Kevin Donoghue, solicitor and specialist in civil actions against the police, explains why police corruption goes unpunished in this blog post.
Today I had to do something I did not want to do. I told a potential client that I could not help him bring a seemingly good claim on the merits.
This is why.
What Crown Prosecutors Say Happened
In 2008 Richard Diaper was just 17 years old when he was brutally assaulted with a baseball bat at a garage in Tonypandy, Rhondda, South Wales. His attackers repeatedly struck Richard to the head while he was getting cash.
Richard suffered nasty injuries and reported the attack to South Wales Police. Detective Constable Marc Hopkins investigated it. The police arrested five men on suspicion of serious assault. It appeared they mistook Richard for someone else.
Richard gave a statement to the police and co-operated fully. Then he started getting threatening phone calls telling him to withdraw his statement. He told DC Hopkins, but the officer played down the calls, failed to formally record Mr Diaper’s report about them, or follow up by investigating phone records. He also ignored orders to seize the accused mens’ phones and the clothing they used during the assault.
Richard also got a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Manchester drugs underworld offering him £3,000 to drop his statement. He reported this to the police too.
Most unusually, DC Hopkins went to Richard’s home while off-duty. He advised the 17-year-old to take the money and withdraw his statement.
Richard felt intimidated by the senior police officer. Mr Diaper felt like he had no choice and did as he was told. DC Hopkins countersigned a form to end the investigation. The case against the five men collapsed.
Six years later the police contacted Mr Diaper about DC Hopkins’ handling of the investigation. Professional Standards Department investigators said that it was alleged DC Hopkins took a bribe to get Richard to withdraw his statement. Richard was shocked and upset. Richard, his mother, and a friend all co-operated with the investigation and prosecution.
DC Hopkins denied the allegations and the case went to Cardiff Crown Court for a jury trial.
Crown Court Trial
DC Hopkins claimed that the allegations against him were false. He said that his (now ex-) wife, Tina Burton, reported him to the police “out of pure malice” after their marriage ended badly.
Ms Burton gave evidence that the owner of the garage where Richard was assaulted was a friend of DC Phil Simmons, one of DC Hopkins’ colleagues.
She said this officer told DC Hopkins that there would be a substantial amount of money for them if Richard withdrew his statement. Ms Burton reported that DC Hopkins later came home with a “wad of cash”. (The jury was told DC Hopkins was paid £5,000.)
After a trial the jury found the South Wales Police officer guilty of perverting the court of justice. Recorder Eleri Rees sentenced Hopkins to four years in prison. He said,
“You had an unblemished record as a police officer. And that makes it all the more astonishing you were corrupted in this way. Your actions were cynical and motivated by greed and you have shown little remorse.”
And the Assistant Chief Constable of South Wales Police described DC Hopkins’ conduct as
“an appalling example of police corruption”.
DC Hopkins was dismissed from South Wales Police. Deputy Chief Constable Richard Lewis found that he had breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour and said
“This matter has undoubtedly brought the police service and specifically South Wales Police into disrepute with our communities.”
Legal Assessment of this Police Corruption Case
I’m not exaggerating when I say that civil actions against the police are among the hardest legal cases to win. The deck is stacked against innocent victims of police corruption. They have to fight an arm of the State, the most well-funded and motivated defendant there is. Cases can take years. There are no guarantees of success.
Despite this, I have a proven record against the police, especially South Wales Police. Richard contacted me because I have nearly two decades’ experience in this niche area of law. He wanted an honest, realistic appraisal of his case.
To the inexperienced, his case appears straightforward. A criminal conviction for perverting the course of justice is compelling evidence of wrongdoing.
Not so fast.
When I looked at Richard’s case I noted the positives, such as the officer’s criminal conviction, but also the negatives.
These included the effects of the limitation period, which prevents claimants from issuing proceedings out-of-time. In Mr Diaper’s case my assessment went like this:
I considered his potential losses and causes of action. It appeared that Richard could sue the Chief Constable of South Wales Police for the acts or omissions of his officer, DC Hopkins. Richard could potentially bring a civil action against the Chief Constable for the tort of misfeasance in public office.
I then moved on to deal with the issue of delay.
The incident giving rise to a potential claim happened in 2008, when Richard was just 17. Because he was not yet an adult at that time, the courts would allow six years from Mr Diaper’s 18th birthday for the limitation “clock” to expire.
So it appeared Mr Diaper, who turned 24 in 2015, contacted me four years too late. But some civil claims against the police benefit from time-limit flexibility under the Limitation Acts. Could Richard use them to apply for relief?
Sadly, in my opinion, no. Unlike say, the three-year personal injury time limit, the six-year time limit which applies to misfeasance in public office claims cannot be extended.
So a claim against South Wales Police was bound to fail due to the delay.
But what about compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority?
Richard would not succeed there either, even though he was seriously injured. This is because
1. he failed to support the prosecution, and
2. is considerably out of time. (There is a two-year time limit on CICA claims.)
Richard kindly agreed to me bringing attention to his situation in the hope that it will help others.
He is understandably disappointed. I am too. I work hard to help victims of police corruption get the justice they deserve. The delay means that a South Wales Police officer’s misconduct will go unpunished.
Don’t delay if you want to bring a civil action against the police. Contact me on 08000 124 246 or complete the short online form here.