Why I Hope My Client Wins a Community Hero Award

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, Director of Donoghue Solicitors and expert in actions against the police claims.

Kevin Donoghue discusses how a client’s mental health campaigning led to a Community Hero award nomination.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Kieran Jones is a long-standing client of mine.

(He has given his permission for me to use his details and share what I know about him in this blog post.)

On Thursday, 3 June, Wigan Council is presenting the Our Town Awards. Kieran is nominated for the “Community Hero” award. I whole-heartedly support his nomination and wish him every success.

How I Know Kieran Jones

As many people do, Kieran came to me for legal help after being wronged by the police.

I agreed to represent him but warned Mr Jones that civil actions against the police can be hard-fought and take a long time. So it proved.

Kieran’s case is still ongoing, but my colleagues and I continue to fight hard for him to get the justice he deserves.

Facebook review by Kieran Jones

Mental Health Counselling Impact

Like so many of my clients, Kieran struggled with his mental health following the police encounter.

He “hit rock bottom”. But, unlike some people who try to hide their issues, Mr Jones reached out to me. I’m glad he did.

I recommend counselling to all clients who may be struggling with mental health issues. Kieran got the professional help he needed to work on his recovery.

Seeing how therapy helped his own mental health also gave Kieran a purpose.

Campaigning

Kieran knew that the counselling and treatment he received could help others.

So he started campaigning in his local community for mental health to be more widely treated and accepted.

He even organised a tough-mudder team to raise awareness and funds for Mind, the mental health charity. He included a youth team because, as he told me:

I am going to push to get mental health educated like sex education as when they dropped the age of sex education teenage pregnancy dropped.

Watch Kieran and his team compete here.

Photo of Wigan Council Our Town Award Community Hero nominee Kieran Jones' tough mudder team.

Kieran Jones’ tough mudder team before the event.

Community Hero Recognition

Kieran’s work in the community has been recognised by friends, family, and those who have benefitted from his work.

He has been nominated for the Our Town Community Hero award, for which Wigan Council sought nominations, asking:

Do you know someone who rolls up their sleeves and takes the initiative to bring your local community together?

Positive Mental Health Impact

Kieran’s community has benefitted from his experience. He suffered greatly at the hands of the police but turned it into something positive, even though he still lives with the trauma.

I take no credit for helping Kieran. He was the one who recognised that he needed help. And crucially, Mr Jones acted by bravely reaching out to me, doctors, and others.

As Kieran says on his website:

I understand the feeling of being lost alone and desperate and want to ensure no one ever feels that way again!

I wish him every success in the Our Town awards and hope that Kieran’s campaigning work helps bring lasting change to those who suffer with mental health issues.

 

How the Whiplash Reforms Could Affect You

Photo of Thomas O'Sullivan, a trainee chartered legal executive who discusses the whiplash reforms.

Thomas O’Sullivan considers the impact of the whiplash reforms and raise in the small claims limit.

By Thomas O’Sullivan, Trainee Chartered Legal Executive

Monday 31 May 2021 could be an important date in your life.

I hope this never happens, but if you are unfortunate enough to be injured in a road traffic accident on or after that date, when it happened could make a difference of thousands of pounds in compensation and a huge amount of extra stress.

Why?

Because from Monday new rules about accident claims in the Civil Liability Act 2018 come into effect.

What is the Civil Liability Act (2018)?

The Civil Liability Act is a UK law which passed on 20 December 2018.

Among other things, it affects innocent accident victims who were involved in road traffic accidents on or after 31 May 2021.

It does this by raising the small claims limit from £1,000 to £5,000 for personal injuries (with a £10,000 maximum for the overall claim) suffered in road traffic accidents.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to some of the issues caused by the higher small claims limit for motorcyclists, pillion passengers, children, and others.

But most people claiming whiplash-type injuries will be impacted by the increase.

The new rules affect many road traffic accident victims who claim compensation because those people:

  1. do not fall within the exceptions, and
  2. often suffer whiplash-type injuries.

The Civil Liability Act also introduced changes to the law, which are known collectively as “the whiplash reforms”.

What are the Whiplash Reforms?

The whiplash reforms are changes to the way claimants in certain low value road traffic accident claims are compensated. The reforms are detailed in the Civil Liability Act 2018 and its supporting statutory instrument, The Whiplash Injury Regulations 2021.

The reforms set compensation awards for whiplash injuries based on a tariff and outline the procedure by which claimants can seek damages.

What are Whiplash Injuries?

The Civil Liability Act defines whiplash broadly:

“Whiplash injury” etc

(1)In this Part “whiplash injury” means an injury of soft tissue in the neck, back or shoulder that is of a description falling within subsection (2), but not including an injury excepted by subsection (3).

(2)An injury falls within this subsection if it is—

(a)a sprain, strain, tear, rupture or lesser damage of a muscle, tendon or ligament in the neck, back or shoulder, or

(b)an injury of soft tissue associated with a muscle, tendon or ligament in the neck, back or shoulder.

 

Does that sit right with you? Would you consider a ruptured back ligament or tendon “whiplash”? Many wouldn’t. The serious nature of these injuries undermines the idea that whiplash is something people claim just because they can.

But it’s not all bad. The Act has exceptions for other personal injuries:

(3)An injury is excepted by this subsection if—

(a)it is an injury of soft tissue which is a part of or connected to another injury, and

(b)the other injury is not an injury of soft tissue in the neck, back or shoulder of a description falling within subsection (2).

Why Does Raising the Small Claims Limit Matter in Road Accident Claims?

Insurers have tried for years to cut the number of whiplash claims by blaming the non-existent compensation culture.

The government bought into the myth and introduced the whiplash reforms, increasing the small claims limit from £1,000 to £5,000 for personal injuries (£10,000 overall) in road traffic accidents in the process. It justified the changes by claiming that the reforms will reduce insurance premiums, even though past experience suggests that this promise is false.

But these reforms don’t just affect whiplash injury victims.

As the government explains here, “personal injuries” in road accident claims include, but are not limited to, whiplash injuries.

So even people who are injured in a car crash but do not claim whiplash could still be caught by the rule change and find that their personal injury cases are considered “small claims”.

Legal Costs in Small Claims Cases

So what?

Legal costs are not recoverable in small claims. Instead, only very limited costs are payable by the losing party, mostly for things like court fees.

As a result, many road accident injury claimants who want compensation on or after 31 May 2021 will:

  1. submit claims themselves using a government-run “portal” on the Official Injury Claim website, and
  1. get whiplash compensation based on a fixed tariff.

Tariff System to Calculate Whiplash Injuries

If:

  1. the responsible party’s insurers admit liability in a road traffic accident claim in which whiplash suffered in a vehicle (other than a motorcycle) is claimed
  2. the injured victim recovers (or is expected to recover) within two years

the insurers will offer whiplash compensation based on a fixed-fee tariff.

(Whiplash injuries which last more than two years are not calculated on the tariff system.)

The tariff system will be used instead of calculating damages by reference to previous cases and judicial guidelines.

The effect of this is that most people suffering whiplash injuries after 31 May will receive significantly less compensation than before.

This is because of the fixed amounts in the tariff, which apply to cases where claimants recover within two years:

Tariff of compensation for whiplash injuries.

The second column shows the amount of compensation for basic whiplash injuries. The third shows the amount for whiplash + one or more minor psychological injuries suffered on the same occasion as the whiplash injury or injuries. And note that there are circumstances where an uplift on the tariff amounts could be claimed, but it is not expected to apply to most cases.

As a Trainee Chartered Legal Executive with many years’ experience in personal injury claims, I know that these figures are significantly lower than those my clients presently receive. For many, the paltry amounts of compensation payable will not be worth the effort involved.

I’m not alone in thinking that the tariff compensation awards for whiplash are inadequate.

The Civil Justice Council, whose “primary role is to advise the Lord Chancellor, the Judiciary and the Civil Procedure Rule Committee on civil matters” noted that:

The introduction of the tariff will reduce general damages for the whiplash element of a motor-related personal injury claim.

Unfair Treatment of Whiplash Injury Victims

On my reading of the Civil Liability Act, a torn wrist ligament (which can happen when drivers hold the steering wheel tightly in a crash) is outside of the scope of the whiplash reforms.

Compensation for that would be calculated using judicial guidelines and case law (with expert help from a lawyer if the claim is excluded from the small claims regime).

By contrast, a torn back ligament is included within the Act and would be considered “whiplash”. Its value would be determined by reference to the tariff if the claimant recovered within two years, and the innocent victim would be expected to submit the claim themselves.

As a result of this setup, the torn wrist ligament victim would get more compensation than someone who suffered a torn back ligament.

I’m not sure those who suffer from torn back ligaments would see the sense in that.

The government says the tariff will be reviewed by the Lord Chancellor within three years, and then every three years after that. But it would be naïve to think this will result in meaningful increases for accident victims.

Whiplash compensation amounts have been permanently reduced by this legislation, saving money for insurers and making it less likely that people will claim.

How to Claim for Whiplash After 31 May 2021

The effect of the whiplash reforms is that most people involved in road traffic accidents on or after 31 May 2021, will be expected to bring claims themselves using the Official Injury Claims website “portal”.

The government claims that:

Substantial work has been undertaken to ensure that the service provides a fair, accessible and efficient system for all claimants. The service has been carefully designed with the claimant firmly at its heart and provides a modern, user-friendly digital system, supported by guidance. Digitally disadvantaged claimants who are unable to use the system may also seek assistance from the dedicated telephone support centre.

It remains to be seen if the portal delivers on these promises. It is a government-run scheme after all.

Cost to Bring a Small Claim for Personal Injury

Damages may not be agreed in these road traffic accident claims, despite the government’s view that the tariff is fair and that the portal will be easy to use.

If so, the claimant can ask a judge to decide how much their injury claim is worth at a court hearing.

But to do that the innocent claimant must pay expensive court fees out of their own pockets. They could be as high as £1,045 as the government explains here, and might not be paid back.

I don’t think this promotes access to justice, which is often quoted as a government goal, especially when compared to the existing system for those who have personal injury claims which are not part of these reforms. For those claimants, it is common for lawyers to take cases on a “no win no fee” basis and help with court fee payments (e.g. by seeking remission of court fees) on their clients’ behalf.

Why Many Solicitors Will Decline to Act in Whiplash Claims after 31 May

People are free to spend their money how they like, and for some, it might be worthwhile paying a lawyer to handle matters, even if legal fees are not recoverable.

But in most cases, qualified lawyers would advise against this.

Why?

Because we are under a duty to act in our client’s best interests.

Paying a lawyer privately in a small claims case (like a whiplash claim where the claimant recovers in under two years) would result in most, if not all, compensation awarded going towards legal fees. Some unlucky people might even be left out-of-pocket. So what’s the point?

Donoghue Solicitors’ Approach to Road Traffic Accident Claims After 31 May

For this reason, and with great regret, my firm no longer accepts instructions from road traffic accident victims with low-value (under £5,000 for personal injuries, £10,000 overall) and whiplash-type claims.

Anyone who contacts us about bringing such claims will be referred to the Law Society’s find a solicitor service and the Official Injury Claim website.

Despite this, we still represent people in their higher value road traffic accident claims.

Anyone with road traffic accident personal injury claims worth more than £5,000 (or claims worth more than £10,000 overall) should contact me directly for legal help.

(Find out how much your claim is worth by using our compensation calculator. Speak to me or one of my colleagues if you need more information.)

Whiplash Reforms Effect

It is telling that these increases in the small claims limit and the whiplash reforms only apply to road traffic accident claims. For now, other personal injury claims are unaffected.

But it is likely that the whiplash reforms and increase in the small claims limit in road traffic accident claims will make claiming compensation so difficult and financially unattractive that many won’t bother.

For insurers, that’s the point.

It pains me to say it but, in this case, motor insurers and the government won.

Thomas O’Sullivan is a Trainee Chartered Legal Executive at Donoghue Solicitors. Contact him here.

How College of Policing Guidance Enables Body Worn Camera Abuse

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who discusses College of Policing guidelines on body worn cameras in this blog post.

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, reviews the College of Policing guidelines on body worn cameras in light of a recent court case.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

For many years I have said that the College of Policing’s body worn camera (BWC) guidance is not fit for purpose. In particular, I have railed against the idea that the police can be trusted to use their cameras properly. A recent court report highlights the inevitable consequences.

Last week I read a shocking story by Neil Docking of the Liverpool Echo: “Bent coppers covered up officer battering man in his home.”

The story is worth reading in full by clicking on the link above. (It opens in a new tab so you can come back here afterwards.) It could be used as a case-study for police corruption and reflects very poorly on Merseyside Police.

Mr Docking describes how four police officers:

  • Darren McIntyre
  • Laura Grant
  • Lauren Buchanan-Lloyd
  • Garrie Burke

lied and lied after the victim was repeatedly punched and left pouring with blood.

His story includes details of:

  • an unprovoked police assault on an innocent man, Mark Bamber
  • threats of (unlawful) arrest to an innocent bystander for legally filming the incident
  • unlawful arrest and detention
  • police body worn video camera abuse
  • unauthorised review of footage
  • police officers colluding to avoid liability for misconduct
  • delays in uploading BWC evidence
  • lying in witness interviews/ statements
  • blanket denials by officers despite overwhelming evidence
  • criminal prosecution of Merseyside Police officers resulting in a Crown Court jury trial
  • police officers found guilty of perverting the course of justice and (in one case) assault.

Long-Standing Body Worn Camera Abuse Concerns

A key part of this case centred on the abuse of police body worn cameras. Sadly, concerns about this problem are not new.

Seven years I wrote this blog post: Why the Police Should Change Their Body Camera Policy

In it, I explained how the Metropolitan Police were trialling the use of body worn cameras. I noted that:

It is expected that the body cameras will only be used when the police respond to incidents and during stop & search operations, rather than during day-to-day interactions. The Commissioner says this is because leaving the cameras on all the time would be ‘too intrusive’.

I urged the Met, then led by former Merseyside Police Chief Constable Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, to set a policy of recording every interaction with the public:

to counter suspicions that officers would deliberately not turn their body cameras on

noting that:

Other forces are watching with interest and are expected to adopt body cameras if the test is successful.

The Present Body Worn Video Camera Problem

When I wrote that blog post I was most concerned about cameras not being activated. But, as the Mark Bamber story shows, this did not go far enough. The problem extends to things like:

  • keeping body worn cameras running
  • officers turning away to avoid filming police assaults
  • delaying uploads of video footage
  • unauthorised viewing of footage
  • police officer collusion
  • fabricating statements.

College of Policing Body Worn Video Guidance

Merseyside Police employed all the officers in the Mark Bamber case.

That force applies the College of Policing’s 2014 guidance on body worn video. (It has its own Body Worn Video policy which you can read here.)

What is the College of Policing, and Why Do Police Forces Follow its Guidance?

The College of Policing describes itself as:

a professional body for everyone working across policing. It is an operationally independent arm’s-length body of the Home Office.

It claims that:

  • We connect everyone working in the police and law enforcement to understand their challenges.

  • We use evidence-based knowledge in everything we develop.

  • We help police officers and staff; researchers, academics and learning providers; the international policing community; and the public.

  • We give a voice to professional policing on standards, skills and capabilities.

Review of the College of Policing Body Worn Video Guidance

Here I refer to the College of Policing’s body worn video guidance instead of Merseyside Police’s policy. This is because the College issues best-practice guidance for all national police forces, including Merseyside Police.

The Relevant sections are as follows (my emphasis in bold):

Section 5 – principle 4 and principle 5

Principle 4 – The operational use of body-worn video must be proportionate, legitimate and necessary.

Principle 5 –Use of body-worn video will be incident specific. Officers will use common sense and sound judgment when using body-worn video, in support of the principles of best evidence.

Operational considerations

Recording an incident – basic principles and techniques

The decision to record or not to record an incident rests with the user. However, users should record incidents whenever they invoke a police power.

Under normal circumstances, all BWV users present at an evidential encounter, regardless of the fact that other BWV users may be present, should record the incident. Users should always take into account the circumstances and the people involved, for example, vulnerable persons. Failing to record an incident may require explanation in court, although in some instances it is not appropriate to make a video recording. In such cases users should record the fact in their pocket notebook.

Users may not indiscriminately record entire duties or patrols. Recordings must be incident specific (whether or not the recording is ultimately required for use as evidence).

All recordings can be used in evidence, even if it appears to the user at the time of the incident that this is unlikely (eg, a stop and search with a negative result). All recordings should be treated as evidential until it is confirmed otherwise. If it becomes obvious that the recording will not be evidential, unless there are other extenuating circumstances, users should stop recording immediately.

Users should capture as much evidence as possible (including the context of the encounter) and should always try to record as much of an incident as possible. Users should begin recording at the start of an incident or at the earliest opportunity thereafter, for example:

  • as soon as users are deployed to an incident
  • as soon as they become aware that any other encounter is likely to occur in front of them.

In order to comply with the DPA and HRA, wherever practicable, users should restrict recording to the areas and persons necessary in order to obtain evidence and intelligence relevant to the incident. Users should always attempt to minimise collateral intrusion on those not involved.

And note this section:

Selective capture

The BWV user should record entire encounters from beginning to end without interrupting the recording. There will, however, be occasions when the user may wish to consider interrupting the recording of an incident. In such circumstances the user may decide to start and stop recording at any point during an encounter. This practice is referred to as selective capture.

For example, it may be necessary to stop recording an incident in cases of a sensitive nature or if the incident has concluded prior to the arrival of the BWV user. In all cases the user should exercise their professional judgement in deciding whether or not to record all or part of an incident.

If the user chooses to interrupt or cease recording at an ongoing incident, they should record their decision and rationale (if practicable in the circumstances) by making a suitable verbal statement on the BWV material and also in a pocket notebook or other log.

Selective capture can also be used to describe the process of temporarily stopping and restarting recording in order to bookmark (see bookmarking) the recorded material.

Selective capture never involves deleting images. There are no circumstances in which the user can justify unauthorised deletion of any images that have already been recorded.

Any such action may result in legal or disciplinary proceedings.

Interpreting the College of Policing Guidance

There are four main points to take away:

  1. police officers have absolute and total discretion when to use their body worn cameras, subject to certain requirements (like invoking a police power)
  2. they should not leave cameras running and, instead, must target their use to specific events and people
  3. recordings must be treated as evidence (which means that they must be preserved unmolested)
  4. police officers should capture as much of the incident as possible, ie. Start recording when deployed or as soon as necessary to capture evidence. But this is open to interpretation, and officers can start or stop recordings during incidents as they see fit.

The practical effects of some of this guidance can be seen in Neil Docking’s Liverpool Echo report. Evidently, the officers used some of their training (described below in bold) before going rogue:

The jury was told McIntyre, Grant and Buchanan-Lloyd all switched their cameras on at the start of the incident, which they were trained to keep on, as it is key evidence.

However, Grant and Buchanan-Lloyd both turned off their cameras when things became violent, which Mr Barton [the Prosecutor in the case] said was a deliberate attempt to prevent independent evidence being recorded.

The court heard Grant hesitated then turned away from the violence to turn off her camera and Buchanan-Lloyd did the same.

Buchanan-Lloyd later said in an interview that she and Grant discussed turning their cameras off and whether they would say their batteries died, but decided this would be too suspicious.

No Excuses for Police Body Worn Camera Abuse

Clearly, giving individual officers’ wide discretion about using body worn cameras is problematic. The police don’t need to see their fellow officers prosecuted to know that. They have academic research to back it up.

In September 2020, a report by Cynthia Lum et al was published on the College of Policing’s own website.

(This is the same site where police officers can read the body worn camera guidance used by UK forces outlined above.)

The report described a meta-analysis of 30 studies considering the effects of body worn cameras on policing. Most of the studies were based on police in the USA, but some focused in whole or part on UK police forces.

Its authors noted that:

Today, BWCs are likely the most rapidly diffusing technologies in modern police history. Although it is difficult to determine how many BWCs are in circulation today, there have been some estimates. In the United Kingdom, one assessment by a privacy watchdog group found that over 70% of police forces had acquired cameras by 2019 and were rapidly moving toward full adoption.

It found that in most forces where body worn cameras were issued officers had to use them:

a large portion of the agencies (83%) had official policies that required officers to either turn on their cameras at the start of their shift or at least turn them on when carrying out most official duties.

BWC turned on by defaultFound in number of studies% of total
Yes2583.3
No13.3
Cannot tell413.3

But the authors found that allowing police officers wide discretion to activate cameras is unusual. Only 9 of the 30 studies found that the police had a “higher” level of discretion about when to turn cameras on or off:

Discretion regarding on‐offFound in number of studies% of total
Higher930.0
Moderate310.0
No or low1446.7
Cannot tell413.3

It is likely that the UK College of Policing guidelines mentioned above fit within the higher level definition of discretion because:

30% of studies involved agencies that gave officers much higher levels of discretion as to their BWC usage. In those studies, agencies left it up to officers to decide whether to turn on their cameras and provided wide latitude in this decision.

This means that nearly half of the studies (47%) found forces, many of which were in the USA, were more strict than those following the UK College of Policing guidance. The officers in those forces:

had no or low discretion as to when they could turn on or off their cameras. Policies in these agencies often specified only a handful of circumstances in which officers could turn off their cameras or included stringent rules and reporting requirements when officers turned off their cameras.

As a side note, the obligation to report is significant. I expect officers in “no or low discretion” forces would rather leave cameras running to avoid paperwork.

Impact of Removing Discretion

The report’s authors urged more targeted research, but in the studies they reviewed:

moderator analyses suggest that BWCs may be more likely to reduce police use of force if agencies highly restrict officers’ discretion in how they use the cameras.

They couldn’t be clearer: the College of Policing should review its policy and consider removing officer discretion from body worn camera use. This will likely reduce unlawful use of force incidents.

The 2020 report finding by Cynthia Lam and others is not new. It was anticipated in 2016.

Then Barak Ariel and others reported that body worn cameras reduced the level of police complaints by 93% when policies “stripped officers of their discretion to decide when, where, and under which conditions BWCs would be applied.”

In a blog post I wrote at the time (3 Ways the Police Could Improve Their Body Worn Cameras Policy) I urged the police to update their policies and gave recommendations to help restore public confidence. Nearly five years later the police have not made the changes suggested.

Merseyside Police Reputation Damage

Do senior police officers in the UK’s forces and the College of Policing still need convincing to remove user discretion with body worn cameras?

If so, they should think of the damage done to officer and force reputations.

Stories like the one Neil Docking published in the Liverpool Echo newspaper and on its website are widely shared. They live on past news cycles. The old adage that “today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper” is no longer true.

Instead, Merseyside Police’s reputation has been harmed, with long-lasting consequences.

How can the public trust that its officers will follow force policy when using their body worn cameras?

Will officers:

  • use similar methods to PCs, McIntyre, Burke, Grant, and Buchanan-Lloyd to avoid investigations and accountability?
  • “turn away” and switch cameras off to avoid creating damaging evidence? Both PCs Grant and Buchanan-Lloyd did this at Mark Bamber’s home. (Were they taught this tactic from someone within the force? If so, who?)
  • lie in “inaccurate” statements to cover up what happened?

Disciplinary Proceedings Against the Police

Merseyside Police said that “PCs McIntyre, Burke and Grant are all currently suspended. Constable Buchanan-Lloyd is on restricted duties.”

I am astounded that Buchanan-Lloyd is still working for the force. The police seem to be excusing her misconduct due to youth and/or inexperience. Would other convicted criminals get the same break from their employers?

No doubt the force will bring swift disciplinary proceedings against all officers. But, as my colleague Daniel Fitzsimmons noted in this blog post many police forces continue to employ convicted criminals. The officers’ dismissal is not guaranteed despite their proven dishonesty and misconduct.

Policy Update Required

Merseyside Police has caused potentially permanent damage to its officers’ careers by allowing them to control their body cameras.

As a Merseyside resident, I am deeply concerned about this situation. And as a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police, I see that:

  • incentives for officers to act dishonestly when using body worn video remain, potentially
  • harming innocent victims of police misconduct.

It is long past time for the College of Policing to update its policies to reflect reality.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.

UPDATE on 28 May 2021

The Guardian reports that two of the officers (Garrie Burke and Laura Grant) have both received 15-month prison sentences for their part in “what can only be described as a cover-up”.

Laura Buchanan-Lloyd was given a nine-month sentence, suspended for 18 months.

PC Darren McIntyre will be sentenced in July.

If the prospect of police officers serving prison time doesn’t bring about change then I don’t know what will.

Can We Trust the Police With Social Media?

 

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who asks if we can trust the police with social media.

Kevin Donoghue reviews some recent media reports and asks if we can trust the police with social media.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

This week the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) took the unusual step of issuing a specific warning to police officers about their use of social media.

Michael Lockwood, the IOPC Director General noted that:

“From racist, sexist, and other discriminatory comments to photographing crime scenes and using social media to contact victims of crime for sexual activity, it is concerning that a small number of police officers appear to think that this is acceptable behaviour.

“In the most serious examples we have seen grossly offensive images and messages which the public would be appalled by. Making discriminatory remarks, and the sharing of graphic and offensive memes and images, is unacceptable under any circumstances.”

The article shared a letter Mr Lockwood wrote to the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).

In that letter he noted that:

  1. “only the most serious cases come to the IOPC for investigation and it is likely there are other similar cases being dealt with locally which we are not aware of.”
  2. “the cases we are seeing may be indicative of broader cultural issues within some police forces.”
  3. “we have been investigating an increasing number of cases where police officers have abused their position for sexual purpose and contacted vulnerable people using social media.”

He urged the NPCC:

“to consider what mechanisms could be strengthened or need to be put in place at a national level to ensure there is sufficient scrutiny of this issue to maintain public confidence in policing.”

How the Police Abuse Social Media

While there are undoubtedly many fine officers in the police’s ranks, not every one of them can make us proud.

What kinds of people are employed by our country’s police forces, and how are they using social media? Recent news stories shed some light on the issue:

  1. Former Metropolitan Police officer Ben Hannam was convicted of membership of a neo-Nazi terrorist organization. Hannam also admitted possessing an indecent image of a child. The Guardian reports that:

Hannam, of Edmonton, north London, had been working as a probationary officer for the Met for nearly two years before he was found on a leaked database of users of extreme rightwing forum Iron March.

The Metropolitan Police dismissed Hannam without notice following his criminal conviction because “his behaviour was found to amount to a breach of the standards of professional behaviour.”

He has since been jailed for 4 years and 4 months.

  1. The Crown Prosecution Service is pursuing a criminal case against two serving Metropolitan Police officers.

The CPS has charged them with misconduct in public office in connection with an investigation into the deaths of two women in Wembley in June 2020. The officers are alleged to have taken and shared photographs of the crime scene.

  1. Another (now former) Metropolitan Police officer, Detective Sergeant Marc Tuffrey, “sent a string of sexual messages to another police officer and behaved in ‘unwanted sexual manner’.” He also made discriminatory comments verbally and in writing.

A disciplinary panel found that the former Detective Sergeant breached professional standards. The panel’s Chair said Tuffrey would have been dismissed without notice if he was still serving.

Commander Paul Betts described the former Detective Sergeant’s misconduct as “a blatant abuse of the trust his position as a police officer and supervisor afforded Tuffrey.”

Using Social Media to Abuse Authority for Sexual Gain

These cases are by no means unusual, and not restricted to the Metropolitan Police.

I have helped people bring civil actions against the police for over 20 years. During that time, I have seen an increase in the number of cases involving officers who, like those described above, exploit technology to abuse victims.

Some of the gravest matters I deal with involve clients who have suffered sexual abuse by police officers.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services defines this activity as “police abuse of authority for sexual gain.” It is:

a type of serious corruption, whereby police officers or police staff abuse their powers to sexually exploit or abuse people.

The National Police Chiefs Council describes it as a “disease” within the police.

Many of the police abuse of authority for sexual gain cases I deal with involve “grooming”: the process by which predators develop an emotional connection with a victim to prepare them for sexual abuse.

In my experience, officers often do this after helping an already-vulnerable victim of crime as part of their job, such as a victim of domestic abuse.

They use the information gained during the meeting, such as mobile phone numbers and social media details, to contact the innocent victim.

These police officers then groom their victims using text messages and messenger services like Facebook Messenger, social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, and encrypted apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and other tools.

When their abusive misconduct is finally revealed, police officers frequently argue that their interactions were private and consensual.

They were nothing of the sort.

Why is the Police Abuse of Social Media Happening?

Every case is different, but one constant appears to be that the guidance in the police’s Code of Ethics is not front-of-mind for many police officers.

The police have been bound by a Code of Ethics since 1829, when Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing were introduced (read more about them in this blog post: Will Cressida Dick Uphold Peel’s 9 Principles of Policing?).

Those principles include fundamentals such as:

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 maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

Police Code of Ethics Guidance on the Use of Social Media

The current version of the Code builds on Peel’s Principles. It is nearly seven years old (last published in July 2014).

This means that every police officer, from the probationer to the most experienced, ought to know the contents.

The Code of Ethics includes clear guidance on social media in the section on “Confidentiality”, which has as its core principle:

I will treat information with respect, and access or disclose it only in the proper course of my duties.

The Code says:

Social media

7.3

This standard also relates to the use of any platform of web-based or mobile communications, social networking sites, and all other types of social media.

7.4

While there are benefits of social media to policing, there are also potential risks.

7.5

According to this standard you must:

  • use social media responsibly and safely

  • ensure that nothing you publish online can reasonably be perceived by the public or your policing colleagues to be discriminatory, abusive, oppressive, harassing, bullying, victimising, offensive or otherwise incompatible with policing principles

  • not publish online or elsewhere, or offer for publication, any material that might undermine your own reputation or that of the policing profession or might run the risk of damaging public confidence in the police service.

What the Code of Ethics Guidance Means

The guidance is clear. I read it this way:

  1. It covers all forms of mobile and internet-based communications including text messages (which are “mobile communications”). Officers cannot hide behind anonymous accounts or use encrypted apps. The requirements apply regardless of the method of electronic communication.
  2. Officers must (the deliberate use of this word means there is no room for doubt) use social media responsibly and safely. “Safely” includes a non-negotiable obligation to consider the well-being of the recipient, which is especially important when dealing with vulnerable victims of crime.
  3. Police must (again, no room for discussion) consider how their use of social media and text messages will be perceived by the recipient or reader (ie. the pubic and/or their colleagues). They have a duty to maintain the police’s reputation and must consider:
    • if it is appropriate to communicate with someone using text messaging, social media apps etc. at all
    • the language and tone used.

Risks of Ignoring Social Media Guidance

Is this too much to ask of our police? I don’t think so. One definition of a “professional” is a person who is bound by a code of ethics. Solicitors, teachers, doctors, and others fall within the definition.

The police are no different.

A failure to abide by their own Code of Ethics can form the basis of disciplinary action for breaches of professional standards. (Such breaches are why the officers described above were dismissed.)

Despite this risk, it appears that police officers ranging from probationers like Ben Hannam to seasoned officers like former Detective Sergeant Tuffrey, felt that they could act with impunity when using social media.

They wrongly behaved as if the Code of Ethics did not apply to them.

Police Recruitment Warning

The lack of restraint by some police officers when using social media is concerning, especially as this week the government crowed about the apparent success of its latest recruitment drive. It said that:

  1. 8,771 police officers have been recruited under the Police Uplift Programme
  2. the government is already 44% of the way towards meeting its ambition of hiring 20,000 additional officers by 2023.

On its face, this sounds positive. But I am concerned that corners may be cut when:

  • vetting potential recruits
  • giving ethics training
  • making sure officers meet their professional obligations.

To deal with this:

  1. recruiters must do a better job of weeding out those who seek to exploit the unique authority held by the police for their own ends
  2. serving police officers must set an example by following the Code of Ethics, using social media responsibly, and notifying their superiors and/or regulators of breaches by colleagues
  3. police force Professional Standards Departments and the Independent Office for Police Conduct should get more resources and legal “teeth” to hold offenders to account.

The police and government should take this issue seriously. It matters: public trust in the police is at stake.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who represents people in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.

The Metropolitan Police: Profiles in Cowardice

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who considers how the Metropolitan Police handled the Sarah Everard vigil.

Kevin Donoghue considers how senior officers at the Metropolitan Police handled the Sarah Everard vigil.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

In 1957, then Senator John F Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for “Profiles in Courage”. His book told the stories of eight American senators in mid-19th century America. All the men profiled sacrificed political and public support to do what was right, often at the expense of their own careers.

The Kennedy family later created the Profile in Courage Award to recognize those who made decisions which put conscience ahead of popular and/or political opinion. Winners include:

  • the “Peacemakers of Northern Ireland”, for the “extraordinary political courage they demonstrated” to create the Good Friday Agreement
  • Gabrielle Giffords, “in recognition of the political, personal, and physical courage she has demonstrated in her fearless public advocacy for policy reforms aimed at reducing gun violence.” Ms Giffords survived an assassination attempt by a gunman which left her with a severe brain injury. Despite this, she continues to campaign for gun control
  • Gerald Ford, 38th President, who pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon, a move which arguably resulted in him losing the 1976 election.

Would today’s leaders in the Metropolitan Police Service merit a place in Kennedy’s book or receive the family’s Award?

Metropolitan Police Handling of the #ReclaimTheseStreets Vigil

Consider the police’s handling of the Sarah Everard #ReclaimTheseStreets vigil last weekend. As you may already know, Ms Everard went missing after walking home from a friend’s house in South London on 3 March. It is alleged that Sarah was kidnapped and killed by Wayne Couzens, a serving Metropolitan Police officer and member of the Force’s armed Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command.

On Saturday 13 March, hundreds of women attended a #ReclaimTheseStreets vigil at Clapham Common, near where Sarah was last seen.

The vigil was a peaceful expression of collective grief and a mark of solidarity for women who sought safety from male violence. Even Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, showed up.

#ReclaimTheseStreets Vigil Broken Up by Metropolitan Police

The peaceful day turned ugly when the Metropolitan Police forcibly shut the vigil down by arresting people including Patsy Stevenson, whose photo went viral on social media.

The Force took this step after, according to Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball, “a small minority of people began chanting at officers, pushing and throwing items”.

Politicians, the public, and media were rightly appalled by the Metropolitan Police’s handling of this peaceful protest.

Here was an opportunity for senior police officers in the Metropolitan Police to show leadership, courage, and empathy of the kind found in Profiles in Courage. But did they?

What Senior Metropolitan Police Officers Said About the #ReclaimTheseStreets Vigil

Consider the highlighted parts of the statement from Assistant Commissioner Ball, which I quote in full below:

Statement from Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball following events in Clapham Common:

“May I start by extending my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Sarah Everard. Across the Met we are still extremely saddened and shocked by the tragic circumstance of her disappearance and death.

“Earlier tonight, I joined the Commissioner in a candlelit vigil outside New Scotland Yard. I know many thousands of people up and down the nation also held similar vigils in Sarah’s name.

“I recognise that the decision by the organisers to cancel the Reclaim These Streets vigil in Clapham Common was deeply unwelcome news. Even so, given the ever present threat of Coronavirus, this was the right decision to make.

“Today, for over six hours hundreds of people came to lay flowers and pay their respects to Sarah in Clapham Common in a safe and lawful way.

“Around 6pm, more people began to gather close to the bandstand within the Common. Some started to make speeches from the bandstand. These speeches then attracted more people to gather closer together.

“At this point, officers on the ground were faced with a very difficult decision. Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19.

“Police must act for people’s safety, this is the only responsible thing to do. The pandemic is not over and gatherings of people from right across London and beyond, are still not safe.

“Those who gathered were spoken to by officers on a number of occasions and over an extended period of time. We repeatedly encouraged those who were there to comply with the law and leave. Regrettably, a small minority of people began chanting at officers, pushing and throwing items.

“After speaking with officers, the vast majority of people quickly left. Four arrests have been made for public order offences and for breaches of the Health Protection Regulations.

“Part of the reason I am speaking to you tonight is because we accept that the actions of our officers have been questioned.

“We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary. But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.

“Let me end by saying that across the Met, we review every single event that we police to see if there are lessons that can be learnt. This one will be no different.”

(my emphasis in bold)

This mealy-mouthed statement puts the blame on the women protesters, not the police. This is extremely problematic given that the women were coming together to mourn the loss of another woman who was allegedly killed by a male Metropolitan Police officer. In effect:

  • you started it
  • we had no choice but to finish it
  • don’t bother holding us accountable. That’s the police’s job, not yours.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick’s Statement in Support

Cressida Dick, the Met’s Commissioner and most senior officer, backed this approach in an official statement and subsequent interview. She said:

Commissioner’s statement following vigil on Clapham Common

Speaking this afternoon [Sunday, 14th March] the Commissioner Cressida Dick, said: “I wouldn’t have wanted to see a vigil in memory of Sarah end with those scenes.

“I fully understand the strength of feeling, I think, as a woman, and hearing from people about their experiences in the past and what they feel about what happened to her and what has been going on, I understand why so many people wanted to come and pay their respects, and make a statement about this.

The Commissioner also highlighted the difficulty faced by officers and that she welcomed a review.

She said: “This is fiendishly difficult policing, but I’m sure for the people who wanted to express their feelings, that was a difficult situation for them and that’s why it needs a cold light of day, sober, review, and I think we’re all agreed on that.”

Defending her officers, Commissioner Dick said:

“They have to make these really difficult calls and I don’t think anybody should be sitting back in an armchair and saying, ‘Well, that was done badly’ or ‘I would’ve done it differently’ without actually understanding what was going through their minds.”

(my emphasis in bold)

In effect:

  • you don’t understand what we have to deal with
  • don’t question our methods
  • we’ll deal with it later, so don’t bother holding us to account.

Problematic Language Used by the Police

Both statements reflect language which abuse victims will recognise.

In my experience as a solicitor who represents innocent victims of police misconduct, including many sexual abuse cases involving the police, the statements echo my dealings with the Metropolitan Police Service.

I have never, in my more-than-20 years of suing the Metropolitan Police, seen them admit liability without a fight. The Met’s policy appears to be to deny liability for every case where police misconduct is alleged. Even where claims are settled, the Met is extremely reluctant to apologise and admit wrongdoing.

The Force’s officers know this. The stance taken by senior officers in this episode will only embolden them. Officers can act with impunity, knowing that their so-called “leaders” have got their backs.

The Police Federation, the police officers’ union which represents more than 130,000 rank-and-file officers, follows this approach too. Look at how this statement from the Chairman of the Police Federation seeks to shift the blame away from the police:

26 Officers Assaulted – Metropolitan Police Federation Statement

Ken Marsh, Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation said: “26 Metropolitan Police officers were assaulted – punched, kicked, spat at – yesterday policing Covid-19 lockdown laws that a democratically elected Government have imposed… laws that the Mayor of London has called on us to enforce to keep Londoners safe.

Now colleagues are being condemned by politicians of all parties for doing what we have been asked to do by politicians on behalf of society. This is not right or fair. Damned if we do. Damned if we don’t. Are we supposed to enforce Covid-19 Regulations or not?

“Political leaders should be doing much more to support the police officers they have put in this impossible position.

“The thoughts of the Metropolitan Police Federation remain with the family and friends of Sarah Everard.”

(my emphasis in bold)

In effect:

  • you started this
  • you made us do it
  • we’re the victims here.

How Metropolitan Police Officers Ignore Peel’s Principles

I previously wrote about Cressida Dick’s appointment as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. I asked if she would uphold Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing, which include:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. 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.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. 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, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. 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.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

(my emphasis in bold)

It appears that, if this weekend’s events are anything to go by, Peel’s Principles are not front-of-mind at the Met.

Failed Leadership at the Metropolitan Police Service

Commissioner Dick and Assistant Commissioner Ball missed an opportunity to put Peel’s Principles of Policing into action. They could, and should, have:

  1. apologised for the Met’s mishandling of the vigil
  2. readily accepted responsibility
  3. invited outside accountability for the police’s actions and any misconduct.

No doubt this would require courage. But it would have sent a clear and powerful message from the top about how the Force sees its role and what is expected of rank-and-file officers. As the biggest police force in the UK, it could have led to changes at other forces too.

Sadly, their responses were lacking. The Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner should not expect a call from the Kennedy family any time soon.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police.

Update

Since writing this blog post Sir Stephen House, the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has also spoken about the police’s handling of Sarah Everard vigil.

The Guardian reports that he said:

“We do not underestimate the upset that has been caused, but the officers took their actions believing they were doing the right thing to protect people’s health. I’m sorry, of course, that people are so upset at seeing officers enforcing legislation. But the officers were doing their duty as they saw it, and I will not second-guess that at this moment in time.”

(my emphasis in bold)

There it is again. A non-apology from a senior officer at the Met, just like those offered by Assistant Commissioner Ball who said:

“we accept that the actions of our officers have been questioned…”

and Commissioner Cressida Dick, who noted that:

“I’m sure for the people who wanted to express their feelings, that was a difficult situation for them…”

When it comes to victim-blaming, deflection, and attempts to avoid accountability, the Met’s senior officers are second-to-none.

What Price Police Arrogance?

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, who reflects on police arrogance when dealing with the public.

Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, represents claimants in civil actions against the police.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

I represent “Jean” and “Paul” (names changed), a mother and her 24-year-old son, in a civil action against the police.

So far, their case has been hard-fought. For lawyers involved in actions against the police, this will come as no surprise. Most cases are challenged.

But for the public, it might be interesting to know how some police forces and their lawyers conduct themselves, and to consider if this is an unnecessarily arrogant and costly approach.

Unlawful Police Raid

My clients are innocent victims of police misconduct who have never been in trouble with the police before. What happened to them could happen to any of us.

My clients live in a modest flat. At about 7:30pm one evening, Jean and Paul (who was 22 at the time) were at home when they heard a bang on the front door.

Jean answered the door thinking it was a delivery. She was shocked to find a team of police officers wearing protective gear. They stormed in and immediately separated the terrified residents.

Officers kept Jean in the living room and took Paul into a bedroom. They searched Paul fully. This included a humiliating, invasive, and degrading cavity search. The police also thoroughly searched the home. They found nothing.

The police detained Jean and Paul for 20 mins before leaving without offering an explanation or apology.

Justice Sought From the Police

Jean and Paul were left confused, terrified, and upset. They:

  • had no idea why their home was raided
  • worried that this could happen again
  • lost faith in the police.

They were also acutely embarrassed by the raid. Jean and Paul live quiet lives. The police raid happened in full view of their neighbours and friends.

The mother and son also suffered personal injuries in the police raid. A medical expert has since diagnosed that they both suffered serious and long-lasting psychological effects.

Jean and Paul contacted my firm for help because we specialise in civil actions against the police. We have a long track record of success against forces throughout England and Wales.

I spoke to them both about the incident. I was struck by the police’s dismissive attitude. They did not give Jean and Paul the courtesy of an explanation about what happened and what went wrong. They did not apologise for their actions, which included the most intimate physical search of Paul. They did not even follow up to enquire as to their well-being.

I was determined to help Jean and Paul seek justice.

Letter of Claim to the Police

Before starting a civil action against the police, it is important for me to find out what “justice” means to my clients. Remedies in claims against the police differ depending on the circumstances. In order of importance, my clients wanted an:

  1. apology
  2. explanation about what happened
  3. assurance that it will not happen again
  4. appropriate amount of compensation for their personal injuries.

I submitted full details to the police, using a Letter of Claim which met the Civil Procedure Rules requirements. The letter gave full details so the police could:

  • identify the incident from their records
  • consider liability and respond fully. This could be either
    • accepting liability, or
    • denying it with reasons
  • consider the likely value of my clients’ claims.

I also asked for:

  • specific documentation and evidence, including body worn camera footage, which would help the parties and the court establish facts and value claims
  • a formal written apology
  • an explanation of
    • what happened
    • what went wrong
  • an assurance that this error would not be repeated.

Police Arrogance in Response

The police’s response was dismissively short and failed to deal with my letter in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules. They offered no explanation, no apology, or assurance that they would not raid my clients’ home again.

Instead, their response simply said:

Can you confirm what quantum your clients are seeking?

“Quantum” is a legal term for the amount of compensation. As mentioned above, this was the least important of the four things my clients sought by way of justice.

I was disappointed, but not shocked, by the police’s arrogant response. I have seen similar responses from this Force in the past. I responded:

The defendant seems to have a policy of throwing money at cases in the hope that they would not have to explain themselves for any wrongdoing.

The defendant shows a clear lack of empathy to clients in these situations and think they are only interested in monetary compensation.

This case is not just about recovering compensation, it is about vindication and restoring their reputations, something which the defendant has left in tatters.

Court Proceedings

As well as the arrogance of their response, the Force failed to provide any documentation or other evidence by way of disclosure.

Disclosure is not something that can be avoided by either party in civil claims.

It is essential to help narrow the issues and promote settlement. If the parties cannot agree, the courts expect to see all relevant evidence to make a fair and just decision.

The police’s refusal to co-operate with their legal disclosure requirements left me with no alternative. I had to issue court proceedings and pay expensive court fees to get a hearing before a County Court judge.

It was worth it.

The proceedings resulted in a Court Order which forced the police to comply with their legal duty to provide disclosure. The documents confirmed what went wrong: the police acted on flawed intelligence that my client’s home was being used for drug trafficking when executing a search warrant.

Despite handing over documentation which proved my clients’ claims, the police continued their dismissive and arrogant approach. They ignored my clients’ reasonable requests for an apology and assurance that it would not happen again.

Instead, the Force simply made a “low-ball” offer without considering medical evidence. I advised my clients not to consider it. They could not tell if the offer was fair without an expert opinion.

Persistence Pays Off

I have no hesitation in taking cases all the way to trial when merited. My clients authorised me to continue aggressively litigating their case. This resulted in a written apology from the Force’s Head of Professional Standards. In it, he:

  • acknowledged the effect of the unlawful police raid
  • confirmed that the officers involved had received training
  • assured my clients that the Force is confident it won’t happen again.

Both my clients are absolutely delighted that they have achieved this outcome.  After all, they were innocent victims of police misconduct and simply sought justice.

Compensation Award to Follow

As well as an:

  • apology
  • explanation
  • assurance

it is right and proper that Jean and Paul also get financial compensation. No judge can turn back time. Financial damages are the court’s way of putting innocent victims of police misconduct in the pre-incident position. This will be dealt with in due course.

Consequences

It is clear that the police’s arrogant and unsympathetic approach has:

  1. made my clients’ stress and upset worse, and
  2. will cost taxpayers more money in legal and court fees.

Senior officers would do well to reflect on these issues before complaining about any perceived lack of public or political support and campaigning for increases in police budgets.

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive at Donoghue Solicitors. Contact him here.

 

 

 

The Art of War in Actions Against the Police

 

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who explains how the Art of War applies to civil actions against the police

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, explains how the concepts in The Art of War, a 2,500-year-old book, still apply today.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

In the 5th century BC, Sun Tzu, the Chinese military general and strategist, wrote The Art of War. The book has influenced military leaders ever since. Some credit its concepts with the unification of Japan, helping Ho Chi Minh’s forces defeat America in the Vietnam war, and the US success in the First Gulf War.

The Art of War’s thirteen chapters address many aspects of warfare, including “laying plans”, “waging war”, “use of energy”, and “variation of tactics”. It combines pithy statements with practical information which is still relevant today.

As a result, its impact extends beyond the battlefield. It has also influenced politicians, those in business, and even lawyers. For solicitors involved in civil actions against the police, it is easy to see why.

“A Matter of Life and Death”

Sun Tzu said that the art of war “is a matter of life and death”. Bill Shankly, the Liverpool FC manager, must have been inspired by Sun when he said:

“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”

Many of my clients would agree that their civil actions against the police are vitally important to them. Taking on the State is not for the faint-hearted. But they feel that they have no alternative, especially if they want lessons to be learned. As one client said:


Ged mcdermott

An issue which started in 2015, had a massive impact on me and my family, thanks to Kevin has now come to an end and I finally feel that i have been listened to and taken seriously. The importance of engaging a solicitor of Kevin’s experience cannot be underestimated. The genuine care and attention he showed throughout will always be appreciated . It is hoped that GMP and the NCA have genuinely learned from our experience and nobody else suffers in the same manner and that they investigate crime more competently and in doing so protect the vulnerable in the community. Massive thank you Kevin for your help, patience and understanding

“All warfare is based on deception”

Contrary to the image of Lady Justice, the scales she holds are unbalanced in actions against the police. The police have more money, power, and influence than ordinary members of the public. But, with that power comes complacency. Especially when dealing with claimant lawyers.

At first glance, Donoghue Solicitors may not appear to be formidable opponents. My firm is small. We are based in Liverpool, not London. We do not have expensive offices.

But this is all by design.

My dedicated, highly-trained team choose to work here because they get to work closely with clients and take great satisfaction in helping them achieve justice.

We have an “all hands on deck” attitude which means we all learn from each other and put our experiences into practice quickly. This nimble, quick-thinking approach, means we catch our opponents off-guard.

We have recruited the brightest and best from bigger firms because our methods and culture attract talent. The police underestimate us at their peril, as this client noted.


Jody Martin

Kevin legally outsmarted all of the Defence lawyers arguments to the point where they conceded the case 12 months later.

And our location is an advantage. Liverpool is our home. We know it, and our North West police forces, well. But Donoghue Solicitors also represents clients throughout England and Wales by relying on cutting-edge technology. One of the helpful effects of the pandemic is that this is even easier now. Everyone, including judges, barristers, and clients, communicates remotely.

Photo of a terracota army general from the Qin Dynasty.

Terracota army general from the Qin Dynasty.

“The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of courage which all must reach.”

Successful civil actions against the police are a team effort. Clients, solicitors, barristers, experts, and others must all work together towards a common goal. We must be fearless in our representation, and formidable in our approach.

I set high standards and expect everyone, including my clients, to match them, as this client found:

dee chatterley

Excellent service, professional yet human and fought my case with such tenacity the like of which I have never seen.

“The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness”.

Solicitors are bound by strict Standards and Regulations of professional conduct. But there is more to running a law firm and bringing civil actions against the police than just following the rules. As this review shows, society benefits when solicitors lead by example:

altho sutt

I sincerely think Kevin is one of the most honourable solicitors that l have met;  the firm show commendable professionalism and honesty to those they represent – often people in vulnerable and frightening positions. Kevin Donoghue and his team have helped me put a negative and horrible experience behind me. I can now positively move on with my life after many years of worrying, fear and anxiousness; a two year wait from the Independent Police Complaints, which resulted in my complaint not being upheld. I cannot thank Kevin Donoghue and his team enough for fighting my case and putting my trust back in the UK legal system. The legal system can work, and does work with the continued hard ethical work of solicitors such a Kevin Donoghue and his team.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

A key part of knowing your opponent and yourself is recognising both sides’ strengths and weaknesses. This only comes with experience. Knowing your clients, opponent police forces, local courts, judges, and even the leanings of potential jurors, can be crucial to the success or failure of legal actions.

Civil actions against the police are a unique, discrete part of civil law. I have worked in this area for over twenty years. This experience means that I take cases other solicitors avoid. These often involve high-level police corruption where reputations of senior officers are at stake. I have found that such cases can occur repeatedly in local areas, suggesting systemic issues. For example, I have had considerable success in police corruption cases against:

  • South Wales Police
  • Merseyside Police
  • Greater Manchester Police
  • the Metropolitan Police
  • other police forces throughout England and Wales.

“A power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of victory, and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers and distances, constitutes the test of a great general. He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles.”

I have personally sued most of our police forces. They all differ in their approaches. Some deny liability in every case, others take a more considered approach. Many forces farm out the work of dealing with civil actions against the police to defendant law firms. Others deal with them “in house” or share resources across a number of police forces. Knowing these things, and the people who deal with claims, means I am able to tailor my approach to help my clients achieve justice.

This knowledge means that I am frequently approached by other lawyers to represent their clients. The smart ones know that actions against the police are best left to the experts.

Despite this, I routinely see cases handled by other lawyers who fundamentally misunderstand the law in this area. Their clients’ cases are doomed to fail as a result.

For example, I took over a “dead in the water” claim pursued by a large personal injury law firm. The client’s former lawyers thought it was a basic personal injury claim. They were wrong. In fact, it involved a claim for false imprisonment. With my help, my client revived his claim and received £13,000 compensation plus legal costs.

“We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides.”

One part of building a winning team is the use of local experts. Courts operate in different ways. Judges can be pro-claimant or pro-defendant. Knowing this, I recruit barristers with local expertise where possible. For example, I have worked closely with David Hughes of 30 Park Place chambers in Cardiff. With his help, “Andrea Johnson” was awarded £70,000 compensation from South Wales Police and my client Jamie Clark won his hard-fought compensation claim against Dyfed-Powys Police.

Photo of a terracota army standing archer from the Qin Dynasty.

A terracota army standing archer.

“Let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.”

It is essential that the police know claimants are serious about their cases. Issuing formal court proceedings is a significant and costly step. It should only be done as a last resort. Defendant police force lawyers can tell when inexperienced lawyers issue proceedings without the courage to take the case to trial.

The police know that, when we issue proceedings, we will take them to court if necessary. We know our clients and their cases. We are confident that they will win.

This attitude means that we negotiate from a position of strength, and only when it is in our clients’ best interests. One of those considerations is settling claims before trial. This can be attractive because it avoids uncertainty and helps our clients get the justice they deserve. As this client found:

Laura

Kevin was able to put forward such a strong argument in favour of our case that the Police felt compelled to settle prior to court by paying us compensation of £30,000 as well as covering our legal costs. I would have no hesitation in recommending Kevin and his team.

We are always cautious of any off-the-record settlement proposals though, because, as Sun Tzu said:

Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot.

“The art of war is of vital importance to the State.”

Civil actions against the police are not “war”. But they are serious undertakings which deserve proper consideration by all involved. In that regard, the teachings in Sun Tzu’s book are as relevant now as they were 2,500 years ago.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.

 

Five Reasons Why a Personal Injury Lawyer Helps Claimants

Photo of Thomas O'Sullivan- personal injury lawyer at Donoghue Solicitors.

Thomas O”Sullivan explains why he prefers representing claimants here.

Thomas O’Sullivan is a personal injury lawyer at Donoghue Solicitors. In this blog post he compares representing claimants and defendants and explains why he prefers claimant work.

By Thomas O’Sullivan

It might help if I explain the law before discussing the differences between claimant and defendant work.

In any civil claim, there are two sides: claimant and defendant.

The claimant is the person or entity suing (bringing a case to court). The defendant is the party being sued.

How Claimants Bring Civil Claims

Many civil claims are based in tort, which is “a civil wrong”. They usually allege negligence. To succeed in a negligence claim, in basic terms the claimant must prove that the defendant:

  1. owed them a duty of care
  2. breached that duty
  3. caused them reasonably foreseeable loss or damage as a result.

Claimants must prove all three criteria to succeed.

How to Prove a Negligence Claim

Imagine you suffered an injury in a road accident through no fault of your own. You decide to bring a personal injury case relying on the tort of negligence. The law works like this:

  1. the other driver owed you a duty of care (because of a statute, or Parliament-made, law: in this case the Road Traffic Act 1988).
  2. they breached that duty by carelessly crashing into your car
  3. you suffered losses (personal injury, property damage, loss of earnings, and other expenses) as a result.

But how do you get justice? The courts cannot turn back time. Instead, judges aim to put claimants into the pre-accident position. They do this by:

  • making findings of liability (responsibility)
  • awarding compensation
  • other remedies.

Most people seek justice and compensation by instructing a specialist firm like Donoghue Solicitors.

But often, if you have a lawyer representing you, so does the defendant.

Representing the Defendant in Personal Injury Claims

I worked at a large defendant law firm before coming to Donoghue Solicitors. I specialised in defending personal injury accident claims. My main clients were two global insurance companies worth millions of pounds.

My job was to:

  1. fight claims so my insurer clients could avoid paying compensation
  2. save them as much money as possible when paying compensation claims.

Defendant lawyers have a variety of legal tools to achieve these aims. One is to allege “fundamental dishonesty”.

Alleging Fundamental Dishonesty

The Civil Procedure Rules set out how civil compensation claims and court proceedings are handled in England and Wales.

In personal injury claims, the Rules protect genuine claimants from paying defendants’ costs if they lose. This protection is known as “Qualified One-Way Costs Shifting”. But it disappears if a court finds that the claimant is ‘fundamentally dishonest’.

You can see how this could scare away claimants. Instead of a compensation award, they could be left with:

  1. a damaged personal reputation
  2. legal bills for thousands of pounds.

This makes unfounded fundamental dishonesty arguments an often-used tactic, even if they leave a sour taste in the mouth to all concerned.

That cynical approach to personal injury claims is one reason why I decided to make a career change.

Representing the Claimant as a Personal Injury Lawyer

In 2018, I started working at Donoghue Solicitors. I was attracted to the firm because it has an excellent reputation with defendant lawyers for specialising in personal injury accident claims.

Now I work as a claimant lawyer and help clients with:

  • road traffic accidents
  • accidents at work
  • accidents in public places
  • and more.

Where appropriate, I represent my firm’s clients in their accident injury claims on a “No win, No fee” basis.

I am proud to work as a lawyer who helps accident victims get the justice and compensation they deserve. It’s hugely satisfying.

And my experience at the defendant firm helps. I am a “poacher turned gamekeeper” and know many of the other sides’ tricks and tactics.

But, after working for the other side, why do I find working as a claimant personal injury lawyer more rewarding? Here are five reasons:

1. Dealing with clients from start to finish

One of the first things I noticed about Donoghue Solicitors is that the firm’s personal injury lawyers help clients from first consultation to claim settlement.

It was not like this at the defendant firm. There my clients were insurers. We did not have, or need, much contact. When we communicated, I dealt with anonymous members of a claims “team”.

Dealing with the same people throughout is much more fulfilling for both lawyer and client. Clients prefer working with one person who knows their case in detail. This leaves them feeling confident, at ease, and most importantly, valued. Personal injury lawyers get to know their clients’ cases well and work more efficiently as a result.

2. Getting to know clients personally

Working with clients throughout their claims helps me build genuine relationships.

Some civil compensation claims can take years. During that time, lawyers get to know clients on a personal level. The personal connection gives them a sense of trust and comfort. It helps clients to know that they can:

  • rely on an expert to navigate our complex legal system
  • concentrate on recovering after their accidents.

And it matters to personal injury lawyers too. We are not robots. Understanding and compassion set us apart from lawyers in other fields. This makes winning cases for clients more satisfying.

Often these relationships result in recommendations for legal help for family and friends. That is the ultimate proof of a job well done.

3. Helping innocent accident victims get justice and compensation

The defendant is at fault in almost all personal injury claims. Personal injury lawyers do not submit civil claims unless they:

  1. are confident that their clients are innocent
  2. have solid legal grounds to seek compensation.

When representing defendants my job was to save my insurer client money. They were already worth millions of pounds. In effect, I was helping the rich stay rich.

It is important that both sides get fearless legal representation But there is no better feeling than helping an innocent claimant get compensation to put their lives back on track.

Bringing a compensation claim is about more than money to most of my clients. Often, they want:

  • the court’s acknowledgement that they were an innocent accident victim
  • to be heard
  • lessons learned.

Being able to achieve these and other things for my clients is extremely gratifying.

4. Receiving genuine thanks and appreciation

This heading speaks for itself. At the end of any claim, hearing positive words from clients means a great deal. Often, a quick email or online review expressing thanks and appreciation keeps me going during the daily battles with defendant insurers and lawyers.

5. Working within a specialist, dedicated team

I am fortunate to work alongside some top-quality personal injury lawyers. Donoghue Solicitors is an award-winning law firm, led by Kevin Donoghue, solicitor. The firm has helped thousands of people get justice.

Kevin leads by example, fearlessly fighting for his clients and taking cases others avoid. He is constantly pushing me and my fellow lawyers to give everything in service of our clients. It is inspirational and exciting to be a part of such a dedicated, experienced, and talented team.

Suitability of Claimant Personal Injury Work

I am grateful for the opportunity of working for a defendant firm. I learned a lot and the experience led me to my present role at Donoghue Solicitors.

But without doubt, working as a claimant personal injury lawyer suits my personality and skillset. I look forward to helping many more clients get the justice and compensation they deserve.

Thomas O’Sullivan is a Trainee Chartered Legal Executive. He helps people win their personal injury compensation claims. Contact Tom to start your claim today.

 

Merry Christmas!

 

Photo of Kevin Donoghue- solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our clients, friends, and families.

Thank you for your support this year. We hope you have a relaxing and stress-free holiday and that 2021 is a great year for you all. (It’s got to be better than 2020 hasn’t it?)

Like the County Courts, we will be closed over the Christmas period, from 1pm on Thursday, 24 December 2020 until 9 a.m. on Monday, 4 January 2021.

Merry Christmas from Donoghue Solicitors
If you need urgent help, please contact me via email – [email protected]

This year, instead of greeting cards, we made a donation to Brunswick Youth and Community Centre (a registered charity based in Bootle, Liverpool, which we support). You can read more about how we give back to our community here.

Best wishes from all of us here at Donoghue Solicitors.

Kevin

Scam alert: “Sam Donohoe” Using Kevin Donoghue’s Details on Facebook and Messenger

 

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who warns of a facebook scam

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors, warns of a potential Facebook scam in which his image and details have been used.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Someone is trying to impersonate me on Facebook and Facebook Messenger.

A helpful lady called my office saying she had been contacted by “Sam Donohoe”. “He” (I don’t know for sure if it is a he, she, or a bot) said they represented a victim of a road traffic accident. “His” profile picture is one of mine taken from a blog post:

Photo of the profile of Sam Donohoe, a Facebook scam

This is the Facebook profile of “Sam Donohoe”, who is wrongly using Kevin Donoghue’s image and details.

The lady asked “Sam” to prove who “he” was. “He” sent a link to my firm’s website.

I confirmed to the lady who called that:

  • this approach was nothing to do with my firm
  • “Sam Donohoe” was not me or anyone connected with my firm (even the name is spelt incorrectly)
  • we would be taking steps to deal with this matter.

I immediately notified the authorities, including Facebook, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and others. I have sent a “Cease and Desist” to “Sam Donohoe” too.

Thankfully, no harm came of this impersonation attempt. But it’s a fact of modern life that some people try to take advantage.

The public should know that we:

  1. NEVER contact potential clients “out of the blue” on Facebook messenger or other online apps
  2. are always happy to confirm our details by phone (0151 236 1336) or email ([email protected]). These can be verified by checking the information provided on the SRA website.
  3. never just link to our website to prove our credentials.

I urge anyone who comes across potential scams like this one to contact the law firms involved. I am glad that the caller did.

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors.