70,000 reasons to sue South Wales Police

“I cannot thank Kevin Donoghue enough for fighting my case and putting my trust back in the UK legal system – it can work, and does work with the continued hard ethical work of solicitors such a Kevin Donoghue and his team.’

-Client

Overview:

Client: “Andrea Johnson” from South Wales

Claim: Civil action against South Wales Police

Claimant’s lawyer: Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director at Donoghue Solicitors

Defendant: Chief Constable of South Wales Police

Result: more than £70,000 compensation, destruction of personal data, legal costs.

N.B. This account is based on our client’s version of events, some of which is disputed.

What Happened?

Andrea Johnson (name changed at our client’s request) worked as a security guard and steward at sporting events. She had done that job for over 20 years and loved it. Miss Johnson was a professional, who had a Security Industry Authority (“SIA”) licence. The Authority contracts with the Home Office and maintains high standards. Andrea’s licence proved that she

  • was a fit and proper person to act in that role
  • had received training to do the job
  • had an unblemished record
  • was comfortable and familiar with dealing with the police.

All this made what happened in August 2012 and afterwards hard to take.

Traffic Stop in Cardiff City Centre

At about 6:30pm Miss Johnson was driving her grey Rover car through heavy traffic in Cardiff city centre. She was tired but looking forward to the coming days. The 2012 Olympics were on and Cardiff was hosting some events at the Millennium Stadium. Earlier that day Andrea picked up her accreditation and ID to work on the security staff at the Olympics. She had done her specialist training and was due to start the next day. This was the fulfilment of a long-held ambition. To be part of one of the great sporting spectacles was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The traffic was slow due to road closures for the Olympics. A police car appeared behind Miss Johnson. She had been subject to random stops twice in recent months and drove carefully and appropriately.

Andrea was surprised when the police car’s lights and siren went on. She assumed it was for an emergency and pulled over. The police car did too.

A female police officer got out and approached Andrea’s car. The officer, PC B, asked Miss Johnson to get out of her car. Andrea asked why the police had stopped her. The officer replied that “there did not need to be a reason,” and sharply told her to get out.

Miss Johnson did not feel that she had much choice, or that she had done anything wrong. She did as she was told and stood on the pavement. The officer’s male colleague, PC J, joined them.

The police officers repeatedly asked Andrea who owned the car. Miss Johnson told them it was hers. She bought it nearly two years’ ago. They asked her if it was insured. She assured police that it was.

The officers then demanded identification. Andrea had plenty. She produced her

  • photo ID driving licence
  • passport
  • official Olympic photographic ID badge
  • SIA licence.

The police officers took her ID and checked it, talking between themselves out of earshot. PC J said that they had done a DVLA check and that the vehicle was owned by a “Mr Andrea Johnson”, not a “Miss Andrea Johnson”. They again asked who owned the car. The officers were not satisfied with her response and told Andrea to “start telling the truth”.

Miss Johnson was shocked and confused by the whole episode. She had done nothing wrong and wanted to go home.

Then it started to rain. Andrea told the police that she would get back in her car while they “sorted this mess out”.

She headed towards her car. PC J grabbed her arm to stop her. Andrea shook him off, pushed past him and sat in the car, holding her keys with the window down. She made no attempt to drive off. The police still had her ID after all.

PC B tried to get the keys and told Andrea to get out of the car. She refused. The officer threatened to arrest her if she didn’t comply. Andrea reluctantly handed over the keys.

PC J shouted at Andrea to get out of the car. She did. Again, the police asked her who owned the car. Andrea moved to get back in the car. As she did this the male officer grabbed her shoulders and pushed her into the back wing of the car. This was a forceful, aggressive move. It caused a deep cut to Andrea’s left shoulder and neck . Miss Johnson’s blouse poppers ripped off, exposing her. It even dented the bodywork of her car.

Photo of our client's shoulder, which was injured during her arrest by South Wales Police.
Shoulder injury caused by South Wales Police during arrest.
Photo of our client's car damaged during a traffic stop by South Wales Police.
Damage to the side of our client’s car.

PC J subdued Andrea using a neck hold. Then the officer twisted her wrist and thumb in a “goose-neck hold”, causing immense pain. The female officer joined in, holding Miss Johnson’s left arm and putting her knee into Andrea’s thigh. The police then handcuffed her in the “rear stack” position.

As many as ten South Wales Police force officers arrived in two vans to assist. They had their sirens and blue lights going. The public display embarrassed Andrea. The male officer taunted her, calling her a “clever girl” who had “damaged her car”. The police breathalysed her. It was negative. They re-handcuffed Andrea after the test and took her to Cardiff Bay police station.

She was booked in and made to wait until nearly 11pm for an interview. Miss Johnson was not allowed to use a private bathroom despite being on her period. After interview the police told Andrea she would be prosecuted for assaulting a police constable in the execution of his duty. They bailed and released Miss Johnson about five hours after arrest. Andrea had a 45-minute walk back to her car, in the rain, without a coat, in a ripped blouse, at midnight.

The charge meant that her SIA licence was immediately suspended. She couldn’t take part in the Olympics. Miss Johnson lost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a valuable source of income.

Criminal Prosecution at the Magistrates Court

The police shattered Andrea’s dream of playing a part in the Olympics, injured her, and damaged her car. But that wasn’t the end of Miss Johnson’s troubles. South Wales Police passed her case to the Crown Prosecution Service (“CPS”). They prosecuted her with the serious charge of assaulting a police officer in the execution of his duty.

Before the hearing at the Magistrates Court the CPS lawyer offered to drop the case if Miss Johnson agreed to be bound over to keep the peace, a lesser charge. If Andrea rejected the offer and was convicted of assault, she could be imprisoned and pay a hefty fine. But Andrea knew she had done nothing wrong and turned it down.

The case went to a criminal trial at which the police officers gave evidence. They were supported by a witness, Mr N, who lived nearby and said he saw the incident.

The officers told the court that they were driving behind Andrea’s car in traffic when she began speeding (at in the region of 40mph). PC B checked the vehicle’s details on the Police National Computer (“PNC”) and found that it was registered to a Mr Andrea Johnson. They could tell that a woman was driving so pulled the car over to check the identity of its driver under s.163 Road Traffic Act and to address speeding.

The prosecution argued

1. that the traffic stop was a lawful execution of the arresting officer’s duties, and

2. that Andrea assaulted PC J in the dispute, so

3. she was guilty of the charge of assaulting PC J in the execution of his duty.

The Court convicted and fined Andrea on the basis of the evidence given by the police and Mr. N.

She was distraught. Miss Johnson knew this would mean the end of her security career. But more than that, she heard police officers give false evidence at her trial. She had suffered a terrible injustice at the hands of South Wales Police.

Appeal

Andrea appealed the conviction to the Crown Court. The Court heard witness evidence again, but this time it found in Miss Johnson’s favour, and allowed her appeal on a submission of “no case to answer”.

The Recorder judge found that

1. the officers had no lawful power to detain Miss Johnson at the scene once they had established her identity

2. as a result, they acted outside the execution of their duty from that point on.

The court quashed Andrea’s conviction of assaulting a police constable in the execution of his duty.

Miss Johnson was relieved that her criminal conviction did not stand. But she worried that her record would still show it, which affected her work prospects. She had also been through a stressful time, lost income, and felt that she had been unfairly treated by South Wales Police.

Andrea could not let it lie.

South Wales Police Complaint

Miss Johnson made a formal complaint against the police. She wanted to make sure that both officers were

“…held accountable for their actions and this situation does not happen to any other member of the public.’

South Wales Police’s Professional Standards Department dealt with the investigation “in house”. It did not go smoothly. Miss Johnson felt that she was “given the run-around”. She had to pressure the police to progress the investigation. Despite this, it dragged on for over two years and went through many investigators’ hands. She also felt that, even though she was “the victim and not under investigation although [I] am constantly being questioned.” The investigation left Andrea with the feeling that she was subject to “belitting” behaviour, and “humiliation”.

South Wales Police’s formal complaint report found no case to answer for misconduct. But it recommended that one of the investigating officers receive “management action”.

Miss Johnson did not give up. She involved her MP and complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. But ultimately, as so often happens, her police complaint went nowhere.

Criminal Investigation of South Wales Police Force Officers

The Crown Prosecution Service also reviewed the case but declined to prosecute the arresting officers. It cited

“a number of conflicts in this evidence’

which meant that

“…there was insufficient evidence for the case to proceed to Court and there is not a realistic prospect of conviction in this case.’

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor. He helped his client claim compensation against South Wales Police.
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, represented his client in her successful compensation claim against South Wales Police.

How Donoghue Solicitors Helped

Andrea was told by contacts in the legal profession in her area that

“not one solicitor in Cardiff was confident to go up against South Wales Police”.

She searched the internet for help. Miss Johnson found out that, even though Donoghue Solicitors is based in Liverpool, we specialise in civil actions against the police throughout England and Wales. Perhaps we could help?

She contacted us and explained her situation. Kevin Donoghue, our solicitor director, took full details from Miss Johnson. Kevin is a well-known expert who has many years’ experience in bringing successful civil actions against the police. He explained that, even though Andrea had her criminal conviction overturned, it did not mean that she would get damages in civil court. Despite this, he felt her case was worth investigating.

No Win No Fee Claim Against South Wales Police

Kevin agreed to take Miss Johnson’s case on a no win no fee, or “conditional fee”, basis. This was a risk for the firm. Her case could take years. Kevin’s firm would not receive any payment while it was ongoing. Most importantly, if Andrea did not recover damages, Kevin’s firm would not get paid at all.

But he was determined to help Miss Johnson with her quest for justice. Mr Donoghue reviewed

  • many files and documents relating to the criminal prosecution and complaint
  • Andrea’s criminal solicitor’s file
  • lengthy court transcripts
  • photographs
  • other evidence.

This exercise took time and money. But ultimately, the solicitor was satisfied that Andrea had grounds to pursue a civil action against the police for:

  • false imprisonment
  • assault/ battery
  • breach of the Data Protection Act 1998
  • negligence
  • malicious prosecution
  • misfeasance in public office.

He worked with Miss Johnson to prepare a detailed letter of claim and sent it to the Chief Constable of South Wales Police.

Civil Court Proceedings

As is so often the case, South Wales Police vigorously denied liability for every cause of action. This meant that if Andrea wanted justice, she would have to fight her case in court. Kevin explained that, if the case went to trial, Andrea would have to give evidence and face the police  in court a third time. There would also be financial consequences if she lost. After discussing the implications of this step with his client, Kevin issued court proceedings and pursued Andrea’s case to trial. Among other things, this involved

  • dealing with procedural matters and hearings with the court and police
  • preparing and exchanging witness evidence and documents
  • commissioning expert medical evidence which proved Andrea’s physical and psychological injuries.

As matters progressed South Wales Police’s lawyers made “Part 36” offers to settle the claim. These offers are designed to put the claimant under pressure to settle. (There are serious costs consequences if Part 36 offers are not beaten at trial.) The police offered £2,000, which Kevin advised his client to reject. She did so. They then upped their offer to £3,000, which Andrea again rejected. Kevin advised Miss Johnson to make her own Part 36 offer which, if beaten, would result in additional damages. She did so.

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, and David Hughes, barrister at Cardiff Civil Justice Centre.
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, and David Hughes, barrister outside Cardiff Civil and Family Justice Centre.

County Court Trial

Andrea’s civil action against South Wales Police took place before His Honour Judge Curran QC, a senior judge sitting in the Cardiff County Court at the Civil and Family Justice Centre. The trial lasted three days. Both parties had invested a lot of time and money in the case. Andrea and Kevin were determined to fight to the end. But, no doubt, the police’s lawyers were confident of success. If they were not, they would have made realistic settlement proposals.

From the beginning, the scales of justice tilted towards the police. The police are taxpayer-funded and spared no expense in representation by a specialist barrister.

Kevin Donoghue instructed barrister David Hughes to represent Miss Johnson. Like Kevin, Mr Hughes took a risk and represented Andrea on a “no win no fee” basis.

And on one side, the Court heard evidence from Miss Johnson alone as the claimant. On the other side were two respected police officers who appeared in full uniform, an impressive sight. They were supported by Mr N, an independent witness.

All witnesses gave evidence under oath. Sworn evidence matters because untrue statements can lead to criminal prosecution for perjury.

Witness Evidence

As often happens in civil trials, witness performance decided the case.

Crucially, PC J and PC B gave inconsistent evidence in the County Court when compared to their testimony in the Crown Court appeal hearing.

PC J’s evidence

Mr Hughes, the claimant’s barrister, focused on whether PC J was satisfied as to the identity of the driver having checked Andrea’s documents. The officer confirmed that he reviewed her ID documentation and PNC result. When PC J gave evidence in the Crown Court, he said it was at that point that he knew that he had stopped Miss Andrea Johnson.

If true, from that moment the officer had no legal grounds to detain Andrea. That meant he also had no grounds to arrest her. And it rendered unlawful every police and prosecution step afterwards.

The officer recognised the consequences of this admission. He tried to backtrack in this exchange:

Mr Hughes: You said, “I was satisfied that the person I had stopped was Andrea Johnson, Miss Andrea Johnson, as opposed to Mr.’

PC J: That is what I said at the Crown Court.

Judge: Are you saying there was anything incorrect about the answer you gave there?

PC J: No.

Mr Hughes: Were you saying at the Crown Court that you had purported to exercise other powers to stop – for a moving traffic offence – speeding?

PC J: Not just that – no insurance.

Mr Hughes: But that would only have been an issue if the person was not Andrea Johnson?

PC J: Correct.

Mr Hughes: And you were satisfied that she was?

PC J: Correct – sorry I got that wrong. I still have got an issue with addresses and with identity. I had an issue with identification from the start. I was not satisfied with identification until I had done my checks.

Mr Hughes: That is not what you told the Crown Court, is it?

PC J: No.

Mr Hughes: So either here or there evidence your evidence was untrue?

PC J: On the day at the Crown Court – it was a high-pressure environment and I felt I was being pushed to say that answer. I felt I was being pushed to give that answer by the judge and Mr G [Andrea’s barrister in the Crown Court].

(our emphasis in bold)

PC B’s evidence

Mr Hughes, the barrister, again focused on the issue of what identity information PC B had seen. She was the more junior officer of the two, and like PC J, PC B gave inconsistent answers. She said she was “not purposely untruthful” in giving alternate evidence previously and followed the lead of her colleague, blaming the “high-pressure environment” of court as an excuse for giving inconsistent evidence.

How Judge Curran Handled the Officers’ Evidence

The judge allowed the South Wales Police officers the opportunity to clarify their inconsistent statements. When it became clear that they were at risk of perjuring themselves, he intervened and warned both officers of the consequences of making false statements. HHJ Curran told the police that their answers could be used in proceedings against them.

(Perjury is committed when a lawfully sworn witness or interpreter in judicial proceedings wilfully makes a false statement which he knows to be false or does not believe to be true, and which is material in the proceedings.)

It carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and/or a fine.

What the Judge Said About South Wales Police’s Case

In a written judgment, HHJ Curran QC found Andrea to be a truthful and reliable witness. He said she

“answered questions throughout directly and simply. She was never evasive, nor did she volunteer unnecessary information in any attempt to put herself in a better light.’

The judge did not feel the same way about the police or their witness. He said PC J was

‘occasionally evasive, defensive, and in more than one instance appeared unreasonably obstinate in the answers which he chose to give…’

In particular, HHJ Curran QC  referred to the exchange with Mr Hughes above, saying that PC J:

‘sought to retract an answer given in evidence at the Crown Court, on a significant point, by claiming that he had been pressurised into making an admission which he should not have made. At times, he looked uncomfortable under cross-examination, when, if his account were an entirely truthful and accurate one, he had no reason at all to be uncomfortable. Overall he was not in my view a reliable or satisfactory witness in respect of conflicts of primary fact.’

The Judge said that PC B gave “curiously vague answers” and found some of her answers “not convincing”. He noted that

‘She resorted to a reference to “stress” in attempting to distance herself from an answer she had given at the hearing at the Crown Court.’

And HHJ Curran QC “did not regard Mr N as a reliable witness”. The judge found that it was impossible for Mr N to have seen the incident from his home, saying:

‘the witness simply cannot have seen any of the detail of the Claimant’s actions inside the car which he purported to describe, and his claim to have done so casts further doubt upon his reliability as a witness generally.;

The judge also commented on Mr N’s concerns for his visa (or work permit) if he gave evidence. Apparently “someone” reassured him about that, resulting in him giving evidence which led to Andrea’s conviction in the Magistrates Court. HHJ Curran QC drily noted that the source of his reassurance was not identified.

He noted that Mr N’s witness statement

‘was written down within an hour or so of the incident, was not taken by an independent officer, but by PC J  himself. Its correspondence in detail with the officer’s own account is remarkable.

Mr N’s statement included similar mistakes, such as describing Andrea’s car as green, when photographs clearly showed it was grey. And Mr N, whose first language is not English, gave the police a statement which

‘contains phraseology which would not come naturally to a non-English speaker – for example, “I had a clear and unobstructed view” and “the events were fresh and clear in my mind” but which has a distinct – and suspicious – flavour of terminology favoured by officialdom.’

Among other things, the judge found that

  • Andrea was not speeding, as the officers claimed
  • the officers stopped Andrea’s car to check the identity of the driver (to clear up the Mr/ Miss uncertainty) and not because of speed
  • Andrea’s ID matched exactly with the PNC information, save for the “Mr” in the car registration details
  • PC J was satisfied that he had established Andrea’s identity after examining her documents, as confirmed in his evidence at the Crown Court
  • the South Wales Police officer knew that he had no right to prevent her from returning to her car
  • any pushing or force by Andrea when she got out of the car again was “done so defensively”.
  • the first actual use of force was by PC J on Miss Johnson
  • he accepted Andrea’s explanation of the police assault causing her injuries and noted that PC J “had no injury of even the most trivial kind”
  • the officer “could not explain the injury he undoubtedly had inflicted upon Miss Johnson, an incised wound, nor the damage he caused to the bodywork of the car by propelling her against it, which speaks for itself in terms of force.”
  • “unlawful force was used upon Miss Johnson”, and “it was in those circumstances that PC J purported to exercise a power of arrest and handcuffed the Claimant with the assistance of PC B”.

Result

In making these findings the County Court judge went further than the Crown Court Recorder. He vindicated Andrea’s, Kevin’s, and David Hughes’ determination to take South Wales Police to court.

Andrea’s criminal conviction had been quashed earlier; now a civil court would award compensation for the police’s unlawful acts.

Compensation would be substantial. This is because every action, including the prosecution and fighting Miss Johnsons’ appeal, flowed from an unlawful arrest.

HHJ Curran QC awarded Andrea:

  • £2,500 damages for false imprisonment
  • £5,000 compensation for assault (damages for pain and suffering and loss of amenity)
  • £21,000 for malicious prosecution
  • £2,000 in respect of quantifiable damages.

But Andrea’s case was not over even after the three-day trial and wait for the written court judgment. The judge invited the parties to try to agree damages for the remaining heads of claim. If they could not, he told them to come back to court.

Fight for Extra Compensation

As well as the awards above, Kevin Donoghue advised Andrea that she should seek compensation for

  • handcuff injuries over and above the damages for false imprisonment
  • aggravated damages which include compensation for injury to feelings, among other things
  • exemplary damages, which are extremely unusual as they are punitive, and, as the judge explained, intended to punish the police “for their oppressive, arbitrary, and unconstitutional actions towards the claimant, and for injury and injustice done to her as a result, for which basic damages under all the other heads are insufficient as compensation.”

You can read more about these heads of claim, including why some are rarely paid, here.

South Wales Police did not agree with Mr Donoghue’s assessment of his client’s case. The parties made full submissions and went back to court.

The judge sided with the victim of police misconduct once again. He noted that

“the claimant submits that this is a bad case: the police behaved in a thoroughly overbearing and violent manner, unconstitutionally, towards an innocent member of the public. Having done that, they continued in their unlawful conduct by the manufacture of a case against Miss Johnson before the criminal courts, resulting in an unjust criminal conviction in which she had to appeal for it to be quashed.’

Judge Curran was particularly concerned that

“The officers, PC J in particular, persisted in giving inaccurate or untruthful evidence to this court, and all that has caused Miss Johnson years of stress and real distress. That sort of conduct by the police is intolerable, and in my judgment is deserving of punishment.’

HHJ Curran QC ordered South Wales Police to pay the following (on top of the previously awarded damages):

  • £500 compensation for unlawful and unnecessary use of handcuffs
  • £10,000 aggravated damages
  • £20,000 exemplary damages.

Adding up all the figures above does not reflect the total award. Andrea received more than £70,000 because she was also entitled to interest and beat her own Part 36 offer to settle the claim.

This meant that her court-ordered compensation award was more than 35 times the police’s original offer. There could be no argument from South Wales Police about whether that amount was appropriate. An experienced judge had heard all the evidence after all. Andrea got exactly what she deserved.

As well as compensation, Kevin also demanded the destruction of Andrea’s

  • DNA sample
  • fingerprints
  • photographs
  • other evidence taken by the police.

He also made arrangements to update the Police National Computer database to remove reference to Andrea’s wrongful conviction.

Kevin was satisfied with the results of the case. He said,

“My client deserved this hard-fought award. Actions against the police are not easy or quick. We worked together for over four years. It was a difficult time and the emotional toll on her of dealing with South Wales Police’s misconduct came through in our day-to-day dealings. Despite that, she was resolute in her pursuit of justice. I am glad I could play my part in helping her achieve it and move on from this traumatic period in her life.’

What it meant to our client

Miss Johnson was thrilled with the result. She wrote:

“I cannot thank Kevin Donoghue and his firm enough for the many months of hard work in preparation for a long week’s trial that eventually led to a very positive verdict along with exemplary damages and compensation. I was rightly compensated for the police’s wrong doings, thanks to Kevin and his team. The truth was unveiled and all wrong doings finally put out in the open; as a result of the case, all records in relation to incident were rightly destroyed. Which Kevin ensured and followed this up immediately after trial. I witnessed that Kevin and his team left nothing to chance; and the chosen barrister professionally reassured me, he was honest and open – explaining things in layman’s terms every step of the case.

I am both relieved and grateful, and again thank Kevin Donoghue for taking on my case. I sincerely think he is one of the most honourable solicitors that l have met; the firm show commendable professionalism and honesty to those they represent – often people in vulnerable and frightening positions (having spoken to other solicitors that would not take my case against the police). Kevin Donoghue and his team have helped me put a negative and horrible experience behind me. I can now positively move on with my life after many years of worry and anxiousness; a two year wait from the Independent Police Complaints, which resulted in my complaint not being upheld.’

How to bring your own Actions Against the Police Claim

Sadly, Miss Johnson’s claim is not unique. But specialist legal help is available. We have a proven track record of winning police misconduct cases. You can read more case reports here.

Contact us on 08000 124 246 or complete this short online form to find out if we can help you sue the police and get the justice you deserve.