No liability for arrest after passing incorrect information

There was no liability for the claimant’s subsequent police arrest of a person passing to the police in good faith incorrect information putting in…

Ali v Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and G4S Secure Solutions UK Ltd

High Court (Birss J) [2018] EWHC 591 (Ch)

Executive summary

There was no liability for the claimant’s subsequent police arrest of a person passing to the police in good faith incorrect information putting in train events leading to that arrest. Birss J so held in an appeal by the claimant.

Background and facts

Concerned for their three year-old daughter’s health, the claimant and his wife took her first to their GP and then to hospital. After leaving her there overnight, when the claimant returned, he and his wife were concerned over the hospital’s perceived lack of monitoring or treatment. The claimant wanted to remove his daughter but was advised not to by a nurse. He persisted and the disagreement was escalated to hospital security in accordance with procedure. Security staff then tried to reinforce the nurse’s advice that the child needed to stay but to no avail. When the claimant and his wife then started to leave the hospital car park with their daughter, a member of hospital staff called the police. His opening observation was:

‘… this is security at Heartlands Hospital, one of our warders reported a parent taking a child off the ward that’s got a child protection order on it.’

The reference to a child protection order was erroneous. The district judge found the source of the error to have been the G4S security guard rather than the nurse. The remainder of the call was accurate. There was no question of bad faith.

The police arrived and arrested both parents on suspicion of kidnapping. When they found out that there was no so-called child protection order in place, the claimant was de-arrested for that offence and re-arrested for neglect. After detention for 20 hours he was released without charge.

The claimant sued the hospital and the security firm. The lawfulness of the police actions was not in dispute. The issue was whether the arrest had been effectively procured by G4S through the provision of false information. The district judge held not and the claimant appealed.

Decision

Birss J upheld the first instance decision. Applying the Court of Appeal decision in Davidson v Chief Constable of North Wales [1994] 2 All ER 597, as the district judge had correctly done, meant that a claim for false imprisonment could only lie against G4S if their security guard had gone beyond merely giving information to the police on which they could act or not as they saw fit, and had instead been the instigator, promoter and active inciter of the arrest and imprisonment.

As Birss J observed:

‘…if a person deliberately invents a very serious false allegation to which they say they are a witness and which the police would be in no position to check and puts that allegation to the police so that the police officer’s discretion is effectively removed, therefore procuring the claimant’s arrest, that person commits the tort because in those circumstances they are responsible for the arrest. Such a person has gone beyond laying information before police officers for them to act as they saw fit. On the other hand a person who merely gives information in good faith albeit mistakenly does not commit the tort. To be liable they have to go beyond that by directing, requesting or directly encouraging the officers to arrest the claimant, as a result of which the prosecuting authority could be said [to be] acting as their agent or whom the defendant procured to act as they did.’ Paragraph 32

And again helpfully at paragraph 36:

‘The essential test is whether what the defendant did had the effect of turning the police into their agent or as someone whom the defendant procured to act as they did. A defendant who merely provides information to the police in good faith is not procuring the claimant’s arrest even if it is practically inevitable that an arrest will follow.’

The appeal was dismissed.

Comment

This case provides a useful synopsis of the law’s continuing approach to potential ‘accessory’ liability for false imprisonment. The Court of Appeal decision in Davidson remains the benchmark.

If this raises any questions please speak to your usual contact in the Weightmans or contact Nick Peel (nick.peel@weightmans.com)

Share on Twitter