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Walker v Metropolitan Police

A brief period of detention, when the claimant was effectively ‘held’ in a doorway without being touched, amounted to false imprisonment.

Court of Appeal (Rix, Tomlinson and Rimer LLJ)
1 July 2014

Executive summary

A brief period of detention, when the claimant was effectively ‘held’ in a doorway without being touched, amounted to false imprisonment. In relation to his subsequent arrest, the words ‘public order’ used in context amounted to a legally and factually adequate explanation of the reason for his subsequent arrest under section 28(3) PACE.


Background

In the early hours of 12 July 2008, the claimant got into a fight with his girlfriend. When the police arrived, the girlfriend told them he had punched her. Less than 2½ minutes later the claimant found himself in handcuffs being taken to the police station. He was detained for seven hours before being released on bail later, charged with assaulting PC Adams in the execution of his duty. He was acquitted on the basis that the officer had restricted his movements unlawfully and so acted outside the execution of his duty.

Two years later the claimant intimated a civil claim and then commenced proceedings. The first instance trial before HHJ Freeland QC sitting alone failed in its entirety.

On the question of the claimant’s initial detention, the judge characterised the detention for a few seconds as brief, trivial and technical, falling within ‘the acceptable standards of an ordinary citizen’ as discussed in the leading authority of Collins v Wilcock.

As to the lawfulness of the force used by the claimant, the judge held his actions to have been a gross and disproportionate overreaction and turning to compliance with section 28(3) PACE, the use of the words ‘public order’ by PC Adams was satisfactory for the purposes of the statute, as previously considered in the Court of Appeal decision of Taylor v Thames Valley Police.

Limited permission to appeal was given by the Court of Appeal on the following points:

1. Did the initial detention in the doorway amount to false imprisonment?

2. If so, was the claimant’s reaction reasonable and proportionate in self-defence?

3. Was the arrest for ‘public order’ valid under Section 28(3)?


Court of Appeal

Did the initial detention in the doorway amount to false imprisonment?

It was common ground that PC Adams had not been in the course of arresting the claimant when he detained him by confining him within the narrow area of the doorway. The confinement had been total, albeit without physical force being used. Notwithstanding the relatively trivial nature of the detention lasting only a few seconds, there was no good reason for the judge’s conclusion that the detention had fallen within ‘generally acceptable standards of the conduct of ordinary citizens’ so as to render it lawful. Lord Justice Rix observed that "it is not acceptable for an ordinary citizen to interfere with a person’s liberty by confining him or her in a doorway."

If so, was the claimant’s reaction reasonable and proportionate in self-defence?

The judge had seen and heard the witnesses and the Court of Appeal was not prepared to reverse his decision that the claimant’s conduct in freeing himself from his confinement was a gross and disproportionate overreaction.

Was the arrest for "public order" valid under section 28(3)?

Despite references to different offences on the custody record, during the claimant’s interview and in the Magistrates’ Court notes, the judge had found PC Adams to be wholly credible and had found that "PC Adams arrested the claimant for a public order offence and I am quite sure that he had section 5 in mind".

It was accepted that PC Adams had only been able to say ‘public order’ before the claimant’s reaction led to the ensuing struggle and his handcuffing. The claimant argued that those words were inadequate, even by reference to the requirement for the grounds for arrest to be expressed in simple, non-technical language that he could understand – see Taylor v Thames Valley Police. He argued that words like ‘disorderly conduct’ should have been used.

Although Lord Justice Rix conceded that his mind had wavered on this point, because public order could denote such a wide variety of offences, he concluded that:

"Mr Walker must have been fully aware that he was being arrested for his conduct in the face of PC Adams and that this was regarded as being a public order offence. It seems to me that is here a legally and factually adequate explanation of the reason for his arrest. Although in some situations legal labels may matter more than in others, I do not think that the particular legal label of a particular offence matters so much if the arrested person knows that he is being arrested for the conduct he has immediately carried out…in the face of the arresting officer, and after warnings that such conduct may lead to his arrest."

As a result, the claimant’s appeal against the finding that he had initially been detained lawfully succeeded, but he failed in his other challenges.

Comment

HHJ Freeland QC had stated that he would have awarded £5 for the few seconds of confinement had that been unlawful. There was no challenge to that figure and as a result the amount stood. However, Lord Justice Rix did observe that £5 was the same as the claimant in Austin v Metropolitan Police would have been awarded as a lawful demonstrator carrying a baby and held for a lengthy period, and Lord Justice Tomlinson thought the figure "generous to Mr Walker".

Finally, although acknowledging the prospect of the decision being regarded as inhibiting sensible policing, Lord Justice Tomlinson expressed the sincere hope that that would not be the case. The judge noted PC Adams’ stated intention to first discuss the circumstances as they presented themselves, to try to avoid arrest and all the inconvenience that would have generated to the claimant. The judge observed that "that might be thought to represent sensible policing, and it is unfortunate that did in fact give rise to a trivial but nonetheless unlawful detention."

For further information about Weightmans or to discuss any of the issues in this update, please contact Nick Peel, Partner, on 0151 242 9453 or email nick.peel@weightmans.com

Nick Peel
Weightmans LLP
1 July 2014