“We can’t thank Daniel Fitzsimmons enough. Thank you for being by our sides and sticking with our case for over 4 and a half years. You’ve been there for us whenever we have needed you. Words cannot explain how happy we are with the result. A 5* solicitors from beginning to end. We are eternally grateful.”
Clients: Steve and Sharon Rogers from Cornwall
Claims: Civil action against the police for false imprisonment, assault/ battery, trespass to goods.
Claimants’ lawyer: Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive at Donoghue Solicitors
Defendant: Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police
Result: £16,035 compensation for Steve Rogers, £15,700 compensation for Sharon, a full written apology, destruction of personal data if required.
Steve and Sharon Rogers (details provided by kind permission) are a middle-aged married couple. They are furniture and antique dealers in Cornwall. They had never been in trouble with the police before. That remained true until January 2015, when their lives were turned upside down after being wrongfully arrested by Devon & Cornwall Police at gunpoint.
In November 2014 Mr and Mrs Rogers bought a Transit van for work use from a second-hand car dealer. The van’s previous registered owner was a Mark Mosley. Unbeknown to the couple, on New Year’s Day in 2015 Mr Mosley committed a murder in Cambridge.
Cambridgeshire Police investigated the crime and tracked down the van, which was still registered to the murder suspect. They contacted Devon and Cornwall police and advised their colleagues to monitor the van.
Police Hard Stop Operation
But instead of simply keeping the couple’s van under observation, Devon and Cornwall police decided to take matters into their own hands. On 8th January 2015 Mr and Mrs Rogers were driving back from an auction near Truro when they what apprehended by armed police in a “hard stop” manoeuvre.
Watch this short video in which the BBC’s Danny Shaw explains what happens in a hard stop, which the police call an “enforced stop”. You’ll see how the police, in big, powerful sport-utility vehicles, surround the suspect’s car. They quickly jump out of the vehicles with guns pointed at the driver, screaming instructions. As Danny Shaw explains, the purpose of this tactic is to “surprise, dominate, and psychologically overpower the occupants.”
Police hard stops are high-risk operations involving live weapons. They can be deadly if things go wrong. For example, in 2011, Metropolitan Police officers used the hard stop technique to apprehend Mark Duggan at gunpoint. The police shot and killed Mr Duggan during the operation, leading to widespread rioting throughout the country.
It is no exaggeration to say that a hard stop at gunpoint is the stuff of nightmares.
‘We were just driving home from the auction when suddenly a policeman in front of us got out of the car and pointed a gun on us.
“One of the officers shouted: ‘If you don’t put your hands up we will shoot you.’
“I literally froze in fear and couldn’t believe what was happening to us.
“I was so scared. These policemen were prepared to shoot us. I feared for our lives.’
What the Police Did Next
Armed Devon & Cornwall Police officers
- held the couple at gunpoint
- dragged Mr Rogers out of the van
- pinned him to the ground
- handcuffed him.
Incredibly, the police then told the couple that they were being arrested for murder. This revelation was truly shocking and made an already terrifying incident worse.
Mr Rogers protested, saying that he had his ID in the transit van. He could quickly and easily prove that he was not the person the police were looking for. It didn’t matter. The police arrested both Mr and Mrs Rogers anyway.
The officers took the frightened couple to Camborne police station where they were “booked in”. Police took their photographs and fingerprints. Officers separated the couple and locked them in cells.
The police made enquiries and, as Mr Rogers had said, accepted that the couple were not implicated in the murder. The officers released them six hours later. The couple were simply told to go home. But their van had been impounded so they didn’t have a vehicle. And by now it was night. They lived eight miles away and asked the police to give them a lift home. The officers refused. Eventually, they got home by taxi. The couple did not have any money to pay for it and had to get help from their daughter.
Consequences of Police Arrest at Gunpoint
The hard stop was the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to Steve and Sharon. Mrs. Rogers said:
“I still sleep in fear the poor murder victim’s family would find out that we were suspects and track us down. We have sleepless nights and I worry for my children’s safety.
“I will never forget the day we were held at gunpoint and nearly shot for a murder we didn’t commit.
“I’m nervous every time I’m in the van – it has shaken us to our core.’
Understandably, Both Mr and Mrs Rogers suffered serious, lasting, psychological effects.
How Devon and Cornwall Police Explained the Hard Stop and Gunpoint Arrest
Devon and Cornwall Police were unapologetic with respect to the hard stop operation. Superintendent John Green of Devon and Cornwall Police said:
“At all times we were acting in accordance with policing procedures and at the request of Cambridgeshire Police, and as soon as it became clear that Mr and Mrs Rogers were innocent we ensured they were released as soon as possible.
“However, I appreciate that this could be a frightening experience for an innocent person to have gone through, and I am disappointed to hear that Mr and Mrs Rogers didn’t receive a suitable level of aftercare following their arrest and release.
“I have since been in touch with Mrs Rogers to discuss her concerns and have apologised that the aftercare wasn’t suitable.
“I am hoping to meet with them shortly to have this conversation with them in person, and to discuss what lessons we and Cambridgeshire Police can learn as a Force to make sure this isn’t repeated.”
Impact of the Police’s Statement
The couple found out that they had being wrongly implicated in a murder investigation. Mark Mosley was charged, and later convicted, for the murder of Jessie Smith on New Years’ Day at a travellers’ site in Cambridge.
The only connection to Mr and Mrs Rogers was the van.
Devon and Cornwall Police’s comments didn’t go far enough in their opinion. They wanted to know what had gone wrong, why, and a full apology for what had happened. After all, Superintendent Green only apologised for aftercare and not the police’s actions before, during, or immediately after the hard stop and gunpoint arrest.
How Donoghue Solicitors Helped After this Police Arrest at Gunpoint
Mr and Mrs Rogers contacted Donoghue solicitors after an internet search. They knew that we represented clients in civil actions against the police throughout England and Wales. Could we help them too?
Daniel quickly got to work. He
- gathered evidence including custody records and other records
- commissioned psychological reports to find out the extent to which the couple had suffered. These confirmed that both Mr and Mrs Rogers developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the hard stop. Mr Rogers had also lost out financially after the police impounded the transit van.
- sent details of the couple’s compensation claim to Devon and Cornwall Police.
The force denied liability. It argued that the officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the hard stop and arrest the couple at gunpoint because the driver of the vehicle may have committed a murder. Bizarrely, the denial applied equally to both Mr and Mrs Rogers. The police knew that the suspect was a male. There was no suggestion from Cambridgeshire Police that a woman was involved in the murder. But Devon and Cornwall Police gave no explanation for why they also arrested Mrs Rogers.
Despite the denial Devon and Cornwall Police made a pre-action “without prejudice” offer of £1250 each. Daniel discussed the offers with his clients. To him, it was clear that the police significantly under-valued their claims. The lawyer advised his clients to reject, which they did.
Court Proceedings Against Devon and Cornwall Police
The police did not increase their offers or accept responsibility. Mr Fitzsimmons discussed the situation with his clients. In his opinion the force was on shaky ground maintaining its denial, especially with respect to Mrs Rogers. Daniel explained that, despite the risks, he needed to issue formal court proceedings to progress their cases.
Mr and Mrs Rogers agreed, and Mr Fitzsimmons filed the necessary papers at court. Again Devon and Cornwall Police denied liability.
The couple’s claims were headed towards a County Court trial. Daniel suggested that representatives from both sides meet face-to-face to discuss the issues. If they could narrow the points of dispute perhaps his clients’ cases could settle outside of court?
Result of this civil action against Devon and Cornwall Police
Eventually Devon & Cornwall Police agreed to meet face-to-face at their offices in Exeter, some 250 miles away. Hardly convenient, but worth it if the police were serious.
Daniel flew to Exeter for the Joint Settlement Meeting. At the meeting the parties were represented by barristers and solicitors. Daniel and Una Morris, the couple’s barrister, pressed for a realistic settlement that represented proper compensation for the couple’s psychological and other losses.
Eventually, following intense negotiations, the claims were settled:
- Mr Rogers was awarded £15,700 + £335 compensation for trespass to goods, (for losses caused by the police impounding his Transit van for a week).
- Mrs Rogers received £15,700 compensation for her claim.
These settlements were more than 12 ½ times higher than the police’s earlier offers.
Daniel also demanded that Devon and Cornwall Police make a full, meaningful apology and pay the couple’s legal costs.
With Mr Fitzsimmons’ help the claim, which Devon and Cornwall Police repeatedly denied in full, was resolved. The couple did not have to go to court to fight for compensation after their wrongful arrest at gunpoint. They can now move on with their lives confident in the knowledge that justice has been done.
(This case report is based on our clients’ version of events, some of which is disputed.)