The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Tag: police

Ian Tomlinson – unlawfully killed

I’m currently working very hard for final exams so I’m just making a short update.

Yesterday an inquest jury unanimously found Constable Simon Harwood’s actions surrounding Ian Tomlinson’s death to be unlawful, reported in the Scotsman as “saying he ‘deliberately and intentionally’ shoved the newspaper seller to the ground. He was found to have acted illegally, recklessly and dangerously, and used ‘excessive and unreasonable’ force in hitting the man with a baton.”

They also request a thorough review of the CPS decision not to prosecute, which makes sense given that an entire lay jury agreed the actions were wrong.

In background news the Press Gazette published a report from Paul Lewis, the journalist who tracked down the eyewitness accounts and video of Ian Tomlinson being shoved to the ground, headlined “Met told us to ‘lay off’ Tomlinson story” which just doesn’t cover them in glory as an organisation.

I hope this judgment goes some way to getting the police out of this mess and that some lessons are learned for the future. There’s no need to lean on journalists to lay off stories and throw away evidence.

H/T: The Scotsman

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Masterclass: How to keeping digging when in a hole

The police officer connected with the death of Ian Tomlinson during Operation Glencoe in 2009 has given evidence about his role in the event.

My principle reaction to Tomlinson’s death was that, regardless of what really happened that day, the authorities couldn’t have made themselves look guiltier if they tried — they seem to choose the dodgiest pathologist available to examine him, drew out investigations, refused to bring charges that were in time  and missed deadlines to bring others — and I expected the people involved to really pull out the stops in proving that there’s not a huge conspiracy involving the CPS and the Met ganging up to kill random members of the public going on here. This new evidence suggests they’re not even trying.

In particular, The Guardian reports that there was a sequence of questions designed to clarify the differences between the initial statement that the officer gave at the time and the photos and videos that emerged of the event.

Video footage and photographs shown to the jury, however, appeared to cast doubt on many aspects of Harwood’s account of the incident.

Asked whether he stood by his initial account of what had happened, Harwood appeared to struggle. The judge, Peter Thornton QC, who is an acting deputy coroner, interrupted to clarify matters.

“At the time I wrote this, I thought I fell to the floor,” said Harwood.

“At the time I wrote this, I thought I fell to the floor” ? This is a police officer who has had two years to get his story straight. That’s not acceptable for someone in a position of executive power in a first world country. He’s either lying about it for some reason[1], which we cannot have in the police, or he’s not got the brains to know when he falls over and we don’t particularly want that in the police either.

The judge seems to screw down the lid a bit more:

“Do you now accept that this is not correct?” the judge asked. “Yes,” Harwood replied.

“That you lost your baton – that is not correct?” the judge asked. “Yes,” Harwood replied.

“That you received a blow to the head – that is not correct?” the judge asked. “Yes,” Harwood replied.

“And that there were violent and dangerous confrontations – that is not correct?” the judge asked. “Yes,” Harwood replied.

When asked why he made so many errors in his account he could only manage a wimpy:

“Because at the time that is what I believed happened, from the information I had, that is what I believed happened to me.”

I frankly expect a better class of suspended-pending-investigation copper in my country. I can only wonder what the jury is making of this.

H/T: The Guardian

[1]. The next question is why did he say these “not correct” things?

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Shoplifting contractors

Shoplifting is a big problem for shops and no one can really agree on the proper way to deal with it. There is a policy in some stores in the US of contractual private sector bag and receipt searches. This is pretty controversial but the idea is that the 4th amendment only restricts governmental searches and if you do it nicely enough you can get everyone to show that they’re paying for everything they’re taking out of the store and nothing gets stolen. I think it puts a weird burden on your customers to provide evidence that they aren’t robbing you. That seems like a business strategy that Alan Sugar shouts at you for on the Apprentice.

Self help

As a matter of theory there is a difficulty in that shoplifting is a crime and therefore it’s not something that you sue over. Many people who have asked the police for help have likely heard the words “it’s a civil matter”, and well, conversely crimes are a police matter.

Complicating this is the lack of eagerness in the police to deal with what is, fundamentally, not that a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Prosecuting shoplifting is not exactly chasing international criminals and it’s natural that officers, particularly the talented and ambitious ones, will want to deal with “proper” criminals. Another problem is the issue of being able to get their stuff back from the police quickly so that they can then re-sell it — for example, perishable food is often stolen.

To get around this some companies have adopted a self help measure by employing private “security firms” to “levy” “fines” to people they “catch” “shoplifting”. I’ve been liberal with the quotes in that last sentence because this is a hugely informal arrangement working on suspicion rather than proof. It seems that they have employed the Child Catcher (one in four cases involve teenagers, mostly under 17) to leap out whenever the gates beep and demand money. It seems incredibly lucrative work.

Are they right?

Probably the poster case for the issue with these searches is Kim Molloy. Molloy is hardly a classic stereotypical shoplifter in that she is a police chief inspector. I can tell you that she, in “an act of forgetfulness rather than dishonesty”, accidentally took a pot of foundation worth £12.72 from a branch of Tesco Express. I am able to say that because that is what the judge said when she was cleared in a criminal trial. The security firm wanted £137.50 from her.

The Guardian does some good coverage of the statistics involved with this practice:

  • In 67% of 300 cases analysed, the goods were worth less than £20, and
  • in 79% of cases they were recovered in store for resale – but
  • the average demand was £147.69 including the costs of “dealing with the incident” as well as the goods stolen.

I’ve already discussed this practice in relation to file-sharing claims and these claims are pretty similar in many ways. These offers are great and even standard opening procedure if you are a hard bitten practising lawyer who can look at threatening claims and not blink. If you are absolutely anyone else they are suitably terrifying. Remember, we are dealing with a situation where there is an average demand about 10x the usual actual loss (and the actual loss is recovered immediately in most cases). That means the main winner looks to be the company that hassles people outside the shop — those “dealing with the incident” fees add up quickly.

Does that sound familiar?

H/T: The Guardian

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German police officer allowe d to get dressed on work time.

In a rather ballsy employment action a German police officer has successfully won the right to get paid for dressing himself before work.

The idea is that police officers are required to wear a uniform to do their duties and that putting on that uniform takes time. It is estimated that it takes an officer about 15 minutes to suit up for work, that adds up to months along the lifetime of an officer. It’s about a week (45-50 hours) a year that he should either get as annual leave or paid worktime says an administrative court in Münster.

I’m against the idea of unpaid overtime myself too but this seems quite remarkable as a concept. It seems wrong to only cover people who have to put on a uniform in the morning before going to work and not people who just have to wear clothes when working. The quantum also seems to work on the basis of how long it takes you to get ready so, for example, an employee who wears a three piece suit would spend slightly longer than someone who wears a two piece suit and thereby is due slightly more money from their employer. I think as a precedent there’s really quite a lot you could do with this one.

This action is actually extremely serious – there’s a union behind this one and they’re using this as a test case with thousands of related actions to follow should the police waive their appeal or lose again. It would cost the German state a fortune if this goes through.

In summary to all my German readers – there is suddenly an economic case for wearing a scarf to work every day and you should immediately stop wearing slip on shoes.

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Three police officers punished for NOT stopping photographs being taken

Photographs and police officers world wide have a pretty tortured history, even more so since the rise of anti terrorist legislation. I should declare an interest — I’m one of those amateur photographers you hear complaining that the police have stopped them taking photos for somewhat iffy reasons, in my case it was a potential breach of the peace (“but we’ll let you off with a warning”). The experience has utterly changed how I look at the police ever since.

There’s a rather well reported example of one of the BBC’s press photographers “having his collar felt” as he took photographs of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. You hear stories of people taking photos of the blue light on police stations receiving similar treatment. There’s been motions in Parliament to clarify the lack of powers that the police actually have to stop regular people taking photos. The Home Office has given guidance (sadly in my view leaving it down to the regions rather than actually giving guidance for the whole country). The G20 protests in London are a smörgåsbord of examples which are still only coming to light – the Metropolitan Police Press Office sending out letters demanding that photographs of police officers hiding their badge numbers be destroyed for one. This is the background I read this particular story on — the apparent view that photographers are terrorists planning something.

The basic facts are that four, presumably, drunk young women were involved in an alleged assault in a bar on a Saturday night two weeks ago and were taken to a Staffordshire police station to give statements. That’s perfectly normal and fine. However, something happened and they ran amok as only drunk people can. The end result is that a lot of reasonably salacious images ended up Facebook. Egg was on face and so on. The Tax Payers Alliance absolutely hates the wasted police resources they feel this represents and they’re getting their boot in too.

Assistant Chief Constable Mick Harrison is quoted in today’s Metro (Tuesday, December 15, 2009, pg 7) as saying he was “extremely disappointed” by the event. “Officers made attempts to talk to the women about their behaviour and to stop them taking photographs for security reasons — these were not heeded or firmly enforced.”

This is a relatively innocuous quote but, given that the pictures in question were the result of party goers putting on police hats and taking photos of each other on their phones we should probably assume that there was not exactly an Al Qaeda attack going on. I think the idea that there was a security risk (except, perhaps, to the male officers’ virtue) is actually pretty laughable. I know that there really isn’t the whole story expressed in the dozen or so newspaper reports over the last couple of days so I thought I’d do it properly and do some research. Unfortunately Staffordshire police force doesn’t seem to have any way for members of the public to ring up and ask the police questions, it seems limited to reporting crimes or a press office. I resorted to calling the press office on the off chance but that naturally leads to the ” ‘Hello, I’m hoping you could answer a couple of questions’ ‘Are you press?’ ‘No’ ‘Well no then’ ” conversation that doesn’t really help anyone. In the absence of other information it sounds like it’s just a regular police station where you question witnesses, fill out your reports and hold antisocial drunks overnight as opposed to a nuclear silo.

It’s absolutely, undeniably not what the police should be doing on a Saturday night and it’s very embarrassing for the police but I think we really need to avoid defining everything that embarrasses the police as a security risk.