How an alleged Section 17 PACE Error Resulted in £14,000 Compensation


Client: “Ravi” (name changed)

Claim: Civil action against the police for:

  • trespass
  • false imprisonment
  • assault and battery
  • malicious prosecution.

Claimant’s lawyer: Daniel Fitzsimmons, Director and Chartered Legal Executive

Defendant: Metropolitan Police

Result: £14,000 compensation plus legal costs.

What happened?

Ravi is a London-based IT professional who has never been in trouble with the police.

He lives in a multi-generation family home, which is common in the Asian community. Perhaps more unusually, his sister and her ex-husband still lived in the family home even though they were divorced.

One early evening, Ravi came home from work to find dishes in the sink. He set about washing them when he heard a knock at the front door. Ravi answered it holding a towel and with soap suds on his hands.

He saw two Metropolitan police officers, who asked if they could come in.

Ravi asked the officers why, and who they were looking for. He also calmly explained that he had just come home and did not know who was there.

One of the officers said Ravi’s sister’s name. Helpfully, Ravi told them he would go and check if she was at home. He tried to shut the door, but the police officer put his foot in it. He then dragged Ravi out of the house, handcuffed him, and arrested Ravi for resisting arrest.

Ravi’s sister and her ex-husband heard the disturbance and came downstairs.

His sister told the police that she had called them to report a domestic incident involving her ex, who was standing alongside her. She told the police that Ravi was not involved. He was her brother, not her ex-husband.

Despite this, the officers refused to release Ravi. Instead, they took him to a police station to be “booked in”. The police took Ravi’s DNA and photograph, before interviewing him and releasing Ravi on police bail.

Criminal Prosecution and Trial

Ravi’s ordeal did not end there.

The Metropolitan Police referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS lawyer accepted the officer’s version of events and prosecuted Ravi for resisting arrest.

Quite rightly, he was shocked, angry, and upset. Ravi feared for his freedom, good name, and reputation and instructed a criminal law solicitor to defend the charges.

Despite the circumstances, the CPS did not budge, so Ravi pleaded not guilty and stood trial in the Magistrates Court. Thankfully, he was acquitted.

Ravi filed a formal complaint with the Metropolitan Police, whose own Professional Standards Department conducted an investigation. As often happens, the supposedly impartial investigator found no wrongdoing on the part of the officers.

But Ravi could not let it lie. He had:

  • been forcibly removed from his own home, arrested, and detained
  • prosecuted on “trumped up” charges all the way to trial
  • mistreated by the police, whose own investigators dismissed his complaint, and
  • his details saved in the Police National Computer and local systems even though Ravi had been found not guilty.
Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, director at Donoghue Solicitors, who helped a client recover compensation after a section 17 PACE error.

Daniel Fitzsimmons, director and Chartered Legal Executive, helped with a section 17 PACE error compensation claim.

Instructing Donoghue Solicitors to Bring a s.17 PACE Claim Against the Metropolitan Police

Ravi contacted Donoghue Solicitors after an internet search, and spoke with Daniel Fitzsimmons, director and Chartered Legal Executive.

Daniel took details and agreed to help on a “no win no fee” basis. He obtained relevant evidence, including the police’s own complaint investigation file and the officers’ body worn video.

Daniel found the key moment in the body worn camera footage: when the arresting officer used his foot to stop Ravi closing the front door. As Mr Fitzsimmons explained:

“I felt that this, together with Ravi’s protestations, could be used at court to show that Ravi did not consent to the police’s presence in his home. As a result, the officer unlawfully entered the property without permission, before pulling Ravi out of it and arresting him.”

If the court agreed with Daniel’s interpretation, then the trespass, arrest, and everything that followed, were unlawful. Consequently, Ravi would be entitled to compensation from the Metropolitan Police.

With Ravi’s agreement, Mr Fitzsimmons sent a Letter of Claim to the Met demanding compensation for:

  • trespass
  • false imprisonment
  • assault and battery
  • malicious prosecution.

In response, the Metropolitan Police denied liability in full.

Legal Arguments in Court Proceedings

The Force’s denial meant that Ravi had no alternative but to issue formal, and costly, court proceedings.

In its defence, the Met argued that its officers had the power to enter and search the family home without a court warrant. The Force relied on Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (known as PACE).

What does Section 17 PACE do?

Section 17 PACE authorises the police to enter and search premises

  • without a court warrant, or
  • the owner/ occupier’s permission

in limited situations. These include:

17 Entry for purpose of arrest etc.

(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, and without prejudice to any other enactment, a constable may enter and search any premises for the purpose—

(b) of arresting a person for an indictable offence

(c) of arresting a person for an offence under—

(iii) section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 (fear or provocation of violence)

(e) of saving life or limb or preventing serious damage to property.

(5) Subject to subsection 6 below, all the rules of common law under which a constable has power to enter premises without a warrant are hereby abolished.

(6) Nothing in subsection (5) above affects any power of entry to deal with or prevent a breach of the peace.

(Our emphasis in bold.)

Overlap with Section 117 PACE

The Metropolitan Police also argued that the arresting officer was entitled to use reasonable force under section 117 PACE, which says:

117 Power of constable to use reasonable force.

Where any provision of this Act—

(a)confers a power on a constable; and

(b)does not provide that the power may only be exercised with the consent of some person, other than a police officer,

the officer may use reasonable force, if necessary, in the exercise of the power.

Consideration of the Law and Facts in this s.17 PACE Compensation Claim

Daniel knew that, despite the video footage and circumstances, this was not a straightforward case. No action against the police ever is. There were strengths and weaknesses to consider and risks to anticipate.

Supporting Ravi’s case, Mr Fitzsimmons explained to his client that the police must satisfy a high threshold to justify entering homes without a warrant.

Quite rightly, that ability is reserved for exceptional circumstances. As Mr Justice Collins said in the leading case of Syed v Director of Public Prosecutions:

it is a serious matter for a citizen to have his house entered against his will and by force by police officers.

And, as Daniel noted:

“The well-known phrase, ‘Every man’s home is his castle,’ still applies, especially when the police rely on s.17 PACE to force entry without a warrant.”

Considering section 17 in detail, Daniel felt that nothing in Ravi’s sister’s police report suggested that this was either:

  1. an urgent “life or limb” or serious damage to property matter, or
  2. a Public Order (fear or provocation of violence) case.

Instead, “I interpreted the police’s visit as a mere ‘welfare check’, which meant that they were relying on section 17 in error,” he said.

If his view was accepted by the court, Daniel could refer to the court’s guidance in Syed, which said that:

Concern for welfare is not sufficient to justify an entry within the terms of s.17(1)(e). It is altogether too low a test.

Could the Police Argue a Breach of the Peace?

Mr Fitzsimmons also reviewed the officers’ body worn camera footage to consider if there was a breach of the peace which the police could use to justify their actions.

He paid particular attention to this element because the police routinely confuse the law in breach of the peace cases. Briefly, it is where the behaviour of the person involved caused the arresting officer to believe that:

  1. a breach of the peace had or would occur; and that
  2. it related to harm which was actually done or likely to be done to a person or, in his/ her presence, their property; or
  3. a person is in fear of being harmed through an assault, an affray, a riot, unlawful assembly or other disturbance.

(Read a full explanation here: Do the Police Know the Law in Breach of the Peace UK Cases?)

In Daniel’s opinion, Ravi acted reasonably throughout. This meant that:

“The video helped because it could convince the court that Ravi was calm despite the extreme stress. It would prevent the arresting officer from arguing that he could arrest Ravi for a breach of the peace under PACE section 17(6).”

Contrasting the more positive aspects of the case were other things. For example, the potential claim for malicious prosecution was challenging because Ravi had to prove all elements of malicious prosecution. (Read more about The Law in Civil Actions Against the Police, including malicious prosecution claims, by clicking on the link.)

Importantly, these include that the prosecution was:

  1. brought without reasonable and probable cause, and
  2. motivated by malice.

Daniel explained:

“I told Ravi that malicious prosecution claims are rare. This is because the law requires that the Claimant prove the police acted in bad faith. Mere ignorance of the law is not malicious.”

Result: Section 17 PACE Case Settled Before Trial

Unsurprisingly, the Met continued to defend their officers, saying that they acted lawfully. If the court accepted their case, then Ravi resisted arrest unlawfully, and his compensation claim would fail.

The matter proceeded towards trial. The parties exchanged witness evidence and agreed practical things like the time the case would take, location, number of witnesses etc.

Daniel kept the pressure on the Met. Despite the risks, he remained confident in Ravi and his case.

Eventually, the Met’s lawyers realised that Ravi, and Mr Fitzsimmons, were prepared to go all the way to trial. At last, as the parties prepared for court, the Met’s lawyers agreed to negotiate seriously. With Daniel Fitzsimmons’ help, Ravi received £14,000 compensation plus legal costs.

As Mr Fitzsimmons put it:

“This was an excellent result. The Met is the richest and most powerful police force in the country. It has almost limitless resources to fight genuine claims. And yet, despite the financial imbalance, firms like mine level the playing field for our clients’ benefit.”

What happened next?

Daniel explained:

“Actions against the police can be drawn out cases. In this case I represented Ravi for five years and got to know him well. He is one of the finest people I have had the privilege to represent.

“Ravi is dedicated to helping others. He travels abroad several times a year, at his own expense, to perform charity work.

“His motivation for bringing the compensation claim was vindication and justice. The amount of compensation he received proved that he got that. So, it was entirely fitting that Ravi gave all the money to charity. For him, paying it forward by funding charitable work was the right thing to do.”

Contact Daniel Fitzsimmons for help with your section 17 PACE compensation claim against the police by completing the online form on this page, or call Daniel on 08000 124 246.