Goodenough v Chief Constable of Thames Valley (2020)
Robin Goodenough died in police custody shortly after the car which he had been driving had been stopped
The case concerns the death of a man in police custody. The use of force used by the officers was found to be reasonable because of a reasonably perceived threat. The evidence in the investigation that followed was contaminated and this amounted to a breach of Article 2 which includes a duty to investigate a death. The deceased’s mother and sister received £5,000 each.
Robin Goodenough died in police custody shortly after the car which he had been driving had been stopped. The officers involved had used force upon him in the process of extracting him from the vehicle. Two claims were brought by the claimants who were his mother and sister: (i) in the tort of battery; and (ii) in respect of an alleged breach of rights under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights ("ECHR") arising from flaws in the investigation which followed Mr Goodenough's death.
The court dismissed the first claim but found the second to have been made out. Three ancillary disputes followed the judgment. They comprised: (i) permission to appeal; (ii) remedy for breach of Article 2; and (iii) costs.
This judge based his original decision that the use of force was reasonable upon the evidence of the officers’ perceptions at the time. They believed that the deceased was going to injure officers by driving the vehicle at them and/or by the deployment of a weapon. The belief was genuine and objectively reasonable. The claimants conceded that the court was bound by Court of Appeal authority on the point in Ashley v The Chief Constable of Sussex Police . The judge refused leave but invited the claimants to seek leave from the Court of Appeal. The remaining grounds for appeal amount to challenges to factual findings and the court did not give leave.
The court ruled that the serious shortcomings of the investigation probably added to the very considerable distress and anxiety suffered by the claimants in the aftermath of Mr Goodenough’s death. The starting point following DSD V Commissioner was to give the claimants just satisfaction. Following DSD it could be assumed by the court that the claimants had suffered psychiatric damage. This was not one of the cases in which the claimants had already benefitted from a common law award capable of subsuming any remaining potential claims under the Human Rights Act. The potential claim relating to the psychological impact on the claimants of the Human Rights Act breach lay outside the parameters of the harm which would fall to be compensated for under the common law of tort and through the application of the provisions either of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 or the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. The defendants argued that there was no actual collusion between the officers but a risk of contamination of their evidence. The judge accepted that it never occurred to the officers that there was any impropriety in the way in which they set about investigating the death of Mr Goodenough and that national policy offered little or no assistance to them at the time. Nevertheless, the shortfalls were sufficiently serious to justify compensation.
The JSB guidelines for psychiatric harm within the less severe bracket ranged from £1,440 to £5,500. The Human Rights Acts covered wider anxiety and distress than would be incorporated for consideration under a common law claim. The judge therefore awarded£5,000 for each claimant.
Finally, on costs, the defendant had been successful on the main point of the alleged battery but the claimants had succeeded on the Article 2 claim and in interlocutory matters. The court therefore ordered that costs should be for the defendant but to be set off against the award of damages and the claimants’ costs in interlocutory matters. This followed the decision in Lockley v National Blood Transfusion Service  1 W.L.R. 492.
This is an interesting decision for several reasons but mainly by way of restating the existing law. The following points emerge:-
- A reasonably-perceived threat is enough to justify the reasonable use of force following Ashley.
- Failures in investigation into a death can support an Article 2 claim.
- Damages can be recovered by close relatives for psychiatric damage.
- These can be reduced if recovered under other heads of damages but just satisfaction must be given.
- Costs in your favour can be set off against damages award and costs orders made against you.
- We should see how the claimants fare in their application to the Court of Appeal for leave to challenge the Ashley use of force point.
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