I’m currently helping a Crimebodge reader bring an appeal against a conviction of common assault he received in Southampton Magistrates’ Court last week for allegedly ‘pushing past a police officer’ who was shopping in Sainsbury’s while on duty. After hearing all the facts and looking at the CPS evidence file, it was clear that the prosecution was malicious. What it did show however, was just how easy it is for the police to make such malicious arrests and a further a petty prosecution that would have been refused if the victim had been a member of the public.
When Mr. A spotted two Hampshire police officers stopping off at Sainsbury’s in full uniform to do their shopping, he decided to film them on his mobile phone. The two officers PC 25156 Robert Hooks and P.C. 24163 Chris Lewis clearly didn’t want to be captured and insisted he stop filming. Mr. A refused. The two officers then threatened to arrest him for obstruction. Mr. A eventually put his camera away, but it subsequently became clear that the officers were concerned he had captured their unofficial shopping trip on his device and could possibly use it to get them in trouble.
Minutes later, when Mr. A entered the same Supermarket, PC Hooks and PC Lewis decided to set a trap for him. Lewis followed Mr. A around the store while Hooks ensured that Mr. A would not be able to get to the tills without having to pass himself first. When Mr. A approached to pay for his goods, Hooks deliberately turned around and watched him. As soon as Mr. A passed Hooks, the officer lurched forward and simultaneously accused Mr. A of barging into him, which Mr. A denied. The officer then took out his handcuffs and arrested Mr. A for ‘assaulting a police officer in the execution of his duties’. Mr. A was then led out of the store by both officers and placed inside their vehicle. They then insisted he hand over his mobile phone. When Mr. A asked why, they said it was so he couldn’t make phone calls while he was being taken into custody. Mr. A could not refuse, as the officers threatened to seize the phone by force if they had to.
Back at the station he was placed into a police cell so he could be later interviewed about the fabricated incident. He was held at the station for eight hours in total. He was also further detained so that another officer could interrogate him under anti- terrorist legislation, for having filmed the two officers in the first place.
Mr. A was subsequently charged with ‘common assault’ and bailed to attend Southampton Magistrates’ Court at a later date. When his mobile phone was returned, the recording he had captured of the two officers outside Sainsbury’s had been deleted.
Mr. A was denied legal aid by the Legal Services Commission to employ a defence solicitor, on the grounds that the offence was too trivial to qualify. Too trivial to qualify for help with his defence, but not so trivial that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service wouldn’t waste tax payers money to pursue it through the courts.
The prosecution’s case hinged upon nothing more than PC Hooks’ statement that the offence took place. Lewis claimed not to have witnessed the event. Also, despite it occurring in a busy supermarket, the police gathered no other witnesses. They did however acquire a copy of the CCTV footage. Not from any of the cameras that showed the officers following Mr. A around the store of course, but solely from the camera pointing at the exit. The police seized the CCTV evidence knowing full well that it hadn’t captured the assault because the incident never occurred. They knew however that they were obliged to obtain the only piece of physical evidence that existed, as to refuse to do so would make it obvious they had something to hide. Besides which they knew that Mr. A could obtain a copy of the footage if they didn’t. Once seized, they refused to show the footage to Mr. A at interview, and refused to allow him copy of it. It also gave Hooks an opportunity to watch the footage, so he could rearrange the facts on his statement as to why he had been stood in such a conspicuous spot of the supermarket, for quite some time.
Lewis had ensured his own body worn video camera had been switched off when the incident occurred, despite the fact that it had recorded him talking to Mr. A before entering the store and upon leaving it when he was escorted out under arrest.
On the day of the trial, Mr. A was denied access to the court’s duty solicitor. He was told that if he wanted to speak to the duty solicitor then he should have come in the day before the trial; despite the fact it had been court staff who had told him not to bother coming in prior to the trial. The duty solicitor even refused to tell Mr. A how he could request an adjournment or an order, to get a copy of evidence he had requested from the police which they had ignored.
The rest of the hearing was the same flavour of injustice he had experienced at the police station, especially as the Justices’ clerk had routinely denied every request Mr. A made and endeavoured to expedite the proceedings as swiftly as possible because they had “three more trials to get through”. It was also clear that nobody at the CPS had bothered to so much as glance at the prosecution that Lewis and Hooks had engineered. This is because the CPS only review cases that they themselves bring. Which means the police are wholly unaccountable, and can bring whatever prosecutions they want, then they feel like it, without even so much a glance at the statutory provisions they must abide by before doing so.
Despite Mr. A getting the opportunity to show the magistrates the same piece of CCTV footage six times in a row, proving that he had not assaulted Lewis, the magistrates believed that a police officer deserved special treatment as victim/arresting officer/prosecutor. They therefore decided that PC Lewis’ version of events were the truer account. Mr. A cross examined Lewis in the witness box about what he was really doing there that day, and why he claimed to have been waiting at the tills, despite the fact that neither he nor Lewis had any purchases (as evidenced on the CCTV) and nor did Sainsbury’s have a receipt of any items, but his dishonest answers were glossed over by the magistrates’.
Mr. A was found guilty on the grounds that “his filming of the police on his mobile phone (prior to the alleged incident of common assault) had been provocative.” However, the magistrates declined to sentence Mr. A and gave him a conditional discharge instead. Tantamount to saying that the trial was a complete waste of time.
I have advised Mr. A to appeal against this conviction to the Crown Court, on the grounds that not only was the offence never proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the magistrates and the clerks constant obstructions had denied him the right to a fair trial.