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.

 

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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.

 

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

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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.