Harassed by the Police

Iain Gould solicitor
Iain Gould, solicitor

By Iain Gould, solicitor

According to a joint report just published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), people who have suffered harassment or stalking are often being let down by the Police and Crown Prosecution Service.

The publication of the report is timely in that I have just settled a claim for a young woman who suffered harassment by a Police Officer whom she had turned to for protection.

In or around April 2011, my client who I will call Kate began working as the personal assistant to the owner of an escort agency.

During the course of her work at the agency, Kate became aware that some of those working for the agency were underage. Further, Kate became aware that the owner of the agency was committing sexual offences against a number of women and girls who worked for him, behaving in a threatening manner towards them and otherwise exploiting them. Kate also discovered that the owner of the agency was involved in forging documents for some of the women and girls who worked for him.

On 6 January 2012,  Kate bravely reported matters to Merseyside Police notwithstanding that she was scared of the owner of the agency and of the potential consequences i.e. the retribution he might take against her.

The information that Kate provided to the police led to an investigation into the owner of the agency. DS David Stubbs of the Merseyside Police Public Protection Unit (“PPU”) was allocated to the investigation.

Thereafter, DS Stubbs visited Kate at home. During the course of this visit, Kate tried to provide DS Stubbs with relevant information but DS Stubbs asked Kate a number of personal questions instead. Kate felt that DS Stubbs was behaving unprofessionally towards her and did not feel as though she was being taken seriously. Kate’s laptop and personal mobile telephone were seized from her, along with a laptop and two mobile telephones that belonged to the owner of the agency. Kate later gave a video recorded interview in relation to the criminal activities of the owner of the agency.

Thereafter, DS Stubbs visited Kate on a number of occasions, made a number of telephone calls to her and sent her numerous text messages from both his work mobile and his personal telephone. In total, DS Stubbs sent 264 texts to Kate including between 14 February 2012 and 29 February 2012, 73 texts without reply. This included, (for example) between 23:23 on 15 February 2012 and 00:37 on 16 February 2012, 15 texts sent by the Officer without reply and at a time when he was actually on annual leave. The manner in which DS Stubbs would communicate with and treat Kate was personal and/or sexual in content and nature.

For example, in or around February 2012, DS Stubbs sent Kate text messages in which he said that he was divorced and had children. DS Stubbs also said that he would like to take his dog for a walk with Kate.

Subsequently, DS Stubbs sent Kate a text message in which he said that he would like to take her to Cornwall and see her in a bikini. DS Stubbs said that he realised that he “should not be doing this” but that he could not help himself.

In or around March 2012, DS Stubbs sent Kate a message at or around 01:00 with words to the effect of:

I shouldn’t be saying this to you but you’re gorgeous, you’re a beautiful person inside and out and should be proud of what you have done.

On another occasion, DS Stubbs sent Kate a text message, saying words to the effect of:

…hope someone is spoiling you rotten like I would be.

Increasingly disturbed by DS Stubb’s conduct, Kate told DC X, another female officer involved in the investigation into the escort agency, that she would prefer not to have any further contact with Stubbs. Thereafter, the contact from DS Stubbs decreased. However, Kate would still receive the occasional text message from DS Stubbs, such as:

Hello trouble, how’s you 😉

The last time DS Stubbs contacted Kate was on or around 20 August 2012.

Due to DS Stubbs’ conduct, throughout the course of the investigation into and prosecution of the owner of the agency, Kate felt as though the police were using her and testing her. In or around January 2013, after having attended court one day, Kate had a conversation with DC X, whilst being given a lift home. Kate informed DC X of DS Stubbs’ conduct towards her. DC X urged Kate to pursue a complaint about DS Stubbs and advised her that someone would be in touch with her. DC X informed Kate that there had been other complaints about DS Stubbs’ conduct.

Kate did subsequently report matters and attended a video interview where she gave a detailed account of DS Stubbs’ conduct towards her. Around the same time, the owner of the agency was convicted of a number of offences. Kate’s initial report to the police had been central to those convictions being obtained.

Following Kate’s video interview, she received no follow-up or information from the police as to what was being done in respect of the information she had provided on DS Stubbs’ conduct. Consequently, Kate once again began to feel used by the police. After repeated enquiries, Kate was eventually informed that the Crown Prosecution Service (“CPS”) had decided that there was insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case against DS Stubbs but that there would be an internal investigation into DS Stubbs’ conduct instead and that he had been suspended from his duties.

That internal investigation ultimately culminated in a full disciplinary hearing in September 2015. Despite DS Stubbs having used his work mobile telephone to send text messages to Kate, the content of the personal and/or sexual text messages could not be retrieved and so were not available to the disciplinary panel.

The Disciplinary panel found that even though the specific content of the texts could not be proven, they were satisfied that the volume and timing  of the messages was way above what could reasonably be expected from an Officer discharging his professional duty. DS Stubbs could offer no reasonable explanation for this, claiming they were for work purposes but offering no record, rationale or evidence as to what this Police purpose was.

Ultimately, DS Stubbs was dismissed for gross misconduct.

Whilst Kate was pleased with the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings, and comforted by the thought that DS Stubbs would not be able to exploit or harass other vulnerable young women, she was dismayed and deeply disappointed at the extent to which she had been ‘shut out’ of the investigation process, being kept entirely in the dark for long periods of time as to what was going on. For example, between March 2013 – May 2014, for over a year, Kate received no contact from Merseyside Police and when she did finally manage to get through to someone, she was coldly and uncaringly informed that for the purpose of the investigation into DS Stubbs she had been classified as a ‘witness’ not a ‘victim’ and hence had no right to expect to be kept updated, and no business contacting the force.

The Police also used a bureaucratic excuse not to formally record Kate’s initial report about DS Stubbs as a public complaint, further allowing them to keep her shut out of the process and thereby denying her entitlement to receive a formal written response/ apology for what had occurred.

DS Stubbs’ dismissal was reported upon by local and national press.

As part of a BBC 5 Live investigation, Kate was interviewed as to her experiences. Here is her account:

During the disciplinary process Kate contacted me for advice in relation to her situation.

DS Stubbs’ behaviour in my opinion clearly constituted harassment contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Section 1 of this statutory tort provides that:

1. A person must not pursue a course of conduct –

a. Which amounts to harassment of another; and

b. Which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.

  1. For the purposes of this section, the person whose course of conduct is in question ought to know that it amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable person in possession of the same information, would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment of the other.

‘Harassment’ is not precisely defined in the Act, although it states that references to harassing a person ‘include alarming the person or causing the person distress’.

As well as showing that the behaviour complained of amounts to harassment, a Claimant must show that the Defendant knew or ought to have know that it amounted to harassment. The test of whether the harasser should have perceived his or her conduct in that way is an objective, rather than a subjective one. So, the Claimant need not show that the harasser appreciated the nature of his or her behaviour, but rather that any other reasonable person would have done so.

The Claimant also has to show that there was a ‘course of conduct’. This must involve conduct on at least two occasions.

A civil claim for damages may be brought in relation to conduct that amounts to harassment as defined by the Act. Damages may be awarded for, among other things, anxiety caused by harassment and for any financial losses resulting from it.

By reason of DS Stubbs’ conduct, Kate suffered anxiety, humiliation and distress; specifically DS Stubbs’ conduct towards Kate caused her to feel helpless, frightened, confused, suspicious and paranoid. At times Kate felt that DS Stubbs was questioning her credibility as a witness. DS Stubbs’ suggestive personal comments to her caused Kate to feel dirty, used, humiliated and embarrassed.

As a result Kate lost confidence and began to hate herself. She developed symptoms of severe anxiety and began to have panic attacks. Kate stopped socialising and disliked being in the company of others. She felt nervous and vulnerable, without any guidance or victim support.

Kate even had thoughts of self-harm and began to have involuntary movements at night, which resulted in her causing injury to herself. She suffered sleep disturbance, including waking during the night and vivid dreams and nightmares of acts of deliberate self-harm.

Kate lost trust in others, especially the Police. Contact with male Police Officers would cause Kate to experience severe anxiety, which could develop into panic attacks, and she became reluctant to speak to the Police.

Following DS Stubbs’ dismissal for gross misconduct, Kate began to fear that he would take revenge, which caused her to feel even more anxious and distressed, particularly when alone at night.

In light of DS Stubbs’ conduct, I was satisfied that Kate had a viable claim. I intimated a claim on her behalf against Merseyside Police and issued protective Court proceedings.

Following investigation, Merseyside Police denied liability (as a matter of course?) and yet indicated that this was a claim that they wanted to (quite rightly) settle. Police Forces are very often reluctant to admit liability, even when in reality they know that they are liable for the wrongdoing of their officers.

In November 2015, as part of her legal case for compensation against the Police I referred Kate to a Psychiatrist, who recommended that Kate undergo a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, after which her condition could be further reviewed. Kate went on to have 18 sessions of CBT.

Following further review, it was concluded that Kate had suffered an Anxiety Disorder, which was caused at least, in part, by DS Stubbs’ conduct, which we might rightly call the selfish and callous exploitation of an already vulnerable woman.

At this point, I was able to assess the value of Kate’s claim and Merseyside Police agreed to a Joint Settlement Meeting. After protracted negotiations, Merseyside Police agreed to pay Kate £25,000 compensation plus costs.

The HMIC report, therefore, is welcomed in that it highlights serious cases of Police neglecting the victims of harassment and stalking (whether in person, or increasingly in the ‘digital’ age, on-line) and a culture of, frankly, not treating harassment as a ‘proper’, indeed very threatening and sinister, crime.

What I would also call upon the Police to recognise and tackle as an equal priority is the danger posed to clients such as Kate (and sadly I know from personal experience that her case is far from rare) who are being exploited and harassed by Police Officers themselves, who are abusing the special trust that has been placed in them and seeking, frankly, to take sexual advantage of vulnerable victims of crime. This in itself was highlighted in yet another report published in December 2016 by HMIC reported that abuse of authority for sexual gain was the “most serious” form of corruption facing Police in England and Wales.

One additional factor of concern, highlighted by this case, is the lack of support Kate received from Merseyside Police after making her complaint about DS Stubbs. Whilst her evidence was crucial in helping the force to weed out and remove a rogue, indeed predatory, officer, the Force seemed to have no concern for Kate herself during the long drawn out process. Kate was apparently no longer needed once the Force had her evidence, and the disdain with which they then treated her, apparently failing to recognise her absolutely legitimate interest in the investigation (in which she was the victim and had initiated the complaint) and simply to show her some support and compassion rather than simply ignoring her, added greatly to her emotional anxiety and depression during this very stressful time in her life.

The Force eventually did the right thing in regards to DS Stubbs, but failed to do the right thing by Kate – even to the extent of treating her as an inconvenience or even enemy when she tried to get information about what had happened to her complaint.

Sadly, Kate is not the first victim of crime subsequently subjected to exploitative behaviour by a male Police Officer, and nor do I believe will she be the last; but we can at least hope that in light of the recent reports, Police Forces as institutions will move more swiftly to identify and remove such officers and to treat their victims with proper respect and support.

 

Choosing the Right Lawyer (Part 1)

This is a guest post by my colleague and fellow specialist in civil actions against the police, John Hagan.

Photo of John Hagan, solicitor.
John Hagan, solicitor.

When instructing a lawyer to represent you in a claim against the police it is very important that you appoint someone who has the specialist knowledge and breadth of experience necessary to achieve regular success in what can be a complex area of litigation.

There is a certain overlap between claims against the police and general personal injury cases, but I would urge you to beware of putting your case into the hands of a personal injury solicitor, who deals day-to-day with accidental injuries, and who may only be ‘dabbling’ in the area of Actions Against the Police.

Rather, you need a police misconduct claim specialist, and I am pleased to say that I have a 20 year track record of success in these cases.  The experience that this has given me and my specialist team in assessing and analysing police claims means that unlike other lawyers who are less experienced, we do not prevaricate.

If I think you have a good case then I will tell you so, and I will push ahead with the case as swiftly as possible.  Equally if I believe your case will not succeed I will tell you that as early as I can and I will tell you it straight, and I will not allow the limitation period for your claim to be used up by any faint heartedness or hand wringing on my behalf.

I would like to demonstrate these points by reference to two cases which I have recently settled for £20,000 and £15,000 damages respectively.  Both cases involved hard-fought legal battles against West Midlands Police, but I was always confident that we would be successful and was prepared to see both cases through to trial if necessary.   Prior to my involvement, as you shall see, both of my clients had in fact consulted other solicitors who, in my opinion, did not have the relevant experience or knowledge to properly analyse and progress the claims as a result of which both clients suffered from delay, indecision and eventually rejection by their solicitors who – WRONGLY – told them that their claims would not succeed…

The case of Mr EJ

My client EJ is a black man who was stopped by the police in 2011 on suspicion of drink driving.

As EJ exited his car outside his home address he was approached by 7 police officers who questioned him in a hostile and aggressive manner and almost immediately laid hands on him.  EJ attempted to talk to the officers in order to explain his point of view ie that he did not believe he was over the limit (although he accepts that he had had an alcoholic drink) and that he did not believe that he had been driving dangerously.

EJ was a man of good character who worked long hours for the NHS as a mental health care assistant and he was shocked and upset by the immediately hostile attitude of the officers who confronted him.  He was completely outnumbered by the 7 police officers and denied displaying any violence towards them whatsoever – the truth of his account in this regard is surely borne out by the fact he was not charged with any offence of assaulting a police officer and nor did any of the officers involved in his arrest end up with as much as a scratch upon them.

EJ on the other hand suffered far worse than a scratch.  Given that the officers had almost immediately laid hands upon him and had not properly attempted to talk or reason with him, EJ tried to pull away from their grasp in order to avoid being handcuffed.  The officers moved in on my client and although what happened in the next few seconds differs between the accounts of EJ and the police officers, the end result was the same. My client felt a sudden pain in his upper left leg which caused him to scream out in agony, and which felt to him as if someone had kicked him from behind with extreme force.  All of the officers involved in fact denied kicking EJ’s leg, but 6 of them admitted that they had simultaneously laid hands on him (3 men on either side of my client) and had pulled him to the ground.

My client was left lying on the ground face down, with a cut to the right hand side of his face and enormous pain in his upper left leg.  My client’s femur, one of strongest bones in the body, had in fact been broken as he was manhandled to the ground by the police.  As a result of this extremely serious injury my client had to undergo 2 operations and was unable to work, unpaid for the majority of his time off work, for 9 months.  He and his family suffered considerable financial hardship as a result.

My client initially instructed a firm of personal injury solicitors. That firm subsequently went out of business and in March 2013 EJ’s case was transferred to a second firm of personal injury solicitors, who agreed to take his case on a ‘no win no fee basis’.

This second firm subsequently wrote to EJ in October 2013 advising him that, in their opinion, his prospects of succeeding in the claim were less than 50%.

This decision was said to be based on the following factors:-

  • That the incident had been investigated by the West Midlands Police Complaints Department who had found that the officers involved had no case to answer in regards to assault.
  • That it was EJ’s word against the statements of 7 police officers who were all arguing that the use of force against him was reasonable and required in the circumstances.
  • That EJ had been convicted of having been driving whilst over the limit on this occasion.

This was extremely disappointing news for EJ to receive.  The second firm of solicitors did correctly advise EJ that the limitation period for his claim would be the third anniversary of the incident ie September 2014.  If Court proceedings were not issued by that date, then the right to proceed with the claim would effectively be lost as the limitation period in English Law for a claim involving personal injuries is 3 years from the date of the incident.

This meant that EJ now had less than 12 months in which to find a third firm of solicitors, and one willing to act despite the second firm’s rejection of the claim.  Many would be disheartened by being left in such a situation, but fortunately, EJ got in contact with my firm and instructed us to investigate and pursue his claim.

As Police Claims Specialists we soon determined that EJ’s case had merit and we agreed to act on his behalf by way of a ‘no win, no fee’ retainer.

How was it that we were able to come to the CORRECT determination that EJ’s case in fact did have greater than 50% prospects of success, and why were we not dismayed by the same factors that had put the second firm of solicitors off the case?

Police Complaint

The rejection of our client’s police complaint by the West Midlands Police was known by us to be a ‘par for the course’ in that the vast majority of successful claims in which we represent clients start off with disciplinary complaints being rejected, and then go on to result in an award of damages being made to the Claimant.

There is a simple reason for this and it is that the complaint process is not independent but is handled by an Internal Disciplinary Investigation Team within the police force concerned, whereas a civil claim for compensation will go to Court and be heard by an entirely independent judiciary.

Long experience has taught me that the Police Internal Complaints Procedure is not fit for purpose, and that its agenda often seems to be to attempt to brush complaints under the carpet, with police officers, perhaps naturally, inclined to take the side of other police officers (colleagues in the very force with which they serve) and to favour the accounts of officers on almost all occasions over those offered by the victims of police misconduct.

In my opinion therefore, the second firm of solicitors had put far too much weight on the rejection of our client’s complaint by the police.

The number of police witnesses

Over the years I have represented many clients in successful claims where it is their word alone against that of one or more police officers and I know that it is not simply a numbers game of adding up the witnesses on each side.

We carefully assessed EJ’s evidence and concluded, I believe quite rightly, that he would come across as an honest and credible witness.

We carefully analysed the statements of the 7 officers involved and noted that whilst all the officers denied delivering or witnessing any kicks or strikes to our client’s leg, none of them were able to offer any alternative explanation as to how he came to sustain such a severe fracture to his upper leg.  The officers accounts in regards to how EJ came to injure his leg were extremely vague and in certain respects contradictory.  All of the officers denied either striking or holding the Claimant’s leg as he was taken to the floor by the combined efforts of 6 police officers, but could offer no explanation as to the fracture of his leg.  Furthermore, despite the officers accounts of a violent struggle with a muscular and well built individual, none of the officers had sustained any injury whatsoever (as highlighted above).

Two of the officers alleged that EJ was flailing or waving his arms aggressively prior to any attempt being made to handcuff him, but the other 5 officers present did not apparently see this.

One of the officers stated that EJ fell to the ground in an uncontrolled manner, whereas the other officers described our client being lowered to the ground whilst being held by several of them.

Three of the officers described hearing a snapping or popping sound as EJ was being overpowered and before he was lowered to the ground.  The statements of the other 4 officers however did not say anything about this.

I also crossed referenced the officers’ statements with the accounts given by the police to the doctors at the hospital where EJ was transported by ambulance from the scene of the incident.  In those records it states:-

According to police, was being restrained on front, legs crossed behind him and then forced him to flexion at knees.  Then sudden crack/pain”.

I noted that this account was completely contradictory of the accounts given in the police officers statements, none of whom talk about the Claimant’s legs being flexed whilst he was restrained on the ground.

So by utilising my experience of cases of this nature, and by a careful and detailed analysis and comparison of the evidence, I was able to come to the conclusion that simply because it was the word of 7 men against 1 did not mean that the police would be exonerated.

Conviction for drink driving

Of course the fact that EJ was convicted of having been driving on the night of the incident whilst over the legal blood alcohol limit did present a real problem for the case.  I was not proud of my client for having committed this offence, albeit that he had no prior convictions, and he was clearly in the wrong when he committed that offence – however that did not justify the behaviour of the police towards him, and specifically he did not deserve to end up with a severely fractured leg leaving him with permanent pain and scarring as a result of his actions.

The fact of my client’s conviction presented a legal obstacle which it is likely that a solicitor who is not experienced in police misconduct claims, might consider insurmountable.

Section 329 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 prevents a claim for assault being brought by a person who suffered the assault whilst in the process of being arrested for the commission of an offence for which he was subsequently convicted (in this case drink driving).

The only way this hurdle can be overcome is to demonstrate to the Court that the assault suffered by the injured person was grossly disproportionate or that the police officers carrying out the assault did not believe that it was necessary in order to prevent the commission or continuation of an offence or to apprehend the person who had committed the offence.

Again, drawing on my experience of similar cases where I have had to deal with the obstacle presented by Section 329 of the Criminal Justice Act before my client’s case can proceed to trial, and also by reference to my detailed analysis of the evidence, I was satisfied that there were sufficient grounds for the Court to grant EJ permission to proceed with his claim and to reach a finding that in all the circumstances the police officers acts in causing a fracture to his upper left leg were grossly disproportionate given that:-

  • The offence which he was suspected of having committed had already come to an end.
  • The threat posed by EJ was minimal given that he was not armed with any weapon, he was outnumbered 7-1 by the police officers who were in attendance, and on the evidence of those officers he did not strike or land any blows upon any of them with any part of his body.
  • That none of the officers involved in EJ’s arrest were injured in any way, whereas EJ sustained a fracture necessitating multiple hospital operations and a 9 month absence from work.
  • There was nothing in EJ’s medical history or records as considered by the Orthopaedic expert who I appointed to prepare a report in his case to suggest that EJ was a particularly vulnerable individual who suffered from any medical condition which would have pre disposed him to suffering fractures more easily than any other person in the general population.
  • A leg fracture in the circumstances of this arrest, is a highly unusual injury to be sustained and spoke in itself of disproportionate force being used.  The femur is manifestly one of the longest and strongest bones in the body, and a fracture of the femur, is by common knowledge, an unusual injury to sustain.

Other crucial evidence

In a general personal injury claim there may be only limited classes of documents to obtain, eg hospital records and, if the accident occurred in the course of someone’s employment or at a public place, an accident report form.

In claims against the police numerous documents are generated relating to the arrest of the individual client and the actions of the police officers both before and after the arrest, in the form of computer logs, audio recordings, Custody Suite CCTV footage, interview tapes, police officer notebooks and statements, force medical examiner records etc.

Again, having a solicitor with the appropriate experience to identify all the different categories of document that should be produced by the police in a case such as this, and making sure that none have been overlooked (or deliberately withheld) is crucial.

I sought and obtained from the Defendant disclosure of the Association of Chief Police Officer’s ‘Use of Force’ manual which was the training manual used by West Midlands Police in regards to ‘take down’ techniques at the time of the incident in 2011.  This helped to demonstrate, that in my opinion, if a proper technique had been used it is likely that EJ’s leg would not have been fractured.

I also obtained the police radio log which showed that only 3 minutes had passed between officers first arriving at the scene and EJ being reported as on the floor with a broken leg.  3 minutes does not seem a very long time for the officers to have exhausted all avenues of resolution eg talking/reasoning with EJ – before resorting to violence in a situation in which the crime for which EJ was suspected was not itself one of violence, and nor had EJ assaulted any of the officers present.  In other words, was it necessary for the officers to handcuff/lay hands upon EJ at all?  Again I know from long experience that officers are trained to resolve conflict situation first by none violent methods of communication and negotiation with a suspect unless they are truly threatened with immediate danger which simply could not have been the case here.

I felt that this was another strong factor in my client’s case and gave me the confidence to assure him that we would see his case through to trial if necessary.

The progress of the Court proceedings

As stated above, my firm was instructed by EJ in October 2013 after his other solicitors had rejected his case.

After analysing the second firm’s file of papers we formally agreed to act on EJ’s behalf in December 2013 and set about gathering further evidence from the police.

We sent a formal letter of claim to the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police on behalf of EJ in May 2014.

In August 2014 West Midlands Police replied denying that any police officer had kicked EJ and requesting disclosure of EJ’s medical records in order for the case to be further investigated between the parties.  There was no admission of liability.

Owing to the approach of the limitation date (September 2014) my firm then issued a Claim Form in the County Court Money Claims Centre to protect EJ’s right to proceed with the case.

Medical evidence was obtained from an Orthopaedic Consultant in regards to EJ’s leg fracture in October 2014.

With the Defendant still having failed to admit liability, despite disclosure of the Claimant’s medical records we accordingly served the Court proceedings, along with the Orthopaedic expert’s report in December 2014.

A Defence was then served by the police in January 2015 in which all liability for EJ’s injury was denied and in which the Defendant stated that EJ should not be allowed to continue with the claim on the basis of Section 329 of the Criminal Justice Act (as discussed above).

Accordingly we had to issue an application to satisfy the Court that permission to proceed with the claim for assault against the police should continue, notwithstanding EJ’s conviction, and I am pleased to confirm that this was granted by the Court in April 2015.

Thereafter the case proceeded over the following months with the normal steps of exchange of documentary evidence, witness statements and questions to the medical expert with the police continuing to completely deny liability.

On a number of occasions we invited the police to attend a Joint Settlement Meeting with us to attempt to narrow the issues between the parties and secure an out of Court settlement, thereby saving legal costs for all concerned, but this was rejected.

Eventually, the case was listed for a 5 day trial to take place in October 2016.

Then in June 2016 the police put forwards an offer to my client to ‘drop hands’, ie that he discontinue his claim on the basis of no order as to costs.  In effect all that was being offered was that my client would be allowed to walk away from the case as if he had lost, without getting any damages but without having to pay any legal costs to the Defendant.

With my support my client quite rightly rejected this offer.  I identified the fact that the offer had been made as the first chink in the Defendant’s armour.

Indeed, in July 2016 the Defendant then made an offer to settle my client’s claim for a payment of damages but only in the sum of £3,000.

I advised my client that this was a very low offer in view of the extremely serious nature of the fracture he had sustained to his leg and the permanent damage it had caused to him, even taking into account the litigation risks of him not winning at trial.

Once again with my support therefore, EJ rejected the Defendant’s offer.

We however put forwards a counter offer in August 2016 to settle EJ’s claim for the sum of £20,000 damages.

We then continued to prepare the case for trial and were only a few weeks away from the trial when at the very end of September 2016 the Defendant accepted our offer and agreed to pay EJ £20,000 in compensation for the injuries which he suffered.

It had been a long hard fight over the course of no less than 5 years for my client to achieve justice, but working together with the right firm of solicitors he was able to do so.

Specialist Knowledge

Confidence and perseverance are required to see a challenging case such as EJ’s through to successful conclusion.

I am glad that he came to me before it was too late, and that he was not put off by the unduly pessimistic advice he received from his former solicitors who in my opinion did not have the requisite experience to realise that they had a winning case on their hands.

EJ now has 20,000 reasons to tell his former solicitors why they were wrong!

Is Police ‘Conflict Management’ Training Working?

This is a guest post by my colleague and fellow solicitor, John Hagan.

Photo of John Hagan, solicitor.
John Hagan, solicitor.

Those of us who want to live in a civil society, where violence is always the last resort, and not some version of a Judge Dredd comic, in which a ‘hardcore’ police force shoots people for littering, may have been dismayed by the reaction of some sections of public opinion to a video released this week showing a Metropolitan police officer shouting at a motorist and viciously smashing the motor car’s windscreen with his truncheon, before trying to cut his way in through it with a knife.

In the video the police officer can be seen confronting the motorist (identified in press reports of this story as Leon Fontana), who, perhaps not coincidentally, is a young Black man. My colleague Iain Gould has previously blogged about the dangers of “Driving whilst Black” i.e the perception that black men are disproportionately targeted by the police for traffic stops.

The police have powers under S.163 and 164 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to require drivers to stop their vehicles and produce their licence and insurance and confirm their identity. It does not however empower the police to require that a motorist who has been stopped must exit his vehicle, nor to require that he hand over his car keys.

Whilst it is true that Leon states he is not going to get out of the car, he is otherwise co-operating with the officer, and is not refusing to let the officer check his details. When the officer states that he is concerned that Leon might just drive off, Leon removes his keys from the ignition and places them on the dashboard…then within 30 seconds of the conversation beginning the officer is screaming “Get out of the car! You’re not allowed to drive it!” and starts smashing the windscreen viciously.

It appears that the officer has just received some information suggesting that Leon may only have a provisional licence (this subsequently proves to be incorrect, as it is a case of mistaken identity, cleared up within moments, as soon as other officers become involved…). However the officer immediately reacts to this information by shouting “Get out the car – you’re not allowed to drive it!” and within 15 seconds has started to pummel the side of the car with his truncheon before the man inside has even had a chance to respond. The officer is now screaming his command “Get out of the car!” as if he was involved in a life and death situation rather than a routine traffic stop. If a member of the public had been behaving like this – basically attacking the car and shouting at the top of his voice – he would surely have been arrested. The officer appears to have no impulse control in this situation, and there is no sign that he made any attempt at a reasonable and civil discourse with the driver. Surely this is not how we want our police officers to behave, nor why we empower them with special authority to inflict violence or commit damage to property. The officer was, in my opinion, behaving in a totally unprofessional and irresponsible manner.

As the footage continues, the motorist can be heard telling the attacking officer (in an entirely calm tone of voice) that he has a licence and insurance. The officer informs the motorist “You are not qualified, you’re not allowed to drive” apparently having jumped to an unshakeable belief that the motorist is an unqualified individual without going to the trouble of listening to what he is being told, or making any effort to check documents and establish the driver’s actual identity.

Manifestly, the police are here to reduce violence and aggression in society, not actively introduce it into otherwise calm situations (the motorist had clearly responded to police instructions to stop his car and was talking to them through an open window).

If somebody tells an officer that they have been mistaken for somebody else, surely the officer should spend at least a minute or two investigating that possibility in an amicable manner rather than shouting the person down and smashing his windscreen to pieces? And what purpose was being served by the officer smashing the windscreen – surely he didn’t intend to pull Leon out through it? The destruction of someone’s property by a police officer to make them comply with instructions during a low- level traffic stop is in my opinion a crazy and unjustifiable turn of events.

In my opinion, the police officer’s actions can only be characterised as anti- social, thuggish behaviour which clearly flies in the face of the norms of civilised behaviour as well as the specific training which police officers are given as to how to resolve a conflict situation.

Police officers are extensively taught the techniques of ‘conflict management’ which emphasise that violence must be a last resort after non- violent approaches to resolving the situation in the form of ‘officer presence’ and ‘tactical communications’ are first considered. Does anyone really doubt that the officer pictured in this video could have had a productive conversation with the motorist had he so chosen?

Sadly, as I discovered during my appearance on the Jonathan Vernon Smith (JVS) Show on BBC 3 Counties radio last week, some people do condone the officer’s behaviour.

You can listen to my interview here:

One caller to the show stated “the guy in the car should be prosecuted” whilst another called the motorist a “toe rag” and accused him of “winding up” the officer by the act of filming the confrontation.

JVS himself, perhaps adding fuel to the fire of his listener’s fury, speculated aloud that the police may have believed Leon to be a dangerous criminal with a history of using weapons, and that he might even have had “a gun in the glove box”. However, there was no basis for this assertion. All the evidence available to us is to the effect that the worse the police suspected of Leon was that he was driving without a full licence or insurance, which is a non- imprisonable offence.

The police are entrusted with special powers to use force against other citizens, but it is only right that the officers respect the safeguards that the law has put in place to prevent the abuse of those powers and to ensure that we have a functioning civil society in which people can have trust in the police – without which, they obviously cannot do their jobs and the risk of harm to both officers and citizens generally increases.

Police powers of arrest without a warrant are enshrined in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 S.110. In order to exercise his power of arrest, the officer must have a reasonable belief in its necessity on the basis of one or more of the following criteria –

  1. that:
  • the name of the relevant person is unknown to, and cannot be readily ascertained by, the constable,
  • the constable has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name furnished by the relevant person as his name is his real name,
  1. that:
  • the relevant person has failed to furnish a satisfactory address for service, or
  • the constable has reasonable grounds for doubting whether an address furnished by the relevant person is a satisfactory address for service,

3. that the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to prevent the relevant person:

  • causing physical injury to himself or any other person,
  • suffering physical injury,
  • causing loss of or damage to property,
  • committing an offence against public decency, or
  • causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway,
  1. that the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the relevant person.
  2. that the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question, or
  3. that the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to prevent any prosecution for the offence from being hindered by the disappearance of the person in question.

It is highly questionable whether the officer in this case could have possibly had a reasonable belief that any of the above conditions applied to Leon Fontana. In which case, he had no power to arrest Leon, and no power to use force against his motor car to effect an ‘arrest’ – which renders his smashing of the windscreen not only a civil but possibly a criminal offence.

Contrary to what some of the listeners of the JVS show apparently believe, there is no seventh criteria of “having reasonable grounds for believing the person to be a toerag” nor any power for the police to arrest someone who is filming their encounter, or refusing to exit a vehicle, if there are no other circumstances such as a refusal to identify themselves or an attempt to abscond or obstruct the investigation of a suspected offence on the part of that person.

Here, as we can all hear, Leon was offering to identify himself – or at least was trying to go through that process in a respectful manner with the officer, but was being obstructed by the officer’s unreasonable anger towards him.

This case reminds me of another I have recently been involved with, also a video taped encounter,  in which police officers stopped a car on suspicion of ‘no insurance’ and in which the driver – a middle- aged white man as it happens – resolutely refused to identify himself to the officers involved and repeatedly made it clear that not only would he not exit the car, he would simply not identify himself or produce any documentation. The officers attempted to reason with him for  approximately 8 minutes, before deciding to discharge a CS gas spray into the car.

Whilst I do not agree that the CS gas should have been used, it is perhaps telling that in a confrontation with an older, white motorist the police gave considerably longer to conversation with an individual who was a lot more obstructive, than did the officer in this video towards a young black man.

I am sure that in the present case, all the unpleasantness could have been avoided, if the officer had just engaged in the civil conversation which Leon was offering him.

But you may think I am biased in that assertion, being a lawyer primarily working on behalf of people who believe they have been the victims of police misconduct.

In which case I will call as my next witness, the other contributor to the JVS show that morning, Peter Kirkham, who was formerly a Detective Chief Inspector with the Met.

Mr Kirkham acknowledged that the officer’s behaviour was “not a good example of conflict management skills” and made the point “when you’re dealing with a conflict situation the idea is you’re not making it more aggressive”.

Acknowledging that it was plain from the video that the officer has lost his temper, Mr Kirkham concluded by saying that if he was the supervising officer he would certainly be investigating the conduct of the officer concerned, whose actions could amount to criminal damage if there was no justification for his use of force.

The officer appears to have suffered a moment of madness; sadly for him he must now face the consequences of this. The uniform he wears is a symbol of the special authority vested in him but it does not, and should not, give him immunity from accountability for actions which if perpetrated by a member of the public may well have resulted in a night in the cells.

 

 

 

 

Why West Mercia Police Paid £25,000 Compensation for Misfeasance in Public Office

Iain Gould solicitor
Iain Gould, solicitor.

I have previously written about ‘Clare’s’ case; a young vulnerable victim of domestic abuse groomed and sexually exploited by a serving Police Officer, PC Powell.

I am pleased to report that Clare’s case has now been successfully concluded; on my advice, Clare brought a claim against West Mercia Police for misfeasance in public office and successfully recovered £25,000 compensation plus her legal costs.

Clare first contacted me shortly after PC Powell had been sentenced to 15 months imprisonment at Gloucester Crown Court for Misconduct in Public Office. PC Powell had admitted that:

  • When acting as a public officer he wilfully neglected to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducted himself
  • To such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in his office without reasonable excuse or justification.

per Attorney General’s Reference number 3 of 2003 [2004] EWCA Criminal 868.

Clare felt that PC Powell’s personal behaviour was reprehensible but that West Mercia Police were also at least partly responsible, as PC Powell had been warned for similar misconduct in 2008 but had been allowed to continue in office without adequate supervision, and in particular had been allowed to continue to have conduct with victims of domestic abuse.

On review, it struck me that Clare had a potential civil claim for misfeasance in public office, an ancient tort originally developed during the eighteenth century for the benefit of electors willfully refused the right to vote and increasingly deployed in civil actions against the police in more recent times.

What is misfeasance in public office?

In order to establish a successful claim for misfeasance, the Claimant must show that:

  1. A public officer;
  2. Exercised a power in that capacity; and
  3. The officer intended to injure the Claimant by his/her acts.  This is known as ‘targeted malice’; or
  4. The officer knowingly or recklessly (in the subjective sense) acted beyond his/her powers.  This is known as ‘un-targeted malice’; and
  5. The officer’s act(s) caused damage to the Claimant; and
  6. The officer knew or was subjectively reckless to the fact that his/her act(s) would probably cause damage of the kind suffered by the Claimant.

If misfeasance can be established against a serving Police Officer then his Chief Constable, and therefore in effect the whole Force as an organisation, becomes ‘vicariously’ liable to pay damages to the wronged/injured party.  In a case like Clare’s this would be an eminently fair result, owing to the failings of the Force and Senior Officers in allowing PC Powell to prey upon domestic abuse victims (as highlighted in my previous blog).

Proving Clare’s Claim

In support of the claim for misfeasance, it was clear that PC Powell was acting as a public officer in the West Mercia Police Force when he abused Clare:

  • PC Powell was responsible for investigating crimes and incidents in which Clare was a victim and for taking action and providing support to Clare in respect of the same.
  • PC Powell engaged in sexual relations with Clare during his working hours and whilst on duty (and on a number of occasions whilst wearing his uniform).
  • In all the circumstances, there was clearly a very close connection between PC Powell’s conduct and the performance of his duties, such conduct having taken place in the performance or purported performance of his policing duties and his relationship with Clare having been established through the position of authority he held as the investigating officer in her case.

During the course of his office, PC Powell exercised powers as a Police Officer and  was responsible for the following acts:

  1. Sending and receiving text messages and telephone calls of a personal and sexual nature to Clare, a victim of domestic abuse.
  2. Requiring Clare to attend at the police station on a number of occasions.
  3. Attending Clare’s home address on a number of occasions.
  4. Instigating and engaging in a sexual relationship with Clare, a victim of domestic abuse.

Although often difficult for Claimants to prove bad faith on the part of the officer, here it was blatantly apparent that PC Powell acted with malice in that he:

  • Knew that Clare was a vulnerable victim of domestic abuse and that she would, or would be likely to, respond to apparent care, concern and attention on his part and thus knew and intended or did not care that he could injure Clare, by instigating an inappropriate sexual relationship with her;
  • Specifically targeted Clare as a vulnerable victim of domestic abuse in order to exert control over her and for his own sexual gratification;
  • Instigated a personal and sexual relationship with Clare in flagrant disregard for his professional duty as a Police Officer assigned to her case.

In all the circumstances, it was apparent that PC Powell knew of, or was reckless to the risk that his acts would probably cause harm to Clare, but proceeded to act, indifferent to that risk

By reason of PC Powell’s conduct, Clare had suffered material damage, specifically she reported psychological trauma as a result of the relationship and such injury was reasonably foreseeable specifically;

  • Immediately following the incident, Clare experienced disturbed appetite, disturbed sleep, low mood and a degree of weight loss.  Clare lost confidence, which affected her self-esteem.
  • Clare felt as though PC Powell had sexually exploited her.  Clare felt ‘dirty’, ‘used’, and ‘stupid’, and as though she has done something wrong.  Clare felt that PC Powell abused her trust.
  • Clare’s view of the police was also affected by the incident and she felt very negatively about the police. Clare said that she would be reluctant to contact the police for assistance in the future.

Notwithstanding the broad nature of this civil wrong, the Courts have routinely issued warnings to lawyers against actions for misfeasance in public office being brought unless there is clear evidence to support a contention of dishonest abuse of power (see Masters v Chief Constable of Sussex [2002] EWCA Civ 1482)  Unlike claims in false imprisonment and assault, the burden of proof lies squarely on the Claimant at each stage. It is a difficult burden to overcome in the absence of clear evidence of bad faith.

Notwithstanding these issues, I was confident of success and agreed to act on behalf of Clare by way of ‘no win no fee’ agreement.

I believe that my robust presentation of Clare’s case encouraged West Mercia Police to admit liability early on. It is a pity that they did not agree settlement terms swiftly but that will be for another blog.

Should the Police “Arrest First” and Investigate Later?

Iain Gould solicitorBy 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.

Robert’s Case

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.

The Law

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 [2009]. 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 [2011], 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 [2012]

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…”

The Claim

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:

  1. A complaint of rape had been made by Ms A;
  2. The paediatrician had concluded that Ms A had received acute trauma to her genital area;
  3. The marks were consistent with an attempt at intercourse;
  4. Ms A identified a mixed race male as being present when she began kissing the unknown white make and went back to his tent;
  5. Ms A could recall walking back to the tent with the unknown white male and the mixed race male;
  6. This mixed race male was described as wearing a red puffa jacked and being in his late teens/early twenties;
  7. Robert was 16 years of age and of mixed race.
  8. Enquiries by Mrs A’s friends and family identified that this mixed race make was Robert;
  9. The descriptive match with Robert was sufficiently proximate to implicate him (see inter alia, Armstrong -v- West Yorkshire Police [2008] EWCA);
  10. 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.

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.

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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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Photo of Iain Gould solicitor, explains his respect for people who bring actions against the police.
Iain Gould solicitor, explains his respect for people who bring actions against the police.

By Iain Gould, solicitor

I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who to take actions against the police.

Their fight for justice can be a hard, long, and stressful process. Why? Because they have to:

  1. know enough about the law and police procedure to determine if they have a valid complaint and/or potential claim
  2. be mentally strong enough to take action against the police
  3. be determined to find a suitably qualified solicitor they can trust, given the considerable financial risk of litigation.

People often get help with the first part. Duty solicitors at police stations, family and friends, research on the internet, can all help identify wrongs. But the rest is down to the individual.

How matters progress often depends on their past experiences. Many of my clients have never been in trouble with the police and often still trust them, despite what happened.

As a result, they (perhaps naively) think that the police complaint process is fair and impartial. This view is not unusual. Research commissioned by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) found that:

“those that had the least amount of contact had much higher expectations of police behaviour and were therefore more willing to complain about a range of potential misconduct.”

Sadly, trust in the police complaints process is often misguided. Often, only when it fails do we find out if the person involved is truly determined to seek justice. One such person was my client, Mr R (name withheld at his request), from London. His story shows why I have such respect for people who brings actions against the police.

Racial Abuse Arrest

On 26th February 2014 my client, a professional, middle-aged white man got into an argument with a black woman after parking his car on the narrow street in front of his home. The woman verbally abused him for blocking the path of an oncoming car while he adjusted his road-side wing mirror to stop it from being damaged. He responded by telling her to park her own car behind his to let the traffic pass. Their exchange involved the use of coarse language and ended when the woman took photographs of his car and said that she was going to report Mr R to the police for racial abuse. She told Mr R that, even though she knew he had not racially abused her, she was confident the police would take her seriously, and not “some fat, angry, white guy”.

More than 3 weeks later, on 20th March 2014 at 9:30am, Mr R was shocked when 11 Metropolitan Police officers turned up at his home.

An officer told my client that he was under arrest for using “racially aggravated threatening words and behaviour” following the incident on 26th February.

Mr R vehemently denied that he had been racially abusive. The police refused to listen and told Mr R that they were taking him to his local police station. He was not allowed to shower but was allowed to dress under close supervision of an officer. During this process, one of the officers flippantly said to my client “Your taxi is waiting, the meter is running”.

Mr R was “booked in” before the Custody Sergeant. The circumstances of his arrest were recorded as “Officers investigating an allegation of road rage have cause to believe this male is involved.  Allegation of racially aggrieved (sic) Sect 4 POA.  Arrested to interview, prevent harm.”

The reason for arrest was recorded as “to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the detained person”. My client was searched and his personal possessions removed.

He requested pre-interview disclosure information. The Custody Sergeant refused, saying, “We don’t, not to people like you”.

Mr R asked for the Duty Solicitor. He was then photographed, his fingerprints and DNA sample taken, and locked in a police cell.

The Duty Solicitor and officer in charge saw Mr R at approximately 11am.  The Duty Solicitor told my client that he had also not been given any pre-interview disclosure information and that he had been advised that the alleged victim, the foul-mouthed woman, had not even been interviewed. Given that the police appeared not to have crucial evidence Mr R immediately asked how they could justify his arrest.  The officer in charge realised they were on shaky ground on this point and tried to dismiss it, saying that he was about to interview the alleged victim at 12pm.

After several hours of detention, an Inspector visited Mr R in his cell for his custody review.  He told Mr R that “I have authorised your further detention”.  My client immediately challenged the officer, saying that he had pre-judged the further detention without hearing from Mr R or his solicitor.

The Inspector agreed to investigate and authorised my client’s release. At 4pm Mr R was released on police bail and told to return to the Police Station on 9th April.

Police Complaint Farce

Readers will be in no doubt that Mr R is an intelligent man. He felt aggrieved that:

  • the police could not justify his arrest having failed to obtain the victim’s evidence first, even though the incident occurred over three weeks earlier.
  • they failed to invite him to attend for a voluntary interview, instead sending 11 officers to his home causing Mr R and his family great embarrassment, shock, and distress.
  • he had been mistreated during arrest and at the police station.
  • the police denied his reasonable request for information.
  • they pre-judged his further detention and delayed his release.

In his opinion, he had the legal grounds for a complaint. Mr R is also confident, determined, and articulate. Consequently, he had the first and second traits of people willing to take on the police.

My client lodged a formal complaint within a few days of his arrest which was handled by an Inspector in the same division as the arresting officers. Incensed by his treatment so far, Mr R’s priority was to ensure that he would not be re-arrested when he returned to the police station on 9th April.

The investigating Inspector agreed that Mr R could attend the Police Station on 9th April as a volunteer.  During interview, Mr R established that the so-called “victim” had just been interviewed earlier that day (9th April), despite being told previously that she was going to be interviewed on the same day he was arrested (20th March). The allegation of racial abuse was put to Mr R which he vehemently denied. The case was referred to the CPS for advice and Mr R was informed that his complaint could not be investigated while the police waited for the CPS’s input.

Eventually, on 21st May, Mr R was advised that no further action was to be taken against him.  Mr R understandably felt aggrieved by the actions of the Metropolitan Police and pursued his complaint.

To say he was given the run-around would be an understatement:

  1. His complaint was (wrongly) dealt with internally by the Metropolitan Police, rather than being referred to the IPCC. Mr R described this as “akin to getting Bernard Madoff to investigate customer complaints about his own investment scheme”.
  2. The Inspector who initially investigated the complaint failed to apologise, even though he confirmed that “You were circulated as a suspect on the 05/03/14 to facilitate a prompt and effective investigation and protect a vulnerable person.  On reflection, once the vulnerability passed the decision to arrest could have been reassessed and could possibly have been investigated utilising less intrusive methods”.
  3. Dissatisfied with the response, he appealed. The same Inspector dealt with the appeal. In January 2015 he said: “the investigation process could have been progressed without the requirement for arrest however the arrest itself was not unlawful”. Despite this, Mr R made some progress when the Inspector finally said “I wish to apologise for the distress this incident has caused you and accept our failings in how we progressed this investigation.  To be clear, this investigation did not require your detention in custody to secure your account, nor was it necessary to affect a prompt investigation”.
  4. Mr R was dissatisfied with the apology for “distress” only, and, among other things, with the Metropolitan Police’s failure to admit his unlawful arrest and false imprisonment, or to confirm that they had breached professional standards. He appealed to the IPCC.
  5. In March 2015, a year after the arrest, the IPCC confirmed Mr R’s view that his complaint was not suitable for Local Resolution and should never have been dealt with internally. It also confirmed that the Inspector’s response to the appeal was effectively a re-hash of the initial investigation, and that the matter should be sent back to the Metropolitan Police for a re-investigation.

Instructing an Actions Against the Police Solicitor

By this time, Mr R was despondent. He, like many, was initially reluctant to engage a solicitor. I suspect this was because he felt comfortable dealing with the complaint himself and wanted to avoid issues about legal fees, trust, and confidence in his legal representation.

He found me on Google and got in touch. At this point, the third trait (finding a suitable solicitor) kicked in and we vetted each other.

I was frank with Mr R. I offered no guarantees but, on the strength of his instructions and the documents he provided, I felt he had a viable compensation claim for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.  I was confident enough to act under a Conditional Fee (“no win no fee”) Agreement, in which I only got paid if he won.

After the IPCC’s criticism the Metropolitan Police Inspector who originally investigated Mr R’s complaint completely changed his tune. He now confirmed in a third report that, in his opinion, “The arrest was unnecessary and therefore unlawful. Your complaint has been upheld”.

Despite this, Mr R remained unhappy with the complaint investigation. On my advice we focussed on his civil claim for compensation. I intimated a claim.

I explained to my client that the Inspector’s opinion was not binding on the police in the civil claim. Unsurprisingly, the Metropolitan Police’s legal department failed to either admit or deny liability suggesting that “the matter could have been investigated utilising less intrusive methods”.  (my emphasis) They put forward an offer of £2,500.

I advised Mr R that this offer was too low in my opinion. I suggested we put forward a counter-offer and, if the police did not accept it or make a reasonable offer, to issue court proceedings. This was not an easy decision for him to make.

It is a common misconception that “no win no fee” agreements also mean “no risk”. In fact, when the Claimant issues court proceedings they are at risk of paying the Defendant’s legal costs if they do not win or beat an offer. Litigation is not cheap and the police instruct expensive lawyers. It is not uncommon to see legal bills in actions against the police for over £50,000.

The decision to issue court proceedings required Mr R to trust my judgement. He knew that I have the necessary skills, expertise, and confidence which come from practising in this area of law for over 20 years. I was also invested in his success because I was risking my firm’s money and time by acting under a “no win no fee” agreement. But irrespective of the level of confidence and trust, there are no guarantees.

After weighing the options Mr R took my advice and authorised me to issue court proceedings.

In response, despite their previous offer and failure to increase before proceedings, the Metropolitan Police put forward a revised offer of £6500.

Better, but not enough.

Mr R authorised me to negotiate further. I eventually settled his claim for £7400, nearly three times more than the first offer, plus legal costs.

Here’s what Mr R said about my service:

“I was happy with every aspect of advice that you gave me, along with the guidance that you offered, I negotiate contracts for a living, and am quite legally aware. However, the threat of issuing proceedings against the Metropolitan Police caused me concern.  Your constant encouragement that everything was ok along with your experience and attention to detail impressed and bolstered my confidence, I was also happy with the result”.

Specialist Legal Help

People often complain direct to the police to get answers, accountability, and sometimes compensation. They do this without legal representation because they trust the police to investigate their complaint in a fair and just manner, without bias.

Instead, what they get is delay, avoidance, and a strong institutional bias against the person bringing the complaint and in favour of the officer(s) involved. They often only seek a solicitor’s help when they have lost all faith in the police complaint system.

In April 2016 there were 134,785 practising solicitors in England and Wales. Search Google for “actions against the police solicitors” and you’ll get 127,000 results. How hard can it be to find a good one to take on the police?

Answer: not so easy. This is because actions against the police solicitors work in a complicated, niche area of law. There are many lawyers out there who specialise in either criminal defence or civil litigation. There are few who cover both and also have the necessary background, skills, and attitude to risk to take on the State.

People have to spend time to find a solicitor they can work with, potentially for years. They have to look beyond the promises made on slick websites and make sure the solicitor is the right one for them.

Mr R knew enough about the law in actions against the police, had the courage to take them on, and the determination to find a specialist solicitor with whom he could work. He has my respect.

 

For help with your civil actions against the police contact me 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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Why the Metropolitan Police Won’t Apologise to Lord Bramall

Solicitor Iain Gould explains why the Metropolitan Police won't apologise in this blog post.
Iain Gould, solicitor, explains why Lord Bramall won’t get an apology from the Metropolitan Police.

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Recently the Metropolitan Police was in the headlines because it refused to formally apologise to Lord Bramall over its treatment of him during an investigation into historic child abuse allegations.

The Metropolitan Police raided Lord Bramall’s home in March 2015 and he was later interviewed under caution on 30 April 2015. He strenuously denied the allegations and said that “There wasn’t one grain of truth in the allegations” made against him.

In mid-January 2016, the Metropolitan Police finally declared that there “was insufficient evidence” to pursue charges against the 92-year-old Second World War veteran over the historic abuse inquiry.

Sir Max Hastings, military historian and friend of the peer said that Lord Bramall had “been through absolute hell” over the allegations. He said that in pursuing the investigation of historic abuse, the Metropolitan Police had lost sight of a “sense of justice and fairness” towards those accused and that “decency demanded” an apology.

This is why he won’t get one.

Metropolitan Police Statement

Patricia Gallan, Assistant Commissioner Specialist Crime and Operations, said in a statement: “The Metropolitan Police accepts absolutely that we should apologise when we get things wrong, and we have not shrunk from doing so.

“However, if we were to apologise whenever we investigated allegations that did not lead to a charge, we believe this would have a harmful impact on the judgments (sic) made by officers and on the confidence of the public.

“Investigators may be less likely to pursue allegations they knew would be hard to prove, whereas they should be focused on establishing the existence, or otherwise, of relevant evidence.”

Miss Gallan also said that she recognised “how unpleasant it may be to be investigated by the police over allegations of historic abuse. For a person to have their innocence publicly called into question must be appalling, and so I have every sympathy with Lord Bramall and his late wife and regret the distress they endured during this investigation.”

The force had a duty to fully investigate “many serious allegations referred to us every year” and should do so “irrespective of their status or social standing”, the statement went on.

“It stands to reason that we cannot only investigate the guilty and that we are not making a mistake when we investigate allegations where we subsequently find there is no case to answer,” the assistant commissioner said.

“I accept that we can always learn and improve,” she insisted.

Wrongful Arrest Apology Sought

But do the Metropolitan Police “learn and improve” and apologise when they “get things wrong”?

My client Mr K (name withheld for confidentiality reasons) would disagree after he was wrongfully arrested in October 2013.

Mr K had previously served the Community as a part-time magistrate but that experience had not prepared him for a late night visit from police officers and a night in the cells.

Unbeknown to Mr K, on 12 February 2013, the County Court had imposed a non-molestation order against him in response to a series of spurious and vindictive allegations made by his ex-wife.

The non-molestation order was ordered to remain in force until 11 February 2014 at 11.59pm and provided that Mr K was, amongst other things, forbidden to use or threaten violence, intimidate, harass or pester, or communicate directly with his ex-wife. His only means of contact with her were to be through her nominated solicitors. Crucially, the order included a power of arrest so that if my client breached the order, he was liable to be arrested and brought before the Court.

Upon service of the order, my client contested it, saying that it had been supported by untrue and unfounded allegations and included a draconian power to arrest.

The Court agreed and, on 6 June 2013, discharged the non-molestation order, which was substituted with a “General Form of Undertaking”. In that both my client and his ex-wife effectively promised to not harass each other. As such, the threat of arrest for alleged breach of the non-molestation order was withdrawn.

On 9 October 2013, Mr K’s ex-wife reported a breach of the (now defunct) non-molestation order, claiming that my client had sent her emails. The Metropolitan Police decided to investigate and arrest my client.

On 11 October 2013, two officers attended my client’s home address at about 10.30pm. They told Mr K that he was to be arrested for breach of the terms of the non-molestation order.

Mr K told both officers that the non-molestation order had been discharged and replaced with a “General Form of Undertaking” which he had in his house. He offered to show it to the officers but they refused. They told Mr K that:

  • they had been instructed to arrest him;
  • they would not consider his documentation; and
  • he could give an account at the Police Station.

My client was dressed in his pyjamas, was not allowed to change, and was humiliatingly led outside in front of his neighbours to a waiting marked police van. He was taken to Ilford Police Station where he was processed and imprisoned in a cell overnight.

The next morning, Mr K was interviewed during which he produced the documentary evidence confirming that the non-molestation order had been replaced by an “Undertaking”. The interview lasted for less than 5 minutes and he was soon released without charge.

Complaint Against the Metropolitan Police

In November 2013, Mr K, upset at his treatment during the embarrassing and frightening episode, submitted a formal complaint to the Metropolitan Police’s Directorate of Professional Standards.

The Directorate’s long-winded investigation ended in mid July 2014. The Force thanked Mr K for raising the issue and confirmed that the officers’ behaviour had been unsatisfactory and breached professional standards. It accepted that Mr K’s arrest had been unlawful and upheld his complaint.  But no apology was forthcoming.

My client felt that the officers’ punishment (“management action”) was wholly inadequate and lodged an appeal.

Following review by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) in October 2014, it was considered that management action was indeed appropriate but that, in addition, the Metropolitan Police should “give consideration” to Mr K’s request for a written apology.

(It was presumably considered that an apology would go some way to satisfy Mr K that he had been wronged, that the Metropolitan Police recognised what they had done wrong, and would learn from their mistake.)

Despite this clear recommendation from the IPCC the Metropolitan Police again failed to apologise.

Compensation Claim

Having exhausted the complaint process, Mr K felt that he had no alternative but to pursue a civil action against the police. He sought me out as a specialist in actions against the police following an internet search.

After carefully considering the facts I took Mr K’s case and demanded an apology on his behalf. I also intimated a compensation claim, alleging, false imprisonment among other things.

Following investigation, solicitors acting on behalf of the Metropolitan Police responded with a financial offer of settlement without admission of liability or an apology.

As is so often the case, whilst compensation may provide vindication and some comfort to my client, what he really wants is an apology. Despite Mr K’s repeated requests, a recommendation from the IPCC, and numerous requests from me, the Metropolitan Police have failed to do this simple, and free, thing.

The Force could easily address this, even while negotiations about compensation continue. At this point there is nothing to be gained by refusing to apologise, so why not do it?

Decency Demanded

My client’s experience is not unique. Mr K is one of many clients that I have represented (and continue to represent) who has to fight tooth and nail for justice. Unlike Lord Bramall, most are not in the public spotlight with friends and family in high places who can bring the police to account.

The Metropolitan Police’s response to Mr K (offer compensation with no admission of liability or apology) is in line with my experience of their general policy. A policy that fails to recognise what I consider to be its moral and economic duty as a public organisation to apologise when in the wrong, resolve issues quickly, and avoid lengthy and expensive legal battles.

I certainly do not recognise Patricia Gallan’s statement that the Metropolitan Police apologise “when we get things wrong”. Her statement reads more like a defence of their practices and indicates an unsympathetic attitude, despite the platitudes.

Sadly for Lord Bramall, Mr K, and countless others, the “decency demanded” by Sir Max Hastings for an apology does not seem to exist at Britain’s largest police force.

 

For help with your civil action against the police contact me via using the online form below or at my firm’s website http://www.dpp-law.com.

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Are Police Disciplinary Hearings “robust, independent, and transparent”?

Iain Gould, solicitor, asks if police disciplinary hearings are robust, independent, and transparent.
Iain Gould, solicitor, asks if police disciplinary hearings are robust, independent, and transparent.

By Iain Gould, solicitor

I recently blogged on the case of Alex Farragher whose complaint about police misconduct led to a public police disciplinary hearing.

As of 1 May 2015, in accordance with Section 9 of The Police (Conduct) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, police disciplinary hearings “shall be in public” (subject to the discretion of the person chairing or conducting the hearing to exclude any person from all or part of the hearing).  That change, along with others, was aimed to create a “more robust, independent and transparent” police disciplinary system.

Has it worked?

The Law in Public Hearings

What does “in public” mean? The OED definition is “openly, for all to see or know”.

The concept of open justice has long been recognised.

In Scott v Scott (1913) AC 417, Lord Shaw of Dunfermline said “that publicity in the administration of justice ….(is) one of the surest guarantees of our liberties” and cited passages from Bentham and Hallam in support of the general thesis that in Bentham’s phrase “Publicity is the very soul of justice”.

The principle is just as important now as it was then; in Hodgson v Imperial Tobacco Limited (1998) 1 WLR 1056, Lord Woolf MR relied upon the following passage from Sir Jack Jacob’s Hamlyn lecture, The Fabric of English Civil Justice (1987) where he said:

“The need for public justice, which has now been statutorily recognised, is that it removes the possibility of arbitrariness in the administration of justice, so that in effect the public would have the opportunity of ‘judging the judges’: by sitting in public, the judges are themselves accountable and on trial”.

An application of the principles in Scott v Scott is to be found in McPherson v McPherson (1936) AC 177, a decision of the Privy Council’s in a Canadian case. There the undefended divorce of a well-known politician was conducted not in a court room (though there were empty courts available) but in the Judges’ Library. There was direct public access to the courts, but not to the Judges’ Library. It could be approached from the same corridor which encircled the building and provided direct access to the courts, but only through a double swing door, one side of which was always fixed shut, and on which there was a brass plate with the word “Private” in black letters on it. Through this swing door was another corridor, on the opposite wall of which was a further door to the Judges’ Library. Both this internal door and the free swinging half of the double doors were in fact open during this hearing. The question for the Court was:

“… whether those swing foots with ‘Private’ marked upon one of them were not as effective a bar to the access to the library by an ordinary member of the public finding himself in the public corridor as would be a door actually locked”. (p198)

Their answer, while accepting that no actual exclusion of the public was intended, was that:

“… even although it emerges in the last analysis that their actual exclusion resulted only from that word ‘Private’ on the outer door, the learned judge on this occasion, albeit unconsciously, was ……, denying his court to the public in breach of their right to be present, a right thus expressed by Lord Halsbury in Scott v Scott: ‘every court of justice is open to every subject of the King’.” (subject to any strictly defined exceptions).

In Storer v British Gas plc (2000) 2 All ER 440, the Court of Appeal decided that this fundamental principle was no less important in employment proceedings than in other proceedings. In that case, Mr Storer brought a claim against his employers. At a hearing at the Industrial Tribunal Centre, his claim was dismissed. On appeal, Mr Storer argued that this decision should be quashed on the basis that the hearing had not been held in public.

The relevant facts were as follows:

At the Centre, “12 Industrial Tribunals were sitting on that day.  The lists of cases to be heard in each were on public display.  There was also a list of floating cases, i.e. cases which had not been allocated to a court, but would be heard as and when a court became available.  Mr Storer’s case was one of these.  As the morning wore on, it seemed clear that his case would not be reached unless it was heard in a room not normally used as a court-room.  One was available – namely the office of the Regional Chairman, as that position was unfilled at the time.  As a Judge was available, and as the room was available, the court authorities took the decision to have the hearing there.  They did not consult Mr Storer on this.  The parties (including Mr Storer’s wife) were escorted there by a guide.  No member of the public accompanied them.  It is accepted that Mr Storer’s application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal accurately summarises the geographical situation of the room that was used:

(a)    The hearing was held behind a locked door which separated the area to which the public had access from that part which the learned Judge described as the ‘secure area’ on the second floor of the Tribunal office. This ‘secure area’ [is] protected by the door locked with a bush-button coded lock [which] provides the only means of access to the large open plan office off which the Regional Chairman’s room is located.

(b)   This locked door is clearly marked with a large sign stating ‘Private’ in black letters on a white background.

(c)    All access stairs from the public areas on the ground and first floors to the second floor where [the] locked door is located are marked clearly with a large sign stating”

PRIVATE

NO ADMITTANCE

TO PUBLIC BEYOND

THIS POINT

The Court concluded that the hearing had not been held in public, even if, in fact, no member of the public was physically  prevented from attending. The obligation to sit in public was fundamental, and the tribunal had no jurisdiction to conduct itself in this way.

How Public are Police Disciplinary Hearings?

Both my client Mr E T, and myself, have first hand experience of the lengths to which the police will go to follow the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of it in public police disciplinary hearings.

Following an incident that occurred on 14th February 2013, my client Mr E T lodged a complaint to the Metropolitan Police. The following description is based on his version of events.

Mr T was driving home from work when he was stopped by a police carrier van. Mr T got out of his car. He was told that he had been driving erratically and asked to hand over his car keys. He refused.

Suddenly, one of the officers grabbed hold of Mr T’s left arm and a struggle began. Many other police officers from the police van then stormed out and forcibly moved Mr T towards the pavement.

In doing so, Mr T fell to the ground where he banged his head.

Mr T, with five or more police officers on top of him, was then handcuffed and leg restraints were strapped on him.

Mr T was then told that he was under arrest for breaching s.5 of the Public Order Act. So as to further justify arrest, one police officer then said that he ‘could smell cannabis’ in Mr T’s car.

Mr T was then transported to a police station. En route, Mr T said to both police officers that he was going to sue them for what they had done. An officer said in response “We’ll just say that you assaulted a police officer”.

Mr T was then kept in custody until the next day and after he was interviewed for the alleged offences. Mr T was then bailed to return to the police station a few weeks later.

On his return, he was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.

There was no further action against Mr T in respect of his driving (the reason for his stop), the cannabis allegation or breaching s.5 of the Public Order Act.

At the first opportunity, Mr T pleaded not guilty and his case was eventually listed for trial nearly a year later. At Trial, the CPS without notice or reason decided to discontinue.

Police Disciplinary Hearing Access

After investigating Mr T’s complaint the Professional Standards Bureau decided to bring gross misconduct proceedings against three of the officers.  The police misconduct hearing finally went ahead last week in the Empress State Building, South West London, nearly three years after the incident.

Mr T is intent on bringing a civil claim against the Metropolitan Police for unlawful arrest, assault and malicious prosecution. To find out how the officers performed, I sent my colleague to sit as watching brief.

My colleague met up with Mr T outside the Empress State Building and they went into reception together. Having been frisked by security, Mr T was ushered upstairs to the hearing room. My colleague was denied access as his name was “not on the list”. My colleague queried this given that the hearing was “in public”. He was told it didn’t matter, his name must be on “the list”.

My colleague asked to speak to the Investigating Officer and explained his role. Pursuant to Regulation 30 (3) of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012, Mr T was (irrespective of any argument that this hearing was allegedly being held in public!), entitled to attend the hearing accompanied by one other person as an observer and my colleague was that person. The Presenting Officer promptly authorised entry.

My colleague was then escorted to the hearing. Here’s what appeared on the hearing room door:

Public Police Disciplinary Notice.
Public Police Disciplinary Notice.

 

 

I must say that I found my colleague’s experience intriguing.

Metropolitan Police hold their misconduct hearings at Empress Buildings. According to their website, “any member of the public or press wishing to attend a misconduct hearing may apply to do so but due to limitations on space and capacity, attendance at the hearing will be administered and booked by application”.

Should you be interested, you must then complete and submit an application providing your full name, address and date of birth.

The lucky few successful attendees are then sent a confirmation email but admission to the hearing is conditional. They must produce their personal registration letter (confirmation email) that was issued by the hearings unit and supporting photographic identification (passport, and/or driver’s licence), along with proof of address (ie a recent utility bill).

Needless to say, my colleague reports that no members of the public attended any one of the five days of the hearing.

Police Disciplinary Hearings Restrictions

Having checked out the websites for most of the other police forces in England and Wales, the Metropolitan Police’s conditions are fairly standard. There are however a few quirks here and there.

West Yorkshire Police state that notice of a public hearing will be made not less than five days prior to the hearing but that applications to attend “must be submitted within 48 hours of the notice being published”. This could effectively be a three-day window.

Most stress that space is limited. Thames Valley Police are bold enough to announce that “available space will limit numbers of the public attending to six people including members of the public”.

Should you be fortunate to apply in time, be selected, and have the necessary proof of ID with you, there’s still no guarantee that you will actually sit in on the hearing. Some like Gwent Police openly admit that “The Public/media will be given access to a room at Gwent Police HQ” which will broadcast “a live feed of the hearing”.

Consequences of Police Policy

To increase public trust in our police force, the police should freely and unconditionally open their doors to members of the public at disciplinary hearings.  Otherwise they are in danger of appearing to be (literally) a closed shop and to encourage an assumption that police officers  judging  other police officers do not do so in a fair, unbiased and transparent way.

For example, Deputy Chief Constable of Essex Police Derek Benson claims that “Our intention will be to hold these hearings in public and make them as accessible as possible.”

But his force’s restrictive conditions (shown here) suggest to me that Essex Police (along with other forces) are paying only lip service to the concept of holding disciplinary hearings in public. In reality, they are putting many obstacles and discouragements in the way of the interested public.

This undermines the reputation of the police as being unbiased and effective in the investigation of crimes or misdemeanours committed by their own.

In the case of Storer v British Gas plc, the coded door lock was an actual physical barrier which prevented all access to the public. There was, the Court said “no chance of a member of the public dropping in to see how Industrial Tribunals (as they were then) were conducted, and the fact that none attempted to does nothing to show that this Tribunal was conducting the trial of the preliminary issue in public”.

What would the Court of Appeal make of the various barriers being put up by police forces around the country?

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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.

 

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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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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 Andrew Mitchell got lucky

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

Andrew Mitchell, the ‘Plebgate’ MP and former Chief Whip, appeared at a press conference yesterday in his ongoing case against the police.

Mr Mitchell, who I have previously written about here, is angry that the Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’) declined to prosecute PC Toby Rowland, the police officer at the centre of the story who reported the incident on 19 September 2012.

While his case continues, in my opinion, Mr Mitchell got lucky.

Andrew Mitchell’s disputed case against the police

On 19 September 2012, there was an incident at the gates of Downing Street between Mr Mitchell and PC Rowland.

The police officer declined to allow Mr Mitchell to exit on his bicycle via the main security gates, which were closed.

The officer instead directed Mr Mitchell to a nearby pedestrian gate which he opened for the politician.

In response, PC Rowland claims that Mr Mitchell said,

‘You should know your f***ing place, you don’t run this f***ing government, you’re f***ing plebs.’

Mr Mitchell, however claims that he simply said,

‘I thought you guys were supposed to f***ing help us.’

Although the exact wording of what was said is disputed, both say that the officer warned Mr Mitchell for swearing.

In the following weeks, newspapers published a story quoting the ‘plebs’ comment, Mr Mitchell resigned as Chief Whip, and a Channel 4 investigation cast doubt on the police’s version of events.

Following an expensive year-long investigation, the CPS have decided to prosecute only one police officer, PC Wallis, who claimed to have witnessed the incident in an email to his MP. All other police officers involved, including PC Rowland, will not face criminal charges.

Five police officers face gross misconduct charges, and three face lesser charges. PC Rowland is not among them.

Andrew Mitchell’s response to the CPS

At Tuesday’s press conference, Mr Mitchell explained the personal effects of the ‘Plebgate’ story.

As a result of the alleged lies of PC Toby Rowland, Mr Mitchell claims that:

  • his reputation was destroyed;
  • he was vilified relentlessly;
  • he received over 800 hate emails;
  • he and his family were driven from their home because of the press pack outside;
  • his mother in law was pursued in Swansea;
  • he was spat at in the street; and
  • he lost his job as chief whip.

In a direct challenge to both the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions, the politician said,

‘I wish now to make clear that PC Toby Rowland, who was responsible for writing those toxic phrases into his notebook, was not telling the truth.’

He intends to sue The Sun newspaper for libel. The tabloid was the first to use the ‘pleb’ remark and stands by its story. In suing the newspaper, Mr Mitchell hopes to call PC Rowland to give evidence and allow a jury to decide whose version of events is to be believed in his long-running case against the police.

How Andrew Mitchell is lucky in his case against the police

Both the police and Mr Mitchell agree the basic facts of the incident on 19 September as outlined above.

So, even after a public argument with the police in which Mr Mitchell admits swearing at an officer, all he received was a warning.

Unlike many of my clients, he was not:

  • assaulted;
  • arrested;
  • handcuffed;
  • escorted to a Police station;
  • obliged to provide his fingerprints or DNA sample;
  • required to have his details kept on the Police National Computer;
  • detained in police custody;
  • interviewed; or
  • prosecuted.

Don’t get me wrong, I sympathise with Mr Mitchell and his plight but as a specialist in actions against the police, I believe that Mr Mitchell was lucky to simply end up with a warning.

I am contacted by many clients who are not so fortunate.

Peter Garrigan’s case against the police for fabricated evidence

Picture of Peter Garrigan, a man who won a claim against the police after they fabricated evidence against him.
Peter Garrigan, showing a black eye caused after a police assault.

A few weeks ago, my client Peter Garrigan (details used with permission) was awarded £13,000 compensation after a unanimous jury verdict that police officers had fabricated evidence following a four-day trial at Liverpool County Court.

You can read the full report of his case against the police here.

Mr Garrigan was arrested and assaulted by officers of British Transport Police at Lime Street Station on 19 March 2009 as he attempted to assist his younger brother Daniel.

Daniel was detained by a ticket inspector as he had an invalid train ticket.

The inspector called the police when Mr Garrigan refused to leave his brother’s side.

British Transport Police officers appeared and told Mr Garrigan to leave.

Peter refused and attempted to explain the situation on behalf of his brother.

One officer took Peter’s arm. As Mr Garrigan broke free, telling the officer that force was unnecessary, the officer:

  • pushed Mr Garrigan against a wall;
  • kneed him in the stomach;
  • punched him;
  • forced him to the ground with a ‘leg sweep’;
  • pinned him face down on the train station floor;
  • put him in handcuffs; and
  • arrested him.

Mr Garrigan, who had never been arrested before, was taken to Wavertree Police Station.

Following an interview, Peter was issued a Fixed Penalty Notice for a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act for using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’.

After Mr Garrigan indicated that he would appeal against the notice the police dropped the case against him ‘for procedural purposes’.

In a case against the police which has parallels with Andrew Mitchell’s story, Peter claimed that the police officers who assaulted him lied in their written accounts about how the incident had occurred to cover up the police assault and arrest, and to justify prosecuting him.

The threat of police prosecution hung over Peter for several months. He was stressed and upset as although the proposed prosecution was short-lived, it was of great significance in that a conviction could have ruined his dream of joining the army.

The police assault left Peter with visible injuries to the head, face and shoulders, as well as headaches and pains which lasted for several months.

Peter was determined to take a case against the police for the police assault, unlawful arrest, fabrication of false evidence, and misfeasance in public office.

After three civil court trials (read the case report for why) a jury found that the police officers assaulted Peter and fabricated evidence.

Peter won his case against the police, received an apology, £13,000 compensation, and legal costs.

Another case against the police after acquittal at Crown Court

I have just settled Mr. Thomas’s case against the police for substantial damages and legal costs.

Unlike Andrew Mitchell, Mr. Thomas (name changed), who used less colourful language in his encounter with the police, was prosecuted and convicted at court for a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

He had to appeal to the Crown Court to have his conviction overturned, and instruct me to pursue a civil case against the police to obtain justice.

You can read Mr. Thomas’s case report on my blog.

On 9 August 2008, Mr. Thomas was shopping in Morrisons Supermarket when he saw a uniformed police officer also doing his shopping.

He asked the officer,

‘There is a 9.2 million pound deficit forecast for the next 3 years and you are here shopping for bloody shoelaces and shoe polish.  Do you think this is acceptable?’

The officer replied that he needed shoelaces to chase criminals and warned Mr. Thomas that he considered his conduct amounted to a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

As with Peter Garrigan, the policeman said that he used ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’.

Mr. Thomas was shocked to hear that and advised the officer that he would lodge a complaint as he considered this an unjustified response to a legitimate question.

He visited the nearby Police Station and filed his complaint.

Two months later, Mr. Thomas was charged with breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act and the case proceeded to trial.

The officer gave evidence to the effect that Mr. Thomas was aggressive and intimidating.

CCTV footage, which would have helped Mr. Thomas, was not disclosed by the Police or Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr. Thomas was convicted at the Magistrates’ Court and appealed to the Crown Court.

The CCTV evidence was shown at the appeal. It supported Mr. Thomas’s case that he was not aggressive or intimidating, and that the policeman himself did not seem alarmed or distressed.

Two years after the charges were brought Mr. Thomas’s appeal succeeded and his conviction was overturned.

I was contacted by Mr. Thomas in 2011 and asked to pursue a case against the police for malicious prosecution on his behalf.

I agreed to act by way of conditional fee ‘no win no fee’ agreement.

The claim was denied and I was obliged to issue Court proceedings against Leicestershire Police.

They vigorously fought the claim but shortly before trial Leicester Police agreed to negotiate.

They eventually paid my client fifteen times more than they originally offered in damages and legal costs.

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

Lucky man

Andrew Mitchell has been harshly treated by the police, media and his political party.

For a while, he was held up as a poster boy for everything wrong with the out-of-touch Tory party, the elite ruling classes, and modern Britain in general.

He was lucky though.

He was never assaulted, arrested, or pursued in the courts.

He had access to powerful friends and media contacts that could assist him in proving his case.

Afterwards, he could use his public profile to force the authorities to thoroughly investigate. He can pursue a libel case to clear his name.

Compared to my clients above, and the vast majority of us, he remains a privileged man.

If you want to pursue a case against the police contact me via my firm’s website or call 0151 933 5525. Alternatively, read more on my blog www.iaingould.co.uk.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Royal Commission into Police Misconduct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police Misconduct investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Images:

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

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

My Charon QC podcast about actions against the police

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Actions against the police solicitor Iain GouldI was recently interviewed in my firm’s London offices by Mike Semple-Piggott for the Charon QC law tour. We discussed civil actions against the police and police misconduct.

Mike is a popular and experienced blogger who uses the pseudonym ‘Charon QC’ on his many websites. He is touring the country interviewing lawyers, academics and others involved in the legal profession.

The interview was wide-ranging and interesting to do.  I described some of the practical issues of pursuing claims against the police using case studies and current examples. We also addressed public interest issues in the widest sense.

You can hear it here.
 

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