The Police are good at a lot of things. I have to admit however, they are terrible at others.
Looking after their own. There are some that we’ll always say that we do. That we will cover up everything from minor misdemeanors to major lapses in security, judgement and protocol, that sometimes have very serious and far-reaching consequences. I disagree. And when I do so, I do so for a reason, with bitter experience.
It’s only now that I can write about something that has been hanging over my head for the past fifteen months, because only now is it finally over.
In March 2011, I answered an emergency assistance call from a colleague. He had arrested a woman that was suspected of a relatively minor offence. He started, actually, with the intent to arrange a voluntary interview, (oh, the irony of which I will come back to later) but she became not only obstructive, but also abusive.
He tried his hardest to persuade her to attend the police station at her convenience (which he later admitted to me would probably result in no further action as the evidence was a sole witness with no corroboration) but she was adamant – she was going to no police station voluntarily. My colleague’s decision was effectively made for him; to allow a prompt and effective investigation, due to her resistance to interview, arrest was the only viable alternative.
Upon arresting her, he asked her to place some clothes on (she was in a night gown) and walk with him to his car, parked outside. She went ballistic. The radio sprung into life.
“Can I have one more unit to attend at Acacia Avenue, female detainee becoming increasingly resistant, further male in the house and officer single-crewed.”
I leisurely made my way in the general direction with another colleague, turning out from the station. No rush at the minute. Then another call.
“Yeah, further to my last – female now becoming violent and male also becoming agitated.”
Simultaneously pressing the three buttons for blue lights, headlamp flashes and sirens, I floored the accelerator. Within two minutes, we had arrived, along with another car and another I could see in the far distance in my rear view mirror. The show of strength would hopefully stop anyone having ideas that this arrest might be thwarted.
As I pulled up to the alleyway to the address, members of the public were desperately pointing down the alley. By this point I was out of the car and the screams and noises of a disturbance were amplified by the high walls of the surrounding houses. We were still a good 75m from the back garden, so I put a sprint on, running into almost complete darkness and a little bit of the unknown. Baton out, I thought. Better to be safe than sorry.
I was the fastest out of the car and the fastest runner, so unsurprisingly, I got there first. I could see my colleague on the floor, attempting to handcuff the female. She was screaming and squealing like a banshee, kicking her legs out, shaking her head. He only had hold of her arm. Stood over him, somewhat ominously, was a bloke who I later learned was this woman’s partner. He was also screaming abuse and looking a little too threatening for my liking. My colleague was clearly vulnerable, struggling with a violently resistive female and on one knee. Easy pickings for someone so inclined.
I ran toward the man and simply placed my arm across his chest and pushed him away, shouting “GET BACK!” My baton was down by my side and only visible if one were really looking for it. I quickly noticed a figure at the feet of this man, a girl no more than six years old, shaking in fear. I moved my baton quickly away so it wouldn’t frighten her and attempted to engage the man, adopting a far less forceful approach now that others had arrived.
“Mate, just move back a little. It looks like its scaring your daughter.”
“And who’s fucking fault’s that you prick? Coming round to MY house, shouting the fucking odds!”
By this time, everyone was out in the street, observing the commotion. There was more than enough with what he had just said to arrest him as well. Not the most appropriate thing though, under the circumstances.
“Mate, I’ll ask you again to move back. Please don’t swear at me, you’re daughter doesn’t need to hear this from her father.”
Turning to his daughter, who was now understandably in tears, he said:
“This is what bobbies do love, come round, lock up your mother and then fucking lecture me on how to be a dad. Fucking c*nts, all of them. Remember that, love. C*nts.”
Not exactly giving Peter Andre a run for Father Of The Year.
I knew I’d get nowhere with him, so simply stood in his way to block any rash attempt at an assault on my arresting officer colleague. The Sergeant had heard the radio transmissions which were catching all the drama and soon attended. I waved him over and asked him to speak to the father.
Looking over my shoulder, I could see that this woman had a fair bit of alcohol-induced fight left in her. I went over and noticed that the robe she wearing barely covered her modesty. In normal circumstances, with the fight she was putting up and with her legs flying everywhere, I would have applied some leg restraints. To do that would have meant being up close and personal with this lady, when she was wearing no underwear. Not an option, so to prevent any injury to herself if she managed to trip my mate up, I simply place my hips next to hers as she was stood up. Her legs still flailing, but thankfully not now causing a problem. Minimum force, if you will. I placed my hands loosely on the handcuffs that had by now been applied, more in an attempt to stop her hurting herself than anything. I was partially successful.
Placed in the back of a waiting beat car, with three female officers on scene, I left them to it. I heard later that she kicked off all the way into custody and had to be taken straight to the cell, spitting at everyone in a uniform on the way. Classy woman.
I concluded at the scene of arrest, left the father/significant other with my Sergeant and resumed. Having used hardly any force at all personally, procedure is the arresting officer puts all officers’ names on the Use Of Force form, to avoid duplication. I didn’t put an entry in my pocket notebook, it was such a non-event for me personally. Or so I thought at the time. That was to quickly change.
Two days later, I heard on the grapevine that the woman was making a complaint. Nothing unusual there. It’s happens more than people realise. Usually for incivility or ‘unfair treatment’, most are usually locally resolved. This generally means either advice from an Inspector to the complainant, or if there’s some grounds in the complaint, an apology from the officer and some management action. I heard nothing official, so thought nothing.
Two weeks later, my Sergeant called me into the office. He handed me a piece of paper, without saying a word.
“What’s this?” I asked, quizzically.
“It’s a Reg 14 Notice.”
“What for?” I quickly started scanning the document. On it was a name I didn’t even recognise.
“Allegation of assault. This woman says you’ve grabbed her by the hair and smashed her face into the concrete, knocking her teeth out.”
I genuinely thought it was a wind-up. A wry smile developed across my face and I looked around in the office for others to lay the big surprise on me. My Sergeant remained stony-faced.
“Seriously? I don’t even know what this relates to.” I stated, incredulously.
“That job where you went to back up Jim ******, it’s her.”
I read in more detail. This was no joke. A notice from the force Professional Standards Department, stating that I was now formally under investigation and a suspect in a Section 47 Assault. What the?
I digested the material, signed both copies, returned one to the Sergeant and retained the other for my ‘personal records’. As if I was going to keep my own file on myself.
I heard nothing for what seemed like ages, but was probably a matter of weeks, after which my Federation Rep got in touch. Did I want representation for my suspect interview? It hadn’t even dawned on me that I would be interviewed. Initially, I thought they’d request a full statement, why I thought that, I do not know. Bizarre, considering I interview suspects all the time. Too right I wanted representation. I wasn’t about to put my faith in blindly wandering in to an interview without some defence (less the truth, of course).
In a strange twist of fate, I had just downloaded on iBooks (other e-book providers are available) a copy of ‘A Fair Cop’. It was about a West Yorkshire Police Officer being accused of assault and having to spend six months in prison after conviction. Sobered, I was. Prison was not a place I fancied going, not because I didn’t think I could handle myself, but I knew it would likely spell the end of a career that was still in it’s relative infancy. Worried, I was, to say the least.
I met with the Fed Rep. If I pay subscriptions for the rest of my career and never use their services again, it will still be worth it. Absolutely brilliant. It seemed that there was no case to answer. The investigating officer had a number of conflicting statements already, and decided to get an informal account from the Fed, to decide if an interview was required. The Rep said, from the information he’d been given, this was unlikely. I gave my account and started feeling a little better about my predicament.
I heard nothing for close to four months. I was getting more annoyed than anything else. Only two emails, staying that the matter was still under investigation and I would be contacted in due course. I found it difficult to adjust to being the suspect, knowing full well I had done nothing wrong. After this time, I got a phone call. The Fed Rep had been contacted.
“RB, is there anything not on the rostering system that I need to know about? Holidays booked, weekends off, overtime, working rest days?”
“No, why?” I replied.
“The Detective Inspector in charge of the case has requested a formal interview.”
“I thought you said that wouldn’t be needed?”
He replied that the DI had so many conflicting statements, that it left him no choice but to interview. By this time, I was becoming more and more angry. Why was it taking so long?
So, a full SIX months after the allegation, I turned up at the Professional Standards Department. I was going to go in making them work for it. I pressed my tunic, mounted my medal ribbons from
Service in the Army (including a little Rosette that people always ask about) and shined my boots so you could do your hair and/or shave in them, whichever was your preference. I came not to be bullied (paranoid, yes) but mainly to portray I was professional, and that there were no grounds for the allegation.
The Disclosure Pack was two inches thick. There were seventeen statements. SEVENTEEN. Everyone on the street was interviewed, even if they could provide no ‘key’ evidence (evidence that could prove an offence, is a simplistic definition). There were aerial photos, council floor plans, which included all the street lighting, CCTV stills of us leaving the station, radio transcripts (including a CD recording), photos of injuries, doctor’s reports, the list went on. I’d been involved in stabbings, burglaries and robberies and not seen a file as large. They always say the best detectives investigate their own…….
I went into interview.
I sat down. The DI looked at my medal ribbons. This was a good start. I felt confident in the knowledge I’d done nothing wrong, and the little I had done, I could justify completely.
He started and said that the interview was being conducted under Section 9 of PACE. It didn’t even occur to me. A voluntary interview. Which effectively was the original request by the arresting officer and the whole reason I was now here. The irony was not lost on me.
The Caution. He asked me if I understood it! Ha! I rolled off a concise explanation, with no second thought, no hesitation and no stumbling. My standard explanation to those on interview. I’m not ashamed to say at this point, I felt uncomfortable.
I gave my account. He presented evidence. He challenged me on the discrepancies. A standard PEACE interview, following the model to the letter. Like my suspect interviews, I silently observed. I smiled in the knowledge that maybe I was doing something right at work!
After we’d finished and the tapes were turned off, he gave me time with my Rep. He looked at the disclosure pack, looked at me, asked me how I felt, how I felt it went.
“Good, I think.” I replied.
I quizzed him on the evidence collated. He confirmed to me that if this was one of my ‘jobs’ and the suspect was a normal member of the public, I would have ceased all action on it a long time ago if for no other reason than every one of the seventeen statements conflicted with each other. I didn’t even match the first description! I was only put into the frame because “it was the same one who pushed me back, that assaulted my partner”, from the male’s statement.
“What now?” I asked.
The head of PSD, the Detective Supt would look at it, but it would likely be discontinued at this point.
Which was why three months later, I was rather surprised when my Fed Rep informed me that the file was now being viewed by the CPS. I’ve had a few heart rate-raising moments in my life, and that was up there with jumping out of a plane, riding a motorbike at 180mph and being shot at. I kid you not.
A further two months passed with no news. Despite my brave face, I was a little concerned. I didn’t let it affect my day-to-day functioning too much, but it was always there, in the back of my mind.
Christmas came and went.
“What the f*@k is taking them so long!?” I said to my Rep in frustration more than anything. He had no news. We, or rather I, had to wait.
It came, shortly after, as it transpired.
NO CASE TO ANSWER.
Phew. I had a drink that night.
But this news was still only a stepping stone to the real end. The complainant could now have the decision referred to the IPCC if she so wished. And there was no rush; she had six weeks to make her mind up. While I waited.
Yesterday, in June 2012, I finally got the email (no phone call, that may be too personal for PSD) that I had been waiting for. No referral to the IPCC, as she didn’t request it to be so. That’s the only reason. So potentially, my nervous wait could’ve been much longer.
The fifteen months were somewhat stressful. There was always a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that made me question my actions at a job. Some would say that’s a good thing, but when you need clarity of thought in a high-pressure situation, you shouldn’t have to think, ‘I wonder if this person is going to complain against me in a few weeks time? Am I going to have another fifteen months of uncertainty?’ All part of the job, I guess.
I bare no ill will to the complainant. She was a chancer, who was angry at being arrested. She DID receive those injuries she described, but not as a result of a criminal act by me, or my colleagues. If she had simply said yes to agreeing to be interviewed, as I had, none of this story would’ve been written.
Some people scream that the police are unaccountable, that we live in a police state. Corporate and collective accountability is a slightly different argument, but I can now say, from personal experience, there is no question of police officers not been held individually accountable. To those that disagree, you’ve obviously not paid attention to the above.
As for the defence solicitor or a mate of an offender I arrest, that says I should go easy on a suspect, as I don’t know how they feel? I say I know more than you are ever likely to realise or personally experience. Until you have sat on the opposite side of the table, you really shouldn’t say a word. It is somewhat ironic that, as a police officer, it’s more, rather than less likely I will be subject to a suspect interview.
So the next time you see something that the police do that you don’t agree with, the likelihood is, that perhaps behind a door of an interview room, someone is having to justify their decisions and actions. Facing the grilling I did. Perhaps as a result of a single complaint.
Unaccountable? You need to go somewhere else in the world for that.