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Appeal against Summary Judgment in favour of the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police Dismissed

11 June 2018
An appeal against a decision to grant the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police summary judgment in a claim for false imprisonment and aggravated damages has been dismissed.

An appeal against a decision to grant the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police summary judgment in a claim for false imprisonment and aggravated damages has been dismissed. In the recent case of Stuart Holmes v Chief Constable of Merseyside [2018] EWHC 1026 (QB) the court upheld the principle that an arrest will be deemed lawful if the arresting officer genuinely and reasonably believed that an offence had been committed.

Facts

On 26 September 2011 the Appellant, Mr Holmes, positioned himself on a footbridge near of Liverpool's Echo Arena, the venue for the Labour Party Conference. Mr Holmes held a laminated poster which read "Nukiller power a crime against God".

Prior to the Conference a number of private land owners had issued notices to Merseyside Police stating that they did not give consent for any person to enter onto their land to conduct any protest or demonstration.

Mr Holmes' was approached on two occasions by police officers who asked him to move to the designated protest site. Mr Holmes refused to re-locate, citing his Article 10 right under the European Convention of Human Rights to freedom of expression. On the second occasion the two officers took Mr Holmes' arms and escorted him to the designated protest site and told him if he returned to the private land he would face arrest. Mr Holmes resisted and twice pushed past one of the officers in order to return to his original position.

Mr Holmes was arrested for the offence of obstructing an officer in the execution of his duty, for breach of the peace and aggravated trespass.  He was taken to St Anne's Street police station where he was detained for some 16 hours before being released on bail. A condition of his bail was that he was not to enter the area surrounding the Echo Arena until Friday 30 September 2011, the final day of the Conference. However, Mr Holmes was arrested on two occasions for breaching his bail conditions.

The CPS decided not to charge Mr Holmes in relation to breach of the bail conditions but he was charged with obstructing an officer in the execution of his duty. The CPS discontinued the obstruction charge on the grounds it was not in the public interest to prosecute.

Hearing

Mr Holmes, acting as a litigant in person, brought a claim for false imprisonment. He pleaded his case on the basis that there were no grounds on which the arresting officer could have reasonably suspected him to have committed the offences for which he was arrested.  He alleged that the arrest had been made a result of a police conspiracy against him and that he had been singled out. This later assertions were not pleaded in his statements of case. The police applied for Summary Judgment in relation to the whole claim on the grounds that the claim had no real prospects of success.

The court made attempts to identify the essence of the claim given the disparity between what was pleaded and the arguments that had subsequently been raised. It was determined that the heart of the claim was his belief that he had been singled out by the police as a potential trouble maker and all arrests were part of a discriminatory plot against him. He also believed that his Article 10 right, which included a right to protest without fear, had been breached.

The court concluded the arrest was lawful and did not breach Mr Holmes' Article 10 rights. There was a full and clear body of evidence from the police which justified the duration of the detention.

It was noted that Mr Holmes' actions were against the private land owners' wishes. Further, the state had provided a designated area for the purposes of public demonstration and protest. Interpreting Appleby v UK (44306/98), it was held that the State could not force a private person to permit protests on their land. The whole of the claim was struck out.

Appeal 

Mr Holmes, who had by now obtained pro-bono legal representation, appealed the decision to strike out his claim. His counsel argued that the court had allowed the summary judgment to by 'hijacked' by issues that had not been pleaded. It was submitted that the court should have focused his decision on whether the police acted lawfully in removing Mr Holmes from his position on the private land to the designated protest area and it was accepted that the court had been diverted away from the real issue in the case.

It was argued that the police did not have a right to enforce a landowner's wish to keep people off private land, but could only to assist the landowner in removing those who were trespassing on the land, when required to do so.

Counsel for the police relied on the decision in McCann v Crown Prosecution Service [2015] EWHC 2461 (Admin) and submitted that for an arrest to be lawful, the arresting officer did not have to be satisfied that an arrest had been committed but merely have reasonable grounds to suspect an offence was being committed.  

The officer's belief was reasonable and genuine as he considered he had a duty to remove Mr Holmes to the designated protest area on the instructions of superior officers. The arresting officer believed that Mr Holmes was obstructing him in the exercise of his duty and there were no prospect of Mr Holmes establishing that the arresting officer did not genuinely and reasonably hold such a belief.

The appeal was therefore dismissed.  

STUART HOLMES v CHIEF CONSTABLE OF MERSEYSIDE (2018)

[2018] EWHC 1026 (QB)

Further Reading