal to an independent body is restricted to only the most serious of cases, so that there is less opportunity to hold the police to account.

In both the McArdle and Mitchell cases described above, serious issues meant that the IPCC were involved. The IPCC allowed the individual police forces to investigate and decide whether there was wrongdoing or not. Following internal investigations, the complaints investigators said that there had been no misconduct that required sanction.

On appeal/review by the IPCC however, it was found that such findings were seriously flawed.

So, can the Police be trusted to investigate themselves?

Photo of Sir Hugh Orde, Chairman of ACPO
Sir Hugh Orde, Chairman of ACPO

Speaking on BBC Radio, Sir Hugh Orde, the Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers and a former Chief Constable, said that it is ‘critical’ that there now be a fully independent police investigation system. (You can listen to the interview by clicking here).

I agree. The current system where the police investigate themselves is deeply flawed and, to restore public confidence in the police and the police complaints process, independent investigations in each and every case need to be conducted.

But is it enough simply to point the finger at the IPCC, who would no doubt say that the Mitchell and McArdle cases described above did not fit within the criteria, so that they had no authority to conduct investigations from the beginning?

Don’t the police have some responsibility too?

It strikes me that blaming the investigations process merely deflects attention away from the core issue: trust.

Public trust is damaged when we routinely hear about police misconduct at the rank and file level which is then covered up by their superiors or force complaints departments.

It is made worse when, rather than apologise and accept responsibility, senior police officers and their representatives blame everyone but themselves.

At today’s House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee meeting, the Chief Constables of West Mercia, West Midlands, and Warwickshire Police, will explain why they declined to pursue misconduct charges against the three officers involved in the October meeting.

It is hoped that the meeting will be productive and not merely a repeat of the blame game played out in the media since September last year.

The Chief Constables should be reminded of Robert Peel’s principles to define an ethical police force, and in particular, this quote attributed to him: 

‘The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.’

For more information on pursuing a civil action against the police go to www.iaingould.co.uk. Contact me using the form below or via my firm’s website.

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Images:

Taser: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Marcelo Freixo 50123:http://flickr.com/photos/marcelofreixo/8188041975/

Andrew Mitchell: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by DFID – UK Department for…:http://flickr.com/photos/dfid/4603106939/

Sir Hugh Orde: cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Liberal Democrats: http://flickr.com/photos/libdems/3940872401/

Why it’s time for the Police to face the music

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

By Iain Gould, Solicitor and specialist in actions against the police

Peter Oborne’s article in The Telegraph today (click on the link to access it) makes a number of interesting points about police misconduct in the aftermath of the Andrew Mitchell ‘plebgate’ scandal.

I have previously blogged about the Mitchell case here, where I make the point that the police routinely fabricate and exaggerate evidence, and in this blog post where I question whether an ordinary citizen would receive the same treatment as a government minister.

Mr. Oborne says that, when first hearing about the Andrew Mitchell affair, his initial sympathies were with the police. As The Telegraph’s Chief Political Commentator he frequently sees senior politicians behave in a rude or overbearing manner to people they consider beneath them. With this in mind, it was not hard for him to believe the police’s claim that Mr. Mitchell used the word ‘pleb’ while insulting them.

But his views changed when, after a Channel 4 investigation produced CCTV footage which contradicted the police’s version of events, officers involved in the initial incident were arrested on suspicion of misconduct.

Picture of Andrew Mitchell, 'plebgate politician' involved in a police misconduct matter.
Andrew Mitchell, ‘plebgate’ politician

Further, Deborah Glass, the Deputy Chair of the IPCC, recently stated that a ‘clear the air’ meeting between Mr. Mitchell and serving police officers in the Police Federation resulted in more police misconduct.

She asserts that the three police officers concerned gave a false account of the meeting in order to add more political pressure on Mr. Mitchell, and questions the police’s own investigation which found that those officers had no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct.

As the internal report by the IPCC initially proposed disciplinary action, the matter is continuing with Home Affairs Committee Chairman Keith Vaz demanding an explanation.

Royal Commission into Police Misconduct

Mr. Oborne argues for a Royal Commission to restore confidence in the police who have been rocked by this scandal, Hillsborough, the Jean Charles de Menezes affair, the Stephen Lawrence enquiry, and many others.

One such case he refers to was that of my client Karim Allison. (You can read the case report on my website by clicking on the link.)

Karim Allison was prosecuted after making a complaint about a police officer.

Like Andrew Mitchell, he was the subject of a police conspiracy in that police officers joined together to fabricate evidence against him. Unlike Mr. Mitchell, Karim had to endure the stress and upset of a lengthy criminal prosecution which only ended on appeal at the Crown Court.

It was at that point that he instructed me as a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police.

Despite the high risks involved in accusing the police of misconduct, I pursued Karim’s case all the way to trial.

The police fought hard, denied liability and any wrongdoing, but after the trial a jury found that the officers involved had fabricated evidence. The finding, which was not appealed, confirms on the court record that the police lied to secure a conviction of an innocent man.

Picture of a protester holding a sign referencing Andrew Mitchell, involved in the 'plebgate' police misconduct case.
Protester holding a placard referencing Andrew Mitchell.

Police Misconduct investigation

I support Mr. Oborne’s call for a Royal Commission. There has to be an in-depth and impartial enquiry into at least:

  • police conduct at the lower level, where prosecutions are started and stories fabricated, and
  • at the higher level, where police officers who are guilty of misconduct, fabrication etc. are treated leniently by their superiors in the Police.

There can be no more easy rides for the police. Penalties must be harsher to act as a deterrent to future misconduct.

The option of early retirement must be removed for those in the Police who are found guilty of misconduct, and, where appropriate, they should be prosecuted in the criminal courts to the full extent of the law.

If ordinary citizens like Karim Allison are expected to defend themselves in court when charged with criminal offences, then why shouldn’t their accusers?

If you have been prosecuted for an offence where you suspect the police fabricated or exaggerated evidence, contact me, Iain Gould, using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website.

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Images:

Andrew Mitchell: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by DFID – UK Department for…: http://flickr.com/photos/dfid/4603106939/

Protester: cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Alan Stanton: http://flickr.com/photos/alanstanton/8110650330/

Why do police assaults continue eight years after Azelle Rodney’s death?

Iain Gould, Actions Against the Police SolicitorBy Iain Gould, solicitor

On 30 April 2005 an armed police officer of the London Metropolitan Police fatally shot Azelle Rodney (shown below), a passenger in a car believed to have armed criminals inside, in a bungled ‘hard stop’.  Although weapons were subsequently found in the vehicle, Mr. Rodney was not holding a gun when killed by the police.

Investigations by both the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service found no reason to criticise the police’s conduct. No inquest was held, and eventually political pressure persuaded the Lord Chancellor to establish a Parliamentary Inquiry on 10 June 2010.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by 4WardEver Campaign UK

The recently published Azelle Rodney Inquiry Report is critical of:

  • the Metropolitan Police’s planning procedures,
  • the execution of the ‘hard stop’,
  • their handling of the aftermath of the shooting, and
  • concluded that there was no lawful justification for shooting Mr. Rodney so as to kill him.

Specifically, the report criticised the conduct of the ‘hard stop’, a tactic used by the police to ‘box in’ a suspect vehicle and use overwhelming force to shock the occupants into compliance. The report’s authors considered this ‘hard stop’ fell short of Police standards.

They found fault with:

  • the decision to ‘box in’ the vehicle directly outside a pub when better opportunities for the manoeuvre had previously presented themselves,
  • the deliberate ramming of the suspect vehicle on two separate occasions,
  • the officers who alighted from the police vehicles failed to wear caps so identifying themselves as police officers,
  • the officers fired a shotgun into the suspect vehicle’s tyres after it had been rammed and hemmed in when there was no likelihood of the vehicle escaping
  • the disproportionate force used by the police officer who shot Azelle Rodney, who opened fire only 0.06 seconds after his car stopped alongside the suspect vehicle with first six bullets, then followed up with two more shots. Shots 5-8 were found to have been directly to the head.
  • the evidence given by that officer was unreliable. The report found that the officer could not have seen or believed that Azelle Rodney had picked up a gun and was about to use it, despite his earlier statements. It considered that the policeman would be liable in civil and criminal law for the killing as there was no basis for firing the fatal fifth to eighth shots
  • the post-assault procedures, in which Mr. Rodney’s body was left on the pavement for more than 16 hours, his blood was not cleaned away prior to his family attending the scene, and unauthorised press reports were released.

The report recommends that the Metropolitan Police conduct a thorough review of their procedures.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by West Midlands Police

Police assaults as a result of ‘hard stop’ action

Our modern police force has evolved to deal with changing threats. In particular, the risks caused by firearms and weapons means that the police have developed a tactic to create ‘shock and awe’ in the minds of their suspects. The police will now use the ‘hard stop’, expletives, physical force, ‘boxing in’ (where police vehicles are used to corner a suspect’s vehicle), and other aggressive behaviour to dominate and intimidate. They justify this by stating that they may have to deal with the threat of lethal force from potentially armed suspects.

The bungled ‘hard stop’ which tragically resulted in Azelle Rodney’s death was over eight years ago. Have the police learned from their mistakes? As two of my cases involving the London Metropolitan Police show, a pattern of unjustifiable police assaults is emerging that may suggest not.

Police assault, hard stops and ‘verbal stunning’

My clients Claire Clarke, James Barber, Nicholas Fairbairn and Ruth Fairbairn were on the receiving end of aggressive police assault tactics, described in an official response to their complaint as ‘verbal stunning’, when they were driving home from visiting friends on 19 April 2010. (You can read a case report here.)

The four friends in their late twenties were driving in Harrow when their car was boxed in by three marked Police cars while executing a ‘hard stop’.

A number of armed police officers surrounded them and trained their weapons on the car. James (the driver) had his car window was smashed, was roughly pulled out, thrown to the glass-covered ground and handcuffed. The armed police officers screamed expletives and contradictory instructions at the terrified friends. Nick and Ruth were also forcibly removed and handcuffed. The friends were separated. After 20 minutes the police explained they had made a mistake, and that they had stopped the wrong car.

All suffered physical and emotional distress as a result. As with Azelle Rodney’s case, the Independent Police Complaints Commission rejected their complaint saying there was no evidence of misconduct. I disagreed and instigated a civil action on their behalf and ultimately recovered compensation for my clients for this police assault on the basis that the police failed to conduct basic checks before executing the ‘hard stop’ on the friends’ car.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Dave Crosby

Police assault with gun during a ‘hard stop’

My client Mr. A had just walked into an underground car park on 04 September 2009 when he was set upon by five or six armed men, all dressed in plain clothes. One of the men approached him and without warning smashed the butt of his gun into the side of Mr. A’s right temple, causing him to fall to the ground.

Mr. A was dragged away from the car park doorway by his attacker.

When Mr. A asked ‘why are you beating me?’ the man said ‘keep your f**king mouth shut’ and struck Mr. A with the butt of his gun again in the right temple.

Mr. A adopted a foetal position on the ground. While defenceless he felt people pulling at his limbs, kicking his heels, ribs and left hip. He was stamped on by the men. Then he was struck with the butt of the gun a third time to the head by the same man, who shouted ‘F**king c*nt, move!’

Mr. A, who was bleeding heavily and in great pain by this time had no idea who was attacking him, or why.

The man with the gun was told to ‘back off’ by a colleague, who came over and said ‘it’s not even f**king him’. Despite this, Mr. A was told that he was being arrested.

It then dawned on Mr. A that he had been repeatedly assaulted by police officers, not gangland thugs. As with Azelle Rodney’s case, the officers had failed to wear caps or other identifying clothing.

Mr. A was arrested (even though the officers would not tell him why), taken to hospital and thereafter a London police station where he was held for over 24 hours before being released, even though the police had clearly arrested the wrong man.

Ultimately, no action was taken against him.

He has suffered serious  injuries which have left him with permanent scars to his face and scalp, and emotional trauma. I am now pursuing an actions against the police claim for his police assault, wrongful arrest & false imprisonment. Mr. A seeks additional compensation for the police’s arbitrary, oppressive and unconstitutional conduct.

The police have denied liability and refused to apologise for their conduct. I have issued court proceedings on his behalf and the case is ongoing.

Police assault failures

There are chilling similarities between my clients’ cases and that of Azelle Rodney.

Eight years on, when faced with a potentially lethal threat, police officers are still failing to comply with proper procedures, using unnecessary force and mishandling the aftermath, knowing that they will be protected by the IPCC and their solicitors. We can only hope that the criticism of all involved in the Azelle Rodney case will convince the police to clean up their act.

 

If you are a victim of police assault and want to make a claim for compensation against the police, contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via the www.dpp-law.com website.

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