Why Sorry Should Not be the Hardest Word

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, explains why sorry seems to be the hardest word for the police.

Why don’t the police say sorry? Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, describes why they should change their approach to apologies here.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

I recently settled a police abuse of authority for sexual gain compensation claim against Greater Manchester Police (GMP). My client, a vulnerable victim of crime, was “groomed” into a sexual relationship by PC Simon Rose, a (then-serving) police officer. Rose is currently serving a three-year sentence for his criminal misconduct, having been found guilty of misconduct in public office and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

GMP paid my client £20,000 compensation and her legal costs but refused to apologise for the heinous acts of their employee.

The force’s stance is morally reprehensible, financially wrong-headed, and politically naive. This is why.

What happened?

“Jane” (name changed to preserve her anonymity), first came into contact with Greater Manchester Police’s PC Simon Rose after reporting that she had been raped at knifepoint and abducted by two men.

As this report in the Manchester Evening News points out, Rose was a “specially trained officer involved in dealing with rape and sexual assault allegations.” In that special role, he gained special access to vulnerable people like my client and, in this case, went to her home alone from the first visit. PC Rose was professional at first and followed a well-known playbook used by police sexual predators, which I describe here: How Police Officers Groom People for Sexual Abuse.

Understandably, Jane was distressed by what had happened. PC Rose took her to a local police station to give an interview. She then went to hospital to get forensic exam.

Rose later shared his personal phone number with her, despite there being no policing reason, and no longer having conduct of the investigation. Over time, he developed a sexual relationship with Jane.

So effective was his grooming that, even when he admitted being in a relationship with another woman and saying that he would not leave her, my client continued to keep in touch with the serving officer. PC Rose showed that he was aware that what he was doing was wrong because he constantly reminded her to delete messages and that “we didn’t know each other”.

The police officer’s sexual misconduct only came to light when he was part of a three-officer arrest warrant team sent to conduct a raid at Jane’s home. (She was not involved in any criminal behaviour: her address was wrongly given to the authorities by a wanted man.) PC Rose only learned of the address while the police were on their way to execute the warrant. He refused to help execute the arrest warrant and asked his colleagues to disregard any evidence they found which could result in his dismissal. This resulted in the raid being abandoned and Rose’s misconduct was uncovered.

Rose fought the allegations all the way to a Liverpool Crown Court trial. My client gave evidence in that intimidating venue, compounding her emotional distress and upset. As the MEN report points out:

In an impact statement today, the victim told how they had a close emotional relationship after their initial sexual encounters and when he suddenly ended all contact she did not know what she had done wrong and felt used and upset. She said the lies he had told during the trial “were horrible. I knew they were wrong.” The woman also said that she has been left with sleep problems and panic attacks and her relationship with her partner and children has been adversely affected.


How Greater Manchester Police Handled My Client’s Civil Compensation Claim

Jane first came into contact with PC Rose as a vulnerable victim of sexual crime. Now, as a result of one of the force’s serving officers, she was victimised again.

Her psychological distress and mistrust of the police were entirely understandable and reasonable. But GMP needed my client to help them bring PC Rose to justice. She was the only person who could attest to his criminal sexual misconduct.

Knowing this, the Independent Office for Police Conduct and force’s officers sought, and obtained, a witness statement and Jane’s subsequent co-operation in the criminal proceedings. Despite her own misgivings, Jane fully co-operated with the police, IOPC, and CPS. And, when Rose refused to accept wrongdoing, she bravely gave live evidence in his criminal trial, during which she was subjected to a brutal cross-examination by his defence barrister.

You would think that, after helping bring a sexual criminal to justice, the police would appreciate her pivotal role when it came to civil proceedings.

Sadly not.

Instead, when Jane instructed me to bring a civil action against the police, we were met with delays and denials. While the force’s lawyers accepted the jury’s findings (how could they not?), they did not accept that civil liability flowed from it. The police referred to the well-known case of Three Rivers DC v Bank of England [2006], which you can read more about here.

In essence, the force argued that my client’s case did not satisfy the Three Rivers legal tests because, among other things, they argued that:

  1. she could not prove loss or damage
  2. PC Rose did not target her with malice
  3. the officer’s misconduct was not based in his functions as a public officer.

The police’s denial of liability meant that, after all Jane’s help in bringing Rose to justice, they had no further use for her.

Worse still, the force refused to compensate my client or apologise for the actions of their officer.

I assured Jane that, despite the police’s stonewalling, I had every confidence in her case, and would take it as far as necessary.

I am happy to confirm that, with Jane’s brave, determined help, I negotiated a £20,000 plus legal costs settlement which reflected just compensation under our civil court system.

Disappointing Failure by the Police

The civil courts do not provide claimants with a way of forcing defendants to apologise. Instead, they order compensation to put the claimant in the position as if the wrong causing the loss had never happened, knowing full well that compensation cannot adequately reflect the pain, suffering, and distress victims like Jane suffer.

Despite this, as explained here, apologies can be offered by the police at any time, outside of any court settlement or order. They can impress judges and juries and to help restore public confidence, show savvy media relations, and lead by example, apologies can go a long way.

And yet, in Jane’s case, despite ultimately paying compensation, Greater Manchester Police stubbornly refused to apologise. Instead, GMP Deputy Chief Constable Terry Woods said after PC Simon Rose’s conviction:

“It is imperative that police officers are held accountable for their actions.

“We treat allegations of misconduct with the utmost seriousness and, whilst this investigation has been led by the IOPC, we have supported investigators fully.

“I am deeply disappointed by this officer’s conduct and, now the trial has concluded, misconduct proceedings will commence.”

He’s not the only disappointed one. My client was “deeply disappointed” by Woods’ shameful failure to say sorry, and for the force to handle her claim with the respect and dignity she clearly deserved.

Financial Imperative to Apologise

GMP’s refusal to accept responsibility and apologise for the actions of one of its officers makes DCC Terry Woods’ words sound hollow.

And it could potentially cost them. Recently, the National Police Chiefs Council complained that cuts under Conservative-led governments have negatively impacted policing.

As a National Police Chiefs Council spokesperson said:

“Detection and charge rates for a range of crimes have fallen over the past five years.

“This has been impacted by austerity and the loss of thousands of police officers and staff, increasing complexity of policing and crime, growing demand related to mental ill health and impact of backlogs in the court system.”

While there may be some truth to that, when considering civil claims, it is important to remember that an apology costs nothing. And, in cases where aggravated damages are awarded, a genuine, heartfelt apology can save the police money when compensation is considered.

This is because judges and juries take into account how the police conducted themselves during the civil court proceedings when considering aggravated damages. Civil courts take a dim view of forces who refuse to accept responsibility, especially when they act in a “high-handed, insulting, malicious, or oppressive” way.

Regulator and Political Interest in How the Police Conduct Claims

Lastly, embracing apologies makes sense from a management and political perspective.

Greater Manchester Police has been in “special measures” since December 2020. This means the force is subject to greater oversight from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. How GMP handles civil claims ought to interest this regulator and our politicians, because it highlights how GMP’s current Chief Constable Stephen Watson and senior officers view accountability at an organisational level. As GMP’s former Chief Constable Ian Hopkins found to his cost, failing to fix this dysfunctional force can cost you your job.

Apology Benefits

To quote Elton John, for some in the police “sorry seems to be the hardest word”. They can point fingers at the government and complain that they’re underfunded, but this lack of resources is partially of their own making.

For many victims of police misconduct, an early, heartfelt apology would go a long way to taking the heat out of incredibly fraught situations. Inevitably, a more conciliatory approach from the police would promote cheaper, quicker claim settlements, saving the police two scarce resources: time and money. Simply put, when it comes to apologies, the police can’t afford to be so pig-headed.

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