Fair Cop? - The police


28 July 1994
The Guardian

This week two police officers were cleared of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. They were the latest in a line of police officers to be prosecuted and acquitted as a result of some of the most high-profile miscarriage of justice cases of the last two decades - the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Darvell brothers and, in this week's case, the conviction, subsequently quashed, of Winston Silcott for the murder of PC Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riots.

Relatives and lawyers of those recently freed claim that although allegations of police malpractice are frequently made, it is rare for police officers - even if prosecuted - to be convicted. The police say that inevitably serving officers will come to be the subject of allegations of this sort. So what have been the recent cases - within the past two years - involving police officers, and what has been the result?


July 26: The Crown Prosecution Service says it will prosecute two officers formerly attached to Stoke Newington police station for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice following a three-year inquiry into alleged corruption at the station. Forty-four other officers against whom allegations were made will not face charges due to insufficient evidence. Some might face disciplinary action.

July 25: The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police pays #33,500 into court in settlement of a family's claim over assault and battery and false imprisonment, which the force denied.

July 18: The Met pays up to #500,000 damages and costs to six people wrongly accused of possessing drugs in 1984. Charges were dropped 14 months after the arrests when Inspector Norman McGowan was jailed for a year at the Old Bailey for stealing drugs, allegedly to plant on people.

July 11: Ministry of Defence and Hampshire Police pay #10,000 in an out-of-court settlement to Diane McDonald, formerly living at Greenham Common, for wrongful arrest and detention in 1984. She was arrested several times at night by police and armed soldiers and kept in a muddy pit surrounded by barbed wire; on other occasions she was kept at Aldershot or Alton Police Stations, without being told why.

July 4: Gary Stretch receives #10,000 damages against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police after being beaten up by seven off-duty police officers in 1987. The officers were sacked when he complained to the Police Complaints Commission after the incident, reinstated on appeal, and sacked again when the appeal was overturned by then Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, in 1992. The Met is estimated to have paid around #1 million in legal costs and wages while the officers were suspended for three years. A police spokeswoman said no liability was accepted.

June 30: Three officers from the South Wales Police are cleared of fabricating evidence to convict two men - Paul and Wayne Darvell - of the rape and murder of a sex shop manageress. The Darvells were given life sentences in 1986 and were freed by the Court of Appeal in 1993 on the grounds that the convictions were unsound.

May 27: Appeal Court frees two Sri Lankan Tamils convicted of murdering three people in a firebomb attack and jailed for life in 1988, saying there had been "wholesale breaches" of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act by investigating officers.

May 16: The Met pays #24,500 damages to a man wrongfully arrested during a police raid on squatters in 1988. Police deny liability.

May 11: The CPS announces it is charging Det Supt Richard Holland and Ronald Outteridge, a forensic scientist, with "acts intending and conspiring to pervert the course of justice" following the 16-year imprisonment of Stephan Kiszko, whose conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal. Both men have retired. Mr Holland has since become a security consultant.

May 3: Appeal Court frees Mark Cleary, who had served eight years of a life sentence for murdering a 10-year-old boy, after conviction declared unsafe and unsatisfactory. Judges said, among other things, they had "very real anxiety" about the way police officers interrogated Cleary and obtained his confession.

April 29: Det Con Mark Guy is given a one-month suspended sentence after attacking a sleeping man in a waiting room at Bath station. The man was charged with threatening behaviour, possessing an offensive weapon and assaulting a policeman, but the policeman's unprovoked attack, witnessed but unreported by another officer, was captured by security cameras. "These offences are so serious that a custodial sentence can only be justified. But I am satisfied that these were exceptional circumstances," said Judge Bursell.

January 26: PC John Hambley is fined #250 at a Kent police disciplinary hearing, after he allegedly threw a banger at a pregnant woman from his patrol car. The CPS decided the offence was not serious enough to bring to court. PC Hambley was suspended after the incident and reinstated after the hearing.


December 18: John Campbell, a charity worker suffering from Aids, says he will sue the Met after the CPS refused to bring charges against a constable from the diplomatic and royal protection squad who beat him up during a bomb alert in London in 1992. The CPS said the assault was not serious and that the case could be heard at a Metropolitan Police disciplinary hearing, but the Met first postponed then cancelled the hearing because the officer involved had retired.

October 11: The Met pays #20,000 damages plus costs to a woman arrested for failing to display a tax disc in 1989. She accused police of assault, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. PCs Simon Hartfield and James Kellett do not face perjury proceedings or any formal disciplinary action. "However, both officers were severely admonished by their chief superintendents," said a Scotland Yard spokeswoman. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has not admitted liability or offered an apology.

October 7: An Old Bailey judge rules that charges against three retired West Midlands detectives in connection with the Birmingham Six case should be dropped. Mr Justice Garland said the "volume and intensity" of media coverage following the Six's acquittal in 1991 made it impossible for the officers accused of fabricating evidence to have a fair trial.

August 6: It is revealed that two former members of the West Midlands serious crime squad found guilty of falsehood and prevarication by a disciplinary panel have been fined an undisclosed amount by their chief constable for failing to supervise properly a #75 payment to an informant in 1987. A further 10 officers would have been subject to disciplinary action if they had not left the force. The two are the only officers to have been punished since the disbanding of the squad in 1989. Fifteen people have been freed by the Court of Appeal after it found convictions based on the squad's evidence unsafe or unsatisfactory.

August 7: Dorset Police confirm that Superintendent Peter Power, the officer in charge of the west of Dorset, has been suspended on full pay while allegations against him are investigated, but refuses to outline the allegations. He later retires on health grounds.

May 19: Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Style, Detective Sergeant John Donaldson and Detective Constable Vernon Attwell are acquitted at the Old Bailey of conspiring to pervert the course of justice in fabricating evidence to convict the Guildford Four, whose convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1989.

April 28: The Police Complaints Authority annual report says too many officers are escaping disciplinary action by taking early retirement on medical grounds. 9.8 per cent of cases considered by the Authority in 1992 resulted in disciplinary proceedings.

February 12: Four suspended South Yorkshire police officers being investigated for corruption and theft are allowed to take early retirement on medical grounds, and so escape disciplinary action. The force refuses to give names, ages or career details of the officers, who are likely to retire with enhanced pensions.

January 24: A robbery trial at the Old Bailey is abandoned after a witness says he was instructed by a police officer to make a positive identification of a suspect - "in a loud and happy voice" - even if he had doubts.

January 24: The Bar Council drops an investigation into a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute six police officers over the death in a police van of a black athlete. An inquest had ruled that the man, who was mentally ill, was unlawfully killed, but DPP Barbara Mills said there was "no reasonable prospect of a successful prosecution."


December 10: Three men - the "Cardiff Three" - cleared by the Court of Appeal, which says their convictions for murdering a prostitute were unsafe and unsatisfactory. The Crown's opposition to their appeal collapsed under weight of strong criticism from appeal judges of the oppressive questioning by police of one of the three. The court heard a tape-recorded interview in which the suspect had denied murder 300 times. Police officials said that no officers had been suspended over the case and there was no internal inquiry.

November 23: PC David Judge acquitted at the Old Bailey on a charge of planting cannabis on a man who won #60,000 damages for being wrongly accused of possessing drugs. Judge Christopher Tyrer ruled that the officer could no longer face a fair trial.

Research by Emily Barr.
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