By Iain Gould, solicitor
The head of the National Crime Agency, Lynne Owens has been in the news. According to The Sunday Times and quoted in The Telegraph, whilst Chief Constable of Surrey Police she told police officers investigating rape cases to “arrest first” and investigate later.
Owens, who is now head of the National Crime Agency, is said to have made the changes when she was Chief Constable for Surrey Police between 2011-2015.
According to the report, minutes from a September 2015 meeting called by the then Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey, Kevin Hurley reveal that Owens was asked how the force was going to improve their detection rates for rape.
The minutes record: “The chief constable was keen to ensure officers were robustly pursuing offenders. Officers tended to receive an allegation then wait to make an arrest after gathering evidence. They needed to change this and make an arrest first and then gather the evidence.”
Nick Ephgrave, then Deputy chief constable and who now leads the force, told the meeting that the tactics had raised the rape detection rate from 6 per cent to 15.8 per cent, a significant turnaround in a year.
It is obviously satisfying to see a Chief Constable adopting a robust approach to the investigation of crime but it is imperative that Police forces operate within the legal powers conferred upon them. In my dealings with various Police forces, I am afraid however that tactics of arresting prior to sufficient evidence to form the basis of reasonable suspicion being gathered first are not necessarily limited to Surrey Constabulary. An arrest on suspicion of a sexual crime, such as rape can have serious long-lasting consequences for the person arrested if they were in fact entirely innocent, and have been arrested by the Police simply as part of a ‘fishing expedition’ which effectively amounts to an abuse of Police power of arrest, as I shall explain.
I have recently concluded a case on behalf of Robert (name changed for obvious reasons), a student who when just 16 years old, was arrested by North Wales Police on suspicion of rape.
In the summer of 2013, a music Festival took place in North Wales. Robert attended along with several friends.
Towards the end of the festival, a female complainant, Ms A made a complaint to a crisis worker that she may have been raped the previous evening. Ms A ‘s initial account was as follows;
“I went to the toilet block, talking to two lads. I went to a tent….. I don’t remember anything else but I think I have been raped because it hurts down below. I think I remember one of the boys wearing a red puffa jacket”.
Ms A subsequently gave a statement to the police. Her recollection of the evening was vague due to her consumption of a large amount of alcohol. She recalled that the previous evening, she had visited the site toilets with a friend, GH. While she was waiting outside the toilets for GH, she started a conversation with an unknown white male. Ms A started kissing this male. She was then introduced to the unknown male’s friend, “Robert” who was “mixed race” and who was wearing a distinctive red puffa jacket.
Ms A’s next recollection was of consensual oral sex with the white male in a tent. Ms A also recalled something hard being pushed into her vagina. Ms A remembered saying “stop, it hurts and I can’t do this”, getting dressed and then leaving the tent.
Ms A was examined by a paediatrician who concluded that she had received trauma to her genital area and that the marks were consistent with an attempt at intercourse.
GH was interviewed and he recalled he had seen Ms A and the unknown male kissing and then walking off together followed by “Robert”.
Several days later, friends and family of Ms A contacted North Wales Police to report that they had identified the mixed race male in the red puffa jacket introduced as “Robert” as my client.
On the basis of this information, several Police officers travelled to my client’s home address and arrested him on suspicion of rape. Robert was 16 years old, is of mixed race and had never been in trouble with the Police before. He was taken to a Police Station. This was despite the fact that Ms A had never alleged that the mixed race male had any sexual contact with her, but rather his white friend.
At the Police Station and without the least evidential or reasonable foundation, the circumstances of arrest were said to be;
“The Detained Person has been identified as being responsible for rape. Circumstances are that the I/P recalls being in a tent at the festival and being subjected to rape. D/P has been identified via clothing worn and full description of a male seen with the I/P prior to the incident”.
The necessity for the Claimant’s arrest was said to be to “allow the prompt and effective investigation”.
My client was obliged to provide his personal details. He was then searched, his personal belongings including his mobile phone seized, and he was then placed in a holding cell where he was subsequently joined by his mother who had been obliged to travel to the Police Station separately.
Robert was subsequently taken for interview. He answered all questions truthfully and directly. The interview was rather meandering and in fact was a fishing expedition rather than fact based enquiry. On review, it was apparent that the officers had no information whatsoever to implicate Robert. After 58 minutes of questioning, the Duty Solicitor intervened and put it to the interviewing officers that their questions resembled questions which would ordinarily be put to a witness rather than a suspect. The relevant passage of the interview is as follows:
Solicitor: Sorry, the two times she’s described having sex, oral sex with a white man and then sex, you haven’t given any description as to the person she’s having sex with then.
IO: No there is no description actually in the notes here I’ve got.
Solicitor: So that has led you to arrest him as opposed to a voluntary interview or anything.
IO: The clothing description and …
Solicitor: She doesn’t say she’s ……………. red puffa jacket
IO: The jacket also with the description as well, Robert is seen in the vicinity heading in the same direction.
Solicitor: Is that just because you have a name? Because you’ve been able to pick a name up.
IO: Hm hm
Solicitor: You arrested him and used him to get your information, that is disgraceful, Robert is 16 and has never been in trouble before.
IO: I understand the point you’re making. I’ll make a note of that.
Solicitor: I’d like you really to get on and finish this interview because it’s disgraceful
Thereafter, the Police advised Robert that he was to be released on Police bail. The Duty Solicitor again made robust representations as to why Police bail was wholly inappropriate and that Robert should be released NFA (no further action). On the basis of those representations, the issue was reconsidered and a decision made to release Robert without charge.
Finally, in the early hours of the morning, Robert was released. Notwithstanding his release, the Police retained 2 T-shirts belonging to Robert and his mobile phone which were eventually returned several weeks later.
Robert was understandably shocked by what happened to him but equally satisfied that he had done no wrong.
Robert is in my opinion a young man going places and despite his arrest was not going to be deterred from getting on in life. He continued his studies and successfully passed several ‘A’ Levels 2 years later.
Robert was however left with a fear of intimacy with girls; he was concerned that if he developed a relationship with a girl, a similar allegation could be made. He was particularly fearful if he drank leaving gaps in his memories. A Psychologist concluded that this fear represented a chronic adjustment disorder but that with time, he would overcome these issues.
For any arrest to be lawful, it must be founded on reasonable grounds. This necessitates consideration of whether, objectively, it was reasonable to suspect the Claimant of the offence for which he was arrested. It is also necessary to consider whether the arresting officer honestly suspected the Claimant of the offence for which he was arrested. Further, it is necessary to consider whether the decision to arrest was a lawful exercise of discretion, applying the Wednesbury principle of reasonableness: see Castorina v Chief Constable of Surrey (1996)
Castorina was followed in the more recent case of Buckley and others v The Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police . The following was stated by the Court of Appeal in Buckley:
“Suspicion is a state of mind well short of belief. The threshold for establishing reasonable grounds for suspicion is a low one. It is an inherent possibility in the need for diligent investigations of serious offences than an innocent person may be arrested on reasonable grounds. Importantly, the correct approach to judgment upon the lawfulness of arrest is not to separate out each of the elements of the constable’s state of mind and ask individually of them whether that creates reasonable grounds for suspicion; it is to look at them cumulatively, as of course the arresting officer has to at the time.”
It is clear that the test for reasonable suspicion represents a low threshold for the arresting officer to meet. What is required to reasonably suspect a person of an offence falls far short of what would be required to charge them and thereafter to ultimately convict them of the same offence. The relevant information is that which was available to the arresting officer prior to the arrest, not any information that might have been gained afterwards, for example, during interview.
Every arrest must also meet the requirement of necessity. Section 24(5) of PACE 1984 sets out a number of criteria for the consideration of whether an arrest is necessary.
The application of the necessity criteria was considered in Richardson v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police , in which a schoolteacher successfully challenged the lawfulness of his arrest for assaulting a pupil, after he had attended the police station voluntarily. The decision in Richardson was then considered in Hayes v Chief Constable of Merseyside Police 
In Hayes, Hughes LJ, having acknowledged that it might be quite unnecessary to arrest a schoolteacher who had attended the police station voluntarily, said that the correct test for the assessment of whether an arrest met the requirements of necessity was:
“…(1) the policeman must honestly believe that arrest is necessary, for one or more identified section 24(5) reasons; and (2) his decision must be one which, objectively reviewed afterwards according to the information known to him at the time, is held to have been made on reasonable grounds…”
On Robert’s behalf, I intimated a claim against the Chief Constable of North Wales Police. Following investigation, liability was denied. In relation to the commission of the offence, the Police asserted that there were clearly reasonable grounds on which the arresting Officer was entitled to suspect that an offence of attempted rape had been committed by Robert:
- A complaint of rape had been made by Ms A;
- The paediatrician had concluded that Ms A had received acute trauma to her genital area;
- The marks were consistent with an attempt at intercourse;
- Ms A identified a mixed race male as being present when she began kissing the unknown white make and went back to his tent;
- Ms A could recall walking back to the tent with the unknown white male and the mixed race male;
- This mixed race male was described as wearing a red puffa jacked and being in his late teens/early twenties;
- Robert was 16 years of age and of mixed race.
- Enquiries by Mrs A’s friends and family identified that this mixed race make was Robert;
- The descriptive match with Robert was sufficiently proximate to implicate him (see inter alia, Armstrong -v- West Yorkshire Police  EWCA);
- Ms A had been under the influence of alcohol and accordingly had an impaired personal recollection of events.
In terms of the necessity of Robert’s arrest, his arrest was plainly necessary to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence and the arresting Officers was entitled to form the view, as he plainly did, that the relevant necessity ground for arrest was made out.
As settlement terms could not be agreed, it was necessary to issue Court proceedings.
On Robert’s behalf, I argued that:
(a) There were no reasonable grounds to suspect Robert of the commission of the offence for which he was arrested. I relied in particular on the following facts which individually or in aggregate negated reasonable suspicion;
i) Ms A performed oral sex on a white male. Robert was of mixed race
ii) Ms A gave no description of the male who allegedly attempted to rape her.
iii) Despite being able to identify Robert by name and description, Ms A did not allege at any stage that Robert had himself committed the or any offence.
iv) Robert was identified as being an associate of the possible suspect. It was apparent that the Police had arrested him so as to gather information as to the identity of the suspect, not because of any reasonable or otherwise, suspicion to arrest.
(b) The arresting officer did not reasonably believe that lawful grounds for arrest existed;
(c) The arresting Officer did not at the material time honestly and reasonably believe that it was necessary to arrest Robert on suspicion of any offence or for any other lawful reason; alternatively
(d) There were no reasonable grounds for believing that for any of the reasons specified in s24(5) of PACE it was necessary to arrest Robert. There was no evidence that this young man of good character would not have answered questions voluntarily; further or alternatively
(e) The arresting officer failed to have any or any proper regard to the requirements of PACE Code of Practice G and in particular paragraph 1.3. of the said Code which requires that ‘officers exercising the power (of arrest) should consider if the necessary objectives can be met by other less intrusive means’; further or alternatively
(f) The arresting officer in deciding whether to arrest Robert failed to exercise his discretion lawfully or at all; further or alternatively
(g) At no material time were there reasonable grounds for believing that Robert’s detention at the police station was necessary for any of the reasons specified in section 37 of PACE or at all.
The arrest and detention having been unlawful, it followed that all touching of Robert amounted to assault (ie to search and take his fingerprints/DNA sample) and that the seizure of Robert’s property amounted to trespass to goods.
As is so often the case, the Police denial of liability was nothing other than strategic manoeuvring and after 6 months of further prevarication, I am pleased to report that the Police agreed to destroy Robert’s personal data (fingerprints, DNA and photograph) and expunge the record of arrest from all local and national Police records and pay compensatory damages of £15,000 plus full legal costs.
The case highlights a more worrying trend in Police tactics employed in the investigation of sexual crimes; ‘arrest first, investigate later’, which may give the victim and Police and Crime Commissioners anxious for positive ‘detection’ rates some comfort but fails to take into account the catastrophic impact it can have on any innocent individual who is caught up in such an investigation.
Read more of my blog posts about actions against the police here.