At 11am on Thursday 20th August 2020, I entered into a conference call with Derby Magistrates’ Court, during yet another hearing in the case of PC Mark Knights. The purpose of the hearing was threefold:
- To find out if the CPS intended to take over the prosecution.
- If the CPS did intend to take over the prosecution, were they going to end it?
- If the CPS intended to continue the prosecution, Mark Knights would be expected to enter a plea.
Before I tell you the outcome of that hearing, let me bring you up to date with events since the last article I published on the subject. I would invite you to read that article first as it sets out all the various obstructions and complications I have had to deal with along the route of bringing a private prosecution against a police officer.
I originally charged PC Mark Knights with common assault and the statutory offence of police criminal misconduct, as provided by s26 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. District Judge Taaffe repeatedly refused to summons Knights under section 26, giving reasons that I regarded were at odds with the make-up of the offence. I was not satisfied that a mere common assault charge would suffice for such a brazen abuse of a police officer’s powers, so I began the process of judicial review. However, before the first stage of judicial review could commence, the CPS contacted me to inform me that they would be taking over the case. In so doing, they assured me they had contacted the court to notify them of this intention.
I contacted the court myself and they assured me that no such communication had been received by the CPS. So I contacted the CPS again and asked them to clarify. They ignored my email. I wrote to them a second time as a matter of urgency. I would have to travel a considerable distance to reach Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court and I did not expect my time to be wasted simply because the CPS refused to do their job properly. Again, no response from the CPS.
As the hearing date grew closer, it became clear that, due to personal circumstances, I would not be able to travel to Derbyshire on the 20th, and thereby I asked the court to allow me to access the hearing remotely. During the Covid outbreak the courts have allowed both parties of criminal and civil trials to participate via Skype, or telephone, depending upon the circumstances. Unfortunately, the court did not confirm that I would be granted a conference call until the hearing was taking place! And when they did, they used an obsolete number to contact me.
Luckily, my emails were switched onto constant update, as only then did I see the court had tried to contact me. I was forwarded a conference call number and ID, but it took two attempts before I was finally put through to the live hearing.
The District Judge informed me that, yes, the CPS had taken over the case. Better still, they had furthered their intention to prosecute. To my surprise, the judge told me that the CPS had ‘upgraded’ the offence from common assault to assault by beating. PC Mark Knights had entered a plea of not guilty and the case had been sent to trial for the 2nd December. I then asked for permission to withdraw from the prosecution, which was nothing more than good manners on my part, as once the CPS take over the case a private prosecutor can have no further involvement. However, I needed to ensure that there were no loose ends and I asked if there was anything further the CPS required from me. I was told by the judge I would be contacted by the CPS if that was the case.
It goes without saying, I won’t be hearing from the CPS again.
To my understanding, ‘assault by beating’ falls under the same charge as ‘common assault.’ However, I assume the difference would be at sentencing, should Knights find himself convicted of the offence. I’m not sure I would regard this as an ‘upgrade’ as surely at sentencing the court should take into account any aggravating circumstances regardless of the charge. But as far as I am concerned, this is a good outcome and I am pleased that PC Mark Knights is now being sent to trial. I’m not going to speculate on the potential outcome, except to say that any trial is better than none at all. Bear in mind that without my involvement both Derbyshire Police and the CPS were willing to drop the matter. In fact, Derbyshire Police conducted a deliberately defective investigation into the assault as a means to ensure their officer was never prosecuted.
To my knowledge, nobody has ever successfully brought a private prosecution against a police officer that has gone to trial, let alone resulted in conviction. I may be wrong in that assumption, but private prosecutions are extremely rare, and nigh on mythical when it comes to prosecuting the police.
This has been an extremely important case to me, as I intend to continue bringing private prosecutions against police officers that believe they are above the law. It is the corrupt practises of police professional standards and the IOPC that make people such as myself necessary. I expect to meet the same obstructions and needless complications I encountered during this first experience, but I’m optimistic that things will improve. And I hope those improvements will begin where they are most needed: in training police officers properly, protecting the public from the police’s ignorance of the law and weeding out violent officers who hide behind their authority and the senior officers who excuse them from their criminality.