Do the Police Have Double Standards?

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, a Chartered Legal Executive, who asks if the police have double standards.
Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, asks if the police have double standards here.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

Knife crime is a serious problem. The police are right to highlight this and seek harsh punishment for offenders. But what about when it involves one of their own?  Then, as two of my clients have found, things aren’t quite so straightforward. Read on and ask yourself if the police’s conduct reveals double standards.

Domestic Dispute

I represent “John” and “Sarah” (names changed as their case is ongoing), a married couple. One night they got into a petty argument. Voices were raised. Their daughter got scared and called the police.

Officers came to the family’s home and demanded that John let them in. He refused, believing that the police had no right of access.

But the police insisted. (I understand that the officers claim they were relying on s.17 Police and Criminal Evidence Act. They argue that they were “saving life or limb or preventing serious damage to property”. But, in my opinion, this legal basis doesn’t fit the facts, so making what happened next unlawful.)

The police forced their way into the house, wrestling John to the ground. He continued to protest and resist, sure that he had done nothing wrong and that the police had no right to be in his home. After a struggle officers arrested and handcuffed John, injuring him in the process. They took him to a police car and drove John to the police station. John was “booked in” and, to his amazement, told he was being held for assaulting a police officer in the execution of his duty. In interview John insisted that he had done no such thing. The police charged and bailed him. John pleaded not guilty. His case went all the way to trial, where he was acquitted.

Police Complaint

John knew that the police’s case was unfounded, and that the prosecution was wrong. He was sure he had the right to defend himself. John felt mistreated and contacted me because my firm specialises in helping people with civil actions against the police.

John told me his story. I listened as he explained that not only had the police forced their way into his home, but that they had injured him during arrest. He described deep, sharp, cuts to his arms which needed medical treatment. He saw his GP the day after the arrest and told the doctor what had happened. John’s GP didn’t think the cuts were from handcuffs: he thought they were from a bladed object.

A couple of days after the incident the family came across a multi-tool, or “Swiss army”, knife in their home.

It wasn’t theirs.

It had a name engraved on the back.

It was one of the police officers.

Police Professional Standards Department Involvement

I agreed to help John and Sarah bring a formal complaint against the police. John gave me the multi-tool for safe-keeping.

Recently, I spoke with an investigator at the police force’s Professional Standards Department. This police officer’s job is to impartially investigate the complaint. At the end of the investigation he should prepare a report showing his findings and recommendations. Police officers may be cleared of any wrongdoing at the end of this process. If not, and depending on the circumstances, proposals for how to deal with any adverse findings can include

  • “management action”, a form of advice and guidance which is designed to deal with misconduct in a timely, proportionate, and effective way.
  • formal misconduct proceedings and, in rare cases,
  • criminal charges.

Professional Standards investigators have a crucial role in maintaining public confidence. They “police the police”.

Sadly, I do not have confidence in the way this investigator is handling John and Sarah’s complaint because:

  1. He has sought to deal with their complaint by way of “local resolution”.
  2. He knew about the multi-tool knife and tried to get it back.

1. Local resolution

Local resolution is the least formal process for dealing with police complaints. It is unsuitable given the facts because it cannot result in misconduct or criminal proceedings.

John and Sarah’s case is unusual in that it is not a “he said, she said” case, where police officers normally have the advantage. The facts have already been tested in a criminal court. John was cleared of the serious charge of assaulting a police officer after reviewing sworn evidence from both sides.

But questions remain about whether the police acted improperly by

  • forcing their way into his home,
  • arresting,
  • assaulting,
  • detaining,
  • charging, and
  • helping prosecute him.

These issues alone merit a more formal investigation.

2. “Swiss army” (multi-tool) knife

The investigator was aware that an officer’s Swiss army (multi-tool) knife had been left at the family’s home. He also knew from the police complaint that John alleged he had been cut during the arrest. The multi-tool device left at John and Sarah’s home is a “Gerber Dime”. This is it:

Photo of Gerber Dime multi-tool knife found at client home.
This is the multi-tool found at our client’s home following a police visit.

Gerber sell similar tools for £29.99 plus shipping in the UK, with personalised engraving available for £3.99.

As you can see from this youtube video, it’s a versatile tool which has two blades; a regular “fine edge” blade and a retail package opener:

Now look at these photographs of John’s arms.

Photo of forearm injuries caused by police during arrest.
Photo of our client’s forearm (used with his kind permission). Note where the cuts appear.
Photo of cuts to arm following arrest.
Deep, straight line cut to our client’s wrist.

Was his GP right in thinking that the cuts were caused by a bladed object? Did one of the multi-tool’s knife blades cause John’s wounds?

Given that

  1. John suffered multiple cuts consistent with knife wounds,
  2. these included a cut high up his forearm (shown in the first photograph), and
  3. the officer’s multi-tool was found at the couple’s home

what other rational explanation is there for how John was injured?

If the police officer used the knife blade to assault John during the arrest, he could be facing serious misconduct and criminal charges.

Even if that is not proven, is it right that a police officer should take a multi-tool to a domestic house call? They are not standard kit for police officers. Why would the officer think it was appropriate to “go equipped” on the job?

I told the PSD investigator about my concerns and that this matter is not suitable for local resolution.

Photo of Gerber Dime multi-tool
Are police double standards exposed if an officer uses a multi-tool knife like this during an arrest?

Double Standards Exposed?

He then raised another troubling issue.

The investigator asked if my client would return the multi-tool knife as the officer wanted it. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The investigator knew that the multi-tool knife had been left at (what a court may later decide) was a crime scene. But, instead of

  • stressing the serious nature of the matter, and
  • advising that it was a crucial piece of evidence which the department would keep,

the investigator simply said that the officer wanted it back.

Does this reveal double standards in how the force deals with police complaints? Look at it this way: if it was alleged that my client had used a multi-tool knife on an officer he would not get it back before the conclusion of criminal proceedings. And the charges he faced would be more serious than those John fought at court, in which the prosecution claimed he assaulted a police officer in the execution of his duty. That alone is “aggravated” assault and can result in six month’s jail time and a hefty fine. Using a knife would have led to more serious charges and made a possible conviction far worse.

Is it right that the police’s investigator tried to recover this crucial piece of evidence and return it to his colleague?

Protecting Evidence

I told the investigator that I had the knife and would keep hold of it. In doing so, I am fulfilling my legal duty to preserve evidence. I am worried that this crucial piece of evidence might mysteriously disappear if I returned it now.

And, given what I now know, I am not confident this complaint against the police will be fairly investigated. As I see it, the police’s double standards have been exposed. My clients know my views and are prepared to bring civil court proceedings if justified and necessary. We await the outcome of the Professional Standards Department’s investigation with interest.

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

How the Civil Liability Act Will Affect Motorists

Photo of Jack Hudson, LLB (Hons), who considers the effects of the Civil Liability Act here.
Jack Hudson looks at the likely effects of the Civil Liability Act.

By Jack Hudson, LLB (Hons), litigation executive at Donoghue Solicitors

I recently settled a claim for my client Greg Barber. (Greg has kindly given his permission for me to use his details.)

Mr Barber’s case highlights the positive impact of legal representation. This is something which many motorists will lose next year when the Civil Liability Act comes into force. Read on to find out how.

What Happened?

Greg was driving his car on the main road when another driver pulled out of a side road and hit it. Mr Barber suffered an injury to his neck and shoulder. At first, he thought it was “whiplash”. His car was also damaged. Both drivers exchanged details at the accident scene.

Greg instructed Donoghue Solicitors to help because we specialise in accident claims. I submitted his claim to the other driver’s insurers. They dealt with Greg’s car, leaving me to help with his personal injury compensation claim and other expenses.

I arranged for a medical expert to examine Greg. Because Mr Barber instructed Donoghue Solicitors, he did not have to go to the trouble of

  • finding a suitable expert close to home,
  • arranging the appointment,
  • researching the Civil Procedure Rules to give the expert suitable instructions, or
  • paying for the report.

The doctor gave Greg a thorough examination. He confirmed Greg’s “whiplash” diagnosis. But the medical expert was also concerned that Mr Barber might have suffered a neck bone break and recommended an MRI scan.

This was a very worrying time. Mr Barber was in pain and concerned that things could be made worse by the possible break. I arranged for Greg to have the MRI scan at a private hospital, again at no cost to him. Thankfully, the scan confirmed “no traumatic pathology”. (In layman’s terms, Greg had not broken his neck.) But he still needed physical therapy to help his whiplash symptoms.

Again, at no direct cost to him, I arranged for Greg to get ten sessions of private physiotherapy. This helped him recover from neck pain more quickly than if he had not had the treatment. It was good for Greg and the paying insurers.

Despite the treatment Greg did not recover as the medical expert specialist expected. I arranged for a report from the physiotherapist and sent it to the doctor. The medical expert agreed to extend the prognosis period to cover the extra recovery period. Greg’s total recovery period was just less than a year.

Armed with this information I negotiated settlement of Greg’s claim. Using my specialist legal knowledge and expertise I helped him get £3,200 for his road accident claim. This was an excellent settlement based on the medical evidence. I also made sure that the insurers paid all associated expenses. These included the cost of the MRI scan and private physiotherapy.

Greg did not have to pay for my services up front as we acted under a “no win no fee” agreement.

How the Civil Liability Act Will Change Things for Motorists

The Civil Liability Act became law on 20 December 2018. (You can read it here.) Among other things it drastically changes the procedure for “whiplash” claims. The Act defines whiplash broadly, saying it is:

“an injury of soft tissue in the neck, back or shoulder that is…a sprain, strain, tear, rupture or lesser damage of a muscle, tendon or ligament in the neck, back or shoulder, or an injury of soft tissue associated with a muscle, tendon or ligament in the neck, back or shoulder”.

The expected start date of the new regime for motorists suffering whiplash injuries is April 2020. From then, injuries like this which last less than two years will be valued using a tariff system in most road traffic accident cases. The government has not published the tariff, so we do not know how it compares to the current system, which is based on the Judicial College Guidelines and established case law. Instead the Act says:

(2) The amount of damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity payable in respect of the whiplash injury or injuries, taken together, is to be an amount specified in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor.

This is not very helpful. Draft figures suggest significant reductions in compensation awards.

Another effect of the Civil Liability Act is that legal costs will not be payable. This forces motorists to bring claims themselves unless they want to pay privately for expert help. Instead, motorists in eligible cases will submit details of their claims as “litigants in person” using an “online portal”.

It seems that the true purpose of the Civil Liability Act is to make it harder for claimants to seek compensation. If that point isn’t crystal clear, the Conservative government also plans to raise the small claims track limit in April 2020. The increase will apply to claims worth less than £5,000 in road traffic accidents, and £2,000 in other personal injury matters. This will prevent innocent claimants from recovering legal fees from their opponents in many other genuine cases.

What would happen to Greg’s claim after the Civil Liability Act came into force?

Greg Barber would have found things very different if he had his accident after April 2020, the expected start date of the new claims regime.

He would have to deal with everything himself unless he was willing and able to pay a solicitor (or claims manager) to deal with his claim.

Greg would

  • have to research how to bring a road traffic accident claim,
  • need access to a fast, reliable internet connection to access the claims portal, and
  • learn how to use the new system to claim compensation.

As anyone who has ever dealt with government knows, things are rarely easy or trouble-free. The current online claims portal system lawyers use to help people bring compensation claims had a difficult birth. It was introduced in 2010 but was delayed for months. When it eventually started the portal had many difficulties. It still gives experienced lawyers headaches, especially when describing liability and causes of action in strict legal terms. (There can be serious consequences if you get it wrong.) There’s no reason to think that the new portal system will roll-out smoothly, or that it will be easy to use for the inexperienced. And it is likely that Greg would have to navigate Medco, which is a separate online system, to get his medical report.

The tariff system could be problematic too. As I mentioned above, it is focused on soft-tissue “whiplash” injuries. But what about investigations into Greg’s neck injury? At one point he thought he might have broken his neck. Thankfully, an MRI scan confirmed that wasn’t the case. But it was still worrying and needed to be investigated. The new system would allow for a medical examination. But without a lawyer fighting his corner Greg might have had his neck concerns dismissed by the doctor.

Also, the new Act is full of confusing language, especially when considering multiple injuries. If Greg had suffered more than just whiplash some, or all, of his claim may have been excluded from the Civil Liability Act system completely. (Legal experts are debating this.) But how would he know without reading and correctly interpreting the Act?

All these issues could come up before Mr Barber even tries to settle his claim. In Greg’s case it is likely that the tariff system would apply because his whiplash injury lasted less than two years. We don’t know the amount of compensation he would get but, on the draft figures, it could be as much as £2,000 less for the same injury.

If Greg disagreed with the tariff valuation and wanted to contest it, he would have to argue his case before a judge in court. He would probably come up against a qualified barrister or solicitor paid by the insurers. He may back down and accept the offer when he realises this, deciding that it’s just not worth it.

Confidence in the Legal System

Greg Barber was unfortunate to have been involved in a road traffic accident. But he was lucky it happened before the Civil Liability Act 2018 came into force. This meant he could get expert representation to

  • independently protect his interests, and
  • make sure he got the maximum compensation for his claim.

Motorists after April 2020 may not be so lucky.

Innocent motorists like Greg do not go looking for accidents. They are injured and suffer loss, inconvenience, and stress through no fault of their own. They want to be put in the pre-accident position. This is their legal right under centuries-old tort law. And yet insurers and the government have crafted the Civil Liability Act to unfairly penalise them.

Insurers won when this Act passed. They will save money on compensation and legal fees. But the real cost of the Civil Liability Act will not be measured in insurance company profits. It will be in the public’s lack of confidence in the legal system. Without expert representation many will be put off from bringing a claim in the first place. Those that do may be confused by the online claims system. And for the lucky few that navigate their way through it they may end up under-settling their claims and/or get left with the nagging feeling that they’ve been had.

The effect of the Civil Liability Act is to emphasise the “inequality of arms” and undermine the rule of law.

Is that justice?

Contact Jack Hudson for help with your compensation claims here.

 

Donoghue Solicitors Shortlisted in Liverpool Law Society Legal Awards

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors.
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors. His firm has been shortlisted in the 2019 Liverpool Law Society Legal Awards.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors

We did it again! Donoghue Solicitors has been shortlisted in the Liverpool Law Society Legal Awards for the third time in a row.

This accolade comes hot-on-the-heels of our shortlisting for Boutique Law Firm of the Year in the 2019 Modern Law Awards.

Read on to find out why we’re shortlisted and what this means to us and our clients.

Liverpool Law Society Legal Awards 2019 logo.
Donoghue Solicitors has been shortlisted for the Small Law Firm Award in the 2019 Liverpool Law Society Legal Awards.

Why Liverpool Law Society Legal Awards are Trusted

The bi-annual Liverpool Law Society Legal Awards are described as “celebrating legal excellence”.

An independent panel judges the Awards. Panel members come from the worlds of business, academia and the judiciary. Glenys Hunt, a non-practising past president of Liverpool Law Society, chaired this year’s panel. Members included:

  • Professor Warren Barr Head of Department at Liverpool Law School, University of Liverpool,
  • Ms Lesley Martin-Wright, Chief Executive of Knowsley Chamber of Commerce
  • His Honour Judge Graham Wood QC, the Designated Civil Judge for Cheshire and Merseyside.

Liverpool Law Society jealously protects the integrity of the Awards. No director of the Society or staff member gets involved in the judging of the Awards in any way. The Chair’s role is to assist and guide the Panel only. She does not have voting rights. The judging panel makes its decisions confidentially. Only the judging panel interviews the nominees. Directors or staff members of the Society are excluded.

Why Donoghue Solicitors is Shortlisted for Liverpool Law Society’s Small Law Firm Award

Donoghue Solicitors has been shortlisted in the Small Law Firm Award category. Competitors must be law firms with up to 30 locally-based staff (including non-fee- earning staff). The “local” area is large. It includes the city of Liverpool, and the Metropolitan Boroughs of Wirral, Knowsley, Sefton, Widnes, St Helens and Neston in the County of Cheshire.

Having met that definition, the judging panel then considered the following:

  • a firm that has made a significant contribution and/or brought reputational benefit to Liverpool and surrounding areas
  • evidence of attracting more than local work
  • a firm that represents “law at its best”
  • demonstrating a commitment to law as a business, run effectively while taking into account client care
  • training initiatives and accreditations received or being worked towards
  • client initiatives that have set the firm apart from the rest
  • contribution to the community including pro-bono work.

The judges decided that Donoghue Solicitors was one of only two firms which met these strict criteria.

Niche Law Firm Award for the 2019 Modern Law Awards.
Donoghue Solicitors was also shortlisted for the Boutique Law Firm Award in the 2019 Modern Law Awards.

Liverpool Law Society Comments

The Society announced the shortlist by saying:

Liverpool Law Society is delighted by the number of nominations received for the 2019 Legal Awards from individuals, teams and firms across the membership. The competition has been fierce, the independent judging panel have met and interviews have taken place. The judging panel said: “The quality, quantity and calibre of applications for this year’s Liverpool Law Society Legal Awards has been incredibly high, which reflects the strength and talent of our local legal community.

Liverpool Law Society President Chris Topping said:

I am very excited that the Legal Awards ceremony is now only a few weeks away, the announcement of the shortlist is always a significant moment in the build-up. I know that the evening will be a fantastic showcase for the excellent work of both individuals and firms who are members of Liverpool Law Society and I hope you will join with me in this celebration.

The awards ceremony will take place at Rum Warehouse, Stanley Dock, Liverpool on Friday, 17th May 2019. The BBC’s Roger Johnson is hosting. The local Law Society describe the black-tie event as “one of the highlights of the region’s legal profession’s calendar’s year”.

Why This Matters

I am thrilled that the judging panel recognised my team’s efforts.  Their dedication and commitment to our clients impresses me every day. I look forward to taking my staff to the event as a “thank you” for all their hard work. This expert recognition also gives our clients confidence that they are working with a leading law firm, dedicated to putting their needs first and representing “the law at its best”.

Kevin Donoghue leads Donoghue Solicitors, a firm of compensation claims lawyers. Contact him here.

Five Things You Should Know About Spit Hoods

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who explains five things you should know about spit hoods.
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor explains five things you should know about spit hoods.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor and specialist in civil actions against the police

Last week I appeared on the BBC Three Counties’ JVS programme to talk about spit hoods. I’ve discussed spit hoods (which the police like to call “spit guards”) on tv and radio before. The discussions always take the same approach. The presenter discusses the issue of the day (this week it was the use of spit hoods on children) with a police officer (or pro-police advocate) and me, before inviting calls from the public and/or serving police officers. I’m there to provide “balance”. The discussions are rarely balanced though, and usually go something like this:

Police Officer: We just want to be safe in our work. Spit hoods help protect our hard-working police.

Presenter: I agree. Spitting is disgusting. I wouldn’t want to be spat at just for going to work. Would you want to be spat at Mr Donoghue?

Me: No. I agree that spitting is disgusting, but there’s more to it than that…

Presenter and police officer: (interrupting)…Spitting has no place in our society. Why are you defending these thugs? You’re wrong! Etc. etc.

Presenter: Let’s take some calls.

Member of the public/ police officer who has been told to call in: Spitting is disgusting! They get what they deserve.

Me: (sigh).

As you can tell, arguments against the use of spit hoods get drowned out. This might be because of some fundamental misunderstandings about spit hoods. Here’s five things everyone (including those in the media) should know.

1. Spit hoods/ guards can kill or cause life-changing injuries

Common, misleading statements I hear when discussing “spit guards” are that

i. they are just “fabric” or “mesh”, and

ii. that people can breathe easily in them.

Neither of these things are true.

Spit hood designs vary. (I’ll come on to why there are different spit hood masks in use shortly.)  Click here to see Damian Pettit, police commander for south Worcestershire, wearing one of his force’s spit hoods.

You can see that the main body of the spit hood is a mesh fabric. But the section in front of the mouth and nose is a plastic/ mesh “shield”.

The use of a plastic shield makes sense when you think about it. The hood isn’t there for effect: it’s purpose is to prevent the transmission of mucus and spit. How could a mere mesh fabric do that?

It makes more sense to think of spit hoods as semi-clear plastic bags. Now ask yourself: should the police put a plastic bag over someone’s head to prevent them spitting?

The plastic shield in front of the mouth and nose is an essential feature of spit hoods. But it’s also a dangerous flaw. It prevents air getting through when impermeable, usually with spit, mucus, and vomit.

Suffocation is a real risk to spit hood wearers. The masks can result in death or life-changing injuries and/or trauma.

Even though the police are trained to be aware of these risks, training doesn’t remove them. Jonathan Pluck of Cambridgeshire suffocated and died in police custody after police spit-hooded him and left him face down on a mattress. It appears that Mr Pluck suffocated because the mask became impermeable due to his spit and/or it lodged in front of his mouth and nose.

For those who do not die, the trauma of being spit-hooded can have lasting effects. This is especially so when combined with other restraint techniques. Spit hoods are rarely used in isolation, and never used in controlled environments such as radio studios, like Nick Ferrari did here. The police are more likely to use spit guards in situations like the one below involving IK Aihie. Watch the short clip and you’ll get a sense of the trauma spit hood victims suffer:

My client Paul Smith went through something similar. Sussex Police unlawfully arrested him. The police sprayed Paul in the face with PAVA (pepper) incapacitant spray. PAVA spray is an effective, painful weapon. It causes chemical burns, a reflexive narrowing of the airways, and makes the mucus membranes (nose, mouth, eyes) flow. It’s a natural response to spit, push out mucus, and cry. After spraying Paul in the face with pepper spray, the police knelt on his back, handcuffed Paul to the rear, and held him face-down on the ground. Officers also applied leg restraints rendering him completely immobile and defenceless.

They then put a spit hood over Paul’s head when they saw him spitting the PAVA spray out, even though he was face-down and not spitting at them. The spit hood quickly filled with spit and mucus. Paul begged the police for help, saying that he was choking. The police ignored his pleas and kept him in a spit hood for about half an hour.

Paul suffered physical injuries and psychological trauma due to the police assault. He was a law-abiding citizen who will “never trust them (the police) again”.

2. Spit hoods are not government-approved

It stands to reason that police officers’ “kit”, or equipment, must be tested and approved before use. The police want to know that it’s fit for purpose and can stand up to the rigours of the job. The public want to know that it’s safe and that taxpayers are getting value for money. The Home Office, through the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), tests police kit first. This approach also saves individual police forces time and money.

The Home Office’s Dstl incorporated the Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST). CAST tested and set standards for CS and PAVA sprays, body armour, body worn video devices, and other things related to police work.

But CAST (now part of Dstl) has not:

  • Formally evaluated spit hoods
  • Identified suitable models for use
  • Produced any risk, safety, ethical, medical or other relevant assessments of spit hoods.

This situation created a testing and information “vacuum”. Some Chief Constables filled the gap even if their organisations may not have been equipped to do so. Forces may not have the technical expertise or budgets to

  • assess different products,
  • produce the relevant assessments, or
  • pay for suitable training.

This is made worse by media, political, and peer pressure to introduce spit hoods quickly. All these things could lead to corner-cutting with potentially devastating consequences, as I explained here.

You have to wonder why Central Government has failed to test spit hoods. The Home Office has “passed the buck” to the police. If I were a Chief Constable, I’d want answers before issuing this potentially deadly kit to my officers.

And as members of the public we have a right to know if spit hoods are safe.

3. Alternative approaches exist

During media interviews I’m usually asked “what is the alternative to spit hoods?”. The simple answer is “don’t use them”. But here are two more:

i. The use of restraints/ holds

ii. Officer visors

i. Restraints/ holds

Listen to the JVS show where we discuss spit hoods by clicking on the play button below:

You’ll hear Chris Culley, a former Metropolitan Police officer, explain (at 9 minutes 17 seconds -9 minutes 29 seconds) how:

“When I was a police officer… the simple expedient was, in those days, two or three of us would hold them and stand behind them and take a very firm grip on them and get them to a point where we could get them under some kind of control whereby they started to calm.”

This approach is effective and consistent with police officers’ training to de-escalate situations. Senior police officers have told me that some officers are too quick to use their kit. These rank-and-file officers ignore de-escalation techniques and Personal Safety Training guidance. In most cases officers could avoid using spit hoods and putting suspects at risk if they applied their training correctly.

ii. Visors

Alternatives to spit hoods exist in the event restraint techniques fail. One such approach is for police officers to use visors, like the one shown here.

Police advocates say this is impractical. They ask why officers should have to wear visors instead of using a spit hood on the suspect. There are Human Rights issues which make the use of visors worthwhile, but put them aside for a moment. One practical reason (that even police officers can get behind) is that spit hoods can make situations worse.

4. Spit hoods can make things worse

Something that can get lost in the discussion about spit hoods is that police use them on suspects, not criminals. Everyone, even a person spitting, is innocent until proven guilty. Arresting someone and putting a spit hood over their head is a serious matter. It’s a deprivation of liberty and assault if unjustified. It’s also a degrading, humiliating experience and breaches human rights.

Suspects can become upset, indignant, and argumentative when arrested. But that does not justify using a spit hood, no matter how offended the arresting officer may be by the suspect’s conduct. (Read Paul Smith’s case report for details of how a police officer was criticised for this.)

And situations can deteriorate quickly. Problems arise when officers forget their training and fail to recognise the signs of a mental health crisis or drug use. Fear, confusion, and desperation can be powerful motivators to lash out. Spit hood masks can escalate the situation from a “mere” mental health or drug-induced crisis to a life-threatening one. In a recent tragic case, Terry Smith had taken amphetamines before his arrest. An inquest found Surrey Police failed to consider this when restraining him. The coroner reported that:

“Prolonged and excessive restraint, and a failure to understand that the resistance to the restraint [by the deceased] was leading to an ongoing depletion of oxygen and an increased level of adrenaline and that this was speeding up the effects of the [amphetamines] in his body.”

Mr Smith died the following day, The Coroner’s Court jury criticised Surrey Police for “serious failings and neglect”.

5. Spit hoods are unusual in public-facing roles

Here’s something the police don’t want you to know: spit hoods are rarely used by other professionals dealing with members of the public. This might be because, according to West Midlands Police’s Force own Health, Safety & Welfare Committee

“whilst extremely unpleasant the likelihood of contracting communicable diseases from spittle is low.”

This includes serious diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV, which cannot be transmitted by spitting. The Hepatitis C Trust and National Aids Trust expressed concern that spit hoods were wrongly being promoted as a way to help prevent hepatitis C and HIV. It criticised those who promote use this unfounded fear for their own ends, saying:

“Such falsehoods also cause unnecessary alarm to police staff. Given the significant challenges faced by police officers in the line of duty, causing them to fear they have been put at risk when they have not places an undue burden upon them, and must not go unchallenged. While the debate around the use of spit hoods is an important one for the police, policy-makers and the public, hepatitis C and HIV are of no relevance to it and should not be used as justification for their use.”

In hospitals, schools, and other places where people spit at staff, de-escalation techniques, such as effective communication and restraint holds, are used. Why should the police be any different?

Role in Society

I’m not surprised that the police campaign to get spit hoods. Police officers and their supporters are always looking for ways to get new “kit”, which they can use to control and subdue suspects. As I explained in this blog post this is leading to the increasing militarisation of our police force.

But for the rest of us, particularly those who want to live in a civilised society, spit hoods have no place.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who represents victims of police misconduct. Contact him here.

 

 

What Defendant Lawyers Don’t Understand About Claimants

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, FCILEx, who explains what defendant lawyers don't understand about claimants in this blog post.
Daniel Fitzsimmons explains what defendant lawyers don’t understand about claimants in this blog post.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, FCILEx

“Words cannot express my gratitude to you. I have came across many people,all from  different walks of life, but can honestly say with my hand on my precious nannies ashes that you one in a million.

You should be so extremely proud of yourself. Thank you are just words but when they are sent from the heart, I believe that they mean so much more.

May god bless you and your family.’

One of my clients wrote this in an email last week. It made me incredibly proud. It’s always nice to be appreciated, especially because bringing civil claims can be taxing for both claimants and their legal advisers. Defendant lawyers may never understand what it means to bring a civil claim. Most spend their days dealing with insurance company claims handlers, police force representatives, and in-house legal teams. This means that both client and defendant lawyer are experienced professionals comfortable with litigation. Emotions tend to be left out of it. But this means that many defendant lawyers don’t see the whole picture.

Why?

Why Claimants Bring Civil Actions

Consider the case of the client who wrote that email. I’m helping her with a civil compensation claim against the police. She’s a fine, upstanding member of the community who has been wronged by the very people she believed were there to protect her. Her faith in the police and judicial system has been shaken to its core. For this reason, it was no small feat for her to put her trust in another branch of the legal system: lawyers.

And yet she did.

My client has a strong sense of justice. She knew what she had to do to get it: instruct a specialist firm of solicitors to pursue a civil claim against the police.

My client was cautious at first. She had to overcome worries about bringing a civil claim and deal with paperwork and other necessities. All this takes time, effort, and persistence. Then add that we did not know each other and had to build a rapport based on mutual trust and understanding. Civil actions against the police can take years. It helps if both client and lawyer get on. Fortunately, we do.

My client opened up to me. She told me about the shame and humiliation she felt when the police mistreated her. She explained how she felt abandoned by the legal system, and how vulnerable and afraid she now feels. Her fear of police officers is real, genuine, and affects her daily life. Every knock on the door causes her to jump. She crosses the street when she sees police officers on patrol. Police car sirens and lights make her heart race. All because police officers crossed the line from enforcing the law to breaking it.

How Claimant Lawyers Help Their Clients

For me, this information is vital. From a work perspective, it helps me maximise her compensation claim and frame her witness statement. But there’s more to it than that. She knows I have her best interests at heart. Knowing how the police’s misconduct affected her means that I am better able to help. When she gets in touch I listen. If she gets frustrated or upset, I am better placed to understand why. Sometimes my client gets teary and emotional when we discuss her claim. If I didn’t know her and her story it would be hard to understand why. Especially when the simplest procedural matters trigger something. Her dreadful experience is still so raw. So, I give her time and space when she needs it, knowing that she’s doing her best to hold it together.

But this behaviour also takes its toll on me and my fellow lawyers working for claimants bringing civil compensation claims. Defendant lawyers rarely deal with such emotion. For them, procedural tricks of the trade designed to delay or deny claims carry little personal consequences. But for my clients those tools can be devastating and set back recovery. Defendant lawyers rarely deal with these human effects. I’m the one who must explain these things and keep my clients going through the tough times as they seek justice. Hard as this is, I’m not complaining. It’s my job. But the role of lawyer-as-counsellor is not something widely known outside the claimant side of the legal profession. It is not a job for which law school can train you. Nor, I suspect, is it a role many defendant lawyers would want.

What Defendant Lawyers Can Learn From This

My message to defendant lawyers is this: your actions have consequences.  Put yourself in the claimant’s shoes and think about how your conduct or latest clever email will come across.  It’s possible to fearlessly represent your client and act with compassion. Not only will you avoid inflicting unnecessary pain; you may become a better lawyer.

 

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive. Contact him here.

A Letter to Front-Line Police Officers in the Met

Photo of Solicitor Kevin Donoghue, who writes about spit hoods in this letter to front-line police officers in the Met.
Solicitor Kevin Donoghue writes about spit hoods in this letter to front-line police officers in the Met.

Dear front-line police officers in the Met,

Most of you don’t know me. If you come across my name in a professional capacity something’s gone very wrong. That’s because I am a solicitor who represents victims of police misconduct. Many of my cases involve suing the Metropolitan Police (“the Met”).

I have appeared on t.v. and radio up and down the country debating the use of spit hoods over the last few years. I have been asked, “how would you like it if someone spat in your face when you were at work?” The answer is obvious; I would not. But this question misses the point. I am not a police officer. You are. And front-line Met Police officers like you will soon get spit hoods as part of their standard equipment. The campaigners in your ranks will be celebrating. You persuaded Commissioner Cressida Dick to extend the “spit guard” roll out from custody suites. But before you pop the champagne, think about what this decision means for you, your fellow officers, and the public you serve. Listen to what those outside the police have to say. Unlike some, what I have to say is not biased with self-interest. And if you take what I say to heart you might avoid the kinds of incidents which lead innocent victims to my office door.

Spit Hoods or Spit Guards?

Before I go further, I know your Police Federation representatives don’t like the term “spit hoods”. They prefer “spit guards”. It probably polled well in a focus group. But who are they kidding? Even your own senior officers and some Police Federation representatives call them spit hoods. If you’re being honest with yourself, so did you, until you learned that the phrase “spit guards” would help convince the public to approve your use of these potentially deadly tools.

So spit hoods will become standard equipment carried by you and your fellow “bobbies on the beat” in the Met. The Metropolitan Police is the UK’s biggest police force, with more than 30,000 full-time officers, so this has significant consequences. Spit hoods (or spit guards) join other standard equipment issued to front-line police officers. These include handcuffs, leg braces, batons, and incapacitant (CS or PAVA “pepper”) spray. You’re going to make Batman jealous with all this “kit”, as some of you call it.

Getting a new piece of kit might be exciting. Remember how thrilling it was when you first got to use handcuffs and leg braces? Some of you had that thrill turned up to eleven when you got to use a Taser. (If you’re not one of them, you might be soon. The Met is giving Tasers to about 2,500 more officers within the next 13 months.)

Conduct of Front-Line Police Officers

But before you get carried away, think about the consequences of the Commissioner’s decision. I’ve had private conversations with senior officers who expressed concern that some front line police officers are too quick to use their kit. They by-pass training in de-escalation techniques, ignore Personal Safety Training guidance, and the Code of Ethics. Instead, these front-liners go straight to their tools, involving the use of force.

Often this rush to use force doesn’t end well. Tragically, some people die at police officers’ hands. Many others, including children, are injured and traumatised. You might be responsible for a life-ending or life-changing incident when using a spit hood. And if you are, you’ll be on your own.

“Nonsense,” you say.

Surely your bosses will understand. They’re right behind the spit hood roll out. Many of them lobbied for it. It’s meant to “ensure officers have what they need to do their jobs effectively and safely“, as Cressida Dick said. And the Police Federation has got your back. They’ll #protecttheprotectors like you, joining you in misconduct interviews, and speaking up for you in the media.

Are you sure about that?

It’s time for some home truths from a solicitor who has helped people get compensation after police officers have unlawfully used spit hoods.

When, not if, you’re involved in a serious incident involving the use of a spit hood, your every action will be scrutinized to the full extent of criminal, civil, and employment law.

You won’t be able to hide behind a Twitter hashtag. Nick Ferrari and those who call in to his programme, including some of your colleagues, won’t jump to your defence. You will have to show that everything you did, including the use of force, was necessary, lawful, reasonable, and proportionate. Fail to do so and you can expect public disciplinary proceedings at the least. The media love a good headline. You’ll be a star! And you might be involved in criminal and/ or civil proceedings. They could end in judicial criticism which the Met will act upon, compensation paid to your victim, and, in the worst cases, prison. It’s a good job you’re trained in courtroom etiquette and how to give evidence. You might need it.

Spit Hood Training

So, when you go for your spit hood training, ask your trainer why no one in central government has tested and approved spit hoods. Different kinds of “spit guard” are in use by police forces throughout the country. Are you confident the Met’s spit hoods are safe? How can you tell?

And, despite pressure from local police federations, you know that many UK forces refuse to issue spit hoods to front line police. Ask yourself why some forces deal with suspects spitting using other methods. Is the promotion of spit hoods a political campaign, in which front-line police officers are pawns in a chess game?

At some point, a volunteer will agree to a trainer applying a spit hood. You know how unrealistic this “spit guard” demonstration will be. BBC Wales’ Jason Mohammed felt “very claustrophobic” wearing a spit hood in the safety and comfort of a recording studio. Watch Jason and I discuss his experience by clicking on the link below:

Your subjects will not be in such an environment or calm state of mind, especially if they have been sprayed in the face with CS or PAVA.

Be on guard for fear-mongering. Despite what some police forces say, Hepatitis C and HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva. Don’t believe the lies and hype. Share accurate information about the risks with your colleagues.

As a police officer on the front line, you find yourself in challenging situations which by-standers inflame. Don’t give in to peer pressure or public goading when you’re on duty. Pay close attention to all aspects of your training, including the need to de-escalate situations before resorting to force. Remember your primary duty to protect the public in the Police Code of Ethics. Be mindful of the weapons effect, which increases the likelihood of assault and the unnecessary use of force by police officers.

Lastly, as with any other use-of-force kit, don’t use spit hoods just because you can.

Yours,

Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Sides of Police Custody Officers

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, who discusses the role of police custody officers in this blog post.
Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, discusses the role of police custody officers here.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

Last week I explained how Cheshire Police unlawfully detained my client Sam Povey in what appears to be a breach of the Police Code of Ethics.

This week I want to look at the role of the police custody officers in Sam’s case.

(Mr Povey kindly allowed me to use his details. The facts in this blog post are based on his version of events, some of which are disputed.)

The facts

Sam had his mobile phone stolen. He reported the theft to the police. They recovered the phone and agreed to meet him outside Warrington Police Station one night up to 11pm.

Mr Povey had recently been subject to a 10pm curfew but was now free of that restriction.

As arranged, two Cheshire Police officers met Sam outside Warrington Police Station after 10pm. One of the officers told my client that he was in breach of his curfew and arrested him. This was despite Sam’s protests that he was not subject to any curfew conditions. The police officers took Mr Povey to Runcorn Police Station and presented him to a custody officer for processing.

The Custody Officer checked Sam’s record. He found that Mr Povey was telling the truth, so did not authorise continued detention.

The police kept Sam in a holding cell in the custody suite while they dealt with matters. When leaving the cell about an hour after arrest, the arresting officer accused Mr Povey of damaging the cell door. He had not, but this time the Custody Officer accepted his colleague’s comments and authorised detention for criminal damage.

The police held Sam for a further 8 hours 56 minutes. He was only released when a shift change led to a new Custody Officer considering matters. The new Custody Officer checked CCTV footage and found that Mr Povey did not damage the door.

He authorised Sam’s release without charge.

Mr Povey contacted Donoghue Solicitors to bring a civil action against Cheshire Police. We represented him on a “no win no fee” basis. With our help, he recovered £4,250 plus his legal costs. Sam did not have to attend court and was vindicated in his decision to take the police to task.

What Do Police Custody Officers Do?

The custody officer has a special role. Custody officers work in police station custody suites. They have the rank of sergeant as a minimum and are responsible for the care and welfare of detained suspects.

The arresting officer must present the suspect to the police custody officer, explain the circumstances of arrest, and seek authority to detain. The custody officer must decide if there is enough evidence to justify a criminal charge before authorising detention.

If the custody officer does not think there is enough evidence at that time, they can still authorise detention if there are

  1. a) reasonable grounds for believing that detention is necessary to secure or preserve evidence relating to the arrest, or
  2. b) to obtain evidence by questioning.

The custody officer must authorise the suspect’s release if they do not think that there is sufficient evidence to justify a charge immediately, or that evidence will come forward during detention.

The Good Custody Officer

Police act unlawfully when they deprive someone of their liberty without lawful cause. The burden of proof is on the police, not the subject, to justify detention on a minute-by-minute basis. Arresting officers and custody officers are under the same duty.

In my opinion, Sam’s initial arrest was unlawful. His explanation should have created doubt in the arresting officer’s mind. The officer could have easily checked John’s story. They were standing outside a police station after all. Even if this was not an option, the arresting officer could have arranged a voluntary interview instead of depriving Sam of his liberty.

Thankfully, this officer was not the only one involved.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) rules meant that the Custody Officer was under a duty to check Sam’s record, which showed that he was telling the truth. Sam’s one hour in police detention could have been longer if the Custody Officer simply accepted the arresting officer’s story. Ultimately, this duty helped limit Sam’s time in custody and his compensation. This was a good thing for Mr Povey, the police, and Cheshire taxpayers.

The Bad

The same Custody Officer failed in his duty moments later by authorising Sam’s detention for criminal damage. It would have taken moments to check the CCTV footage. (In most stations is accessible from the Custody Officer’s desk.) If the Custody Officer did his job, he would have found that my client did not damage the door and, again, overridden the word of his arresting officer and released Mr Povey from police custody. But he didn’t, leading to Sam’s detention for nearly nine hours.

The Ugly

In my opinion, the arresting officer(s) in Sam’s case acted unethically. The police unlawfully arrested my client twice. But they are not the only ones responsible. The first Custody Officer failed in his duty to check the second allegation of criminal damage when he authorised detention, or later. It took a second Custody Officer’s intervention to free Sam. He correctly applied the same rules the first Custody Officer should have followed. In this respect, the first Custody Officer was at least as much to blame for Sam’s unlawful arrest as the arresting officer. As a senior officer, this police staff member should have known better. His conduct was inexcusable.

Daniel Fitzsimmons helps victims of police misconduct throughout England and Wales. Contact him for expert advice here.

 

 

Are Police Ethics Rules Ignored?

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, who discusses police ethics rules.
Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, discusses if police ethics rules are ignored.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives

I recently settled a civil compensation claim against Cheshire Police. During the case, I learned some things about how the police conducted themselves. These led me to question if officers know the police ethics rules. The current rules were last updated nearly five years ago. All serving officers should be fully aware of them. As you read the following description, ask yourself if the ethics rules were breached. If so, why? Could it be that the police know the rules but deliberately ignore them?

The Facts About My Client’s Case

(This description is based on my client’s version of events, some of which is disputed.)

My client Sam Povey (details provided with his kind permission) is known by his local police, and had, just prior to this incident, worn an electronic “tag” and agreed to a 10p.m. curfew. Later, the tag was removed, and he was under no curfew or other conditions.

Mr Povey had his mobile phone stolen. He reported the theft and the police recovered his phone. They contacted Sam and arranged to meet him at his local police station in Warrington, at any time up to 11p.m..

Sam went to the station after 10p.m. one night. He met two police officers outside. One of them said that Mr Povey was still under the 10p.m. curfew. Sam told the officer that wasn’t true. The officer ignored his protests and arrested him anyway.

The police then took my client to Runcorn police station for processing in that station’s Custody Suite. The arresting officer presented Sam to the Custody Officer, who reviewed the charge of breach of curfew. The Custody Officer, who has a special duty when it comes to authorising arrest, checked the record and found that Sam was telling the truth. He wasn’t under curfew and the police had no grounds to detain. The Custody Officer authorised Sam’s release, about an hour after arrest.

The police kept Mr Povey in a holding room while they sorted everything out. As he walked out of the room Sam noticed that the door was damaged and hanging off its hinges. So did the arresting officer from earlier. The police officer accused Sam of damaging the door and arrested him for criminal damage. Sam protested his innocence again, but this time the Custody Officer authorised detention.

The police held Sam overnight. After a shift change, a new Custody Officer reviewed Sam’s detention. This officer reviewed the CCTV footage which showed that Mr Povey did not damage the door. (It appears that the police already knew the door was damaged, even without the CCTV review.)

The Custody Officer knew the police did not have grounds to detain Mr Povey. The police released him after 8 hours and 56 minutes.

With my help, Sam Povey succeeded in his civil compensation claim against the police and received £4,250 plus legal costs.

The Police Ethics Rules

 

All police forces in England and Wales follow the same ethics rules. These are set by The College of Policing. On its About Us page The College says that it

was established in 2012 as the professional body for everyone who works for the police service in England and Wales. The purpose of the College is to provide those working in policing with the skills and knowledge necessary to prevent crime, protect the public, and secure public trust.

And

We will have a mandate to set standards in professional development, including codes of practice and regulations, to ensure consistency across the 43 forces in England and Wales. We also have a remit to set standards for the police service on training, development, skills and qualifications, and we will provide maximum support to help the service implement these standards.

Lastly here, the College state that

The British model of policing by consent is admired right across the world. We will help to create the best conditions to sustain and enhance that model.

The College of Policing issued the Police’s Code of Ethics in 2014 to help fulfil its role. (You can read it in full here.)

The Police Ethics rules are meant to

support each member of the policing profession to deliver the highest professional standards in their service to the public.

They apply to every officer, no matter what rank.

Applying the Code of Ethics

The police ethics rules include Standards of Professional Behaviour. Relevant ones in this case are:

  1. Honesty and integrity

I will be honest and act with integrity at all times, and will not compromise or abuse my position.

  1. Authority, respect and courtesy

I will act with self-control and tolerance, treating members of the public and colleagues with respect and courtesy. I will use my powers and authority lawfully and proportionately, and will respect the rights of all individuals.

  1. Duties and responsibilities

I will be diligent in the exercise of my duties and responsibilities

  1. Challenging and reporting improper behaviour

I will report, challenge or take action against the conduct of colleagues which has fallen below the standards of professional behaviour.

Consequences for a Breach of the Code of Ethics

Sanctions for a breach of the police ethics rules vary. They go from a quiet word in the officer’s ear to formal disciplinary proceedings, which can lead to dismissal and criminal prosecution. Police officer supervisors are expected to use their professional judgement and discretion to deal with matters “proportionately”.

What Do You Think?

Did all officers involved abide by the police’s ethics rules? Did the arresting officer act with “honesty and integrity” when he initially arrested my client, and later when he accused Sam of criminal damage? Did he use his powers lawfully, respecting my client’s rights? Did he discharge his duties diligently?

If not, did the arresting officer’s colleague challenge and report this improper behaviour?

Did the Custody Officer fulfil his duties as listed above?

How would you have dealt with any ethical breaches by the police?

My Opinion

It seems to me that the ethics rules listed above were breached by the arresting officer, his colleague, and the first Custody Officer. If I was the supervisor, I would have referred all three officers’ cases to Professional Standards for further consideration. Failing to do so could open a supervisor himself/ herself up to allegations of a breach of the ethics rules, especially about acting with integrity.

Civil Proceedings Against the Police

Despite the apparent ethical breaches, I am not aware of any disciplinary action by Cheshire Police against the three officers involved. Was the matter simply brushed under the carpet? Perhaps.

We would never have known about this matter If it hadn’t been for my client’s determination to fight for justice. As with most victims of police misconduct, one reason Sam sued the police was the hope that they would learn lessons from his experience. Did they? Who knows? But using the civil justice system instead of relying on the police’s own disciplinary processes ensured that the police were held to account for their misconduct.

 

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive who helps people sue the police. Contact him here.

 

My journey from basketball court to law court

Photo of Jack Hudson, a lawyer at Donoghue Solicitors.
Jack Hudson is a lawyer at Donoghue Solicitors. Here he discusses his journey from basketball court to law court.

By Jack Hudson, LLB (Hons)

Today my boss Kevin Donoghue showed me this genuine email from a client:

Hi Kevin,

I just wanted to send a quick message just to ensure that Jack gets the recognition he deserves.

Not only throughout the case has he been sensitive and supportive he has also treated me as a human not a case number which I have rarely ever received from any agency. The consistency and thoroughness has given a complex and uncertain case the most positive outcome. I never imagined it would be successful and I never thought I would reach an end where I can actually feel I am ready to let this go and try and repair myself. In the last 6 years this has been the most calm I have felt and at peace. I don’t blame me anymore and I know it happened even though so many people swept it under the carpet and blamed my mental health.

I can not put in to words what this actually means for me and indirectly my daughter but I don’t think anyone else would understand just how much it does mean without being inside my head. When I say this has probably saved me I don’t mean it lightly. 

Many thanks, 

(CLIENT)

It’s no exaggeration to say this email made my day. How could it not? Working in civil litigation is not for the faint-hearted. Defendants, their insurers, and solicitors will seek any opportunity to exploit weakness. I must be at my best every day to fight for justice for my clients. It can be challenging and there are plenty of other careers out there. So why did I decide to be a lawyer?

Photo of Jack Hudson playing basketball for Liverpool Basketball Club.
Photo of Jack Hudson in action for Liverpool Basketball Club.

Professional Basketball Career

It could all have been so different. I’ve always been good at sports. Both in and outside of school I competed in football, basketball, and athletics teams. I was a team captain and we won regularly. Sports helped me grow as a person and brought out my leadership and mentoring skills. I focused on basketball as I got older and played full-time professionally. I was offered college scholarships in the USA. College athletes compete at a very high level over there. The lucky ones go on to have multi-million-dollar careers in the NBA. But it wasn’t for me and I declined the opportunity.

I wanted a career where I could make a difference. I’ve always been interested in the law and liked the idea of helping people get access to justice. So, instead of moving to America I went to UCLAN to study law. I played semi-professional basketball with various teams, most recently Liverpool Basketball Club, around my university commitments. It was a struggle balancing both academic and sporting lives. But I learned a lot about time management and prioritising which has helped me in my professional life.

I earned my law degree and got a job at Donoghue Solicitors. I’m also studying to earn post-graduate legal qualifications. As well as work and study I work-out every day, train regularly, and play basketball weekly. This year my team, Liverpool Basketball Club, want to win the league. Fingers crossed we will. I’m nearing the end of my basketball career and my role within the team has changed. As club captain and one of the more experienced players, I spend time coaching on and off the court. The younger athletes are full of energy and skill. I see my role as helping them harness that to achieve success.

Similarities Between Basketball and the Law

In many ways playing basketball is like working in the law. I find myself coaching and guiding my younger colleagues at work daily. I try to lead by example, treating them and our clients as I would like to be treated. I see myself as a team captain when representing people in their civil compensation claims. I take responsibility for what happens from the moment I first speak to them. I create a “game plan” and execute it with the help of colleagues and outside experts, barristers etc. where necessary. Our clients are central to the plan’s success. They know their role and do their part to make sure we succeed as a team. But “winning” is not defined by numbers on a scoreboard. For my clients and me, it’s about justice. This can take many forms and is not just financial compensation. As the email above shows, succeeding in a civil claim can be a life-changing slam-dunk. I know I’m in the right place, doing the right job, to help my clients get the justice they deserve.

 

Jack Hudson helps people with their civil compensation claims throughout England and Wales. Contact him here.

Do Police Take Sexual Harassment Seriously?

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who considers how the police are dealing with sexual harassment.
Solicitor Kevin Donoghue considers how the police are tackling sexual harassment in this blog post.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

A recent newspaper report about police sexual harassment focused on police staff. But the findings also affect the public. Here, I look at the evidence and if the police are tackling the problem.

In July 2017 I called on the police’s overseer, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (or HMIC, now called HMICFRS), to take firm action against police officers who engage in abuse of position for a sexual purpose. This includes sexual harassment by the police when it involves members of the public.

I followed this up with a blog post highlighting the updated guidance from HMICFRS detailed in its October 2017 report. HMICFRS sent its report to all police forces. In it, HM Inspector Mike Cunningham said that

The majority of police forces in England and Wales still have work do

but

Between this feedback provided in our individual letters to forces, the national strategy, College of Policing guidance and IPCC referral criteria, we believe that all forces have the information they need to produce and implement effective plans to address our recommendation, and to improve the way they prevent, seek out and respond to the problem of abuse of position for a sexual purpose more widely.

So, over a year ago forces had enough guidance to deal with the problem. What happened? Sadly, it appears from a recent report by the Guardian, not much.

Police Sexual Harassment Report

The Guardian made a Freedom of Information Act request to report on police sexual harassment. It found that this kind of police abuse of position for a sexual purpose is an ongoing, serious problem. Key points from the report are:

  • Only 28 of the 43 territorial police forces responded with data. Forces that did not include the UK’s largest force, the Metropolitan Police. As a result, the Guardian’s findings likely under-reported the scale of the problem.
  • The forces who responded received almost 450 complaints from staff and members of the public about sexual harassment over the past six years.
  • Complaints included accusations against senior detectives and inspectors.
  • A fraction of the cases led to dismissal, with some officers resigning or retiring first. A mere 24 police staff were dismissed and 74 faced management action. In total 48 staff members resigned or retired after a complaint was made.
  • Professor Jennifer Brown raised concern about the system in place to deal with police sexual harassment. She said, “It’s dealt with internally, so officers can resign before they are asked to appear before a disciplinary body. They may make a calculation – due to pension etc – that it is in their interest to go and so they may resign rather than be disciplined. It’s a messy landscape which should be overhauled but in the current climate I am not sure there is appetite to do that.”

Why Police Sexual Harassment can be an Abuse of Position for a Sexual Purpose

Sexual harassment by the police can be an abuse of position for a sexual purpose when it involves the public. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) define this kind of police abuse 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.

It matters because this is a form of serious corruption. Forces must refer these cases to the Independent Office for Police Conduct for independent scrutiny.

Policy

So, what are the police and their overseers doing about it? There are three key bodies involved in formulating and executing policy which every police force must follow:

  • Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS). This body independently assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and policing.
  • The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) “brings police forces in the UK together to help policing coordinate operations, reform, improve and provide value for money.”
  • The College of Policing is “the professional body for everyone who works for the police service in England and Wales. The purpose of the College is to provide those working in policing with the skills and knowledge necessary to prevent crime, protect the public, and secure public trust.”

1. HMICFRS

In October 2017 HMICFRS reported on the problem of police abuse of position for a sexual purpose. HMICFRS promised to re-inspect all police forces in 2018, saying in the 2017 report that

Ultimately, we cannot assess how well forces have implemented their plans to address our recommendation until we re-inspect them. Forces now have another opportunity to make progress before we return to this important matter in 2018 and beyond. Between this feedback provided in our individual letters to forces, the national strategy, College of Policing guidance and IPCC referral criteria, we believe that all forces have the information they need to produce and implement effective plans to address our recommendation, and to improve the way they prevent, seek out and respond to the problem of abuse of position for a sexual purpose more widely.

I can’t find any evidence of a re-inspection following the 2017 report.

On 22 March 2018 HMICFRS Inspector Zoe Bilingham said

In the face of substantial increasing pressures, dramatic increases in demand and rising numbers of complex crimes like sexual abuse, child abuse and domestic abuse, most forces continue to do a good job in keeping us safe.

I wonder if she would stand by that statement given the Guardian reports and without an up-to-date HMICFRS report about abuse of position for sexual purpose (or gain)?

In the HMICFRS State of Policing 2017 report, (published on 12 June 2018) the authors noted that forces were still failing to address the issue of abuse of position for a sexual purpose and said

We will carry out a full inspection of this and other elements of police legitimacy in 2018. This gives forces another opportunity to show they have understood how important this issue is, and to make progress. There has also been work on this issue at a national level. It is part of the NPCC national strategy, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission has changed its referral criteria. There is also guidance from the College of Policing. We believe forces have all the information they need to get this right, so we expect to see improvement at our next inspection.

HMICFRS has either

a) not completed a targeted inspection about abuse of position for a sexual purpose since October 2017, despite saying it would do so, or

b) completed the inspection but yet to report its findings.

Either way, the public is in the dark about the official position.

2. NPCC

The 24 December article in The Guardian was not the first time this issue came up in 2018. Responding to an August 2018 report about police sexual harassment, Chief Constable Julian Williams, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for professional ethics agreed that

This behaviour falls short of the high standards set in the code of ethics, which each member of the policing profession is expected to uphold.

He said the NPCC had

committed to developing a comprehensive action plan by October (2018) that addresses the range of harassment found. Some of the behaviour described is predatory and requires the strongest response from police with individuals removed from the service.

I cannot find evidence of the “action plan” on the NPCC website despite other activity by the Council. For example, in October it issued a statement about proposed police pension changes. Does this give an insight into its priorities?

3. College of Policing

The College of Policing said nothing about the recent reports and surveys. But in April 2018 it responded to a review into believing victims at the time of reporting. This is important in police abuse of position cases. It came from a recommendation in a report titled “Independent Review of Metropolitan Police Service’s handling of non-recent sexual offence investigations.”

The College said that it would

gather views from a number of organisations to ensure there is a clear agreed position on belief across policing before a final decision on the review’s recommendations is taken.

It noted that

The role of investigators is then to keep an open mind and carry out a full and impartial investigation, to prove or disprove allegations.

It assured the public and police that

the College will now consider the views expressed, alongside other feedback from policing, before taking any further action.

It seems that the College of Policing has taken no action.

Ostriches

Has anything changed since HMICFRS reported in 2017 about how the police investigate and record sexual abuse (including sexual harassment where appropriate)? It is impossible to tell without independent inspections and official reports, but it seems unlikely. (If readers are aware of recent work by the bodies above please let me know.)

Even if there are policies and procedures in place, it appears from the Guardian articles that they are not followed. Police officers continue to abuse their position for sexual gain. This is a serious problem which affects both members of the public and police staff.

There can be no excuses for delays in tackling the problem of police sexual abuse. It won’t go away by itself. And turning a blind eye may encourage miscreants within police ranks to continue abusing their power.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who represents people in police sexual abuse claims.