Will Home Office Plans Increase Tactical Contact Risks?

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, who discusses the police's use of tactical contact on motorcyclists.

Daniel Fitzsimmons, FCILEx, discusses Home Office plans for police drivers and tactical contact.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

Recent footage of Metropolitan Police officers using “tactical contact” to apprehend alleged criminals has caught the attention of the public and politicians alike. Tactical contact is a form of “hard stop”, a technique where police drivers make contact with a suspect’s vehicle. Watch the video below to see it in action:

The Prime Minister announced her support for the police officers and praised the Met Police’s “robust response”.

No doubt Ken Marsh, the Police Federation chief, is encouraged by the government support. He said:

“There need to be protections around this afforded to our colleagues – both in law, from the force and with public, political and media opinion. They are doing nothing more than their jobs, trying to apprehend someone who, nine times out of 10, has committed a horrendous offence.

“They must be backed.”

Changes to Police Driving Laws

The Home Office is listening. It has proposed changes to the law giving police officers more legal protection if they are involved in motor-related incidents. Such incidents include, but are not limited to, those involving the moped-riders who are getting the public’s attention.

Presently, officers, like all other motorists, can be prosecuted for careless or dangerous driving if they fail to drive in a “competent and careful” manner. The new rules would apply a different legal standard to police drivers. Police would only have to show that they

  • drove in a “necessary and proportionate” manner in the circumstances
  • used appropriately authorised driving tactics
  • took into account “the standard of a careful and competent police driver of a similar level of training and skill.”

This planned rule change is problematic. As one of my client’s cases shows, the police are already given a great deal of leeway under the current law in motor-related incidents. Easing legal restrictions increases the potential risk to public safety.

Use of Tactical Contact by Police

My client “Mohammed” is a successful driving instructor who recently earned a degree in quantity surveying. He is also an enthusiastic motorcyclist. He owns a top-of-the-line BMW S1000RR motorbike. He rides wearing full and very distinctive leathers, which have a large shark logo on the back.

At about 10 pm one evening last year, Mohammed was stationary at red traffic lights. He was sitting on his bike chatting to a friend using his in-helmet Bluetooth. He had just left his girlfriend’s and stopped at a nearby petrol station. Mohammed was at the lights for a full minute when suddenly he was hit from behind. The impact, which he was not expecting, knocked Mohammed off his motorbike. Mohammed thought he was being robbed. He turned to find a man standing over him. Mohammed lashed out, hitting his assailant. Three more men appeared and overpowered the motorcyclist. The men pulled Mohammed’s hands behind his back with such force that he thought they had broken his right wrist. One of them handcuffed him, and only then did Mohammed realise that he was being arrested by police officers.

Mohammed saw that the officers had come from an unmarked police car. He learned that they had been involved in an incident earlier that night. The police arrested Mohammed because they thought he was part of a criminal gang on motorbikes who evaded them. Mohammed explained why they were wrong and that he had an easily-proved alibi. He asked them to check his telematics equipment. The device on his motorbike monitors speed, journey, miles covered etc.. Mohammed knew that it would show that his bike had been stationary earlier as he had been at his girlfriend’s. He asked the police to contact her to verify this. He also asked them to check the CCTV at the petrol station he had been to moments before, which showed he was not in the area they were searching.

The police refused to do any of this, but detained Mohammed for over half an hour. Mohammed’s wrist was still painful. He asked for medical help and the officers called for paramedics. Eventually, the police accepted that Mohammed was not a suspect and agreed to let him go. They issued him with a ticket for driving without due care and attention and left the scene before the paramedics arrived.

Mohammed went to hospital and got a temporary sling for his wrist. Later he got a hard-cast. Thankfully, his wrist was not broken but he used the hard cast for over a month, ruining his graduation day photographs.

Police Complaint

Mohammed was upset at the police’s heavy-handed, unprovoked, and unnecessary treatment. They had caused £2,000 worth of damage to his motorbike, injured his wrist, and kept him against his will. They issued him with a ticket for driving without due care and attention. So, the next day he went to his local police station to file a complaint about the police’s actions. He found out that the police officers had body-worn video cameras. He was relieved, thinking this would help prove the complaint. But, as my colleague Kevin Donoghue described here body-worn cameras only work when they are turned on. Three of the four officers at the scene wore the cameras. Conveniently, none of them turned on their body-worn cameras until after the arrest.

Frustrated, Mohammed contacted my firm because we specialise in civil actions against the police. I agreed to help with his police complaint and civil action against the police. But the internal investigator for Professional Standards had very little patience. He decided to adjudicate based solely on Mohammed’s brief description and statements from the four officers. Unsurprisingly, he found in the officers’ favour and recommended no action.

We appealed this decision, referring the matter the Independent Office of Police Conduct. The IOPC was not impressed and ordered a re-investigation. It told the police investigator to address the following matters:

· Consider whether the police officers should be charged with assault.
· Take more detailed accounts from all four officers. The IOPC noted that none of the officers mentioned the distinctive shark logo on the back of Mohammed’s leathers when describing the motorcyclists in the earlier incident.
· Get the officers’ body-worn camera footage of the earlier incident, in which the police claimed they were trying to apprehend law-breaking motorcyclists who got away.
· The three officers wearing body-worn cameras must explain why they did not start recording when the decision was made to detain Mohammed, ie.. before they assaulted and arrested him.
· Whether the police driver acted in accordance with the College of Policing authorised professional practice for police pursuits.
· Why they held Mohammed for a further 10 minutes after the arresting officer announced to his colleagues that there was no reason to detain, especially as, the IOPC noted, Mohammed appeared “calm and non-threatening”.

Criminal Prosecution Effects

Mohammed’s faith in the police and legal system has been shaken by this incident. He was arrested and injured through no fault of his own. The police damaged his motorbike. He had to go to the time and trouble of finding and working with solicitors to bring a claim. The police brushed aside his (initial) complaint, forcing him to spend more time on an appeal. On top of this, he has a criminal case for careless driving to defend. Unless something changes his case will go to trial. He will have to defend himself in court even though he is clearly innocent: after all, he was stationary at red traffic lights when the police hit him. He is stressed about the consequences of fighting at court to avoid points on his licence. Driving instructors pay enough for insurance already, and points carry a professional stigma.

Consequences of Proposed Changes in the Legal Standard

The police denied Mohammed’s complaint applying current misconduct rules and laws. The investigator felt that the officers’ actions were reasonable and justifiable. Mohammed’s determination to pursue a police complaint and civil action will ensure that this is not an end to the matter.

But the Home Office’s plans to relax the legal standard in motor-related incidents sends a worrying signal to the police. As Diane Abbot, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, posted on twitter:

Her fears are merited. Home Office proposals will create a two-tier legal system which may encourage police drivers to use tactical contact, hard stops, and other high-risk driving techniques more frequently, with potentially devastating consequences for victims.

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives who specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.

Why Our Cyber Essentials Accreditation Matters

 Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who explains Cyber Essentials accreditation.

Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor, explains why Donoghue Solicitors’ Cyber Essentials accreditation matters.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors

Q. What do

  • Cambridge University
  • the Scottish Football Association
  • Lloyds of London
  • the Co-operative Bank
  • Donoghue Solicitors

have in common?

A. They are all Cyber Essentials accredited.

We recently became part of this exclusive club. This is why.

What is the Cyber Essentials Scheme?

The UK government set up Cyber Essentials through the National Cyber Security Centre. (This is a division of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).)

Cyber Essentials is a “world-leading” cyber security assurance scheme. It aims to help organisations adopt good practice on information security and protect against cyber-attacks.

Why Did Donoghue Solicitors Get Cyber Essentials Accredited?

Getting a Cyber Essentials certificate was a natural progression for us. We take our clients data security seriously. As I explained here, this commitment includes how you use our website. You might have noticed that it is secure (https instead of basic http) and uses Extended Validation (EV). We use industry-leading 256-bit encryption keys and EV, so you can tell that we own the site. You can trust it by checking at the top of your internet browser for

? Donoghue Solicitors Ltd [GB] | https://www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk

Other companies using the same system include

  • Santander
  • PayPal
  • Apple
  • John Lewis
  • Tesco.

Most law firms have not taken these steps to protect their websites’ users. Time and money are involved. But your confidence and online protection are worth it to us.

Cyber Essentials accreditation proves that our commitment to your online security extends to other areas. It shows that we have implemented technical controls to address essential cyber risks.

Photo of Donoghue Solicitors' Cyber Essentials accreditation badge.

Donoghue Solicitors’ Cyber Essential Accreditation.

What is the Certification Process?

Organisations must apply security and technical controls in five areas to get certified. These are:

  1. Boundary Firewalls and Internet Gateways
  2. Secure Configuration
  3. Access Control
  4. Malware Protection
  5. Patch Management.

To prove that we applied them, we

  • reviewed our entire IT system with a focus on cyber-based threats.
  • prepared policy documents and made sure they met the scheme requirements.
  • put the policies in action, adopting the latest technology where necessary.

Only then could we apply for certification. This involved completing a questionnaire and providing documents in support. An external certifying body appointed by the government vetted our submission. We passed the certification process at the first attempt.


I understand that we are now one of fewer than 2% of law firms nationwide with Cyber Essentials accreditation. This exhaustive process took time, money, and staff resources. I am proud of the work we did to earn accreditation. But the certificate is just the beginning. Cyber risks are changing. Attacks get more sophisticated every day. We will do everything we can to protect our clients’ data. You can have the highest level of confidence when sharing sensitive and personal information with us.

Contact Donoghue Solicitors for legal help using our online form or call 08000 124 246.



Why I Went into the Police Federation Lion’s Den

Photo of Kevin Donoghue Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors.

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

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

“You’re brave, coming into the lion’s den,” said the Police Federation representative. “I know,” I replied, “but it’s worth it.”

This was one of the conversations I had at the Police Federation Post Incident Procedure conference on 15-16 October. There I met police officers, representatives of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, medical experts, lawyers, and others.

I was never going to win a popularity award at the conference. Some of the delegates might consider me “the enemy” because I am a solicitor who represents victims of police misconduct in their civil actions against the police. I was not paid for being there. I travelled down to Leicestershire the night before to make sure I could attend. I missed a day’s work, coaching my under-9s football team, and time away from my young family. So why did I go?

Photo of Che Donald, Vice-Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, presenting at the Post-Incident Procedures conference in October 2018.

Che Donald, Vice-Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, presenting at the post-incident procedure conference in October 2018.

Police Federation Conference Panel

Che Donald, the outgoing Vice-Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), invited me to appear at the conference. He contacted me because Sgt Donald and I have sparred in the media over the police’s use of spit hoods. (He’s supportive of their use. I’m concerned by their unchecked roll-out, as you can tell from my earlier blog posts.)

This PFEW conference focused on post-incident procedures. These are the rules the police must follow after a death or serious injury. I joined a panel discussing police restraint procedures. Members included:

  • Dr Meng Aw-Yong, a Forensic Medical Examiner and President of the British Academy of Forensic Science
  • Catherine Hall, Operations Manager for the Independent Office for Police Misconduct
  • Colin Banham, a barrister who represents police officers in gross misconduct hearings

As you can tell, the panel leaned heavily in favour of the police. I was outnumbered. Despite this, I was treated respectfully and well during the hour-long discussion. It was unscripted, save for questions from the moderator, Phil Matthews.

Police Restraint Panel Discussion

The audience asked probing questions and brought out some useful points about restraint. These included:

  1. The potential benefits of a “fit bit” type device which was unveiled at the conference. The wearable device is designed to track a detainee’s vital signs and reduce the risk of death in custody. On first impressions, the benefits to detainees, police officers, the IOPC, and wider communities appear clear.
  2. A controversial suggestion that police officers use Tasers more readily on some people to prevent further harm. (For example, those suffering from a mental health crisis.) I disagreed with this idea. I am used to dealing with victims of Taser assaults who suffer serious physical and psychological injuries. Police often use Tasers with other forms of restraint, such as spit hoods. This makes matters worse. I commented that injuries could be avoided if the police used proper de-escalation techniques and involved medical professionals first. The Taser “stun-gun” is a potentially lethal weapon. Police should only use it as a last resort.
  3. An audience-members’ view that the police were treated as a “cash cow”. He questioned why the police get sued when others, such as the ambulance service, do not. I explained that his perception was incorrect. In practice, solicitors involved in these cases hold all appropriate organisations to account. No one is above the law, and laws are there to be followed.
  4. The issue of police training. The panel agreed that budget cuts could impact on the amount and quality of training. This could result in serious injuries and even deaths in custody. But more, and better, training is only one side of the equation. I stressed that, even with the best training in the world, it is down to the individual officer to apply that training properly.
  5. I asked the police officers present to remember that the detainee is a person first and a suspect second. With that mindset, they would be more likely to take appropriate action. This benefits the detainee and the police.
Photo of solicitor Kevin Donoghue (centre) who discusses restraint post-incident procedures at the PFEW seminar on 16 October 2018.

Kevin Donoghue (centre) discusses restraint post-incident procedures at the PFEW seminar on 16 October 2018.


All too often we exist in our own bubbles. The panel debate meant that the Police Federation audience heard all sides about current police restraint issues. My input helped the police understand the perspective of misconduct victims and their solicitors. And I got to hear their views, which will benefit me and my clients. I stand up for police misconduct victims in my role as a solicitor. I am glad I went to the conference to speak on their behalf.

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors.


How Police Tasers Threaten Public Confidence

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who discusses how police Tasers threaten public confidence.

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, considers the impact of police Tasers on public confidence.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

 Recent media reports about police Tasers highlight two issues faced by the public and police alike. The first is the use of force. The second issue is accountability. Both threaten:
1. public confidence in the police
2. the doctrine of “policing by consent”, described by the Home Office as “the power of the police coming from the common consent of the public, as opposed to the power of the state.” 

Issue 1: Taser Use of Force

The police say that Tasers are “a low level of force”, as Chief Superintendent Paul Morrison once claimed. But as I previously wrote, this minimises the effect of these weapons. Taser assault victims suffer both primary and secondary injuries when the weapons are used.  PoliceTasers work by shooting two 11.5mm metal barbs on coiled conductive wires. The barbs attach to the victim before the Taser sends a 50,000 volt electrical charge through them. This initial assault, which can be repeated, causes puncture and burn wounds, temporary paralysis, and short-term cognitive impairment akin to dementia.
It is common for victims to suffer secondary injuries following the initial assault. For example, Richard Hagan was Tasered by Merseyside Police. As expected, the stun gun temporarily paralysed him, causing him to fall flat on his face. Mr Hagan lost four front teeth and had to have a bridge and crown fitted. Last week a 17-year old boy suffered a heart attack after being Tasered by police in Coventry. The teenager needed CPR after the police assault and “remains in a serious but stable condition”. And in the most serious cases, police Tasers can kill, as the tragic case of footballer Dalian Atkinson and many others show.

Police Federation Taser Campaign

Despite these concerns some in the police want more Tasers in the hands of front-line officers. The police officer’s union, the Police Federation, has been campaigning for Tasers for years. In January 2015 Steve White, then chair of the Federation, said that ALL police officers should be armed with Tasers. The next month the Police Federation voted for Tasers for all uniformed officers “to provide protection from terrorists”. This was despite Chris Sims, chief of West Midlands police, saying that step was “not proportionate to the threat” and risked “undermining the British policing model”. This moderating view didn’t stop the Police Federation campaign though. In January 2017 it published the results of its own survey, stating that 82% of the 6,220 officers who responded supported issuing Tasers to “a wider group of front-line officers”.
As with the roll out of (sometimes deadly) spit hoods, the Police Federation appears to be getting its way, despite reasonable concerns and an apparent lack of interest from its members (only 5% of federated members responded to the Taser survey). In January 2018 Hampshire Police confirmed that it would double its number of Taser-trained staff to 620. This was quickly followed in February when Thames Valley Police announced plans to increase its total number of Taser-trained officers to 390, a 50% increase.
But it stands to reason that more police officers armed with Tasers = more Taser use. More use = more injuries, more deaths, more miscarriages of justice. This represents a serious threat to public confidence and support, at a time when officer numbers are declining due to budget cuts. The Police Federation might want to reconsider its approach.

Issue 2: Accountability for Officers Using Police Tasers

The police are bound by a written Code of Ethics. It addresses the use of force, such as when an officer uses a Taser, saying:
4. Use of force
I will only use force as part of my role and responsibilities, and only to the extent that it is necessary, proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances.
Police officers can be disciplined, and even dismissed, if they fail to meet that standard. But how does it work in practice with Taser incidents? Consider the case of PC Claire Boddie. In January 2017 she Tasered Judah Adunbi. (Watch the footage here.) The case was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS prosecuted the officer for assault, but in May 2018 she was found not guilty on the criminal standard (beyond reasonable doubt). The judge said that the prosecution had “failed to persuade” him that PC Claire Boddie “didn’t act in self-defence”. That ended the criminal proceedings. But PC Boddie was referred to a disciplinary panel on a charge of gross misconduct, which is “a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour which is so serious that dismissal would be justified.”
Mr Adunbi’s solicitor noted that his client was only “allowed limited involvement” in the misconduct proceedings. And, as I have written, police routinely ignore guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings. On 5 September 2018 PC Boddie was cleared of gross misconduct in respect of the Taser incident. She continues to serve as a police officer. Mr Adunbi is now pursuing a civil action against the police.

Public Confidence 

Police Tasers raise many practical and ethical issues. Used properly, the stun-guns can be helpful crime-fighting tools. Get it wrong and people suffer serious injuries and even death. Improper use has serious implications for victims, the police, and the public.
For public confidence in Taser-wielding police to be maintained we need to know that the police will abide by their Code of Ethics, especially their obligations when using force, and follow the principle of policing by consent. This must be backed by a robust and transparent police misconduct disciplinary regime to hold the police to account. We deserve nothing less.
Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor and the Director of Donoghue Solicitors.

Why Did Sir Cliff Richard Get So Much Compensation?

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who considers Sir Cliff Richard's compensation claim.

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, considers why Sir Cliff Richard received so much compensation in his claim against the BBC and South Yorkshire Police.

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

On Wednesday 18 July, Mr Justice Mann, sitting in the High Court in London, awarded Sir Cliff Richard £210,000 compensation from the BBC in respect of his successful damages claim. (Official judgment here. )This is in addition to a previously agreed settlement of £400,000 with South Yorkshire Police, whom Sir Cliff also sued. There will be more compensation paid to once the full extent of “special damages”, or quantifiable losses, are known. South Yorkshire Police and the BBC will also pay legal costs, estimated in the millions. The BBC says it will appeal the decision.

Compensation awarded in this case is substantially more than the usual awards for civil actions against the police and breaches of the Human Rights Act. Why?

What Happened?

In July 2014 a BBC journalist learned that South Yorkshire Police was investigating Sir Cliff for alleged sexual offences involving a minor. The police obtained a warrant to search his home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, which was broadcast live on BBC tv. (Sir Cliff was in Portugal at the time.)

The police investigated the allegations against the singer, who was 73 at the time of the raid and still working as an entertainer. Eventually, in June 2016, Sir Cliff was told that he would not face charges.

He sued both the BBC and South Yorkshire Police for breach of privacy and under the Data Protection Act 1998.

In May 2017 South Yorkshire Police settled Sir Cliff’s civil claim for £400,000 plus costs, apologised, and gave a statement in open court accepting liability.

The BBC fought the claim, resulting in a trial on both liability (responsibility) and quantum (amount of damages).

Liability Issues

Sir Cliff (the Claimant) claimed a breach of his fundamental right to privacy and breach of the Data Protection Act. The BBC (the Defendant) fought the claim arguing that it had fundamental rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Mr Justice Mann put aside the Data Protection Act breach saying it “adds nothing to the privacy claim”.

Instead he considered Sir Cliff’s rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which in English law is found in the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 8 states:

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The BBC argued that it had competing rights under Article 10 ECHR, which states:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers…

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Here the Judge’s job was to weigh the two competing rights. Finding for Sir Cliff Richard he said that the BBC:

“infringed these (Article 8) rights without a legal justification. It did so in a serious and also somewhat sensationalist way.”


Quantum, or the value of damages to be paid in the claim, is considered separately after liability has been established. The purpose of damages is to put the Claimant in the pre-incident position so far as possible. It is impossible for a Court to accurately value general damages and nothing can give a Claimant their lives back. An appropriate amount of financial compensation is ordered to be paid by the losing Defendant instead. The Court considered both “general damages” and “special damages”.

General Damages

Aspects of general damages vary depending on the circumstances. Sir Cliff Richard’s case included elements found in personal injury and defamation cases. Mr Justice Mann considered the following heads of claim:

(a) Damages can and should be awarded for distress, damage to health, invasion of Sir Cliff’s privacy (or depriving him of the right to control the use of his private information), and damage to his dignity, status and reputation…

(b) The general adverse effect on his lifestyle (which will be a function of the matters in (a)).

(c) The nature and content of the private information revealed. The more private and significant the information, the greater the effect on the subject will be (or will be likely to be). In this case it was extremely serious. It was not merely the fact that an allegation had been made. The fact that the police were investigating and even conducting a search gave significant emphasis to the underlying fact of that an allegation had been made.

(d) The scope of the publication. The wider the publication, the greater the likely invasion and the greater the effect on the individual.

(e) The presentation of the publication. Sensationalist treatment might have a greater effect, and amount to a more serious invasion, than a more measured publication.

Special Damages

Special damages are quantifiable losses. Each item must be proved by the Claimant.

Valuing Sir Cliff Richard’s Compensation Claim

Sir Cliff’s public profile meant that the raid on his home quickly became a massive story. Millions followed it in the news world-wide. He gave evidence in Court about its terrible personal toll. Mr Justice Mann noted that:

Sir Cliff felt trapped in his own home, and he felt despair and hopelessness leading, at times, to physical collapse. At first he did not see how he could face his friends and family, or even his future. He felt the whole world would be talking about whether he had committed the alleged offences or not. Sleeping was difficult; he resorted to sleeping pills.


The impression that he had was that his life’s work was being torn apart. The adverse publicity removed his status as a confident and respected artist and what he described as “a good ambassador for this country”. He felt and still feels tainted. His health suffered, and he contracted shingles, which he put down to stress. Although there was no medical evidence as to that causation I accept that throughout the entire period he was the subject of severe stress, and that that stress far exceeded the anxiety, and perhaps some level of stress, that he would inevitably have been under from the investigation by itself had the news of it not been publicised.

In addition to the physical toll, the Judge considered the damage to Sir Cliff’s reputation. After that he assessed General Damages at £190,000, noting that he had no direct comparison in existing case law. The Judge’s candid comment is worth noting: every case is different, and it is part of his job to make assessments like this.

Aggravated Damages

In some cases, the conduct of the Defendant is considered worthy of additional sanction, so that aggravated and, very exceptionally, exemplary damages can be awarded on top of the basic general damages award. Mr Justice Mann considered whether the BBC should pay an additional amount for injury to Sir Cliff’s feelings. In support of this claim, the Claimant alleged the BBC caused suffering due to:

  1. a flagrant disregard for his privacy and failure to give him adequate notice of the broadcast, so depriving him of the opportunity to seek an injunction to prevent the broadcast
  2. a failure to acknowledge wrongdoing or apologise
  3. the Corporation submitting the broadcast to the Royal Television Society awards in the category “Scoop of the Year”
  4. its conduct in litigation
  5. intrusive cross-examination.

The Judge considered each allegation in turn. He considered that the failure to give notice (in point 1) had merit but included that within the existing £190,000 award for general damages.

He dismissed the other points except point 3. The Judge said that the BBC caused additional distress in submitting the broadcast for the award, which it did not win. He awarded Sir Cliff an additional £20,000 by way of aggravated damages.

After this exercise the Judge considered if the overall amount for general and special damages was appropriate. He said:

That gives a total of general and aggravated damages of £210,000. I need to stand back and reflect on whether, overall, that is an appropriate figure to award. Having performed that exercise I am satisfied that it is. It is a large figure, but this was a very serious invasion of privacy rights, which had a very adverse effect on an individual with a high public profile and which was aggravated in the manner to which I have referred.

Special Damages

The Claimant’s quantifiable losses included professional fees due to his solicitors, PR firm, and others. He also claimed to suffer financially due to the loss of opportunity to publish a revised biography.

The Judge was not asked to rule on specific amounts. Instead, to help the parties reach agreement or guide future hearings, he considered whether “causation” was established by the Claimant in respect of the various things Sir Cliff claimed.

Asking the question, “did the breach cause the alleged loss?” he considered the heads of Sir Cliff’s special damages claim in turn, mostly approving them.

(NB It is likely that special damages were also included within the agreed compensation paid by South Yorkshire Police.)

Damages are not a windfall

As Sir Cliff Richard’s case shows, the compensation has been either agreed as fair between the parties, or court ordered after careful examination. In this respect Sir Cliff’s case is identical to every civil compensation award of damages. Money paid is not a “windfall”, “jackpot”, or other disparaging terms. As Mr Justice Mann said:

A claimant is entitled to proper compensatory damages and the figure I have specified is a proper figure for that purpose.

Why Celebrities are Different

Where Sir Cliff’s case differs is in the unusual size of the award for damage to his reputation. Most claimants suffer damage to their reputations in wrongly publicised matters involving the police but they don’t get awarded nearly as much compensation.

Consider my client RL’s story, which has many similarities to Sir Cliff’s case. RL was a working man with no criminal convictions. Essex police raided his flat in error looking for drugs. Both RL and his girlfriend were held in their home for over an hour while the police conducted a full search and established their innocence.

The media were tipped off about the raid, just like in Sir Cliff’s case. Local newspaper staff filmed and photographed the raid and later reported it. The paper described “Arrests after police bust for suspected drug dens”, identified the location in the front page headline “30 police storm homes in Rifle Hill drugs blitz”, and showed a blurred out photograph of a man being led away next to a caption reading “A suspected drug dealer is led away (left) following raids by police in Rifle Hill, Braintree.”

Although Mr L was not identified in publicity, his flat number was clearly visible in one image. The reader would be under the impression that my client was the man being led away.

To make matters worse, the police gave a statement which sought to justify the raid, saying that they went in to my client’s home because “information was brought to our attention about the possibility of drug use”.

Compensation for Damage to Reputation

While there are similarities to Sir Cliff’s case, RL’s case was never going to justify such an award. The damage to his reputation was not as significant as Sir Cliff’s. RL is not a world-famous celebrity. He was not personally identified in media coverage. The allegations were not as offensive to society. And yet the implication that my client was somehow involved in criminal activity still impugned his reputation. He suffered due to the police’s misconduct and was rightly compensated for it. His award was £4,000, which was an excellent settlement in the circumstances, and far more than the £1,500 Essex Police initially offered.

There can be no doubt that Sir Cliff’s high public profile played a part in the size of his award. The nature of the allegations, the “sensationalist” publicity, and his unusually high losses, were all factors. Celebrities may say they’re just like you and me, but in some ways that’s just not true.


Contact Donoghue Solicitors for help with your civil action against the police on 08000 124 246 or by completing the online form on this page.

Should a Criminal Conviction Prevent a Police Officer From Serving?

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, who discusses a criminal conviction for a serving police officer.

Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive considers the consequences of criminal convictions for serving police officers and the public.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive at Donoghue Solicitors

I recently settled a claim against Avon & Somerset Police for Steven Smith. Mr Smith (details used with his kind permission) was assaulted by PC F, a police officer in Bristol. The police officer received a criminal conviction for “assault by beating”. Recently we found out that the officer was still serving. Should he be?

Why Did PC F Get a Criminal Conviction?

You can read the full case report about Steven’s case here.

Briefly, two female police officers, PC P and PC S, escorted Mr Smith out of a pub and ordered him to leave Bristol town centre. A third (male) officer, PC F, joined them outside. Steven refused to leave, and PC P told him he was under arrest. While PC P and PC S were attempting to handcuff Mr Smith, PC F grabbed Steven around the neck from behind using his right arm. A witness described it as a “choke hold where the person’s neck is within the V bend section of the arm”.

Choke holds restrict blood and/ or air flow to the brain. They can cause serious injury and even death. For this reason, they are banned by many police forces. PC F kept Steven Smith in a choke hold for about 15 seconds. During this time Steven momentarily lost consciousness and his legs buckled beneath him. The officers helped him to his feet and drove Mr Smith to a nearby police station to be processed.

At the station the female officers reported their concerns about PC F’s conduct to a custody sergeant. Following an investigation, PC F was prosecuted for the criminal offence of assault by beating.

Two courts found him guilty:

  1. Bath Magistrates’ Court convicted him for assaulting Steven Smith. The officer was fined £100, and ordered to pay a £20 victim surcharge, and £220 costs.
  2. PC F appealed to Bristol Crown Court, where the Court upheld his criminal conviction. The Crown Court judge said that “the force for that 15 second period was disproportionate in all the circumstances and therefore unreasonable.”


My client (it turns out wrongly) thought that the criminal conviction meant that PC F would also be dismissed from the police.

His view was not unreasonable. After all, the police are meant to uphold the law, not break it. And, for a “bobby on the beat”, a conviction for assaulting a member of the public in the course of his employment has added significance. Police officers like PC F routinely use force to arrest people. The burden on them to make sure arrests are effected lawfully, safely, and using appropriate techniques, is high.

Failing to do so can render their conduct unlawful. As Mr Smith’s case shows, this can result in criminal convictions, costly criminal and civil penalties, and reputational damage for the officer and their Police Force. PC F now has a criminal record and was ordered to pay £340 by the Magistrates. His criminal misconduct cost the public too. The taxpayer-funded Avon & Somerset Police rightly paid £4,500 plus legal costs to Mr Smith by way of compensation because it was responsible for the unlawful acts of its officer.

And yet PC F still serves in Avon & Somerset Police.

Misconduct Proceedings

Mr Smith does not know if, or how, Avon & Somerset Police’s internal misconduct proceedings were concluded. (Steven was not a party to them, so was not told.) But PC F continues to serve in Avon & Somerset Police despite his criminal conviction.

My colleague Kevin Donoghue has previously written about how the police misconduct system works. You can read his analysis of the guidance and how it applied to one of his client’s cases here.

Police misconduct is

‘unacceptable or improper behaviour and for police officers will involve a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour set out in Schedule 2 to the Conduct Regulations.’

Gross misconduct, which can result in dismissal from the police, is

‘a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour which is so serious that dismissal would be justified.’

Interestingly, the primary purpose of police misconduct proceedings is not to punish police officers. Instead, they are meant to maintain public confidence. In R (Green) v Police Complaints Authority, Lord Carswell said:

‘Public confidence in the police is a factor of great importance in the maintenance of law and order in the manner which we regard as appropriate in our polity. If citizens feel that improper behaviour on the part of police officers is left unchecked and they are not held accountable for it in a suitable manner, that confidence will be eroded.’

In PC F’s case, it is likely that the panel tasked with considering his misconduct would have looked at the seriousness of the misconduct, the purpose of imposing sanctions, and then chosen an appropriate sanction, if any.

The panel would have looked at the officer’s responsibility for the misconduct, the harm caused, and the existence of aggravating or mitigating factors.

The criminal proceedings will have helped because two criminal courts found that PC F was responsible for assault by beating on a member of the public. He had no one to blame but himself.

A conviction for assault, which undermines public confidence in policing, would have suggested a more serious sanction, such as dismissal for gross misconduct. Relevant aggravating factors to support this include PC F abusing his powers, using gratuitous violence, and the vulnerability of his victim.

But it is likely that PC F presented arguments in mitigation. The police misconduct panel would probably have been asked to read the comments of the Crown Court judge, who described the assault as “a momentary and isolated mistake”. The judge felt that PC F “would still be an asset to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary” despite upholding the lower court’s criminal conviction for assault.

It appears the disciplinary panel was persuaded, as PC F is still serving in the police.

Impact on Public Confidence

After the incident Mr Smith worried that he would be subject to police retribution. Knowing that PC F is still serving in his town heightens that fear. Steven doesn’t want to come across his assailant again. For the wider public, it may come as a surprise to learn that the police misconduct system is focused on maintaining public confidence rather than punishment. This means that serving police officers can keep their jobs despite criminal convictions. Does that inspire confidence in you?


Contact Daniel Fitzsimmons for help with your civil action against the police on 08000 124 246 or by completing the online form on this page.


What Some Domestic Abuse Victims Have in Common

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue, discusses what some domestic abuse victims have in common.

Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors considers the exploitation of domestic abuse victims by sexual predators in the police.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Two recent reports show how some police officers take advantage of victims of domestic abuse. The stories share common themes and fit with my clients’ experiences. This suggests that the problem is widespread, but that it can be readily identified by motivated police officers and, hopefully, prevented.

Metropolitan Police Sergeant Dismissed for Gross Misconduct

On 11 June the Independent Office for Police Conduct confirmed that Police Sergeant Neil Nash, 38, was sacked from the Metropolitan Police Service. In 2015 Nash was the custody sergeant at Plumstead Police Station when a woman was arrested and cautioned for a domestic incident. He obtained her details and went to the woman’s home on numerous occasions. The woman was known to be vulnerable. Despite this the Police Sergeant kissed and attempted to touch her intimately.

The woman complained about PS Nash’s misconduct. On 7 June, the officer was found guilty of gross misconduct and dismissed. Jonathan Green, the Regional Director of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, said,

“Officers are trusted to uphold professional standards of behaviour especially when they come into contact with people who are at their most vulnerable.

“Instead of providing the service expected of a sergeant, PS Nash abused his position of trust, overstepped clear boundaries, and caused psychological harm to this woman.”

A Chief Inspector of Merseyside Police Faces Police Misconduct Panel

On 2 July 2018 Chief Inspector Aneurin Audas faced a misconduct panel to answer allegations that he had “unwanted and inappropriate” contact with a victim of a domestic incident while on duty for Merseyside Police.

The misconduct panel heard that, on 31 March 2011, the Chief Inspector attended a report of a domestic incident and “fondled a domestic violence victim before ‘snogging her’ and groping her breast”. It is also alleged that he returned to the victim’s home address the next day, “without a legitimate policing purpose”.

His conduct is alleged to be in breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour in respect of Discreditable Conduct. Sanctions for this can include dismissal for gross misconduct. The officer denies the allegations. The hearing continues.

Serious Corruption Involving Domestic Abuse Victims

Unscrupulous police officers can take advantage of vulnerable victims of “domestic incidents”. (These can include victims of domestic violence or domestic abuse).

But, as (former) PS Nash’s case shows, internal police Professional Standards Departments take a dim view of this kind of abuse of position for a sexual purpose. This is because it is a form of serious corruption, which is defined 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.”

A 2017 report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) confirmed that this kind of police misconduct is a nationwide problem. It affected all but one police force between March 2014-March 2016.

And the cases described above highlight another pattern which came out in that report: police officers abusing vulnerable victims of domestic abuse.

HMICFRS said that 40% of allegations involved vulnerable victims of crime, and that 39% of accusations of police abuse of position for sexual gain involved victims of domestic abuse.

This shocking statistic may be under-reported. As the 2017 report noted, between 1 December 2013 and 30 November 2014 only 33 officers had been dismissed after having a relationship with a vulnerable person.

This “apparent disconnect” between the number of alleged cases and disciplinary action suggests that some of these predators are still serving, giving them the opportunity to repeat their misconduct.

Common Theme in Domestic Violence Cases

I currently represent, and have previously represented, women across the country who have suffered similar experiences to the two described above. Their stories follow a familiar pattern:

  1. The (female) victim reports a domestic incident. This is usually an incident of domestic violence or a pattern of abuse. She is considered a vulnerable person because of her circumstances.
  2. A (male) police officer attends on his victim at home, strikes up a friendly relationship, and shares contact details.
  3. The officer makes repeated contact, by personal visit, text message, phone calls. These communications become more friendly/ flirty. Often the victim is flattered by the interest from a police officer, someone she holds in high esteem, is attentive, and makes her feel safe.
  4. The police officer makes a sexual advance. In many cases it is unwanted and immediately declined. But, if not immediately rebuffed, he pursues a sexual relationship.
  5. The victim recognises, either immediately or shortly afterwards, that the police officer’s conduct is inappropriate. She reports it and makes a police complaint.
  6. The victim assists the police’s Professional Standards Department with their enquiries by providing evidence, statements, and even evidence at a hearing. This adds to her feelings of stress, guilt, and shame. In some cases, the police abuse leads to long-term psychological damage. It cannot be rationalised or explained away by telling the victim she is not to blame, and that the male officer is the one who abused his position by targeting a vulnerable woman.

While individual circumstances vary, the common theme of a vulnerable victim being abused by a sexual predator is ever-present.


Two out of every five reported incidents of police abuse of position for a sexual purpose involve vulnerable victims of domestic incidents. There may be many more.

Sadly, this is an entirely preventable problem which affects countless victims and undermines public confidence in the police. But this type of serious corruption often follows predictable patterns. Fellow officers and internal police force investigators need to be aware of them to prevent misconduct by the abusers in uniform.

Contact Kevin Donoghue for help with your civil action against the police by calling 08000 124 246 or completing the online form on this page.

Taking the biscuit with the Police Code of Ethics

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who discusses the police's Code of Ethics.

Kevin Donoghue discusses the police’s Code of Ethics.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor 

This morning, I appeared on Nick Ferrari’s LBC radio programme to discuss PC Thomas Hooper’s disciplinary hearing.
Among other charges, PC Hooper is alleged to have stolen a colleague’s biscuits. This led to questions about whether the allegations against him merit a full disciplinary hearing. In the comments section of the Evening Standard piece, one person said:
With all the serious stuff going on in the world is a police officer taking a tin of biscuits and speeding in a police vehicle really worth a police misconduct hearing, surely a severe ticking off by a senior officer would have sufficed.
I suspect many would agree if it was as simple as that. But when we dig deeper it’s clear why this matter went to a disciplinary panel. It is about more than a tin of biscuits. As I understand it, there are three allegations against this Metropolitan Police officer. It is alleged that he:
1. misappropriated property (stole the biscuits) AND
2. sought to abuse his position to have a fixed penalty notice for speeding cancelled AND
3. gave false statements in respect of both allegations.
If proven, the allegations against PC Hooper are serious, and go right to the heart of public trust in the police and the officer’s integrity. They matter because police officers are professionals. This means that they, like solicitors and doctors, are bound by a Code of Ethics, which you can read here. The police’s Code is meant to:
support each member of the policing profession to deliver the highest professional standards in their service to the public.
It is rooted in Sir Robert Peel’s 1829 “principles”. Peel’s principles emphasise the need for the police to “secure and maintain public respect”. They have been updated for modern policing in the 2014 Code of Ethics. It is based on nine policing principles, which are:
You are answerable for your decisions, actions and omissions.
You treat people fairly.
You are truthful and trustworthy.
You always do the right thing.
You lead by good example.
You make choices on evidence and your best professional judgement.
You are open and transparent in your actions and decisions.
You treat everyone with respect.
You act in the public interest.

Applying the Police Code of Ethics

The Code of Ethics applies the policing principles in Standards of Professional Behaviour. The Standards “reflect the expectations that the professional body and the public have of the behaviour of those working in policing.”
In PC Hooper’s case, the most important and relevant Standard is the first one:
1. Honesty and integrity
I will be honest and act with integrity at all times, and will not compromise or abuse my position.
This would cover the first two allegations. The third allegation is also dealt with in a guidance box for the first standard:
Examples of meeting this standard are when you:
• are sincere and truthful
• do not knowingly make false, misleading or inaccurate oral or written statements in any professional context.
The disciplinary panel must decide if PC Hooper failed to meet this Standard, and any other relevant ones, in respect of the allegations made against him.

Sanctions for Breach of the Code of Ethics

If proven, the allegations against PC Hooper would amount to a breach of the Code of Ethics. It would then fall to the disciplinary panel to decide on an appropriate sanction. Options include management advice, written warnings, and dismissal.
But what of the suggestion that this is a storm in a teacup (presumably served without biscuits)? Could the police have dealt with it informally? Again, the police Code of Ethics addresses this at point 5.1.1 by noting that
Different procedures exist according to the type of unprofessional behaviour or misconduct alleged.
Supervisors are expected to use their professional judgment and discretion to proportionately deal with alleged unprofessional behaviour. Where appropriate, they must
act where a concern is raised about any behaviour, level of performance or conduct which may amount to a breach of the Code. (rule 5.1.4)
Actions to address breaches range from a “ticking off” (at the lower end of the scale) to referrals for disciplinary hearings, suspension, dismissal, and criminal proceedings (at the higher end). PC Hooper’s supervisors clearly felt a referral to the Directorate of Professional Standards was appropriate. Is it because, along with the serious allegations we know about, there is even more to this story? The Evening Standard reports Inspector Mark Bullen
said there had been a number of aggravating factors which had led to the misconduct allegations rather than matters being dealt with by way of management advice.
For transparency and to give the panel all relevant information, details of the “aggravating factors” should also come out in the hearing, which continues.
Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police.

Will the Independent Office for Police Conduct Work?

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor, who discusses the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue discusses issues with the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director of  Donoghue Solicitors

On Monday 8 January 2018 the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) replaced the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). The IOPC is now responsible for overseeing the police complaints system in England and Wales.

The government describes the IOPC as “the reformed police watchdog”. Many who dealt with the IPCC agree that change was long overdue. But will it improve the police complaints system?

What Changes?

1. Leadership Structure

The Independent Office for Police Conduct has a new leadership structure compared to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Dame Anne Owers, Chair of the IPCC and its Commissioners, has been replaced by Michael Lockwood, Director General of the IOPC, and a Board. The new organisation has non-executive directors, and executive team, Regional Directors, and a Director for Wales.

The government says this set up:

“will ensure clear lines of accountability and a streamlined decision-making process.” The IOPC says this change was necessary because “Since 2013, we have doubled in size and now take on six times as many investigations. This led us to ask the Home Office for structural changes to better suit our much-expanded organisation. These changes were agreed through the Policing and Crime Act 2017.”

Michael Lockwood is an accountant with a background in local government. Neither he, nor the executive team, regional directors, or Director for Wales, have a police background. They say:

“We are independent, and make our decisions entirely independently of the police and government.”

2. Increased Powers

While she was Home Secretary, Theresa May introduced measures which became the Policing and Crime Act (2017). (I wrote about why she did this here.) The government says that the Policing and Crime Act will enable the IOPC to:

  • initiate its own investigations without relying on a force to record and refer a particular case for investigation
  • reopen cases it has closed where there are compelling reasons, such as new evidence
  • increase the IOPC’s independence from the police by abolishing ‘managed’ and ‘supervised’ investigations
  • investigate all disciplinary investigations against chief officers
  • present cases against officers in the police disciplinary process when the force disagrees with the IOPC’s findings.

Government Minister Nick Hurd said the effect of these changes will be to:

“provide powerful scrutiny for policing, with new powers to begin investigations when they are deemed appropriate and be decisive in concluding cases.”

3. User-Friendly Website and Social Media Presence

The new IOPC website (www.policeconduct.gov.uk) replaces the old, and to many, confusing www.ipcc.gov.uk site (this domain name now takes you to the IOPC site). The new site is mobile-friendly and easy to navigate. This is important as many people use their smartphones to get access to the internet. In the same vein, the IOPC has replaced the IPCC on social media. Follow it on twitter @policeconduct. Contact the IOPC’s helpdesk on twitter at @IOPC_Help.

What Stays the Same?

As with the IPCC, the Independent Office for Police Conduct oversees the police complaints system and sets standards by which police deal with complaints in England and Wales. It is not limited to the police though, as the IOPC oversees:

  • all police forces in England and Wales
  • the National Crime Agency
  • Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs
  • the parts of the Home Office that carry out border and immigration functions
  • police and crime commissioners
  • the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime
  • the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority
  • British Transport Police
  • Ministry of Defence Police.

Even though the IOPC’s new powers (mentioned in 2 above) come from the Policing and Crime Act 2017, it has yet to implement most of the changes. This means that, on the IOPC’s inception date (8 January 2018) the old, and  much-derided systems, remain in force. For example, the IOPC’s statutory guidance is inherited from the IPCC. The IOPC says that it will update this in summer 2018, and issue advice notes as required. But for now, it is a carbon copy of the IPCC’s police complaints scheme. This means that most complaints are still dealt with internally by police force Professional Standards Departments. This is especially concerning in cases of serious corruption involving senior police officers, as I explained in this blog: Are police sexual exploitation cases being brushed under the carpet?

As the screenshot below shows, a twitter user asked the IOPC when it expects to “be able to initiate inquiries without referral from a force and to determine appeals”. The IOPC said “The Home Office anticipate they will bring these powers in early 2019.”

A tweet from the IOPC

A tweet from the IOPC confirming an implementation date of new powers.

The Challenge for the Independent Office for Police Conduct

Hailing the IOPC, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service Nick Hurd said:

“We are absolutely determined to make the police complaints and discipline systems simpler and more transparent for the benefit of the public. We want confidence in policing to continue to grow and be underpinned by the vital role the reformed IOPC will play.”

While they are laudable aims, people who want to bring complaints against the police now or in the near future are unlikely to notice any changes. They will be met with the same frustrations, delays, and avoidance tactics by the police. For many victims of police misconduct, the inadequate police complaints system adds insult to injury.

I am disappointed that the publicity surrounding the new watchdog was not backed up with real, actionable, power from day one. It’s important for public confidence in the police service that the government and IOPC move swiftly and decisively to implement the Policing and Crime Act statutory powers. Without them, replacing the IPCC with the IOPC will be little more than a wasteful rebranding exercise.


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


How police ignore guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings

Photo of Solicitor Kevin Donoghue, who considers the impact of the new guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings.

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue considers the impact of the new guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Last week the College of Policing issued a new document: “Guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings”.

The College, which issued the guidance, describes itself as “the professional body for everyone who works for the police service in England and Wales. Our purpose is to provide those working in policing with the skills and knowledge necessary to prevent crime, protect the public and secure public trust.”

The College says that the guidance should help those who conduct misconduct proceedings. It does not replace existing guidance. Instead, it pulls together relevant legislation, case law, and good practice into one document. By doing so, the College hopes the guidance will “bring consistency in applicable outcomes following findings in misconduct proceedings.”

But it warns that it “does not override the discretion of the person presiding over the proceedings and it cannot and should not prescribe the outcome.” It also says that even though, “The guidance is there to assist those presiding over misconduct proceedings, they are not required to use it.“

So what’s the point? The College says that it is there to “assist ensuring consistency in decision making.”

If so, then it could help promote fairness to both police and public, accountability, and transparency. Such guidance is long overdue. Because, as, one of my client’s cases shows, decisions in police misconduct proceedings can be curiously lenient to say the least.

Police Assault and Battery

Recently, my client “Peter” settled his compensation claim against Northamptonshire Police for £10,000 plus legal costs.

Peter and his partner were separated. She had the children. One evening Peter was home in his flat when his partner called. She told Peter that she did not like him and he would never see his children again. He was upset and got drunk to numb his feelings. The neighbour in the flat below called the police, saying that she heard crying and banging.

Two officers, a female police constable (PC C) and male special constable (SPC Y), were sent to investigate. The call was logged as ‘a person threatening to commit suicide’. (Peter denied he wanted to do this.) Paramedics also attended with an ambulance.

The female police officer, PC C, was wearing a body worn video camera. It filmed some of what happened. PC C talked to Peter, who said he did not want their help or to go to hospital.

The officers ignored Peter’s wishes and tried to get him to his feet. They banged his head on a wall and pushed him against it. They handcuffed Peter to the rear, telling him this was “for his own safety”.

The officers walked Peter out of his flat onto a communal landing area above a stairwell. They started walking down the stairs. The handcuffs hurt. They were too tight, and Peter begged the police to remove them. He got upset and raised his voice when they ignored him. SPC Y told Peter to stop shouting or “I will drag you down”.

Peter, who was still drunk, said, “Do it. Do it.” The special constable said, “O.K.” and pulled Peter forwards. Peter fell face first down six stairs. The handcuffs prevented him breaking his fall. Peter smashed his face and right shoulder against the wall and floor at the bottom of the stairs.

He screamed in pain. SPC Y aggressively shouted, “Get up!”. Peter thought the police officer might assault him again, so he kneed the special constable in the groin.

The police dragged Peter to his feet and SPC Y put him in a headlock. They took him to the ambulance and SPC Y told Peter that he is under arrest for assaulting a police officer.

SPC Y put leg straps on Peter. These, with the handcuffs, made Peter completely immobile and vulnerable.

But SPC Y goaded him, asking Peter “How many of us would you like to come down and sit on yer?”

The paramedics took Peter to hospital. Blood tests confirmed Peter had not taken any medication. As he had said, he did not attempt suicide.

The police took Peter to Brackmills Criminal Justice Centre. An officer interviewed Peter and put the “assault PC” allegation to him. Peter denied he was responsible and said again that SPC Y threw him down the stairs.

The police released Peter after 17 hours saying they would take “no further action”.

Peter filed a complaint against the police and an investigator took a statement from him. Investigators also took statements from PC C and SPC Y, and interviewed them both under caution. PC C described the actions of SPC Y- of pulling Peter down the stairs- as being “incorrect” and “excessive”.

But despite this SPC Y denied any wrongdoing. Even though PC C’s body worn video showed what had happened, he denied dragging Peter down the stairs. He said that he had merely pulled Peter closer to him to take him down the stairs. And he blamed Peter for his fall, saying that Peter dropped his weight on his legs and fell down.

SPC Y was unrepentant. He maintained that his actions were reasonable, lawful, and necessary.

Despite this, he was accused of alleged gross misconduct. After a misconduct hearing SPC Y received “final written warnings” in respect of three proven misconduct charges:

  1. authority, respect and courtesy
  2. use of force
  3. discreditable conduct.

Was that the right decision? Consider the “Guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings” and make your own mind up.

What is police misconduct?

The “Guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings” says that:

Misconduct is generally defined as unacceptable or improper behaviour and for police officers will involve a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour set out in Schedule 2 to the Conduct Regulations.

Under Regulation 3(1) of the Conduct Regulations:

  • misconduct means a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour
  • gross misconduct means a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour which is so serious that dismissal would be justified.

Purpose of police misconduct regime

It might surprise you to find out that “misconduct proceedings are not designed to punish police officers” (point 2.10). Instead, maintaining public confidence is key. As Lord Carswell stated in R (Green) v Police Complaints Authority:

“Public confidence in the police is a factor of great importance in the maintenance of law and order in the manner which we regard as appropriate in our polity. If citizens feel that improper behaviour on the part of police officers is left unchecked and they are not held accountable for it in a suitable manner, that confidence will be eroded.”

On this basis, the guidance states that the police misconduct regime should:

  • maintain public confidence in and the reputation of the police service
  • uphold high standards in policing and deter misconduct
  • protect the public.

There is a three-stage test for adjudicators considering police misconduct. They must:

  1. assess the seriousness of the misconduct
  2. keep in mind the purpose of imposing sanctions
  3. choose the sanction which most appropriately fulfils that purpose for the seriousness of the conduct in question.

Seriousness of police misconduct

The panel should assess seriousness by considering:

  • the officer’s culpability for the misconduct
  • the harm caused by the misconduct
  • the existence of any aggravating factors
  • the existence of any mitigating factors.

As the guidance notes at 4.10:

Culpability denotes the officer’s blameworthiness or responsibility for their actions. The more culpable or blameworthy the behaviour in question, the more serious the misconduct and the more severe the likely outcome.

And, at 4.11:

Conduct which is intentional, deliberate, targeted or planned will generally be more culpable than conduct which has unintended consequences, although the consequences of an officer’s actions will be relevant to the harm caused.

Consider SPC Y’s conduct in the light of this guidance.

SPC Y had no power in law to arrest Peter. This is because he had no honest belief that Peter was guilty of the offence for which he was arrested. He deprived Peter of his liberty without legal cause. False imprisonment is a serious matter.

Also, the special constable deliberately (or recklessly) assaulted Peter. SPC Y then tormented Peter, abusing his position of authority and humiliating his victim. After that SPC Y tried to avoid responsibility for his actions, blaming Peter for his fall. He refused to apologise or accept blame, even in the face of criticism from his colleague PC C and her body worn video evidence.

There is no doubt in my mind that SPC Y was responsible for his actions. This should have put him in the “more severe” category of likely outcomes.


Moving on to the harm caused by the misconduct, the guidance lists physical injury and loss of liberty as types of harm (at 4.57). It notes that “harm will likely undermine public confidence in policing.” And urges adjudicators to “always take seriously misconduct which undermines discipline and good order within the police service…”

SPC Y appeared to be out of control when he assaulted Peter. Even after the initial assault, he failed to regain his composure. He put Peter in a headlock, applied leg straps, and goaded him. Taken together, these physical assaults and false imprisonment amounted to harm likely to “undermine public confidence in policing.”

Aggravating Factors

The guidance describes aggravating factors in police misconduct proceedings as “those tending to worsen the circumstances of the case, either in relation to the officer’s culpability or the harm caused.”

Relevant factors which show a higher level of culpability or harm include:

  • abuse of trust, position, powers or authority
  • deliberate or gratuitous violence or damage to property
  • concealing wrongdoing in question and/or attempting to blame others
  • vulnerability of the victim.

SPC Y abused his position of authority as a police officer. He deliberately and repeatedly assaulted an intoxicated, and vulnerable, victim. He then tried to deflect blame, and refused to apologise for his wrongdoing. All this suggests a higher level of culpability and harm to the victim.

Mitigating Factors

The guidance says “Mitigating factors are those tending to reduce the seriousness of the misconduct.”

We don’t know what SPC Y raised in mitigation during his misconduct hearing. Relevant factors may have included:

  • misconduct confined to a single episode or brief duration
  • any element of provocation, threat or disturbance which may have affected the officer’s judgement, eg, in relation to the use of force in the heat of the moment
  • acting pursuant to a legitimate policing purpose or in good faith, ie, a genuine belief that there was a legitimate purpose but getting things wrong
  • mental ill health, disability, medical condition or stress which may have affected the officer’s ability to cope with the circumstances in question
  • whether the officer was required to act outside their level of experience and/or without appropriate training or supervision

SPC Y may also have offered personal mitigation, references etc.

Applying the guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings

SPC Y’s conduct was considered serious enough to be dealt with at a misconduct hearing. The available sanctions were:

  • management advice
  • written warning
  • final written warning
  • dismissal with notice
  • dismissal without notice.

The guidance emphasises the need to “Consider less severe outcomes before more severe outcomes” and the misconduct panel stopped short of dismissal. It issued final written warnings instead. Why? When you consider the seriousness of his misconduct and the College of Policing guidance it strikes me that SPC Y got off lightly.

Peter and I both share concerns that this sends the wrong message to SPC Y and his colleagues. In effect, you’ll get away with it, even with body worn video evidence proving police misconduct.

The College of Policing says it hopes “The introduction of the guidance will mean there is increased fairness and proportionality in cases which is important for officers and public confidence in the hearings.”

If the way SPC Y’s misconduct was dealt with is anything to go by, it is long overdue.


Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor and specialist in police misconduct compensation claims.