Iain Gould is – in my regard – the foremost ‘police actions’ lawyer in the country. He keeps a regular blog of his pursuits that should be compulsory reading for anyone considering suing the police, lawyers included. He has kindly given me permission to republish his postings here from time to time.
I begin with this story as I think it is one of the most shocking examples of police abuses of power I have ever read on his website. So much so, I find it difficult to republish the article without resisting the urge to pass comment. The briefest I can say is that it sounds like the sort of abuses that were common pre PACE in the 1970s and not something you would expect to occur modern day in North Yorkshire. It also reinforces the depressing theme of how unruly and unrepentant the police really are, and how the only way to hold them to account is through the county courts.
Will the Police learn their lesson? The illegal strip-search of a minor.
Historically, the term ‘juvenile’ as used in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) has referred to a child under 17. Section 42 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (CJCA) extended the definition of ‘juvenile’ for the purposes of PACE to include any child or young person who appears to be under the age of 18, establishing the same protections for all those aged under 18 and bringing the definition into line with that of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Safeguards for children/young people
PACE incorporates a number of safeguards for children/young people caught up in the criminal justice system. Any contact between a child and police officers can be very frightening and distressing and have long-term adverse consequences for vulnerable young minds which are still in the process of maturing. The need for such protective measures should be self-evident. Self-evident to all except for some Police Officers it seems.
I have just concluded a claim for John, a young man from Merseyside who’s just turned 19. Back on 23rd February 2017, John was just 16 and as is evident from his custody photograph taken that day, a young-looking 16.
At the time, his older brother, Kevin was dating a girl from Scarborough (Lauren). The weekend before, Lauren had come over and stayed with Kevin and his family. On the 23rd February, Kevin agreed to drive Lauren home. John had never been to Yorkshire before so went along for the ride.
Upon arrival at Lauren’s home address in Scarborough, Kevin parked up and he and Lauren went inside leaving John sat in the front passenger seat.
A short while later, a Police van pulled up close by and a number of officers alighted and surrounded the car in which John was sat before one of them opened the front passenger door and asked him where the driver was. John explained that his brother was the driver, that he was in a house close by and that he would be back soon.
An officer instructed John to step onto the pavement.
John was required to provide his name and date of birth, which he did, thereby indicating that he was a minor, which was apparent in any event.
John was then told that he would be taken to the police van. John was escorted to the van by two officers. He was instructed to step inside the vehicle, whereupon he was told he was to be subjected to a “strip search.” No legal justification or grounds for the search were provided to him.
Unlawful intimate strip-search
John was instructed to pull down his track suit bottoms and underwear, whereupon the officers conducted an extremely intimate search.
To his complete shock John was then informed that he was under arrest on suspicion of possession of cannabis, irrespective of the fact that no drugs had been found upon him.
John was then detained in the police van for an extended period of time (in excess of 60 minutes) until he was transported to Scarborough police station, which was no more than a mile away , where his detention continued.
Following arrival at Scarborough police station, details of John’s arrest were reported to the custody officer, but details of the strip/intimate search were not disclosed, nor was the negative result of such searches.
Despite John requesting that his father be promptly informed of his arrest, John’s dad was not in fact informed until some three hours later by which time he was unable to attend the police station to act as appropriate adult. Consequently it was necessary for a representative from the Youth Offending Team to do so.
John was obliged to provide fingerprints and a DNA sample and was then detained in a cell until the appropriate adult arrived whereupon he was interviewed. After six hours in custody, John was finally released. In due course, John received confirmation that no further action would be taken.
The facts of the case would form a great quiz for trainee police cadets as to what Codes of Practice were breached except for the sad fact that this catalogue of terrors was actually perpetrated against a real person. Focusing just on the search, what did the officers do wrong?
- The strip/intimate search was conducted in the absence of an appropriate adult to which John was entitled.
- No authorisation for the search was provided by an Inspector.
- John was not told of the legal authority for the search.
- John was not told of any legal grounds for the search.
- John did not provide, nor could he provide, consent to the search.
- The strip/intimate search was carried out by a police officer, when it ought to have been carried out by a Registered Medical Practitioner or Nurse.
- No documentation of the search was kept or maintained, thereby breaching section 3 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
- Contrary to Code A paragraph 4.2B, no record of the search was made in the custody record.
- The officers knew that the fact and/or manner of the strip/intimate search rendered it unlawful or a breach of the Codes of Practice but conducted it regardless.
- The officers knew that the fact and/or manner of the strip/intimate search (in the dark, in a van, without giving reasons or legal authority and without any appropriate adult) was highly distressing and embarrassing to John but conducted it regardless.
In short, the search was carried out with wholesale disregard for every significant safeguard guaranteed pursuant to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
Upon John’s release from police custody, John’s dad – having been notified of what had happened – immediately lodged a formal complaint which was subsequently investigated by the North Yorkshire Police Professional Standards Department. Following investigation, the Professional Standards Department conceded that the actions of their officer were in breach of
(i) the statutory provisions relating to strip searches in the Police and Criminal Evidence act 1984, and
(ii) the relevant Codes of Practice thereto.
Disciplinary action was brought against the two officers who had carried out the search.
Once the complaint investigation had been concluded, I was instructed to pursue a civil claim for compensation on behalf of John. Sadly but unsurprisingly and notwithstanding the findings of the Professional Standards Department, the Chief Constable denied liability and it was necessary to issue court proceedings.
I am pleased to report that following issue John’s case has now settled for £10,000.00 damages, plus costs.
This settlement is a fair award of compensation but monetary compensation was not the priority for John and his family. As John’s dad said to me just last week, by bringing this action, the family wanted to expose this abuse of police power in the hope that other children/young people will not suffer as John did. The power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is wholly dependent upon public approval of their actions and behaviour and on their ability to police by consent. The carrying out of illegal strip-searches on children is a gross abuse by officers of the trust and extraordinary power placed in their hands by our society, and it is for the good of everyone that such abuses be highlighted and prevented, in so far as possible, from occurring in the future.
A child’s first real experience of the Police should not be the degrading and humiliating one which John underwent. If the Police want the next generation to have trust and confidence in them, they should learn the lesson of this case well.
(All names changed.)