Are the Police Guilty of Gross Misconduct?

Photo of Iain Gould, solicitor, who discusses gross misconduct in police matters.
Iain Gould, solicitor, discusses gross misconduct in police matters.

By Iain Gould, solicitor

I have previously blogged about the misconduct proceedings brought against two West Midlands Police Officers due to commence today, 26 October.

To recap, my client Alex Faragher called West Midlands Police to lodge a complaint of domestic violence. The Officers assigned to her case, subsequently called her mobile to discuss the allegation. When the call went to answer phone, they inadvertently left an expletive ridden voice mail.

In the voice mail, you can hear these two men calling this victim of domestic violence a “f….. bitch” & a “f….. slag” before suggesting that they “go back,  f.…… draft the statement out ourselves and then just get the bitch to sign it”.

Ms Faragher lodged a complaint about the voice mail and the Officers’ subsequent behaviour at the Police station as regards the preparation of her statement of evidence.

Police Misconduct Hearing

I am pleased to report that at a public hearing today, and despite the best efforts of the force’s Professional Standards Department during the course of the investigation to dilute the misconduct so that it related to the indisputable voice mail only, the Officers admitted all allegations of misconduct, i.e. in relation to the voice mail and conduct at the Police Station.

Apparently recognising the seriousness of the situation, one of the officers, PC Guest, repeatedly apologized, according to today’s newspaper reports.

Gross Misconduct in Police Matters

The issue for the tribunal (made up of two senior police officers and an independent lay person) to now decide is whether the Officers’ conduct amounts to just misconduct or whether their behaviour is so serious as to qualify for gross misconduct. So, what’s the difference?

Misconduct is defined as “a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour”.

Gross Misconduct is defined as “a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour that is so serious as to justify dismissal”.

(see Para 29 Schedule 3 Police Reform Act 2002).

This is not very helpful.

But, when you recognize that this an employment matter at its heart, things become clearer.

Gross misconduct in that context is either deliberate wrongdoing or gross negligence by the employee (police officer) which is so serious that it fundamentally undermines the relationship of trust and confidence between the employee and employer (Chief Constable).

Today, barristers employed by both officers made representations to the panel that the admitted misconduct was simply that, misconduct. The problem for the Officers is that:

  • the eyes of the world (given that the hearing is in public) are upon them, and
  • in my opinion, the behaviour (as captured on voice mail) is so extreme that it has brought the force into disrepute.

A finding of gross misconduct and dismissal without further notice must be the only possible sanction.

We should know tomorrow.

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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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Should the police use tasers on children?

This is a guest post by my colleague John Hagan. Like me, John is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police.

Reflecting on my participation in a debate on the use of police tasers against children on the Jonathan Vernon Smith show (BBC Radio Three Counties, listen here) earlier this week, I am reminded of the famous words of Franklin Roosevelt – is it not the case that so often “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”?

Paedophobia

Mr Vernon Smith was advocating the increased use of tasers by the police (items which he described as “wonderfully useful tools” but which I might describe as “guns for electrocuting people”) as necessary to stem what he appears to believe is a rising tide of violent crime, lawless behaviour and societal breakdown particularly in urban areas blighted by poverty and people who, in his words, “have not gone to school”. He seemed to me to be painting a picture of inner- city Luton as something akin to the apocalytpic gang land of New York in the movie “Escape from New York”, and seemed to have a particular concern that the current generation of children, particularly teenagers, was more violent and out of control than 20-30 years ago. He spoke of his belief that there were ever more cases of “extreme violence where youngsters are involved.” This is in fact a common human misconception known as “paedophobia”, or fear of children, which can be found throughout the annals of recorded history. Perhaps because we know ourselves to be growing older we become fearful of the young who will supplant us; perhaps because we know nothing fundamentally bad happened to us in the past, but of course we do not know what the future holds, the present naturally seems more dangerous; perhaps because the news media thrives on the “excitement” of bad news rather than the general mundane civilities of life, it is very common for people to think they are living in a ‘worse’ time than their parents or grandparents did. Such sentiments are found being loudly expressed in every human generation.

Crime Statistics

But that does not mean they are true. The latest UK official crime statistics show, as they have shown in a continuous trend for several years now, that crime generally is falling and that violent crime in particular in at its lowest level since 1981. The April 2014 Crime Survey of England and Wales, prepared by the Office for National Statistics, shows that in 2013 on a proportional level, 2 in every 100 adults were victims of violent crime, compared with 5 in every 100 in 1995. This directly contradicts the basis on which Vernon Smith and others want to roll out ‘armament’ of the police. Violent crime is not rising; they are afraid of phantoms. And such a fear is not, in my opinion, any kind of sound basis for fundamentally changing the nature of policing in this country by replacing an unarmed constabulary with one which is armed with firearms as a matter of course.

I consider this to be the thin end of the wedge of militarisation of the police, leading inexorably towards the American model where every cop has a gun, and the population as a whole has 300 million guns, which is statistically almost one per person. Is that where we want to go ? Escalation – an ‘arms race’ between the cops and the robbers will ensue, and it is simply not necessary. We live in a more peaceful and gentle society than we did 20 years ago. And perhaps, I might have said to Mr Vernon Smith, there are other ways we should deal with the problems of the poverty and lack of education than shooting the children of the poor with taser guns.

Police Taser Abuse

My firm has represented numerous adult individuals who have suffered at the hands of police missuse of tasers. Such situations of “trigger happy” cops, overreacting with use of a taser in situations where it is not justified (such as this case about shooting a man  with a taser who has turned his back on them in his own home, or shooting a drunken man in the back, causing him to fall and knock his front teeth out) will increase as deployment of tasers proliferate and police officers carrying such weapons becomes the norm.

So I certainly do not think we should be using tasers on children, save in the most extreme examples involving older teenagers and real threats to life and limb. The fact that the host of a BBC show can quote with apparent approval statistics showing the increased use of tasers against children as young as 11-14 is I think a warning sign that we must guard our civil liberties against this type of ‘mission creep’ lest we suddenly find ourselves living in a world where such firearms proliferate , and rather than a stern word, misbehaving children are regularly dealt with by electrocution.

Red Tape

Indeed, Mr Vernon Smith who repeatedly accused me of “not living in the real world ” and being “irresponsible” and “very disrespectful” to the police, showed that his sympathy appeared to be with the person who pulled the trigger on the taser gun, rather than the person on the receiving end of it, on the basis that, to paraphrase slightly, there’s a lot of paperwork to fill in if you shoot people. Red tape, eh? An interesting perspective with which I can do nothing but disagree in the strongest possible terms.

Mr Vernon Smith put it to me that if the police wanted tasers was that not a reason to give them tasers? Absolutely not. For all the fantastic and often very brave work that police officers do, let us not forget that giving the police unquestioningly what they ask for is living in a police state. Our society preserves its liberty and happiness by checks and balances. If the police ask for something, I think it is ok to say “No”.

And to expect not to get shot down for it.

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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.

‘Can We Trust the Police?’- ITV ‘Tonight’ Programme

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

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Recently I was interviewed for an ITV ‘Tonight’ programme about trust in the police.

The programme, which deals with police misconduct, will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30p.m. tonight, Thursday 13 February 2014.

As a solicitor who specialises in police misconduct claims the producers sought my input on a number of issues relating to the question of public confidence in the police. They also interviewed one of my clients who had suffered as a result of police misconduct.

The reporters commissioned a survey of 2,000 people. 1 in 5 of those surveyed felt that the police were not on their side. Almost 2 in 5 considered that corruption was a problem within the police.

Police Misconduct Compensation Claims

My clients Peter Garrigan and Karim Allison would agree with the people surveyed who were concerned about perceived police corruption.

Both of them had to fight all the way to civil jury trials to clear their names after they were prosecuted in criminal courts using false evidence submitted by the police.

In my experience, the police fabricate evidence. But they would have the public believe that the police misconduct cases I deal with are rare, and that things are improving. Indeed, David Crompton, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, sought to assure the public that his force was now a ‘very different place in 2012’ compared to the Hillsborough era.

And yet I am contacted on a regular basis by people like Peter Garrigan and Karim Allison. Ordinary men and women who have suffered as a result of police misconduct.

Despite promises that things have changed since:

  • Hillsborough;
  • Stephen Lawrence;
  • Jean Charles de Menezes;
  • Andrew Mitchell‘s ‘plebgate’ affair; and
  • countless other scandals,

I am not convinced by the police’s platitudes.

In the past I have supported calls for a Royal Commission (see here). I repeat that call again. It is time that the police account for their actions. It is the only way to restore public confidence.

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

Update

The programme can be seen via the ITV player for a short time by clicking here.

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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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