The Police Complaints Circus by Iain Gould – racism or just plain incompetence / unprofessionalism by #Metpolice? 29 Jan. 2022

Iain Gould- Actions Against the Police Solicitor

The Police Complaints Circus

by iaingould

I currently represent Emmanuel Madugbah, an NHS worker who has been publicly lauded for his courage and dedication in working 43 consecutive days at Northwick Park hospital during that terrible time at the peak of the first Coronavirus wave in 2020; Emmanuel pursues a claim against the Police arising out of a violent ‘stop and search’ incident which occurred in October 2019. The details of this incident are as follows.

Emmanuel, as noted above, is a man of exemplary character having had no previous adverse encounters with the Police. At the relevant time, he was living in a shared house in Watford.

At approximately 17.45 on 4 October 2019, Emmanuel left his house in order to do some shopping. As he crossed Vicarage Road, leading to the High Street, he was talking to a friend on his mobile phone. Suddenly, he heard someone shout, causing him to raise his head.

Emmanuel was shocked to see a man, whom he now understands to be PC Richmond, facing him and pointing a taser gun directly at him. PC Richmond directed Emmanuel to raise his hands and then drop to the ground.

In a state of fear and alarm, Emmanuel complied without question, and hit the ground heavily, damaging his phone on the ground in the process. Two other men (DS Matthews and PC Graham) then converged on my client, and he was handcuffed to the rear, without any explanation. During this process, he felt one of the men kneeling on his back.

Emmanuel was now asked for his name and address and it was at this point that he realised that the men were police officers. He immediately confirmed his name and address, and directed the officers to the wallet in his back pocket, which contained his driving licence.

At this point, still being held down on the floor, Emmanuel heard one of the officers then radioing through his details, and was also aware that both he and his ID were being photographed.

Emmanuel was then lifted up and pushed up against a wall of a nearby shop.

One officer alleged that Emmanuel bore a strong resemblance to a “bad” man, wanted for a stabbing, who they were looking for.

Emmanuel understandably protested his innocence, and asserted that he should be released.

However, his street detention continued as the officers questioned him about his address, and agreed to remove his handcuffs only so that he could unlock his phone for them, and they could scroll through his data.

DS Matthews then admitted that this was a case of “mistaken identity” and apologised to Emmanuel, also offering to arrange reimbursement for the damage to his phone.

However, the impact of this incident went far beyond a mere cracked mobile phone screen: Emmanuel had been threatened with a taser, violently handcuffed and detained in public, being intrusively questioned, for around 15 minutes: he was shaken, hurt and very distressed.

Then, to compound matters, a mere 10 minutes later, Emmanuel received a telephone call from one of his housemates, who advised that the Police were now at their shared house (not far from the location of the incident). Emmanuel was further shocked and confused and called DS Matthews to seek an explanation. DS Matthews informed him “We’re searching a couple of houses on the street and yours is one of them”. Emmanuel questioned this bizarre ‘coincidence’ but received no adequate response from the officer; extremely concerned, he immediately returned home.

On his return, Emmanuel established that the same police officers who had stopped him were indeed now in his house and were carrying out an extensive search. Given that these officers had not just 20 minutes earlier explained that his arrest as a suspect was a mistake, Emmanuel was completely bemused.

To make matters worse, Emmanuel’s housemates were now under the impression that he was a criminal suspect. Emmanuel asked the officers to explain to his housemates that this was simply a mistake; unfortunately, his housemates’ understanding of English was limited and Emmanuel formed the impression that they did not accept or understand this, causing him to have subsequent problems with them.

Emmanuel subsequently lodged a complaint. During this process, he met the investigating officer who showed him a photograph of the real suspect whom the officers had been looking for that day. Other than both men being black, there was little physical resemblance between Emmanuel and the suspect, leading my client to conclude that he was the victim of discrimination on the part of the officers who had rushed and assaulted him – all of whom were white.

Emmanuel’s grounds of complaint against the officers involved were as follows-

• Assault
• Mishandling of Property
• Neglect/ failure in duty
• Discriminatory behaviour
• Incivility, impoliteness and intolerance.

Multiple Grounds, Multiple Failings

Although my client’s complaint related to a single, and relatively straightforward incident, Cambridge Constabulary’s Professional Standards Department took over a year to complete their investigation report, which was finally received by Emmanuel in December 2020.

As is generally the case, the PSD Report appeared to both myself and my client to be an exercise designed to excuse the conduct of the Officers, starting and finishing from a position of bias and prejudice in favour of those Officers, rather than a fair and objective investigation of events. Unsurprisingly the report purported to reject all aspects of Mr Madugbah’s complaint – with the exception of a ‘technicality’: the officers failure to provide the requisite written notice to the occupants of Emmanuel’s house following their search of the premises under Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).

On 6 January 2021 I lodged an appeal on behalf of Emmanuel with the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

Although the IOPC’s role is not to reinvestigate the complaint, they are granted oversight of the way the Police themselves investigated the complaint and they have the power to intervene, via directions or recommendations to the Police, if the complaint has not been handled in a reasonable and proportionate way.

The key points which I raised in my letter of appeal were as follows –

• No detail at all had been provided in the report as to the description of the third party who the Police were said to be actually looking for, other than that he was black and had a beard.

• It was stated that the Officers had seen two images of the third party, a Custody image dated 10 September 2018 and a CCTV still described as being poor quality (“grainy”). Of note, the Complaint Investigator (IO) gave no indication that he had actually bothered to review these 2 images and/or consider whether Emmanuel bore any resemblance to the third party (other than being black).

• Furthermore, my own enquiries had indicated that the third party (the actual wanted man) was aged 25. At the time of this incident, Emmanuel Madugbah was in fact aged 41, and PC Graham had actually conceded that when face to face with our client – “I suspected he wasn’t the subject …….. as he looked too old.”

• Yet further, the Officers appeared to have jumped to the conclusion that Emmanuel was the wanted man after seeing him from a distance of almost 100 feet (on their own evidence). The reality is that skin colour appears to have been the officers’ only real basis for ‘identification’ of Emmanuel as the third party, rather than any resemblance of facial features between the wanted man and Emmanuel. However, the IO appeared entirely disinterested in this issue during his discussion of the evidence in the Complaint Report – and had failed to subject his colleagues purported identification of Emmanuel as being the wanted man to any proper critical analysis.

• Yet further, my client’s significant allegation that despite his immediate compliance with the Officers/non-resistance , one of the Officers held Emmanuel to the ground with a knee in his back, had not been put to any of the Officers by the IO.

I am pleased to confirm that in late April 2021 the IOPC upheld my client’s appeal, and directed that a thorough re-investigation of the complaint be carried out by Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

Amongst the IOPC’s criticisms of the investigation were the following-

• The report lacks attention to detail given the “overriding seriousness” of the allegations.

• The IO has not displayed sufficient objectivity in assessing the allegations, in weighing the officers’ accounts against other evidence and has failed to properly explain his conclusion.

• Whilst 12 minutes of apparently highly relevant CCTV footage of this incident was available to the IO, he neither properly discusses nor links the content of the footage to any of his conclusions on various issues, including the use of force.

The subsequent re-investigation report, prepared by the same Investigating Officer who had prepared the first report, was published on 14 September 2021 (only a month short of the second anniversary of Mr Madugbah’s complaint).

Once again, the report purported to dismiss Mr Madugbah’s complaint about the illegitimacy of his identification as the wanted man, and the force used upon him by the Officers. It seemed to me that the Investigating Officer in carrying out the further enquiries which he had been directed to by the IOPC, had simply used these further enquiries as the ‘window dressings’ of a new report which he had always intended to enshrine the outcome of the old report.

It was therefore necessary, once again, to appeal to the IOPC –

• Although the IO now confirmed that he had reviewed the images of the actual suspect that the Officers had been provided with prior to this incident, he still failed to provide any detailed discussion or analysis as to why it was reasonable to believe that the person pictured in the photographs (the real suspect) was Mr Madugbah. There still appeared to be no basis for the assertion of any similarity in appearance beyond the extremely generic facts that both the suspect and Mr Madugbah were Black (IC3 categorisation) and wore beards. The IO made no attempt to detail or explain any concordance of appearance between the images of the suspect and the images of my client, of which he had also had sight.

• It was notable that of the three Officers involved in the initial identification/detention of Mr Madugbah only PC Richmond, and not DS Matthews or PC Graham , had been asked to comment on/clarify the identification issue, despite the fact that on DS Matthews’s account it was he who initiated the entire sequence of events – “I saw a male who resembled ###### on Farraline Road, walking towards Vicarage Road. The male crossed from left to right and the sighting was from a distance from approximately 30 meters. I immediately believed that it was ###### and recall saying words to the effect of THAT’S HIM. Traffic was fairly heavy, so we all alighted from our vehicle and ran to catch this male up.”

• The reinvestigation also failed to address specific concerns, highlighted by the IOPC in April, regarding PC Graham’s comment that “face to face with the male, I suspected he wasn’t the subject we sought as he looked too old” as well as DS Matthews’s admission that “On closer inspection and supported by ID of the male detained, it was clear that Mr Madugbah was not [the suspect].” Again, the reinvestigation simply failed to engage with these important points of evidence at all, and no information was offered as to any concordance of facial feature, height or build between the real suspect and Mr Madugbah.

• Furthermore, despite the IOPC having identified that the issue of the use of force against Emmanuel had not received sufficient consideration by the IO in the first report, it was clear that a number of important enquiries had still not been completed in this regard. Emmanuel had always maintained that one of the Officers, whom he described as a “Bald well built man” (presumed to be PC Richmond) had held him to the ground with his knee in his back. This allegation had been completely ignored by the IO during the initial complaint investigation, and the re-investigation report remained wholly inadequate in this respect, in that the IO only bothered to raise the issue with PC Richmond(who denied it) but did not ask any of the other two Officers who were present to comment on the allegation.

• In a similar, slipshod fashion, the IO had only canvassed the opinion of PC Richmond as to whether it was reasonable and proportionate for my client to be kept in handcuffs for 10 – 15 minutes, despite the Officers being in possession of his driving licence confirming his true ID within 1 – 2 minutes and did not bother to address this issue with either DS Matthews or PC Graham .

Police Complaint Reports: A Farcical Merry-Go Round

I have now, on 20 January 2022 (over 2 years and 3 months since the incident), received notification that the IOPC have once again upheld my appeal on behalf of Mr Madugbah and Cambridgeshire Constabulary have accordingly been directed to re-investigate the complaint, largely on the basis that they did such an inadequate re-investigation of the key issues following the IOPC’s first intervention.

Do we now have to call this a re-re investigation? My client could quite reasonably ask how much longer is this merry-go-round going to continue, and I would not be able to give him a definitive answer, owing to the open-ended nature of a Police complaint process that lacks the cogency and control granted by having punitive deadlines in place, which (by way of contrast) are key elements of both the criminal and civil legal systems in this country.

Amongst the many scathing comments made by the IOPC in regards to the re-investigation report were the following –

• When asked by the IO what led PC Richmond to the ‘reasonably held suspicion’ that Mr Madugbah was the suspect, the Officer’s account failed to provide any further substantive detail as to how this decision was reached, making no reference to any intelligence and/or the circumstances which might have substantiated the decision making.

• Specific rationale as to why it was believed that Mr Madugbah resembled the wanted suspect had not been provided by DS Matthews, and this had again not been further probed by the IO.

• The IOPC review was unable to ascertain the specific rationale which contributed towards the Officers forming an alleged reasonable suspicion, and there was only limited explanation of the assessment conducted by each Officer within their accounts. Given the heightened use of force – including the drawing of a taser – during the stop and subsequent search of Mr Madugbah, a thorough and proportionate rationale and assessment of why it was believed he was the suspect should have been provided as a key element of the Complaint Investigation Report.

• It was not sufficient for the IO to merely ‘insinuate’ the reasons for identification from the Officers’ accounts.

• My client was entitled to a full explanation of the information available at the time that had led to the alleged reasonable suspicion being formed by the Officers – but despite being given two opportunities to do so Cambridgeshire Constabulary had failed to do so.

Furthermore, the IOPC have, somewhat delicately, suggested that Cambridgeshire Constabulary now allocate a new Investigating Officer to deal with the (third) complaint investigation, on the basis that the IO who (mis)handled the first two investigations might lack the necessary “objectivity”. Indeed.

The IOPC reviewer rightly acknowledged that this event in 2019 had caused a significant amount of distress to Emmanuel, and to that I would add the fact that his distress has certainly not been alleviated by yet another frustrating, demoralising and biased Investigation Report – which is sadly one of the hallmarks of our dysfunctional police complaints system. In my opinion, it is perfectly understandable why many of my clients reject the opportunity to raise a complaint and instead wish me to proceed immediately with a claim for damages – in bringing a claim, whether or not it proceeds to court litigation, a person who has suffered mistreatment at the hands of the Police is in control and can proactively obtain evidence and hold the Police to account, ultimately in front of a Judge and Jury if necessary, as well as expecting the Police to comply with legally mandated time- frames for response. In the complaint process, on the other hand, the victim of Police Misconduct is largely shut out and kept in the dark whilst the complaint investigation is ongoing, and he and his lawyer have no direct access to the evidence relied upon by the Complaint Investigator until after the report is finalised. Alongside this, the IOPC often proves to be little more than a ‘paper tiger’ showing a limited appetite to correct most Police complaint errors, biases and delays – and also lacking robust statutory powers to properly intervene; note that in the present case, for example, the IOPC have merely suggested, rather than ordered the replacement of the Investigating Officer, despite his multiple failings to date . The Police complaint process can drag on for years, even in regards to relatively straightforward incidents, and often seems to be simply going round in circles.

No wonder people want to get their hands on the ‘steering wheel’ provided by a civil claim, rather than being passengers on the ‘merry-go-round’ process of a Complaint Investigation.

I have already commenced Mr Madugbah’s claim against Cambridgeshire Constabulary, which I anticipate will give him far more vindication and satisfaction than the time consuming, wasteful and massively inefficient Police complaints process.

Increasingly, I find myself urging those who consult me regarding wrongful Police behaviour – take your case to Court, not to the Circus.

The names of the Police officers in this blog have been changed.

iaingould | January 28, 2022 at 6:14 pm | Categories: News |
Iain Gould solicitor
Iain Gould, solicitor and specialist in civil actions against the police.
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