How Police Officers Groom People for Sexual Abuse

 

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who explains how police officers groom people for sexual abuse.

Kevin Donoghue’s client was groomed by a police officer. Here, Mr Donoghue explains what happened, and why and how the police force failed.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

This week my client, Samantha McTavish, bravely went public with her story. (She has authorised me to use her details here.)

On BBC Newsnight Sam explained how a Devon & Cornwall Police sergeant groomed her for sex.

How did he do it? Here, I describe the issues, show how this officer abused his position, and explain why Devon & Cornwall Police failed my client.

What is Grooming?

Grooming broadly is where a potential abuser builds an emotional connection with a person to gain their trust as a way to commit sexual abuse.

I have described in the past that grooming in the context of the police is the process by which these sexual predators:

  • abuse their position, and
  • exploit the imbalance of power

to develop an emotional connection with a victim to prepare them for sexual abuse.

This police abuse of authority for sexual gain has been more fully stated (for the benefit of the police themselves) by the National Police Chiefs Council as:

“Any behaviour by a police officer or police staff member, whether on or off duty, that takes advantage of their position as a member of the police service to misuse their position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public.

This includes: committing a sexual act, initiating sexual contact with, or responding to any perceived sexually motivated behaviour from another person; entering into any communication that could be perceived as sexually motivated or lewd; or for any other sexual purpose.”

(My emphasis in bold.)

In its “National Strategy to address the issue of police officers and staff who abuse their position for a sexual purpose” (2017), the NPCC explains that:

What is important to note is the imbalance of power between police officers or staff and members of the public. In abuse of position cases such as these, a member of the public does not have to be vulnerable for the definition of abuse of position for a sexual purpose to be made out. However the vulnerability of the victim may be seen as an aggravating factor.

Vulnerability may arise out of the citizen’s age, mental health, abuse of alcohol or drugs or their circumstances at a particular time, for example reporting a domestic abuse incident, being the victim of a crime, the suspect or witness in an offence, or suffering bereavement. However, vulnerability must always be considered in its widest sense and it should be recognised that victims of this kind of corruption often do not see themselves as victims or indeed vulnerable.

(My emphasis in bold.)

How Sexual Abusers in the Police Get Away With It

Knowing all this, consider Samantha McTavish’s story. It has all the hallmarks of police grooming. As she says in her interview with journalist Yasminara Khan:

He pursued me, he groomed me, he pursued a sexual relationship with someone he was meant to be looking out for.

This is how the Devon & Cornwall Police sergeant did it. (Where appropriate, I quote from my client and Yasminara Khan in the Newsnight interview.)

  1. Ms McTavish had been identified as a vulnerable person. She had mental health issues, which resulted in a breakdown after having her housing benefits stopped. The council worried for her welfare and asked the police to check on her.
  2. The officer knew she was vulnerable. When he first visited because of the council’s referral, Sam’s abuser completed a vulnerability/ risk assessment form on which he deemed her to be vulnerable.
  3. He attended alone. (Which is important because of the imbalance of power issue raised by the NPCC, lack of witnesses to him initiating sexual contact, and later pursuit of a sexual relationship.)
  4. The officer was attentive. “He genuinely wanted, or seemed like he wanted, to support me, reassure me, listen to me,” Sam said.
  5. After the initial welfare visit, he followed up with multiple text messages and unsolicited home visits over the following weeks. He was on duty, but not there on official police business. As Ms McTavish said, “I couldn’t understand why he was here. I don’t like to use the word grooming, but, kind of, looking back now, that’s what it felt like.”
  6. The sergeant exploited her vulnerability. As Yasminara Khan said, Sam’s “resilience and ability to refuse his advances was low. She eventually consented to a sexual relationship.”
  7. Ms McTavish was manipulated into sex. As Sam said, “it was consensual, but I should never have been put in that position to consent or otherwise. He shouldn’t have come to my house pursuing sex.” This comes up time and again. When exposed, officers try and argue that their interactions were private and consensual. They are nothing of the sort. As the NPCC noted in its report: “The abuse of position for a sexual purpose is serious corruption and should always be treated as such.” (My emphasis.)
  8. The officer ignored his victim’s suffering. Sam cried during sex, but the officer “didn’t even notice” and persisted.
  9. Ms McTavish described feelings of shame, anger, disgust, and guilt. After sex, the officer stayed with her for a short time. Sam said, that while they chatted, “inside I’m feeling sick, and thinking I just want this man, this person, this vile person out of my house and I want nothing else to do with him.”
  10. The police sergeant had used his position to groom vulnerable women for sex before. “It wasn’t just me, there was a number of women,” Ms McTavish said. As Yasminara Khan points out, Newsnight has investigated Sam’s and another woman’s case. Both involved Devon & Cornwall Police. In these cases, the officers targeted multiple vulnerable women and “had contacted them in the course of their duties.”
  11. Devon & Cornwall Police failed to put systems in place to stop the officer. The issue of police officers grooming vulnerable victims has been well-known for over a decade. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary described a 2012 report by the IPCC/ACPO, saying that:

the practice of abusing authority to legitimise unnecessary contact with victims of crime for sexual gain as a form of serious corruption that “fundamentally betrays the trust that communities and individuals place in the police”.

In that report, the police were given a checklist to make sure they had:

sufficient policies, procedures, and safeguards in place for the prevention, prediction, and investigation of this kind of case.

And, as I noted in 2017, all senior officers, including those at Devon & Cornwall Police:

    • knew about the issue of police abuse of authority for a sexual purpose, and
    • committed to work to prevent it.

Every police force in England & Wales also received an official College of Policing guide on how to deal with it, which meant that everyone working within the police, even volunteers and staff, were expected to know and follow the guidelines.

Devon & Cornwall Police Failure

Sadly, Sam’s story is all too familiar. I am now helping her with a police abuse of authority for sexual gain compensation claim.

But it should never have come to this. Ms McTavish’s case shows that, despite repeated warnings going back over 10 years, Devon & Cornwall Police failed her by allowing the police sergeant who groomed her to remain in power.

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors.

 

How Special Constables Can Take a Stand on Tasers

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who reviews how Special Constables can take a stand on Tasers.

Should Special Constables refuse Tasers? Read why Kevin Donoghue thinks so, and what these volunteers can do, in this blog post.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Today Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that Special Constables will be authorised to use Tasers. This move potentially puts these so-called “less lethal” weapons in the hands of another (approximately) 8,900 volunteers, on top of the Tasers already distributed to their full-time colleagues.

It is the latest way in which the police have become militarised, as I explained in this blog post: Why did the Boys in Blue Turn into the Boys in Black?

So, how did we get here, and how should volunteer Special Constables respond? Here are some ideas.

Why Special Constables Can Get Tasers

In expanding Taser use, Priti Patel is merely following the precedent set by her “tough on crime” predecessors in the Conservative Party, such as Amber Rudd, who authorised the previous version of Taser, the X2.

Tasers were originally issued to trained firearms officers in 2003. Then, in 2008, full-time, but non-firearms officers, got them.

In 2020, Patel authorised the UK’s 43 police forces to buy the new, more powerful, Taser 7 weapons. Funding for these pistol-like devices came from a £10 million cash reserve. At the time, she said:

It is sickening that our brave police officers face assaults and attacks as they work tirelessly to keep us all safe. They are our protectors and I will do everything in my power to give them what they need to keep themselves and the public safe.

Senior officers, police force representatives, and the Police Federation (the police officers’ union), were thrilled when the Home Secretary announced this change and funding for it. As Chief Officer Dale Checksfield of Durham Police said on Twitter at the time:

Tagging Priti Patel in his tweet seems to have worked. Now Special Constable volunteers (who are aged eighteen or older) will get the weapons if local Chief Constables give the nod. The only requirements on these otherwise unqualified part-timers is that they get some basic training, have 12 months’ service and 200 duty hours, and have achieved “directed patrol status”.

Why Special Constables Should Refuse Taser Weapons

But Special Constables don’t have to go along with their “Regular” colleagues in taking up arms against civilians. They can, and should, push back against expanding Taser use. There is clear, empirical, scientific evidence to support them in refusing these weapons. Reasons include:

Tasers are not “nicer”

There is a police-fuelled narrative that Tasers are “nicer”, “less lethal” weapons. Dr Abi Dymond’s excellent book: Electric-Shock Weapons, Tasers and Policing – Myths and Realities quotes an officer who said:

I tend to use TASER because its… the best option all round and it’s the least intrusive. You are not going to injure anybody with it.

And a Taser trainer who said:

Obviously if you hit someone with a stick its really going to hurt them… (with TASER) they may get 50 000 volts but they will actually be fine, might feel a bit tired, but other than that, certainly for me… i’d still look to TASER more than i’d look to (baton or CS) initially.

In fact, as Dr. Dymond writes, Taser victims describe suffering, “the most profound pain I have ever felt”. They can also experience serious secondary injuries, cognitive impairment akin to dementia, and lasting symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

And, in the most serious cases, Taser victims have died. For example, Marc Cole suffered a cardiac arrest in 2017 following the use of a Taser on him for 43 seconds. An inquest found that the use of the weapon had a “more than trivial impact” in his death.

They are bad for community relations

The Independent Office for Police Conduct reviewed 108 cases involving Taser use. It reported that “in 2019/20, Black people were subjected to Taser use at a rate eight times higher than White people”. (My emphasis.)

The IOPC’s director, Michael Lockwood said:

People from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds deserve a clear and transparent answer from police on why such disproportionality still exists – failure to address this risks undermining the legitimacy of policing.

Instead of responding to this grave issue and seeking to improve, Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi of the National Police Chiefs Council criticised the report. Sadly, my previous concerns about How Police Tasers Threaten Public Confidence still ring true.

One reason for the excessive use of Tasers on people of colour is the disproportionate use of stop and search, which accounted for 577,054 stops in 2019/2020. Again, in that period, the IOPC found that Black people were nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people.

(This may be an undercount. The Liberal Democrats analysis of the data found that Black people were 18 times more likely to be stopped under section 60.)

The combination of excessive Taser use and discriminatory stop and search is especially concerning because of the damage it has on community relations. And it’s likely to get worse following the Home Secretary’s announcement that officers will have even more opportunities to use stop and search.

It is not in the best interests of individual officers to use Tasers

The IOPC’s report quoted an analysis by the College of Policing about Taser use, in which it found that:

discharging a Taser was associated with increased odds of the individual involved being injured and hospitalised, and with officers being assaulted and injured.

(My emphasis.)

Police officer injuries can occur due to “the weapons effect”, which is where:

the cue of a weapon “activates” those internal conditions that affect one’s decision-making processes, ultimately leading to assaults and attempted assaults on weapon-carrying officers and by implication to a rise in police use of force.

As I explain in this blog post: What the Weapons Effect Tells Us About Police Taser Assaults, University of Cambridge researchers found that:

Taser-equipped police are almost 50% more likely to use force in the line of duty.

It makes sense that handing out more Tasers will inevitably lead to increased officer injuries. This is especially so, when you consider that, as Dr. Dymond reported in her book at page 84, Taser-equipped officers get sent to higher risk incidents:

once officers are equipped with TASER, the type of incidents to which they are sent may change. Some officers feel that, once TASER trained, they are sent to riskier incidents than had previously been the case (see also Dymond 2020). For example, officers explain that:

‘The biggest issue you have sometimes is with spontaneous incidents where you have bladed weapons… I get sent to jobs with ‘presence in public with knives’… (We) get deployed as TASER now. That would have been a firearms job… If that TASER fails they become a victim’.

This is despite College of Policing guidance, which states that:

Less lethal weapons should not be regarded as a substitute for firearms.

Officers armed only with less lethal weapons should not expose themselves, or be exposed, to unnecessary risks in confronting subjects who may be armed with a firearm, or present a risk for which a less lethal response may not be appropriate.

Risk of Prosecution

Special Constables should also be aware that the police can, and are, criminally prosecuted in cases involving Taser misuse.

Dalian Atkinson, the former Aston Villa footballer, was killed by former West Mercia Police officer Benjamin Monk, who deployed a Taser on him for 33 seconds. Monk was sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter.

And Metropolitan Police officer Imran Mahmood was charged with grievous bodily harm after he Tasered Jordan Walker-Brown, leaving his victim paralysed from the waist down. (Mahmood’s case is ongoing. He is back in the Crown Court on 26 May.)

For countless other officers, the use of force by Taser can lead to disciplinary misconduct and civil court proceedings. Such cases result in career-ending outcomes even where there is no criminal prosecution.

How police volunteers can influence the Federation

No doubt local Police Federation representatives will put pressure on their Chief Constables to authorise Tasers for Special Constables as soon as possible.

But that is not an end to the matter. Specials have agency here. While they are volunteers, they effectively have the same powers and uniform as paid officers. As such, they are as much the public face of policing as their Regular colleagues. They can choose how to behave in public, including keeping their weapons down, encouraging their colleagues to do the same, and seeking to de-escalate situations.

And, since the passing of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act last month, Special Constables can join the powerful Police Federation. The Police Federation describes itself as:

The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) is the staff association for police constables, sergeants and inspectors (including chief inspectors), having first established in 1919.

We are one of the largest staff associations in the UK representing more than 130,000 rank and file officers.

Membership of the Police Federation is voluntary, and costs £23.58 per month for full members (the Federation has not updated its website to show what it intends to charge Specials). If the (around) 8,900 specials join, they will quickly become a powerful group.

Federation membership gives Special Constables the right to vote in elections and influence policy. The roll-out of Tasers is an early opportunity for them to send a message about how they expect their union to behave. The volunteers can rely on the Police Federation’s Core purposes for grounds to do so:

Core purpose

Our core purpose was amended in May 2014 for the first time since the Federation was set up in 1919, following a recommendation in our Independent Review for it to reflect our commitment to act in the public interest, with public accountability, alongside our accountability to our members.

In fulfilling our statutory responsibilities for the welfare and efficiency of our members we will, at all levels:

  • ensure that our members are fully informed and that there is the highest degree of transparency in decision-making and the use of resources.

  • maintain exemplary standards of conduct, integrity and professionalism.

  • act in the interests of our members and the public, seeking to build public confidence in the police service and accepting public accountability for our use of public money.

  • work together within the Federation and in partnership with others in the policing world to achieve our goals.

(My emphasis.)

This focus on public confidence is key. Without it, the doctrine of “policing by consent” falls. As I explained above, Tasers undermine public confidence and the police’s mission.

Also, new members should note that the Federation says one of its Aims and Objectives is:

To influence internal and external decision makers at local and national levels on matters affecting our members and the police service.

It says it will do this by:

listening to and reflecting issues concerning our members.

(My emphasis.)

The proposed Taser roll-out is not in the best interests of Special Constables or the communities they serve. These new Police Federation members can, and should, speak up. They can use the union’s core purpose, aims, and objectives to refuse Tasers. By doing so, Special Constables can lead on this issue, work on rebuilding trust within the communities they serve, and become the real “thin blue line”.

Kevin Donoghue is the director of Donoghue Solicitors, a firm which specialises in civil actions against the police.

Three Reasons Why International Women’s Day Matters

Photo of Kemmi Alfa, Chartered Legal Executive, who explains why International Women's Day matters.

By Kemmi Alfa, Chartered Legal Executive

Today is International Women’s Day. This annual event was started in 1911 and is supported by over a million people. It is:

a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

This years’ hashtag is #breakthebias. The campaign hopes to create a “gender equal world” free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. As a woman of mixed race background, and the mother of a (very energetic) 20-month-old boy, I am fully on-board with these goals.

But my reasons for supporting the campaign are not just personal. Stepping back, I can see the bigger picture as a lawyer. Here are three reasons why the values promoted during International Women’s Day matter to law firms, lawyers, and clients alike:

1. Equality, inclusion, and diversity makes lawyers better at their jobs

The focus on diversity has long been a goal for law firms. It has been promoted by the Law Society and our regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority for over a decade, with good reason. Women now make up 52% of lawyers in law firms, which is 4% more than in the general workforce.

Never has diversity, equality, and inclusion been more important than during the pandemic. McKinsey, the global firm of management consultants, produced a 2020 report on diversity, in which it described how:

“There is ample evidence that diverse and inclusive companies are more likely to make better, bolder decisions—a critical capability in the crisis.”

This is something which lawyers like me have always known, even if we do not promote it. The law is not black-and-white, and “justice” means different things to different people. Clients come to us for help to achieve it. Viewpoints from lawyers with varying backgrounds and cultures make justice possible by finding creative solutions for (what may initially appear) insurmountable legal problems.

2. It helps law firms with recruitment and retention

My own firm has taken its commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion further by making a public commitment. It is a signatory to the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter (Find our details here.) Among other things, signatories must commit to:

Strive to achieve best practice in our recruitment, retention and career progression practices as employers

I am a good example of that aim. I have been at Donoghue Solicitors for over five years. That is a long time to stay at the same law firm, especially during the pandemic and subsequent “great resignation”. One of the reasons I am still here is the help I have received to fulfil my own career ambitions.

I was already well on my way to becoming a Chartered Legal Executive when I joined Donoghue Solicitors. But, with hard work, and the support and encouragement of my colleagues Kevin Donoghue, Daniel Fitzsimmons, and the rest of the team, I continued my studies and became fully qualified.

Since qualifying as a Fellow in CILEx, I have taken an increasingly challenging, yet rewarding, caseload. I also mentor others in the firm. By doing so, I provide practical help as well as inspiration, particularly to the younger members of my team who are following a similar route to legal qualification. As a senior lawyer, it is important that I lead by example.

I have also been through the life-changing experience of having a baby. For many women in the law, motherhood can pause, or even end, their careers. Thankfully, that has not happened to me. The nurturing environment we enjoy at Donoghue Solicitors meant that I was able to flexibly return to work after maternity leave. This approach was even more significant given that we were going through a global pandemic when I came back. Dealing with covid issues, being a new mum, and pursuing my career – these things were only possible because my firm made good on its commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion.

3. Gender diversity is good for the bottom line

Empowering women in the workplace makes sense financially. McKinsey found that companies which focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion outperform their competitors.

In fact, McKinsey’s 2020 report found that these companies were 25% more successful than those which did not focus on gender diversity.

Stop and think about that for a minute. A company can increase its bottom line by a full quarter by doing something it should be doing anyway.

This huge increase is even more remarkable when you compare it to recent years. As McKinsey reported in 2015, companies in the top quarter for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have profits above their national industry average. For that number to increase to 25% in just five years shows that things are changing, fast.

Collective Effort at International Women’s Day

These three reasons show why the principles of International Women’s Day matter. Law firms, and lawyers, who fail to adopt them are going to struggle to survive. Luckily, they don’t have to do it alone. We can, and should, do this together for our mutual benefit. As American writer and feminist organiser Gloria Steinem said:

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

 

Kemmi Alfa is a Chartered Legal Executive at Donoghue Solicitors. Contact her for expert legal help here.

 

Sussex Police: You’ve Been Played

Photo of Solicitor Kevin Donoghue, who explains how Sussex Police were played in a recent misconduct case.

Kevin Donoghue explains how a recent misconduct hearing reflects poorly on Sussex Police.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Recently I wrote about how DCI James Mason effectively handled the investigation into his proven misconduct to avoid getting the sack from his high-profile job in the Metropolitan Police. His tactics included:

  • giving written statements only to avoid saying anything incriminating in an oral interview
  • denying allegations and contradicting witness evidence
  • making representations at a pre-misconduct hearing meeting to help his defence
  • producing supportive character references from fellow officers (which are nothing of the sort- usually they are supportive work references describing a model colleague)
  • delaying, denying, and defending to drag out the proceedings (so minimising the impact of the event or events in the Misconduct Panel’s view)
  • undermining the police’s Code of Ethics, arguing that the event occurred when attitudes were different etc.

In that blog post I gave a warning:

Note of Caution

I urge:

  • investigating officers in police Force Professional Standards Departments,
  • Police Misconduct Disciplinary Panels
  • the media and the public

to be on the lookout for the tactics described above.

And, for the police officers reading this blog post, be aware that the techniques I describe above are well-known. Disciplinary panels, investigating officers, solicitors, and victims of police misconduct take a dim view of them.

A recent case shows that the Metropolitan Police’s DCI James Mason is not alone. Other officers are using similar tactics to avoid the sanctions their police misconduct deserves.

How a Sussex Police Officer Abused His Position

In this report, the Independent Office for Police Conduct describes how, in 2018, a Sussex Police officer improperly accessed police computer systems to get information on a woman he met while investigating a theft she reported in 2017.

The IOPC investigation began in May 2020 following a referral from Sussex Police itself.

The IOPC investigated allegations that the serving police officer “had formed an inappropriate relationship with a woman and failed to declare it to his superiors.” But it noted that, after a misconduct hearing, “This allegation was not proven.”

Nevertheless, four of the five allegations against the officer were proven, including that:

“on a number of occasions he used police computer systems to view reports relating to that member of the public, her family and ex-husband without a policing purpose.”

The Panel found this:

“amounted to misconduct and a breach of the standards of professional behaviour in respect of confidentiality.”

Sussex Police’s website write-up confirms the IOPC report and gives more details, including that the officer was male and that his two-day misconduct hearing concluded on 22 February 2022.

IOPC Regional Director Graham Beesley said that:

“This officer breached Sussex Police policy by accessing its computer systems for a non-policing purpose.

Actions like this undermine the public’s trust in police officers who should know that it is entirely inappropriate to use police computer systems for personal reasons.”

And Sussex Police’s Deputy Chief Constable Julia Chapman said:

“We expect our officers to act with the upmost integrity, and in accordance with the Code of Ethics and the Standards of Professional Behaviour. The actions of the officer fell far short of these which is reflected in the findings by the panel.”

What was the officer’s punishment for this serious, proven police misconduct?

Instant dismissal? Sadly not. Instead, the officer was given a written warning by Sussex Police’s Misconduct Panel. As a result, PC A, as he was known in the misconduct proceedings, still serves in Sussex Police and is free to continue abusing his considerable powers.

It is possible that the officer may be chastened by this. Equally, it is likely that he will not. Why? Because PC A found ways to manipulate the police misconduct disciplinary system to his benefit.

How this Sussex Police officer gamed the misconduct system

During its investigation, the IOPC examined data from sources including the officers’ work and personal phones, police radio and work email account. Two witnesses were also interviewed.

This kind of research is not unusual, and echoes DCI Mason’s case where emails and witness evidence were helpful in proving his misconduct.

But, two things are important to note about the investigation and hearing process in this case:

  1. the officer “declined to provide an account for the IOPC investigation or to comment when interviewed under caution.”
  2. he was granted anonymity.

The effect of these things is that the still-serving Sussex Police officer:

  1. avoided publicity. As I explained here, being publicly named-and-shamed can be the most effective consequence of police misconduct when Disciplinary Panels allow officers to keep their jobs
  2. was given a helpful break by the Panel, which did not sanction PC A for failing to co-operate with the investigation.

How the Police Conduct Regulations Help Police Officers Avoid Accountability

As I previously wrote here, the Police Conduct Regulations (2020) allow officers and their employer police forces to set conditions before full Disciplinary Hearings. Often, these terms benefit the accused officer, including:

  • what evidence is admitted
  • how the misconduct hearing takes place
  • which witnesses are called
  • who is allowed to attend
  • how the results are publicised.

The Regulations give broad latitude to the Panel Chair. In particular, they can decide how to handle publicity relying on the reasons set out in section.39, which include:

(7) This paragraph applies to information in so far as the person conducting or chairing the misconduct proceedings considers that preventing disclosure of it to an attendee is—

(a)necessary for the purpose of preventing the premature or inappropriate disclosure of information that is relevant to, or may be used in, any criminal proceedings;

(b)necessary in the interests of national security;

(c)necessary for the purpose of the prevention or detection of crime, or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders;

(d)necessary for the purpose of the prevention or detection of misconduct by other police officers or police staff members or their apprehension for such matters;

(e)necessary and proportionate for the protection of the welfare and safety of any informant or witness;

(f)otherwise in the public interest.

It is up to the Misconduct Panel’s Chair to decide if a request for anonymity is appropriate. Given how vague some of the reasons listed above are, it is not surprising that Panels frequently grant anonymity. Evidently, in this case, they agreed with whatever argument the police officer (and/or their representatives, or Sussex Police themselves) put forward.

Who Sought Anonymity in This Case?

It is possible that Sussex Police’s own higher-ups were responsible for the decision to seek anonymity for the officer. Sussex Police’s website write-up does not say. Instead the report uses the passive voice to avoid accountability:

PC A, who was granted anonymity for the hearing by an independent Legally Qualified Chair, was the subject of a two-day misconduct hearing, at Sussex Police Headquarters, Lewes, which concluded on Tuesday (22 February).

If the Force itself sought anonymity, then the Panel’s decision to allow it makes a mockery of the principle of open justice and undermines trust in Sussex Police, at a time when confidence in the police is low.

But it is more likely that the officer himself sought anonymity. After all, he had the most to lose by being publicly named-and-shamed. And, from the IOPC’s thorough investigation, PC A must have known that some misconduct was likely to be proven, even without his co-operation and “no comment” interview. (Four out of the five allegations were made out after all.)

The consequences of this officer’s approach to his misconduct hearing are grave. Just like with DCI Mason, he has given other police officers accused of serious misconduct a road map for avoiding accountability. Delay, deny, and avoid giving evidence which may incriminate you, then use the system to stay anonymous. The result? A slap on the wrist.

Is it any wonder that the IOPC “tagged” this news item with two terms which, in this case, go together like (Carabao Cup Winning Liverpool goalkeeper) Caoimhin Kelleher and penalty shoot-outs? The tags, which can be used by the IOPC’s website users to find similar stories, are:

“Corruption and Abuse of Power”

and

“Sussex Police”.

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors. Among other civil actions against the police, he represents people in police abuse of authority for sexual gain compensation claims.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I was wrong about Dame Cressida Dick

Kevin Donoghue considers the Metropolitan Police's culture and the influence of Dame Cressida Dick.

Kevin Donoghue considers the Metropolitan Police’s culture and the influence of Dame Cressida Dick.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Almost five years ago, when Dame Cressida Dick was appointed to her role as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, I asked if she would uphold Peel’s 9 Principles of Policing. The guidelines, which Sir Robert Peel introduced when founding the Met, still apply today – they are the foundation for the Police’s Code of Ethics.

You can read all nine of Peel’s Principles by clicking on the link to the blog post above. They include:

To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

and

To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

At the time I was concerned that Dick would:

  1. use her considerable powers and the Met’s approximately £3 billion annual budget to arm more officers with guns, Tasers, and spit hoods
  2. fail to demand that her 55,000 officers apply Peel’s ethical standards when using this “kit”
  3. defend those who used force on the public.

Dame Cressida had form, as the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by Metropolitan Police firearms officers showed. She was the commander in charge of the operation that day. The Force was found guilty of health and safety rules and failing in its duty to protect the public. It later paid more than £100,000 compensation to Mr de Menezes’ family.

Met Police Militarisation Effects

Sadly, my fears about the Met’s war-like approach to policing, and disregard of the relevant Peel Principles, were well-founded.

A Home Office report showed that, in the year April 2019 to March 2020:

  1. 492,000 incidents of force were recorded (so this may be an undercount) by police in the UK
  2. 158,000 (about 1/3) of all recorded uses of force were by Metropolitan Police officers.

And, reflecting broader issues of racism and misogyny within the Force, Metropolitan police officers:

Peel Principles Ignored by Dame Cressida Dick

But Dame Cressida Dick did something I never expected: in her time as Met Commissioner, she effectively made Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing optional.

Two of Peel’s other key principles are:

To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

and

To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws…

They help establish the principle of policing by consent: where the power of the police comes from “the common consent of the public, as opposed to the power of the state”.

But, instead of requiring the highest standards of ethics and conduct to maintain public approval and respect, she presided over a toxic culture where:

were recruited and thrived.

Dick led by example. As the Met’s top officer, she shaped its culture and showed officers what they could get away with. She enabled the Met’s “institutional corruption” and was personally censured for obstruction by the independent inquiry set up to review the murder of Daniel Morgan.

High-level Support

But the Commissioner couldn’t do all this on her own. She had friends in high places who were willing to back her publicly. When the Morgan report came out, the Guardian reported that:

  • The home secretary (Priti Patel) has full confidence in the commissioner
  • (London Mayor) Sadiq Khan also signalled she would not be ousted over the findings of obstruction and cover up
  • Dick’s top aide, assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave, said: “I don’t think the commissioner has any need to consider her position.”

This support meant that, in the aftermath of the Daniel Morgan report, she did not resign. Instead, her contract was renewed for two more years despite loud objections.

Public Help from Senior Met Officers

Throughout the Force, the Met police chief was surrounded by people who supported her defensive outlook and, at times, misplaced loyalty in the Force’s officers. Dick’s supporters regularly spoke up in the media to preserve and protect the Met and, by extension, her role in shaping its culture as Commissioner. They still do. This week Professional Standards lead DAC Bas Javid deflected in response to questions about racism in the Met:

“What I would say is, there are people who have racist views and are racist and they are in policing. But what I won’t do is describe the organisation as a racist organisation.”

(DAC Javid has proven himself a loyal foot soldier who is willing to shill for his boss in the past. Read this blog post to find out why: How Disingenuous Comments by the Police Undermine Public Confidence.)

Metropolitan Police Federation Backing

Dick’s fierce, but often misguided, loyalty to the police officers under her command is well-known. She worked closely with the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents more than 30,000 police officers in the Met. The loyalty went both ways, calling in to question the judgement of both Dick and Ken Marsh, the Chairman of the Police Federation. In September 2021, when her contract was renewed,  Marsh said:

Dame Cressida has the “full support of the rank and file”.

He told the PA news agency her leadership has been “excellent”, while her “ability to communicate with officers of all ranks is quite incredible”.

It should be noted that Marsh’s supportive words were issued after Dick was censured, and the Met was described as institutionally corrupt, in the Daniel Morgan case.

And Chairman Marsh made more tone-deaf comments defending Cressida Dick after she resigned saying that:

we think she was doing a good job in difficult circumstances.

Core Failings

The comments from Ephgrave, Javid, Marsh, and others in the Met highlight the extent to which the high-ups diverged from Peel’s Principles in support of London’s top officer.

Their misplaced loyalty is further exposed when you consider that Dick failed in her core job: fighting crime. Since she took over in 2017:

  1. crime in London is up by 4%, with 45% fewer cases solved
  2. the number of teenagers murdered in London hit a record high in 2021.

This, on top of the cultural and institutional failings which occurred under her watch, mean that no one should regret Dame Cressida Dick’s removal, not even her most ardent supporters.

Consequences of Cressida Dick’s Appointment

Dick’s appointment as Commissioner was challenged by many at the time, including the family of Jean Charles de Menezes. In February 2017 they wrote:

“We have serious concerns about such an appointment and the signal it sends to the people of London.”

And, deliberately or not, they referred to Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing when they said:

“We cannot be expected to accept that the most senior police officer in the country, a post that is expected to uphold the highest standards of professionalism, to command public confidence and ultimately be responsible for ensuring that no police officer acts with impunity, be filled by someone that is clearly tainted by her failure to live up to any of those requirements.”

It appears that the excitement about appointing the first woman to hold the role of Commissioner in the Force’s history may have clouded the judgement of Mayor Sadiq Khan and then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

Khan had fair warning that Dick was unsuitable for the role in 2017. He had no excuses when he renewed her contract in September 2021.

The Mayor must now deal with the political fall-out, such as the opportunistic intervention from Ken Marsh. That is inconvenient, but nothing compared to what the countless victims of Metropolitan police misconduct have suffered due to Dame Cressida’s failure to fulfil Sir Robert Peel’s Policing Principles.

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors. He has helped many people bring successful civil actions against the Metropolitan Police for compensation.

 

 

A Fate Worse Than Dismissal for the Metropolitan Police?

 

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who considers the impact of DCI James Mason's proven gross misconduct on the Metropolitan Police.

DCI James Mason kept his job despite proven gross misconduct. Kevin Donoghue considers the impact of that decision on the Metropolitan Police Service.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

Earlier this week I wrote about why my client Kristina O’Connor bravely chose to waive her right to anonymity. In the blog post Why Kristina O’Connor Went Public in Her Cases Against the Police I described:

  • Metropolitan Police Officer DCI James Mason’s proven gross misconduct
  • the consequences for this senior officer and my client
  • what Ms O’Connor has done since, including bringing a civil action against the police for damages and seeking a judicial review.

Kristina did not want to tell her story publicly at first. But she was determined to bring attention to her experience to seek real change in the police. She felt she had no alternative but to come forward after seeing the way DCI Mason’s case was handled by the Met’s Professional Standards investigators and the generous treatment the officer received from one of the Force’s Misconduct and Disciplinary Panels.

Her decision to break cover may be one of the most effective tools she, and other victims of police misconduct, can deploy. This is why.

Police Misconduct Panel Unfairness

As I explained in this blog post (How Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Misconduct Panels Work) police Misconduct Panels are extraordinarily powerful bodies, whose role in keeping the police in line is widely misunderstood.

Three things to keep in mind are that they are not:

  • set up to punish police officers. Rather, they are intended to maintain public confidence. (Despite this aim, in the blog post How Disingenuous Comments by the Police Undermine Public Confidence I show how comments from T/DAC Javid, the Met’s Professional Standards lead, undermine it.)
  • court proceedings before a judge and/or jury. A misconduct Panel is usually made up of three people, often including an officer from the same force as the person accused of misconduct, as happened in DCI Mason’s case.
  • bound by normal rules of evidence. Panels can choose whether to call witnesses, anonymise officers’ details, consider supportive character references etc. As I explain in my blog post (Why Institutional Misogyny Thrives in the Metropolitan Police) officers can use these lax rules to game the system.

The effect of these, and other factors, meant that DCI James Mason avoided dismissal. The Panel approved a final written warning, which will remain on his record for three years (from 5 October 2021).

The Panel considered aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the case when making this decision. It felt that:

  1. “the more serious outcomes of Reduction in Rank or Dismissal without Notice would be disproportionately harsh in the Panel’s judgment in all the circumstances.”
  2. there were “no learning points” from the investigation or preparation of the case.

My client was shocked with this “slap on the wrist”, especially when you consider that gross misconduct was proven eight times. This is:

a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour which is so serious as to justify dismissal from the force.

Is it any wonder that, as Channel 4’s Dispatches programme ”Cops on Trial” found, almost 2,000 police workers have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past four years? Despite this, only 8% of misconduct claims led to a dismissal.

Promotion After Gross Misconduct in the Metropolitan Police

I expect DCI Mason celebrated after his misconduct Hearing. He probably thought he’d got away with it. He kept his high-profile job in the Metropolitan Police with no change in rank, pension, or other benefits.

Mason also knew that he would only have to keep out of trouble for three years, at which point the final written warning would expire.

Then, according to the Hackney Gazette, he is due a promotion, having recently qualified for it. As this Freedom of Information Act request confirms, it should be a formality:

Question 3

  1. Will DCI Mason be required to take any tests prior to any promotion, or will he automatically be eligible for promotion after three years?

Answer

Please note that for any officer that has already passed the promotion process there is no extra assessment that needs to be taken once the written warning and its conditions have expired.

Contrast DCI Mason’s treatment with that of my client, who was left “exhausted” and depressed by Mason’s proven misconduct.

But, like all my clients who have suffered at the hands of the police, Kristina O’Connor did not give up. As my colleague Daniel Fitzsimmons noted in his blog post Who Polices the Police? it is often the victims of police misconduct who step forward when the system fails. By bringing a civil action against the police With my help, Kristina hopes to hold DCI Mason and the Metropolitan Police to account in an impartial, fair, legal forum.

Reputation Damage

Despite the Metropolitan Police Misconduct Panel’s best efforts, Kristina’s decision to go public will have both immediate and long-lasting consequences.

DCI James Mason was, I expect, highly regarded within the Met. He serves in the elite “Flying Squad” and received a commendation for “extraordinary leadership, professional resilience and dedication” after the Westminster terror attack in 2018.

None of that matters now.

Mason’s proven gross misconduct has destroyed his reputation and heaped pressure on Commissioner Cressida Dick and her Force.

Internet searches show why the old adage that “today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper” is no longer true. Even the Met’s slick press department (read why I call them that here: Revealed: How Police Spin Doctors Work) would find that there’s too much to scrub with a bit of good PR. This makes publicity a more effective sanction than anything the misconduct Panel dished out.

Consider the following:

  1. A Google UK “incognito” search (which excludes previous search activity) for “DCI James Mason” produces 659,000 results. Many are irrelevant. But the first page of Google shows what he is known for now. All results relate to his gross misconduct:
Above the fold Google search for DCI James Mason

Google incognito search for DCI James Mason (top half)

Google incognito search for DCI James Mason of the Metropolitan Police (below the fold)

Second half of the first page of Google search for DCI James Mason.

 

  1. Google Trends over the past year shows spikes for searches for “DCI James Mason” in October 2021 (when he was before the Misconduct Panel) and February 2022 (when my client came forward). This shows that people are actively searching for Mason and reading about what he did:
Google Trends search for DCI James Mason.

Google Trends search for DCI James Mason over the past 12 months.

  1. A Google UK incognito image search shows DCI James Mason at position two, on the first row. This matters because the public can put a face to the name. It is interesting to note that the sixth image across is of former Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, who was convicted of the kidnap, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard. Some company to keep:
DCI James Mason of the Metropolitan Police- Google Image Search 10 02 22

Google image search for DCI James Mason

  1. DCI James Mason’s name is also quoted extensively on Twitter, Facebook, and online forums (such as in this forum thread which is entitled “Police committing sexual crimes”). I can’t find anyone willing to defend him. An example of the things people are saying on social media is from Graham Sutton, “a retired paediatric audiologist”. He calls DCI Mason a “creep”, and says the Met should be disbanded:
Twitter result for DCI James Mason

Twitter comment about DCI James Mason.

Impact on Cressida Dick and the Metropolitan Police

DCI Mason destroyed his own reputation. He will have to live with that. But the consequences for the Metropolitan Police are broader. After so many other recent scandals involving the Met, exposing DCI Mason’s misconduct has heaped even more pressure on his boss, Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick.

If it wasn’t before, her judgement must surely be in question. This is because Mason was one of her senior staff officers before joining the Flying Squad. His role included supporting Dick at meetings with the Mayor of London. She must be regretting that choice and the Panel’s decision to let him keep his job. As the most senior officer in the Met, the buck stops with her.

If Mason had been dismissed, she could have used the Panel’s decision to show how tough the Met can be on police officers who seek to abuse their authority for sexual gain. Instead, DCI Mason’s proven gross misconduct has highlighted:

  • Cressida Dick’s poor judgment and inability to uphold Sir Robert Peel’s Principles of Policing
  • the toxic culture she has allowed to fester within the Met, which resulted in Mason’s misconduct as proven in emails to my client, including ones that said “coming onto victims is positively encouraged by the Metropolitan Police”, but that rejecting officers’ advances is “frowned upon”
  • the failings of the Met’s misconduct panels and the impact their decisions have on public confidence.

Incentive to Change

Kristina O’Connor hoped to create real, meaningful change within the Met by coming forward publicly. In response to her story, the I reports that:

A spokesperson for the Met said it recognises the “need for real change”.

“We are committed to creating an environment that is intolerant to those who do not uphold the high values and standards expected of us.”

If the Metropolitan Police Service doesn’t follow through with this for the sake of victims and the public, perhaps damage to the reputations of individual officers, their bosses, and the Force will make it happen.

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.

Update at 8pm on 10 February 2022:

Four hours after publishing this blog post Dame Cressida Dick resigned from her position.

Among other things, her statement says that:

I’m incredibly proud of my team and all they have achieved.

and

The public depend on you, for your professionalism, courage, compassion and integrity.

I wonder if she had DCI Mason in mind when she wrote that?

Why Kristina O’Connor Went Public in Her Cases Against the Police

Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor, represents Kristina O'Connor in her civil action against the Metropolitan Police.

Kevin Donoghue explains why Kristina O’Connor chose to waive anonymity here.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

This weekend my client Kristina O’Connor appeared in news reports including:

I represent Kristina in a civil action against the Metropolitan Police. Throughout the case we have carefully preserved her anonymity. She recently changed her mind and waived her right to privacy. The decision to go public was not easy. This is why she did it.

Who is Kristina O’Connor?

Kristina O’Connor is a London-based musician. She is also a daughter of entertainer Des O’Connor, CBE. Sadly, her father passed away in November 2020, aged 88.

In October 2011, Kristina was the victim of an attempted street robbery in London. She reported the assault to the Metropolitan Police and gave a statement to Detective Sergeant (now Detective Chief Inspector) James Mason at Kentish Town Police Station.

During the interview Mason asked suggestive and overtly sexual questions. These included:

  • if she had a boyfriend
  • what clothes she wore at work (Kristina was a croupier at Playboy casino)
  • if he could take her out for dinner.

After the interview, Mason emailed her using his Metropolitan Police work account. He:

  • invited her for “a drink”
  • offered to take photographs of her
  • said
    • she was “amazingly hot”
    • “coming onto victims is positively encouraged by the Metropolitan Police”
    • that rejecting officers’ advances is “frowned upon”
  • described himself as “determined” when pursuing “beautiful women”.

Mason’s misconduct further traumatised Kristina, a vulnerable victim of crime. She rebuffed his advances, but he continued his campaign of harassment anyway. Eventually, he stopped, but not before suggesting she keep his details for later use and saying that Kristina was his “favourite” crime victim.

Ms O’Connor lost all faith in the police and chose not to report violent domestic abuse for fear of police harassment. Kristina knew she could not rely on them and made her own self-defence spray for protection instead.

Later, Ms O’Connor filed a formal police complaint, which led to a misconduct investigation by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards.

The Directorate issued a formal Notice for Hearing, alleging that DCI Mason’s “conduct amounts to a breach of Standards of professional Behaviour”. The hearing took place over two days on 4-5 October 2021.

Ms O’Connor gave live evidence and the Panel found all eight charges of gross misconduct proven. Despite this, DCI Mason only received a final written warning which will remain on his record for three years. There were no other professional consequences and Mason still serves in the Metropolitan Police.

Kristina O'Connor story on front page of The Sunday Times.

Front page of the Sunday Times 6 February 2022.

Why Did Ms O’Connor Remain Anonymous During DCI Mason’s Misconduct Hearing?

At first, Kristina O’Connor did not want to reveal her details publicly. She:

  • feared potential repercussions from the police and their supporters
  • knew that her story would be publicised given her family and background
  • was reluctant to re-live her experience through the media.

Kristina gave a witness statement to the Met’s Professional Standards investigator, along with written evidence, including social media posts containing DCI Mason’s emails. The misconduct Panel could have accepted that alone. Instead, it insisted that Ms O’Connor give live evidence at the Hearing.

I have over 20 years’ experience in dealing with civil actions against the police, including helping people deal with Police Misconduct Hearings. I understand how traumatising it can be for witnesses to give evidence against police officers. Kristina was determined to pursue matters, knowing that DCI Mason was in the wrong, so I insisted that “special measures” be put in place. These included that:

  • the Panel use the pseudonym “Maria” instead of my client’s real name
  • Kristina was shielded from DCI Mason (but the Panel and lawyers could still see her).

The Panel was impressed by her evidence and found Kristina to be a “credible witness”. But the Hearing was a stressful and emotional experience, at which she felt “completely exhausted and disregarded.”

And the Panel’s decision to give DCI Mason a time-limited written warning, instead of dismissing him, merely made things worse. Kristina was shocked and frustrated that he got off so lightly. As she later said:

I do not feel like justice has been served for what happened to me and I certainly don’t feel that I can have confidence or faith in the police. I still feel (as do many women) like I am just as likely to be harmed by the police officer who responds to my call as I am by a stranger on the street.

She wanted to bring the public’s attention to how the Metropolitan Police handled things, but still feared for her own physical and mental health. We agreed that I would write about Ms O’Connor’s experience while preserving her anonymity. You can read all three blog posts here:

Kristina also gave an anonymous interview to BBC Radio 4, which you can listen to below. (The whole piece is worth your time, but Kristina’s interview is at 0:34 – 1:42):

What Changed?

Less than a week after DCI Mason’s hearing Kristina was disturbed by reporting in Channel 4s’ Dispatches programme “Cops on Trial”. It revealed that almost 2,000 police workers have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past four years. Despite this, only 8% of misconduct claims led to a dismissal, mirroring her own experience.

End credits image of Channel 4's Dispatches documentary "Cops on Trial" showing credit to Kevin Donoghue.

Kevin Donoghue assisted the producers of Channel 4’s Dispatches programme “Cops on Trial”.

And since DCI Mason’s acts of proven gross misconduct my client has been disgusted by many reports about the Met, including:

Her decision to go public was prompted by:

  • frustration with the Met’s mistreatment of herself and others
  • the bravery of women who reported their experiences at the hands of Metropolitan Police officers, including Dr Koshka Duff
  • a desire to bring about meaningful change.

As she told The Good Law Project:

By speaking out now I want to encourage more women to come forward about their negative experiences with the police. It’s difficult and takes courage, I know, but if enough women speak out, the Met won’t be able to dismiss them as ‘one-offs’. If enough women speak out, the issue must be acknowledged as an institutional one. If enough women speak out, we can effect real change.

Civil Claim and Judicial Review

Ms O’Connor was profoundly disappointed with the way her complaint and investigation were handled by the Metropolitan Police. She is now seeking a Judicial Review on the basis that the Met’s Professional Standards Department investigators “failed to properly investigate” her case under gender discrimination laws. I wish her every success with that.

In the meantime, I continue to help Kristina with her efforts to hold the police to account with a civil against the Met, and support her as she handles the brave decision to go public.

Kevin Donoghue, is the Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, a law firm which specialises in civil actions against the police.

Don’t Think the Tory Government will stop at Covid to erode your rights

 

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who reviews the Tory government proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a "British bill of rights".

Kevin Donoghue reviews Tory government proposals to replace the Human Rights Act.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

This week Justice Secretary/ Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab unveiled proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with the long-awaited “bill of rights”, which, he claimed, “reflect the government’s enduring commitment to liberty under the rule of law”.

Steve Reed MP, the shadow justice secretary, said the Lord Chancellor did this as a distraction from the “avalanche of corruption” that had overwhelmed the Conservative (Tory) government.

It’s easy to see why.

Raab’s announcement came on the morning of the disastrous Plan B vote, and when the media is consumed with various Conservative Party scandals, including:

  • fallout from last year’s No.10 Christmas parties
  • the Owen Paterson MP lobbying story
  • allegations that Boris Johnson lied to Lord Geit’s investigation of his flat refurbishment
  • etc.

Dominic Raab- Human Rights Hatchet Man

But the Lord Chancellor also has his own agenda.

Dominic Raab has an interesting background in human rights law. His official government profile page reassuringly says:

He also spent time on secondments at Liberty (the human rights NGO) and in Brussels advising on EU and WTO law.

And yet, despite this, he once said:

I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t believe in economic and social rights.

Unlike his government’s profile page and his comments on announcing the new proposals, this statement appears closer to the truth. It makes Raab the perfect person to fulfil the Conservative Party’s wishes.

Attacks on the Human Rights Act have long been a feature of Tory party campaigns. David Cameron’s administration proposed replacing it with a “British Bill of Rights” during his 2010 general election campaign, and it was part of the Conservative’s 2015 election manifesto.

It was also used as one of the main arguments for Brexit – to “take back control” from the European Court of Human Rights, limit asylum claims, and immigration.

Impact of the Tory Government’s Proposed Bill of Rights

But, as Martha Spurrier of Liberty eloquently points out, Raab’s proposals for a new bill of rights will erode civil liberties by “rewriting the rules so only the government can win”.

The proposals will effectively destroy claimants’ access to justice in human rights claims due to:

  • a new “permissions” stage. This is designed to filter out claims and requires claimants to show that they have suffered a “significant disadvantage” before bringing a claim to court.
  • preventing certain people from claiming compensation. The courts will be required give “greater consideration to the behaviour of the claimant and wider public interest”. This will create a system where provable victims of human rights abuses are denied compensation due to issues in their past. In this regard, it is like the unfair Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority scheme, which denied a rape victim compensation because of her criminal record.
  • corrective legislation” to shut down future rights of action. This would have the effect of allowing ministers like Raab “to correct court decisions through secondary legislation, which does not have to be subjected to scrutiny or votes in parliament.”

Support for the Human Rights Act

This is all so unnecessary. The Human Rights Act has been the law of the land since 1998. It is a respected cornerstone of our legal system. Eight years ago this week I wrote that:

The Declaration of Human Rights may be of pensionable age, but that’s no reason for it to be retired.

And, as Sir Peter Gross said in his report of the independent review of the Human Rights Act:

It is our view that the Human Rights Act works well and has benefited many.

The Effect of Current Laws on Human Rights Claims

Existing laws already make it hard to sue the State. The State enjoys Crown immunity under the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, the police are mostly protected from negligence claims, etc. These protections for the government and police come on top of recent changes to:

  • judicial review law
  • civil procedure
  • legal funding

which mean that Human Rights Act claims are relatively rare in practice.

Impact of the Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Act stands as a legal and justifiable way to bring claims despite these restrictions. This matters to:

  • individual claimants
  • society as a whole
  • agents of the State (like the police)

because, as my colleague Daniel Fitzsimmons shows, without these claims the police are not held to account.

The government’s proposals to replace the Human Rights Act mean that, for example, people will be wrongfully held in jail without recourse.

And, if the proposals are adopted, many other innocent victims of police and State misconduct will lose the right to bring claims. Examples of my firm’s clients who would struggle to get justice if the proposals are adopted include:

Mihai Andrei

Mr Andrei was falsely imprisoned by the police. We helped him claim compensation under the Human Rights Act for a breach of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to freedom and security (enacted here under s.6 Human Rights Act 1998), among other things. With my firm’s help Mihai got:

  • a formal written apology
  • an explanation of what went wrong
  • £5,000 compensation.

Suleiman Mirvais

The Metropolitan Police wrongfully executed a search warrant at Mr Mirvais’ home.

Among other things, we argued breaches of Articles 5 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (a breach of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998). With our help he was:

  • told what went wrong and why
  • awarded valuable compensation, which he was legally entitled to claim.

Peter and Tina

Peter and Tina’s adoption of a child was scuppered by the personal, probably jealous, motive of a serving police officer. With our firm in their corner, they exercised their rights under Article 8 (Right to Privacy and home life) to secure:

  • an apology
  • valuable compensation for the significant harm caused.

Thankfully, the adoption proceeded as a result of their brave decision to bring legal action against the police. They will enjoy a well-deserved family Christmas this year.

Justice was done in these cases because of the Human Rights Act and our clients hoped that the police learned lessons as a result. In this way, we all benefit.

Permanent Changes to Human Rights Law

The coronavirus has made us all more aware of our human rights. Among other things, mask mandates, lockdowns, and vaccine certificates have been challenged on the grounds that they infringe our human rights. One Conservative MP has even compared Plan B to Nazi Germany.

On Tuesday, 99 Conservative MPs rebelled against vaccine certificates with such thoughts in mind.

But it is a safe bet that they will vote Raab’s “British bill of rights” through without much thought.

This would be a grave mistake.

Members of Parliament and their constituents should consider that Plan B and the other things are temporary measures to deal with a pandemic. The Lord Chancellor’s unnecessary proposed changes will be (effectively) permanent.

Government Human Rights Abuse

Dominic Raab claims that:

one of the consistent complaints we hear from the public is that human rights can be subject to abuse.

It appears that by “abuse” Mr Raab means people like you and me exercising our constitutional rights, such as the right to free speech, to challenge the Government.

It is important to note that Mr Raab is not alone in his thinking. His dangerous proposals supplement “the authoritarian, protest-crushing proposals” in (Home Secretary) Priti Patel’s Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently moving through Parliament.

The Tory Government’s solution to citizens “abusing” their rights is to change the law. Ask yourself, who is the real abuser?

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors.

What You Should Know About Police Negligence Claims

 

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, a Chartered Legal Executive who explains the law in police negliigence claims.

Daniel Fitzsimmons explains the law in police negligence claims here.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

Before reading this blog post, please note our terms and conditions. In particular, you should be aware that nothing here constitutes legal advice. Contact me or my colleagues directly for that.

I have over 15 years’ experience helping clients with their civil actions against the police. I use my knowledge to help my colleagues in our New Enquiries Team review the thousands of requests for representation we get every year.

In recent months we have noticed an increase in requests for help in police negligence claims involving the investigation and suppression of crime. Some of these enquiries include cases where the police failed to:

  • take action in a neighbour dispute for alleged criminal damage and death threats
  • take a witness statement in a dog-bite case
  • prepare a witness to give evidence in court.

Other enquiries we have received include complaints that the police:

  • refused to refer a case to the CPS for prosecution
  • mishandled investigations (for example, where the police failed to take witness statements in an abuse case resulting in a hung jury, and where they did not fully investigate historical sexual abuse)
  • ignored, offended or hurt someone’s feelings (for example, treating a passenger in a car accident like a suspect)
  • gave incorrect information to others, like the CICA, local authorities, DVLA, and other government bodies
  • and many more.

Unfortunately, we can’t help with these kinds of cases. This is why.

What are Police Negligence Claims?

Our website page: the law in civil actions against the police explains that, to claim against the police in negligence, the Claimant must prove:

  1. that a legal duty of care is owed by the Defendant to the Claimant;
  2. the Defendant breached that duty;
  3. that the Claimant suffered recoverable damage as a result of the breach; and
  4. the damage (or that kind of damage) was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the negligent conduct.

As you can see, there’s a lot more to negligence than arguing simple human error or failing to do a job properly. Among other things, proving a legal “duty of care” between the parties is essential.

How are Negligence Claims Against the Police Different to Other Areas of Law?

Often, proving the four “heads” of negligence in compensation claims (such as road accident cases involving a rear-end shunt) is straightforward. But negligence claims against the police are a different animal entirely.

This is because, in most cases, the police are protected by the civil law from negligence claims involving the investigation and suppression of crime.

What Is the Investigation and Suppression of Crime?

Uniquely, the police (and other State intelligence and law enforcement agencies) are tasked with the investigation and suppression of crime. This is broadly defined as steps the police take to prevent crimes occurring.

How the Courts Handle Negligence Claims Against the Police

The police’s job of Investigating and suppressing crime was considered by the House of Lords in the case of Doreen Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (1987). Hill is still good law and regularly relied upon by the police, despite being over 30 years’ old.

In that case the Law Lords considered if Jacqueline Hill’s mother, Doreen, could bring an action against West Yorkshire Police in negligence. Miss Hill was the last victim of Peter Sutcliffe, the “Yorkshire Ripper”. Between 1975 and 1980 Sutcliffe murdered 13 women (including Miss Hill) and attempted to kill eight more.

How the House of Lords Viewed the Hill Negligence Case

The lead Judge, Lord Keith of Kinkel, summarised Mrs Hill’s police negligence claim by saying:

The question of law which is opened up by the case is whether the individual members of a police force, in the course of carrying out their functions of controlling and keeping down the incidence of crime, owe a duty of care to individual members of  the public who may suffer injury to person or property through the activities of criminals, such as to result in liability in damages, on the ground of negligence, to anyone who suffers such injury by reason of breach of that duty.

(my emphasis in bold here and throughout)

Did West Yorkshire Police owe Jacqueline Hill a Duty of Care?

The duty of care issue was front-of-mind for the judges deciding Mrs Hill’s case. This is because, without it, her negligence claim against the police failed at the first hurdle, as I explained above.

When considering if a duty of care existed, Lord Keith focused on the fact that:

It has been said almost too frequently to require repetition that foreseeability of likely harm is not in itself a sufficient test of liability in negligence. Some further ingredient is invariably needed to establish the requisite proximity of relationship between plaintiff and defendant, and all the circumstances of the case must be carefully considered and analysed in order to ascertain whether such an ingredient is present.

After reviewing the circumstances, the Judge determined that Mrs Hill could not prove the required “proximity of relationship” between her daughter and West Yorkshire Police.

This was because, among other reasons, Jacqueline Hill was:

  • not within a special class of people to whom the police owed a duty of care
  • merely one member of the general public who might be at risk
  • not especially vulnerable to Sutcliffe’s “activities” even though she was young and female.

Public Policy Considerations

Mrs Hill’s claim failed because she could not prove that West Yorkshire Police owed her daughter a duty of care.

Lord Keith could have stopped there.

Instead, he went on to offer another reason why police negligence claims which involve the failure to investigate and suppress crime fail: public policy.

In his view, the additional burden of second-guessing police activities like the investigation and suppression of crime was too high because:

  1. chief officers have “a wide discretion as to the manner in which the duty [to enforce the criminal law] is discharged” and that the courts are not equipped to consider these “matters of policy and discretion”.
  2. it might make police officers act “in a detrimentally defensive frame of mind”
  3. police forces would have to spend time and resources dealing with negligence claims, instead of fighting crime.

The Judge said:

The general sense of public duty which motivates police forces is unlikely to be appreciably reinforced by the imposition of such liability [in negligence] so far as concerns their function in the investigation and suppression of crime. From time to time they make mistakes in the exercise of that function, but it is not to be doubted that they apply their best endeavours to the performance of it.

This public policy point matters because it helps the police defend cases involving the investigation and suppression of crime in many different circumstances.

Why Operational Acts or Omissions CAN Result in Negligence Claims Against the Police

Despite finding against Mrs Hill in her claim, Lord Keith noted that compensation claims against the police can still be brought in negligence where, for example, a person is injured as a direct result of an officer’s operational acts or omissions. (A good example would be where an officer drives negligently and causes a road traffic accident.)

But the Judge made a clear distinction between these kinds of acts or omissions (which can be compensated if proven), and those involved in the investigation and suppression of crime (for which the police have broad “immunity from suit”).

How The Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police Case Affects Claimants

The Hill case set down a marker.

Generally, people cannot bring negligence claims against the police for failings in the investigation and suppression of crime.

This legal protection is why we cannot help with such claims.

But it is important to note that the public can sue the police for other acts or omissions.

This is how we help victims of police misconduct bring compensation claims for false imprisonment, assault, malicious prosecution, and other claims. (Read why on our page: The Law in Civil Actions Against the Police.)

Other Grounds for Civil Claims Against the Police

And, as my colleague Kevin Donoghue noted in his blog post: How to Hold the Police Accountable for Human Error, negligence is just one potential head of claim. Victims of police misconduct can claim compensation for other things, such as breaches of statutory and common laws, including:

  • Equality Act 2010
  • Human Rights Act 1998
  • Breach of confidence
  • Data Protection Act 2018
  • Defamation
  • Wrongful interference with goods
  • Breach of statutory duty
  • Maliciously obtaining search of arrest warrants
  • and others.

Claims like this have their own rules, time limits, and issues. Contact me or my colleagues if you think you may be eligible for compensation. Although we do not offer legal aid, we may be able to help you get the compensation you deserve on a “no win no fee” basis.

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive at Donoghue Solicitors. He leads the New Enquiries Team and reviews requests from people seeking expert legal help in suing the police. Read more about him here.

Five Ways the Police Fail in Litigation

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, who discusses why police fail in litigation.

Daniel Fitzsimmons gives five reasons why the police fail in litigation in this blog post.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

I recently wrote about how my client “Jane’s” case took 4 ½ years to settle, despite overwhelming evidence in her favour. The delay was caused by the police’s lawyers who denied, delayed, and mishandled the case from start to finish.

Jane suffered desperately as a result. At one point, she was admitted to a psychiatric ward after a medical expert appointed by the police treated her with contempt.

(You can read the full blog post here: Who holds police lawyers accountable?)

An important takeaway from that blog post is this: the police’s approach to litigation in civil actions against the police is flawed. Here are five ways how:

1. Their approach to litigation is bad for the police themselves

I put this first because I hope it will get the police’s attention.

I have over 15 years’ experience fighting for innocent victims of police misconduct. (Read about me here.)

During that time, I have found that police forces throughout England and Wales routinely deny liability without considering the facts first.

This knee-jerk reaction leads to unnecessary stress, delay, and expense when my clients’ claims settle or win at trial.

Senior officers (and police force lawyers) may think that this obstructive approach is a good thing. This is because it might:

  1. impress rank-and-file officers and the Police Federation (the powerful police officer’s union), who may think that their superiors have “got our backs”
  2. be easier than considering claims on their merits
  3. frighten off potential litigants. The police know that some people are afraid of claiming compensation due to the potential costs, time, and stress involved.

But, in fact, this approach does the opposite. Why?

Because innocent victims of police misconduct, and their civil actions against the police lawyers, generally know when the police are in the wrong.

They, unlike the officers who claim to defend law and order, tend to know police misconduct when they see it.

As a result, the police’s unco-operative approach to litigation makes claimants more determined to fight for justice.

Something that police forces and their lawyers overlook is that, often, claimants don’t do it for themselves. Again, in my experience, they focus on the greater good. These innocent victims of unjustified police misconduct want the police to learn lessons so that others do not suffer as they have.

This admirable attitude can make claimants value an apology more than financial compensation. My client Jane was one such person.

By contrast, the police, who have a duty to serve the public, do not seem to consider the impact on claimants and their communities when they deny, delay, and avoid claims.

Instead, some in the police resort to insulting claimants (as my colleague, Kevin Donoghue, found when he attended a Police Federation conference.)

This obstructive approach also takes its toll on the individual officers involved. Many experience the stress of legal proceedings as well.

Depending on how far claims go, police officers may have to:

  • give statements under oath
  • get coached in giving live evidence at trial
  • attend court in full dress uniform
  • experience years of delays caused by their force lawyers’ approach to litigation.

On top of that, senior judges and/or juries criticise officers publicly for proven misconduct. In some cases, this leads to career-ending disciplinary proceedings, and even criminal investigations. Is that what the police and their lawyers want?

2. It is unfair to claimants

Claimants are the lifeblood of our civil justice system. None of us, including the police themselves, get the benefit of judicial guidance, changes in police practice, and new legislation without them.

For these reasons, the police should have a positive attitude when claimants present their cases.

Instead, forces and their lawyers treat claimants like mosquitos: no better than nuisances they can swat away.

This adds to the already considerable strain most victims of police misconduct have suffered. It is not easy for claimants to:

  1. suffer an injustice at the hands of those who say they uphold the law
  2. experience further distress by the police’s refusal to accept or, often, acknowledge misconduct
  3. experience intense financial and emotional pressure to abandon their claims.

This triple injustice is common. It undermines confidence in the police. Many of my clients tell me that they will never trust the police again. Instead, they live on tenterhooks, fearing a repeat of their experience.

And they have other issues to deal with too, like claim funding. The legal aid system is now virtually defunct, as this article in the Law Society Gazette points out. So, most claimants either self-fund litigation, or seek out one of the few “no win no fee” lawyers who has the experience, skill, and free capacity to take civil actions against the police.

Lawyers like me and my colleagues help as much as we can. But make no mistake: claimants don’t have it easy.

3. It puts unnecessary strain on the legal system

The British court system is the envy of the world. Often, litigants from other countries will bring cases here because of our legal system’s reputation for fairness and high standards.

But the court system does not exist in a vacuum. Successive government cuts have led to:

  • fewer judges and support staff
  • creaking and outdated systems
  • court closures.

These policies have affected civil actions against the police more than most because it is one of the few areas of law where juries still hear trials instead of judges alone.

Jury trials are expensive, time-consuming, and hard to deal with for court staff. This frequently results in delays once cases get into the court system.

Some are unavoidable and caused by the civil courts themselves. Most are not.

Instead, the police’s lawyers use delaying tactics to try to wear down claimants. By doing this they hope to get claimants to abandon their claims, or settle out of court for less than their claims are worth.

But, as I mentioned above, in most cases delays by the police and their lawyers simply:

  • increase the claimant’s sense of injustice and injury
  • decrease the chances of settlement.

They also add to the considerable strain suffered by judges, support staff, and others working in the court system.

4. It wastes taxpayer money

The police are publicly-funded with an eye-watering £13 BILLION budget in 2021. They won’t run out of money because of the way they handle civil claims.

But having almost unlimited funds does not justify their approach to litigation.

Instead, the police and their lawyers should treat public funds as if they foot the bill themselves.

If they did, they would be on the same footing as claimants, who are often responsible for their own legal costs (even on a “no win no fee” basis).

5. It is out-of-date

I know that many senior officers and police lawyers will be unimpressed by my comments.

If so, perhaps they will consider this: your approach is obsolete.

Judges, and your colleagues in the profession, know it and will deal with you accordingly.

As Professor Dominic Regan explains in this article, the court service must modernise to survive.

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos, plans to shake things up. As the most senior judge involved in civil justice, he has the power to do so.

Sir Vos sees a legal system where technology helps progress and settle disputes. He is looking at online systems and artificial intelligence (like that used by eBay).

This approach could radically change how the police, and their lawyers, operate.

For example, police forces will be prevented from defending cases unless they progress them using the court’s timetable. And court hearings, which often result in delays, will be rare.

Prof. Regan notes that “judges do not want to judge”. Instead, they want “matters to settle upon mutually acceptable terms.”

This means that coming to agreements using “alternative dispute resolution” will be the norm, not the exception.

I seek dispute resolution in every case. The police usually refuse.

In my experience, they agree only when embarrassed by brazen officer misconduct. This refusal to talk at “round table” meetings, and the police’s wider approach to litigation, will soon be a relic, as will the lawyers who use it.

How the Police Should Deal with Litigation

We all suffer because of the police’s handling of civil litigation claims. There is no excuse. It is a conscious decision to deny, delay, and fight claims.

And, as I have explained, there are real-world consequences for all involved, including the police and their lawyers.

It is unacceptable. But the police can start putting things right by:

  1. reviewing claims properly at the beginning
  2. making early, fair settlement offers where appropriate
  3. seek “round table” dispute resolution to ease the burden on the courts, taxpayer, and parties involved.

In short: it’s time the police treated claimants and the litigation process with the respect they deserve.

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive who specialises in civil actions against the police.