Can I Sue if the Police Use False Evidence to Justify Arrest?

On occasion, police officers will fabricate, lie, or otherwise create false evidence to justify an arrest. You may be able to sue for compensation if this has happened to you. Read on to find out more, contact us on 08000 124 246, or complete the online form on this page.

Photo of Kevin Donohghue, solicitor. Contact him if you think the police used false evidence to justify your arrest.

Contact Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, for advice if you think the police used false evidence to justify your arrest.

The Consequences of Police Fabricating Evidence to Justify Arrest

An unlawful arrest results in false imprisonment, which can lead to:

  • disciplinary action against the arresting officer
  • a compensation payment to the arrested person
  • bad publicity for the police force involved.

To try to avoid these issues, the police can resort to falsifying evidence to claim that an arrest was lawful.

How the Burden of Proof in False Imprisonment Claims Changes Things

In nearly all civil litigation compensation claims the burden of proof is on you, the claimant. This means that you must prove your claim against the defendant on “the balance of probabilities”. The court is asked “is it more probable than not that the claimant has made out his/ her claim as alleged?”

If the answer is “yes”, you win your claim and receive your legally entitled compensation.

False imprisonment (also known as unlawful arrest, wrongful arrest, or false arrest) is different because it reverses the burden of proof. So once you prove that you have been deprived of your liberty (which is usually obvious and accepted by the police) it is the defendant arresting officer’s job to justify your arrest by proving that it was lawful. (Read our detailed explanation about why this happens here.)

The question for the court in false imprisonment claims is then “is it more probable than not that the defendant has proven that the arrest/ detention was lawful?” If not, you can be awarded compensation calculated on this basis.

Justifying Arrest- The Reasonable Suspicion Test

Arresting officers rely on various powers to make a lawful arrest but, if you are arrested without a warrant, they must show that they followed the strict rules in s.24 and s.28 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (“PACE”) which, in plain English, are:

(i)  the arresting officer honestly suspected that you, the arrested person, were involved in the commission of a criminal offence

(ii) the arresting officer held that suspicion on reasonable grounds

(iii) the arresting officer’s reasons for effecting an arrest amount to a reasonable belief that the arrest was necessary, usually to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question

(iv) the officer informed you of the fact and grounds of arrest as soon as reasonably practicable

(v)  the arresting officer’s exercise of his or her discretion to arrest was reasonable in public law terms because PACE gives a discretion, not a duty to arrest.

So if the arresting officer had a reasonable and honestly held suspicion that you were involved in a criminal offence your arrest will be lawful provided the officer also complied with the other rules. This is true even if the arresting police officer was completely mistaken or acting on information from another person which turned out to be false.

Reasonable suspicion has been described as “more than a hunch but less than proof”. This is a very low threshold which makes false imprisonment claims hard to prove. But the first part of the s.24 test also includes another crucial element: honesty. If the arresting officer did not honestly believe you were involved in the commission of a criminal offence the other grounds for arrest are irrelevant. Like with the reasonable suspicion test, the honesty element is considered from both from the arresting officer’s point of view (subjectively) and from an impartial observer’s perspective (objectively).

In our experience, when faced with a challenging situation, police officers will sometimes exaggerate or lie to justify an arrest.

When the Police Create False Evidence: Public Order and Other Offences

Again, in our experience, police falsified evidence tends to appear in cases where the reason for arrest is based on the arresting officer’s own evidence. For example, under:

These are known as “the public order offences”. Police can create false evidence to justify arrest in public order offences in two situations:

  1. The reasonable suspicion test described above is met in some public order offences if (e.g. in s.5 Public Order Act) the arresting officer themselves is caused “harassment, alarm or distress” by a person’s threatening (or abusive) words or behaviour, disorderly behaviour, or displaying of writing, signs etc. which they consider threatening. (see DPP v Orum (1989) and Southard v DPP (2006)). Without the need for independent witnesses to be harassed, alarmed, or distressed, the police can be tempted to fabricate evidence as to their own state of mind.
  2. Depending on the public order offence, it is not enough for police officers to suffer from the alleged behaviour. Members of the public have to be threatened, harassed, alarmed, or distressed. But those people do not have to give evidence as witnesses. This means that the arresting police officer can give evidence about the state of mind of an independent witness. Because the witness is not available for cross-examination it can be difficult (without other evidence like CCTV footage) to prove that the arresting officer’s interpretation of events was wrong.

In addition to the public order offences, arresting officer evidence alone is commonly used to seek convictions for assaulting or obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duty.

Unscrupulous police officers who know these loopholes in the law can be tempted to lie and give false evidence. For example, in this blog post our client, who was arrested for a breach of the peace, was described by the arresting officer in his written statement as “hostile and aggressive”. Luckily for our client, body worn camera footage proved this was untrue and that the arresting officer lied.

The Three Things You Need to Claim Compensation if the Police Falsified Evidence

If you want to claim compensation for false imprisonment, you need to prove that:

  1. you were arrested and detained. Read our page on false imprisonment for a full explanation of what that means (it’s a technical term) and/or
  2. you were prosecuted, and the prosecution ended in your favour. The prosecution could be concluded, for example, by a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to discontinue proceedings, or it could proceed to trial where you were acquitted after the arresting officer gave false evidence at court, and
  3. the arresting officer gave false evidence. If available, we can help you by getting hold of body worn camera footage, CCTV, independent witness evidence etc. But because these cases hinge on a conflict between your version of events and the police’s, success or failure often depends upon your credibility, character, and resolve.

Every case is different. Read our page about remedies to find out what you might be entitled to claim.

How to Start Your False Imprisonment Compensation Claim Against the Police

Contact Donoghue Solicitors if you think the police gave false evidence to justify your arrest. Strict time limits apply so don’t delay. Depending on the circumstances we may be able to help prove your false imprisonment claim on a “no win no fee” basis. Read all about your funding options here, what information we need from you, then call 08000 124 246 or complete the online form on this page.

Read our other FAQs for more information, and please note our terms and conditions, and in particular, section 4 “Disclaimers”.

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