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Glenys Goodenough and Another v The Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police (2020)

08 July 2020
Relatives of a man who had died shortly after being arrested failed in their Claim in battery against the Defendant Police Force, but succeeded in showing that there had been a breach of ECHR Article 2 given the flaws in the investigation following the man's death and were awarded damages. 
In 2003, the Claimant's brother (G), had made off when police attempted to stop his vehicle. When G finally came to a halt in a cul-de-sac (with his engine still running), the officers attempted to get G out of his car, which he resisted. One officer punched G twice in the face and brought him to the ground which caused G to suffer a fractured jaw. An ambulance was called but G died shortly after it arrived. The cause of death was atrial fibrillation due to the stress of the events. 


The police became aware of G's death and notified the Police Complaints Authority. Around 3 hours later (before any officer had been subject to an individual debrief), there was a general de-brief meeting in which the attending officers gave their accounts in front of each other.  Four officers were charged with manslaughter and ABH, all were eventually acquitted. 

The Court dismissed the claim in battery but found the Article 2 claim to have been made out. There were three matters to consider following the judgment: permission to appeal, remedy for breach of Article 2 and costs.

In regard to the Claimant's Claim in the tort of battery, the Court held that whilst the officers had used force which "went well beyond that which would otherwise be generally acceptable in everyday life," it had been lawful for the officers to use that force against G in the aftermath of the chase and it was therefore reasonable.  It was held that the officers concerned had been acting in the reasonable belief that there was an imminent threat of attack (G had already fled once, had his engine still running and was resisting arrest). It was important not to analyse the events which had occurred in the cul-de-sac in isolation.  Finally, it would not have occurred to anyone present that the injuries sustained would have been capable of causing death. 

The Claimants conceded that the Court was bound to find that a perceived threat was enough, given the decision in Ashley v Chief Constable of Sussex [2006] EWCA Civ 1085. Ashley was binding on the Court and also on the Court of Appeal and therefore permission to appeal was refused.  It was noted that the Claimants could seek permission from the Court of Appeal and this would be a free-standing application. 

The Court held in relation to the Article 2 claim that the investigation into G's death was operationally inadequate. While there was no actual collusion between the key officers involved, there was a risk of innocent contamination when holding a joint meeting with all the officers shortly after G's death.  It was found that the shortcomings of the investigation probably added to the distress and anxiety suffered by the Claimants.  The Court considered DSD and the Judicial College guidelines and awarded £5,000 to each Claimant.  The Court also made a formal declaration as follows:  "The Defendant breached the Article 2 investigative duty by failing to take steps to prevent the key police officer witnesses from conferring prior to providing their first written accounts, for the reasons outlined in the judgment.”

Given the mixed outcome, the Defendant was awarded one half of its costs against the Claimants.

Comment

It is significant that the flaws in the investigation caused the Article 2 claim to be made out.  It will be interesting to see how the Claimants get on with their application regarding use of force/battery and their challenge to Ashley. 

Article authors: Rose Silvester and Adam Hartridge.

Further Reading