Sometimes I get frustrated when helping my clients bring a compensation claim against the police.
What appears to be a perfectly straightforward case against the police where compensation should be paid can often result in a hard-fought battle.
When this happens I have no alternative but to issue court proceedings and fight for my clients all the way to a Court hearing.
This is expensive, time-consuming, and stressful for all involved, including the police officers themselves who, like my clients, must endure cross-examination at Court.
I had to take another compensation claim against the police to trial last week because the Metropolitan Police refused to settle.
My client, Luke Appleyard, 21, a student at the University of London, will shortly receive £13,250 from the Metropolitan Police after being attacked by a police dog.
(You can read the full case report here.)
So, taking his compensation claim against the police all the way to a jury trial was worthwhile. But was it really necessary?
Compensation Claim Against the Police for Defenceless Student
Shortly after midnight on Friday 9 October 2009, Luke (pictured and details used with permission), of Carshalton, Surrey, was walking with a friend through Carshalton Park.
The park was dark and quiet.
Suddenly, an Alsatian dog appeared running quickly towards them. Without warning, the dog jumped up and bit Luke on his right forearm, which he had instinctively raised to protect his face.
The dog hung on for what Luke estimates was three minutes before Metropolitan Police officers arrived and released it.
Luke’s arm (shown below after the wounds had been cleaned) was bleeding heavily but the police insisted on searching him before getting medical help.
He was later told that the dog had been set on him as a result of mistaken identity, and that the police were searching for two robbery suspects.
Mr. Appleyard was taken by ambulance to hospital where his bite wounds were treated. He has since been left with about 20 scars on his right arm which makes him uncomfortable wearing short sleeves in public.
Luke Appleyard had never been in trouble with the police before. After the unprovoked attack, he:
- was injured;
- was upset;
- suffered nightmares;
- developed a fear of large dogs; and
- lost confidence in the police.
As he received no apology or offer of compensation from the police, he decided to take matters further.
He found my details online and asked me to represent him in his compensation claim against the police.
After discussing it with him, I decided to take his claim. I initially represented Luke as a legal aid lawyer but later, when funding was withdrawn, acted on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.
I submitted details of Luke’s claim but the Metropolitan Police denied liability, saying that the police dog handler acted within the police’s guidelines when deploying the dog, ‘Storm’.
They claimed that Luke was running away, that the officer shouted a warning before releasing Storm, and that the force used was reasonable and necessary.
As this was a very different version of events to the one Luke had told me, I had no alternative but to take Luke’s compensation claim against the police to a full jury trial.
Compensation Claim Against the Police Wins at Jury Trial
On Wednesday 11 December, at the conclusion of the three-day trial at the Central London Civil Justice Centre, the jury returned a verdict indicating that they did not believe the Metropolitan Police officers’ account.
They heard evidence that the police officer in control of Storm was 110 metres away from Luke and his friend when the dog was released. The police dog handler claimed that he:
- was able to make a positive identification from this distance;
- shouted an audible command to Luke to stop running; then
- released Storm.
I had seen the police officer’s statement long before the trial and was sure that this was impossible.
Manchester United’s football pitch is 105 metres from goal to goal.
The officer claimed that he could see further than that distance in the dark and positively identify Luke and his friend as the people they were searching for.
The jury disagreed with the police’s version of events. They were not satisfied that Luke and his friend were running, or that the decision to release Storm was necessary or reasonable.
Paying for a Compensation Claim Against the Police
Instead of apologising and offering fair compensation, the Metropolitan Police fought Luke’s genuine claim so that he had no alternative but to go to an expensive, and unnecessary, jury trial.
The legal costs on both sides in Luke’s case will be many times more than the compensation he is paid. Because he won, all costs will be paid by the Metropolitan Police, who in turn are funded by taxpayers.
At a time when the Metropolitan Police’s funding is being closely examined, I hope those responsible will think long and hard about their conduct.
Image credit: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Paul: http://flickr.com/photos/vegaseddie/6160401568/