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What is a reasonable use of force by a Police Officer?

20 February 2020
It was not negligent for an officer to continue to bring the Appellant to the ground even when the manoeuvre resulted in the Appellant suffering a severe fracture to his left arm. 

The recent decision in Thompson v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester [2020] 1 WLUK 145 held that the Trial Judge had properly applied the test for breach of duty and had given adequate reasons for his conclusion that a police officer had not been negligent. His conclusion that there had been no breach of duty of care was not wrong or irrational.

Mr Thompson had attended a football match and was arrested as a result of an incident with a steward at the football ground. Mr Thompson was asked by the steward to stop smoking an e-cigarette but he refused and was belligerent. This was not the first time that Mr Thompson had disobeyed the no-smoking policy. The two police officers who attended feared that Mr Thompson was going to attack the steward. One of the officers therefore held Mr Thompson's right arm whilst the other officer held his left arm intending to apply a police restraint technique called an "entangled arm lock". Initially, Mr Thompson's left arm was bent at the elbow in accordance with the technique, but, due to the struggle, Mr Thompson's left arm had straightened when the second officer decided to take him to the ground. This meant that considerable force was applied to Mr Thompson's arm in the hyper-extended position, resulting in a severe fracture to his left arm. Mr Thompson brought a claim for false imprisonment, negligence and assault. 

All three claims were dismissed. The Judge's conclusions in respect of negligence were that the officer had intended to bring Mr Thompson to the ground using an entangled arm lock and that that was a reasonable decision. In the heat of the moment, with a split second for decision-making, it was not negligent to continue bringing him to the ground.

Mr Thompson argued two points. Firstly, the Judge had not considered whether it was unreasonable for the officer to carry on with the manoeuvre to take him down or to do so in some other way, and that given the importance of that issue the Judge should have dealt with it expressly. Secondly, it was irrational and wrong for the Judge not to have found that the officer should have performed an alternative manoeuvre.

The Appeal was dismissed. The Judge's finding was that the matter had unfolded too quickly to expect the officer to take another course and he had to make a split-second decision. The Judge's point was that in the melee that ensued it was not possible to make a measured assessment of the options. On the Judge's finding the officer had embarked on a safe manoeuvre. There was nothing wrong or irrational in his conclusion that the force used was not excessive. Mr Thompson had created the circumstances which led to his injury 

This decision is no doubt an important one for police forces and their officers across the country. The officer in this case had attempted the application of a police restraint technique, and, due to the split-second decision that needed to be made, had taken the Appellant to the ground when the technique was no longer in use, which caused injury. This was not negligent and there was no breach of duty.

Authors: Adam Hartridge and Rose Silvester.