Police Law Blog European Decisions Statutory Materials

Damages for unlawful arrest, consequent assault and unlawful detention

  • The High Court assessed damages for three Claimants at £2,500, £11,950 and £7,000.
  • Police officers’ denying the allegations against them during disciplinary investigations and a criminal trial could not sound in aggravated damages;
  • No damages for being cross-examined robustly by the officers’ counsel in criminal proceedings.

It is not common to find modern valuations of damages, so this recent case of Mohidin and Ors v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2015] EWHC 2740 (QB) provides some welcome updating. It involved a civil-action against the police brought by three claimants, described in the judgment as “Arab youths”, for assault, false imprisonment, unlawful detention, racial discrimination and personal injury.

Of some interest, aside from the damages, were the observations, some might think obvious, that:

i. The officers’ acquittal as defendants in a criminal trial arising from the facts of this incident were irrelevant in the civil action: para 18. The judge did not state it but both acquittals and convictions are inadmissible at common law. Convictions are admissible only pursuant to statute;

ii. The admissible similar-fact evidence of previous complaints made against the police officers was, ultimately, entirely unhelpful: para 28;

iii. The fact that the claimants had criminal records was, also, of no real relevance: para 265. Much is made of civilian complainants’ past criminal offences in police misconduct hearings but it often doesn’t wash well in civil actions.

The judge also criticised some of the evidence from the police officers themselves. Where one officer had made a witness statement supporting the claimants, the wholesale traducing of him and his reputation by the other officers was strongly criticised, as were the officers’ solicitors and, impliedly, their Federation Representatives, for including irrelevant material in their witness statements. Of the solicitors, the judge stated, “their job as lawyers is not merely to enable clients or witnesses to say anything they want. They have a duty to the court to see to it that irrelevant, vexatious or abusive material is excluded.” I would think it the experience of many advocates that in many cases, whether misconduct, civil actions or inquests, this is a duty “more honour’d in the breach than in the observance.”

The judge considered that the evidence of the three claimants about their psychological injuries was largely exaggerated and he rejected nearly all of it. Still, damages were valued at £2,500, £11,950 and £7,000. Although not mentioned below, for those who are interested in such things it is worth reading the discussion in the case as to the applicability of the Vento guidelines (well known in employment law) when considering aggravated damages as damages for injury to feelings: from para 369 in the judgment.

Damages for OM

OM was unlawfully forced into a van, which was therefore a battery. He was falsely imprisoned for a few minutes, during which time a police officer verbally abused him, including racially.

OM claimed that he suffered from pain and also shock from the indignity of being detained. He contended that he had suffered acute stress disorder for 3-4 weeks and claimed aggravated damages on the basis that he had been detained in full view, was treated in a high handed and abusive manner by a police constable and supervising sergeant and that the actions of the police were racist.

The judge rejected that OM had consequently suffered from acute-stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. He also rejected that OM had genuinely wanted to join the police before the incident – which is a claim one sometimes sees in civil actions. He awarded damages on the basis that OM had suffered minor pain, suffering and loss of amenity together with feelings of upset for a few days. OM was, therefore, to be compensated for detention for a period of five minutes. On the basis of the figures in Thompson, the appropriate figure for basic damages was £200.

As to aggravated damages, the police treated OM in a manner which was intentionally humiliating, racist and involved the implied threat of violence. The judge rejected the submission that such damages should be reduced on account of OM’s having committed a number of previous criminal offences, it bearing the implication that the racist humiliation of a youth was somehow less serious if he had already come to police attention.

The judge therefore awarded aggravated damages on the basis that OM had ensured racist abuse and threats for a few minutes, albeit that it was direct and aggressive. It caused no significant effects. He awarded the sum of £2,300.

Therefore the total award amounted to £2,500. The judge made no award of exemplary damages, stating that the level of damages awarded were already sufficiently punitive in their effect.

Damages for BK

BK was unlawfully arrested. A police sergeant abused and struck him following which a police constable struck him, abused him and grabbed him around the neck, causing difficulties in breathing. The verbal abuse included racial abuse. The same constable forced BK to kneel with his hands in handcuffs behind his back, both within the van for five minutes to the police station and then thereafter for about twenty minutes with no justification. He was falsely imprisoned until his release the following day, during the course of which he was strip-searched.

BK claimed that he had been caused fear, anxiety and distress, that he had suffered pain and reddening of the wrists, loss of liberty and that he had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder for one year.

The judge rejected that BK had suffered from hyper-arousal, exaggerated startle response or post-traumatic stress disorder, holding that he had misled the medical expert about the effects of the incident. He found, instead, that BK was shaken-up and distressed by the events but that he was well enough to leave the house within three days. BK was therefore to be compensated for detention for nearly twenty hours, during which he was strip-searched. The appropriate figure was £4,500 for basic damages and £250 for pain, suffering and loss of amenity.

As to aggravated damages, BK was sixteen years old, he endured a wrongful arrest, a blow with some abuse from one officer, a sustained assault from another, accompanied by racist abuse which included being grabbed fiercely round the neck, being pulled on to the floor and being made to kneel unnecessarily in handcuffs for humiliation. This took place in front of a police sergeant who let it continue. False allegations were made about BK at the police station, leading to him being wrongly strip-searched. The judge said this was a “bad case” and awarded £7,200.

The total award amounted to £11,950. The judge awarded no exemplary damages for the same reason as stated above.

Damages for AH

AH alleged that he had been subjected to a terrifying and humiliating ordeal in which he was unlawfully arrested, suffered bruising to his throat, both arms, left wrist, behind the right ear, scratches to his left shoulder and swelling over both shins. He claimed to have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said was continuing more than eight years after the incident.

The judge accepted that AH suffered from low mood and depressive symptoms but rejected that they were caused by post-traumatic stress disorder or depressive illness caused by this incident. He was a heavy user of cannabis and had earlier previous convictions.

Damages would be for detention lasting ten hours, which included a personal search. AH’s injuries were painful but the effects would have worn off within seven days. The judge valued the basic award at £3,000 with an additional £500 for pain, suffering and loss of amenity.

AH claimed aggravated damages, stating that he endured a grave affront to his personal dignity, a terrifying and degrading ordeal, racist behaviour, a failure of police officers to intervene or report the incident, fabrication of police accounts, the uncertainty of knowing whether or not he would be charged with threats to kill a police officer, a lack of an apology and a failure of the police to carry out a proper investigation into his subsequent complaint.

The judge considered that aggravated damages should reflect the false imprisonment and the humiliation of being forced on to the floor of the police van. He was not subjected to racist abuse. It would have been appropriate to award £5,000, however, AH’s violent struggling led him to being handcuffed and restrained on the floor of the van. His reaction was excessive and the consequent restraint led to him sustaining more serious injuries and greater distress. The judge considered that this should reduce aggravated damages to £3,500.

The total value for all damages was £7,000. The judge awarded no exemplary damages for the same reason as stated above.

Other considerations

The judge rejected the suggestion that the manner of the officers’ defence in their own criminal trials could amount to tortious conduct, for which the Commissioner could be vicariously liable for the following reasons (paras 357-359):

i. The Commissioner could not be held responsible for the fact that accused officers were robustly defended;

ii. The appearance of the officers as defendants in a criminal trial was not within the course of their employment;

iii. It would be a “very novel” approach to give a cause of action in tort to a witness who alleged that those who challenged his account in court did so trenchantly;

iv. The giving of evidence in court could be the subject of an action in tort – pursuant to Darker v CC West Midlands Police [2001] 1 AC 435 and South Wales Police v Daniels [2015] EWCA Civ 680;

v. Events at a criminal trial could not be taken into account in the assessment of damages unless they produced a renewal or exacerbation of any psychiatric effects already endured and caused by previous actionable tortious conduct.

The judge also stated, in respect of aggravated damages at paragraph 366, that it could not be right that the officers’ denying the allegations against them during disciplinary investigations and a criminal trial could sound in aggravated damages.