Why Paul Ponting’s Strip Search Was Wrong

Photo of Iain Gould solicitor, explains strip search law referring to the case of his client Paul Ponting.
Iain Gould solicitor, explains strip search law referring to the case of his client Paul Ponting.

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

You may have read in today’s papers (Daily Mail, Liverpool Echo) that my client, Paul Ponting, is suing Lancashire Police for compensation following his arrest and strip search in June 2014.

To strip an individual of their clothes following their arrest is one of the greatest invasions of privacy and bodily integrity that the State can perpetrate.

Here I explain the law about strip searches and how it affects Mr Ponting’s case.

(N.B. Paul Ponting has given his consent to publicity and agreed to me using details of his case here, which are based on his version of events.)

Arrest and Strip Search

At the time of his arrest Paul Ponting was a successful 42-year-old businessman and father-of-two. He owns computer shops and lives in Ormskirk, West Lancashire.

In 2014 Paul told Lancashire Police that an ex-employee was harassing him via an online hate campaign. On the evening of 18 June 2014, two uniformed police officers visited Paul and his wife at home to tell them that the police would not be taking action against the ex-employee. Mr Ponting was upset about this and an argument developed. The police arrested him for a minor public order offence and an alleged (but in any event minor) assault against one of the officers.

Paul was taken to Skelmersdale Police Station. He was frightened and worried as he had never been arrested before and was unfamiliar with the process. What happened next is in dispute. Paul’s behaviour is variously described in the Custody Record (which is completed by the Custody Sergeant, not the Claimant) as “erratic” and “violent”. (The available CCTV footage would suggest otherwise.)

The Custody Record also says that Mr Ponting refused to engage in the Risk Assessment Process (whereby the arrested person provides details about their general health). As a result, the Custody Sergeant wrote that he should be stripped of his clothes. The Sergeant justified this decision by stating that it was not possible to determine if Paul had anything on him likely to cause harm to self or others.

Paul was taken to a police cell. There he was violently manhandled, assaulted, and forcibly stripped naked by FOUR police officers. You can see photographs and CCTV footage of his painful and degrading experience here.

Paul began to experience chest pains while in police custody. He was rushed to hospital where his injuries were recorded as “multiple bruises and superficial lacerations to the limbs and a swollen left lateral hand”. He was later bailed to return to the police station where he was eventually charged.

Mr Ponting was prosecuted all the way to trial. Thankfully he was acquitted of all charges at Ormskirk Magistrates Court in November 2014.

Paul’s experience at the police station was humiliating, degrading, and undignified. He contacted me for advice as I specialise in civil actions against the police. I am now helping him bring a compensation claim against Lancashire Police for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault, and malicious prosecution.

The Law in Strip Search Cases

Searching detainees is understandably important: it protects the safety of arrested persons; reduces the risk of harm to police staff; and allows material to be seized that may be subject to legal proceedings. But in my experience, all too often an arrested person’s dignity is ignored and a strip search effected on the flimsiest of excuses.

The rules about searches are rightly strict. The courts say that careful consideration should be given by custody staff before authorisation and execution of a strip search. (See Patricia Zelda Davies (by her litigation friend Zelda Davies v. Chief Constable of Merseyside Police and Just for Kids Law and Children’s Rights Alliance for England (Interveners), Court of Appeal [2015] EWCA Civ 11.)

And, as well as this clear guidance provided by the Court of Appeal, the police must consider:

All this means that:

1.      The custody officer should decide the extent of the search and the subsequent retention of any article that the detainee has with them. Officers must document the decision-making process on the Custody Record and include:

  • the reason for the search
  • those present during the search
  • those conducting the search and,
  • a record of any items found or seized.

2.      The custody officer should explain to the arrested person why it is necessary to carry out the search. Custody officers may seize clothing on the grounds that they believe the arrested person may use them to harm themselves. However, custody officers should, when deciding to remove clothing, balance the need to protect the right to life with the importance of ensuring that an arrested person’s dignity is respected.

3.      The search must be conducted with proper regard to the sensitivity and vulnerability of the arrested person and every reasonable effort must be made to secure the arrested person’s cooperation. Only if they do not consent may the officer(s) use reasonable force to carry out the search/removal of clothes (Section 117 of PACE).

Police Failures in Paul Ponting’s Case

Paul Ponting was rapidly taken from the police van on arrival at the police station, through to the Custody Desk, and then into a cell where he was forcibly stripped naked. This suggests that little or no consideration was given to Paul’s rights, or his dignity.

And if Lancashire Police suggest that its officers were concerned for Paul’s wellbeing whilst in custody, I will argue that more consideration should have been given to alternative and less invasive measures. The College of Policing guidance states:

“Officers should not automatically see strip-searching individuals for their own protection as the best way to prevent them harming themselves.”

On the facts, the police’s conduct was unjustified. I do not understand why a normal “pat down” search of Paul’s person, without removing his clothes, could not have satisfied the officers that he was not carrying anything of potential danger. Furthermore, belts and socks, which could be used to self-harm, can be removed without requiring an individual to be stripped naked. There was simply no need for Lancashire Police officers to strip Mr Ponting of his clothes and his dignity. And to then prosecute him all the way to trial on bogus charges simply added insult to painful injury.

Mr Ponting is right to pursue his case, despite recent government efforts to make it harder for claimants to seek justice and hold police officers to account. By taking action against Lancashire Police he is shining a light on their poor practices, and, hopefully, encouraging the Force to change its approach to strip searches.

Contact me for help with your actions against the police via the online form below or my firm’s website.

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Is Police Taser Policy Working?

Is police Taser policy working? Solicitor Iain Gould, considers the evidence. By Iain Gould, Solicitor

The relentless rise in the police use of Taser “stun guns” is confirmed by the latest Home Office figures. The statistics show that police in England and Wales drew their Tasers more than 10,300 times last year, an increase of 55% since 2010.

These statistics are, to a large extent, understandable, as more and more front-line officers are equipped with the devices. This trend seems set to continue as, if it were up to the Police Federation, all front-line police officers would have the opportunity to carry Tasers (confirmed in a unanimous vote on 09 February 2015).

It’s easy to see why the police are so keen on them. The Association of Chief Police Officers like that “Taser provides an additional option to resolve situations, including the threat of violence, which can come from any section of the public.” Senior officers tell us that “The Taser is low-level officer protection equipment that is both safer and more appropriate to be used in many circumstances than a baton or firearm.” (Humberside Police Chief Superintendent Steve Graham). And, According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, “The normal reaction to the discharge of a Taser is pain, coupled with loss of some voluntary muscle control… Recovery from these effects of the Taser should be almost instantaneous, once the discharge is complete.”

So, according to the police, it’s all good. Carry on. But really, should we be concerned?

Taser Risks Exposed

Notwithstanding police claims that Tasers are low-level and safe, police policy seems to reflect the reality that the use of Taser is in fact a relatively high level use of force (IPCC review of Taser complaints and incidents 2004-2013) and that arming all officers with Tasers is effecting “compliance by pain” rather than “policing by consent” (Amnesty International press release 24 November 2008).

For this reason, Steve White, Chair of the Police Federation, said that “Any officer authorised to carry Taser must be fully trained to do so and there are strict procedures and safeguards in place to ensure all officers are fully accountable.”

But is this just hollow propaganda? Are officers fully trained? Are procedures followed? Are police officers held to account?

Consider the ongoing case of my client Mr S (name withheld for privacy reasons).

Police Taser a Peacemaker

On 21 June 2013, Mr S went to his son’s ex-girlfriend’s flat to mediate in a disagreement over access to their baby son.

Mr S arrived at the same time as two police officers. His son’s ex-girlfriend’s mother allowed the officers entry but blocked Mr S and then sought to slam the door in his face. Mr S accepts that he held his ground and may have gripped the door frame. At this, one officer pushed Mr S away and said, “go away”.

Mr S accused the officer of assault and asked for his badge number. The officer replied, “I am the police” and shut the door.

Mr S felt that the officer’s conduct was unacceptable and thought about lodging a complaint. He approached the officers’ vehicle to look inside for details of the officer’s identity. He accepts that he may have accidentally caught the wing mirror of the car with his hip but he did not deliberately kick or punch it.

Mr S returned home. A short while later, the same officers arrived.

One of them advised Mr S that he was under arrest for public disorder. Mr S asked what he had done wrong. The policeman sought to handcuff Mr S who accepts that he resisted by stiffening and raising his arms in the air. There was a minor struggle for no more than 10 or 15 seconds.

Suddenly, Mr S heard a pop, which he described as “like a firecracker” going off. He felt intense but short-lived pain. The right side of his body went into an involuntary spasm and convulsion. His body “felt like jelly”. He momentarily lost his balance but was caught by the officers who grabbed Mr S’s arms and handcuffed him to the rear.

Mr S was put in the back of the officers’ patrol car. The handcuffs had been applied extremely tightly and he asked one of the officers if the handcuffs could be loosened. They refused.

The police drove him to the local Police Station where the handcuffs were finally removed.

At this stage, Mr S felt terrible. His chest hurt from where the barbs of the Taser had pierced his skin. The ends of his fingers were still trembling. He felt generally unwell. His wrists were sore and painful.

Despite his own situation, as Mr S is a full-time carer for his mother, he thought only of her wellbeing. His priority was to get out of the police station as quickly as possible.

He spoke to a duty solicitor before his police interview. He was advised that he had been arrested for both a public order offence and resisting arrest.

The police told Mr S’s solicitor that if his client accepted a fixed penalty notice for the public order offence, no further action would be taken in relation to the allegation of resisting arrest. The solicitor said that accepting the notice and payment of the fine would not be an admission of guilt. Conscious of the proposed deal, when interviewed, he deliberately underplayed the officer’s unlawful conduct and excessive use of force.

A short time later, Mr S was brought out of his cell and issued with a fixed penalty notice which he subsequently accepted and paid.

Police Complaint and Claim

Mr S was angry about the incident in which, he felt, the police deliberately injured and humiliated him. He lodged a formal complaint. In response, the police offered to resolve his complaints by local resolution.

Mr S then researched instructing a solicitor to help. As I specialise in civil actions against the police he asked me to handle his complaint and bring a compensation claim for both wrongful arrest and assault.

After a lengthy investigation process involving no less than two appeals to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”), his local police force have finally admitted that the use of Taser and handcuffs was inappropriate.

This only came about after the IPCC’s extremely critical comments of both PC B (the officer who Tasered Mr S) and his police force.

In a review of Mr S’s appeal, the IPCC caseworker said, 

“I would question whether PC B gave enough emphasis to the first element of the National Decision Model, which is to communicate. He does not appear to have made any attempt to communicate with Mr S beyond challenging him about hitting the police car then, when Mr S argued back, telling him he was under arrest. The matter then quickly escalated to the use of force. This is precisely why the National Decision Model places so much emphasis on good communication – in order to diffuse difficult situations, so that they use of force will not become necessary.”

Police officers are entitled to use force to make an arrest provided that it is reasonable and proportionate to the threats presented. But, the caseworker continued, “Mr S was not waving a weapon and he had not assaulted anyone. He was in his own house and not a danger to the public. He had not been violent, or threatened violence, towards the officers”.

In conclusion, the caseworker reported that “the situation should not have been allowed to develop to the point where the use of Taser became necessary. More effort should have been made, in line with the National Decision Model, to engage Mr S in dialogue about why his behaviour was not acceptable” and “in situations where the police are confronted with members of the public who are adamant that they have done no wrong, often the best approach to adopt is one of communication and dialogue. A skilled officer will make every attempt to defuse a potentially volatile situation, rather than, in this case, a quick escalation to the use of force.”

Irrespective of the police officer’s rash behaviour, what was even more concerning was his attitude to the use of Taser and his perception of its seriousness. In his interview, the officer said:

“… It’s worth raising that people’s perceptions of use of Taser is that it’s quite serious and it’s quite high up on the scale of things, and in actuality it isn’t, it’s quite low down, it comes in at the same level as just putting your hands on somebody. (my emphasis in bold)

He went on:

“….If you have to put hands on someone and you’re struggling with them it makes them angry and human nature is makes you angry as well, and Taser just eliminates that completely because there is no reason to get worked up about anything, it’s just an instant thing and straightaway it stops somebody and generally their response is quite positive, I’ve found… the control is immediate, there is no reason for anybody to get injured, and the person will then generally, you know, have a chat with you afterwards and sort of chat to you about the Taser, and you didn’t like that much and you can be friends about it.” (again, my emphasis in bold)

Quite clearly, just putting your hands on somebody is not the same as inserting barbs into their skin and discharging a 50,000 voltage electrical current through their body, causing extreme pain and loss of muscle control. The officer’s apparent naiveté about the physical and mental impact of being Tasered calls into question his training and fitness to carry a weapon.

Inadequate Taser Training

The officer’s comments led to the IPCC caseworker making a somewhat exceptional recommendation under paragraph 28A of Schedule 3 to the Police Reform Act 2002. The IPCC demanded that the police force concerned should review the training provided to officers to ensure that:

  1. The training conforms with national guidance about when, and for what purpose, a warning is given about Taser discharge, and
  2. Sufficient weight is given in training to the potentially harmful physical and psychological effects of discharging a Taser, and the benefits of using communication to defuse a difficult situation.

In addition, the caseworker criticised the police force’s handling of Mr S’s complaint. The caseworker said that, “it should never have been treated as a matter suitable for local resolution given that the complaint, if proven, could amount to gross misconduct. As such, it ought to have been subject to a full investigation from the start, with the IPCC, not the force, being the relevant appeal body. Moreover, the matter should have been referred to the IPCC at the outset in line with the requirement to refer all cases where Taser has been used and a complaint is made”. 

Last Resort

Mr S was traumatised by not only his wrongful arrest but also the excessive and disproportionate use of force against him.  He is currently undergoing counselling and in due course I will present full details of his physical and mental injuries and hopefully negotiate a settlement.

In view of inappropriate Taser use such as this incident, it is right that public concern about the increasingly routine deployment of police Taser should remain high. I accept that there are legitimate reasons for using Taser weapons in policing. Used correctly, it can be a valuable tool in assisting police officers to manage difficult and challenging situations.

But it is essential that officers are taught and understand that the device should be a last resort and not as, in Mr S’s case, a default choice where other tactical options, including communication could be effective. And where police officers fall short, their forces should to act quickly to address officer failures and accept responsibility. Only then will the public have confidence in the police’s policy on the use of Tasers.

Contact me for help with your police Taser assault claim using the online form below or via my firm’s website.

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Does an Unjustified Taser Assault Point to a Wider Trend?

Iain Gould solicitor, asks if Taser assaults point to a wider trend.
Iain Gould solicitor, asks if Taser assaults point to a wider trend.

By Iain Gould, solicitor

I have just settled a disturbing Taser assault case for Cornelius Thomas (details used with permission) against West Midlands Police.

I’m concerned about Mr Thomas’ personal experience, and also what this case says about police use of Tasers.

Taser Assault of Mentally Ill Man

Cornelius, who was aged 35 at the time of the incident, has a psychotic illness which has been diagnosed as bipolar affective disorder.

His condition first appeared in 1999 and he has received help from mental health services from 2001 onwards due to it repeatedly recurring.

On Friday 10 June 2011, he sadly suffered a deterioration in his mental state triggered by a combination of life stressors and a failure to take his medication.

After a mid-afternoon visit by his mental health doctor, Cornelius’ mental health team decided that he should be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The team requested police assistance and an ambulance as this involved taking Cornelius to a psychiatric hospital unit and depriving him of his liberty.

Four Officers from West Midlands Police were assigned and, that evening, met the mental health team outside Cornelius’ home in Birmingham.

Cornelius, who was unaware of the decision to section him, had been out of the house with his 8-year-old daughter. At about 8pm he arrived home in his car with his daughter safely in the back seat. He saw two police cars and an ambulance near his house.

What happened next is a matter of dispute but Cornelius maintains that he was manhandled and then Tasered multiple times despite being non-aggressive and simply trying to escape from the officers into the safety of his own home.

In turn, West Midlands Police suggest that Cornelius was violent and uncooperative and in their Defence which was filed at court, admit that Cornelius was forcibly pulled from his car and Tasered four times:

  • in his chest, then
  • to his upper torso, then
  • to his torso again, before
  • finally in his back.

On each occasion he was Tasered, Cornelius said he felt a surge of electricity, intense pain and fear.

Cornelius told me that each Taser assault resulted in him falling to the ground suffering multiple minor soft tissue injuries, but he managed to get up and move a little closer to his front door.

On the final occasion that Mr Thomas was Tasered, he says that both his hands were in full view and that he was no threat. At this point Cornelius had his back to the police, his left hand on the door handle, and his right hand on the keys in the lock. Despite this, he was electrocuted again.

After the fourth Taser assault brought him to the ground Cornelius was handcuffed and transported to hospital where he was de-arrested and detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

Following a medical examination, a Taser barb that had become embedded in the skin of his chest was removed.

Police Taser Assault Compensation Claim

Cornelius initially instructed non-specialist local solicitors who formally submitted a claim saying that West Midlands Police were negligent in their decision to deploy Tasers.

Following investigation, liability was denied, the Defendant maintaining that use of the Taser was “lawful, justified and proportionate in the circumstances”.

In response, his then solicitors advised Cornelius that the prospects of success were not good enough to “justify …proceeding further” and promptly closed their file.

Undeterred, Cornelius sought me out following research on the internet as a specialist in actions against the police and in particular the inappropriate use of Tasers.

In my opinion the claim had been poorly framed and investigated.

Cornelius gave a very credible account of what had happened. On his version of events it appeared to me that the officers had acted with unnecessary aggression and coercion rather than care and compassion.

I thought Cornelius had good prospects notwithstanding what his previous lawyers described as “the glaring inconsistencies between the account given by Mr Thomas and …. the Police Officers involved at the time of the incident when he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act”.

My confidence in Cornelius and his Taser assault claim has now been proven. He has agreed to an out-of-court settlement of substantial damages from West Midlands Police following the issue of court proceedings.

You can read more about Cornelius’ experience in The Mirror.

Taser Assaults on Mentally Ill Black People

But what of the wider picture?

I have recently commented on statistics that suggest that 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).

This latest research proves a disproportionate use against a certain ethnic group.

Of that community, can it also be said that there is yet further disproportionate and excessive use of Tasers against those with mental health issues?

Matilda MacAttram of the campaign group Black Mental Health UK, maintains that there is emerging evidence that police are using Tasers against people with mental health problems, particularly those from African-Caribbean communities.

She is quoted as telling the BBC, “There’s an increasing amount of data, both anecdotal and also concrete, which show this supposedly “non-lethal” weapon is being used against people who are in a very vulnerable state”.

Cornelius Thomas would, no doubt, agree.

Contact me for expert advice if you have suffered a Taser assault through no fault of your own.

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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.

 

Contact me for help with your claim against the police using the online form below or via my firm’s website.

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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.

 

Why must Court Proceedings be issued in a Compensation Claim Against the Police?

Actions against the police solicitor Iain Gould

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

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

Photo of my client Luke Appleyard, who I represented in his compensation claim against the police
Luke Appleyard

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.

Photo of Luke Appleyard's arm after he had been attacked by a police dog.
Luke Appleyard’s arm after the police dog attack.

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.

Photo of Manchester United's football pitch.
View of Manchester United’s football pitch.

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.

If you want to make a compensation claim against the police 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: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Paul: http://flickr.com/photos/vegaseddie/6160401568/

Why has Taser use more than doubled in two years?

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

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

A Home Office report which was published yesterday confirms that Taser use more than doubled between 2009-2001, following the issue of 10,000 more Tasers to the police once the initial testing period ended in 2008.

The latest figures which cover the period 2009-2011, unsurprisingly show that as the police have been issued with more Tasers, the ‘stun-guns’ have been more extensively used. Figures for 2011-2013 are expected to show a further increase.

In 2011, 25.7% of the time the Taser was discharged, causing injury to the victim. 

Police assault using a Taser

Naturally, the public should be concerned especially as the Independent Police Complaints Commission is currently investigating three deaths where Tasers were used.

On numerous occasions I have written about the police’s seemingly uncontrolled use of these potentially lethal weapons (you can read my previous posts here, here, here, and here).

I am being contacted on a regular basis by potential clients who have suffered a police assault by officers using their Tasers. We should not forget that these ‘statistics’ are actually people, some of whom have had their lives irreparably changed as a result.

Picture of a Taser being discharged.

Police assault by Taser causes serious injuries

In itself, 50,000 volts being shot through a person’s body is enough to cause serious injury, heart problems, and psychological upset. But for some unfortunate victims, the more serious injuries arise from the secondary impact caused by being Tasered.

Having been Tasered, the body freezes in temporary paralysis, causing the victim to become imbalanced and fall forward, giving rise to a risk of serious head injuries, including brain damage.

A client I am currently representing was shot in the back by the police with a Taser as he ran away. This caused him to fall forward and land, face-first, on the concrete ground below. He was unable to protect himself because he could not raise his arms due to the paralysis, and lost or damaged 5 teeth as well as sustaining facial and other injuries.

His injuries have already cost him thousands of pounds in dental treatment, he is now facially disfigured, and feels that his life will never be the same.

Today’s BBC Radio interview about Taser use

I was interviewed today by BBC Radio Merseyside to provide my thoughts.

You can hear the BBC Radio interview in full by clicking on the ‘play’ arrow below:

While I readily accept that, in certain situations, the use of a Taser may be appropriate, I am concerned that the training police officers receive should stress more strongly that Tasers should be a weapon of last resort, and should be used in extreme circumstances only.

The Association of Chief Police Officer’s guidelines state that a Taser can only be used where officers face violence or when the police are in a situation where the threat of violence is so severe they need to use force to protect the public, themselves, and/ or the person they are dealing with.

Certainly in many of my clients’ cases I would argue that:

  • they present no threat whatsoever, and
  • that the police have acted with undue haste, and
  • in some cases I have dealt with, the police have exaggerated the threat and fabricated an account to justify Taser use and excuse the police assault.

Hopefully the figures presented today will generate further public awareness and debate as to whether police officers should be routinely equipped with a Taser and in what circumstances such a weapon should be used.

If you have been injured as a result of a police assault using a Taser, contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website. Alternatively, read more about me, my website or blog for more information about actions against the police claims.

Contact Me:

 

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