Page last updated Monday 23rd September 2013 at 0915hrs
Obsession with procedure and ready willingness to reach for the lawyer cheque book is one is a trait that characterises West Yorkshire Police. Dealing with dissatisfaction of a complainant who has suffered at the hands of the Force comes far down the list of priorities.
The well publicised Lee Sutcliffe case is one that is still rumbling on two and a half years after he was assaulted – and wrongfully arrested – by PC Lee Armstrong on the outskirts of Leeds city centre in the afternoon of 11th March 2011. Mr Sutcliffe had been stopped by PC Armstrong, a traffic officer with the Roads Policing Unit of West Yorkshire Police for allegedly driving his Audi car at 50mph in a 30mph zone. An altercation ensued in which Mr Sutcliffe was arrested on suspicion of committing a public order offence. During the arrest PC Armstrong handcuffed Mr Sutcliffe and discharged CS spray onto him. Twice before, and once after the handcuffs were applied. Mr Sutcliffe was also struck by the police officer’s baton and has suffered a permanent injury to his thumb as a result.
On 17th June 2011, the CPS decided not to charge Mr Sutcliffe with any offence. This was the day after his mother had decided to lodge a formal complaint with West Yorkshire Police concerning the conduct of PC Armstrong. The allegations were that he had abused his authority and committed an assault. At this point it is useful to remind ourselves of the now infamous Fraser Sampson uttering: “There is an unhealthy relationship between West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department and the CPS”. Sampson should know. He is Chief Executive and Solicitor of West Yorkshire Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.
After a delay of three months the matter was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) who determined that the case would be investigated by their own detectives, rather than the police probe the allegations themselves. Six months later in March 2012 the investigation concluded that the Sutcliffe complaint allegations were upheld and that, further, the arrest had been unlawful. This was all contained in a report entitled Independent Investigation Final Report: Leaford Sutcliffe Allegation of Assault and Unlawful Arrest.
The matter was referred to the CPS who took a different view, deciding in July 2012 that no charges were to be laid against PC Armstrong.
Two weeks later the Sutcliffe family and PC Armstrong were given sight of the IPCC’s report. Following publication of the Report, West Yorkshire Police decided to back PC Armstrong and commenced Judicial Review proceedings against the IPCC on the grounds that their Report, referred to above, far exceeded the ambit of such reports and, as such, was unlawful. Permission to proceed with the police’s Application was given by HH Judge Roy Behrens QC who, amongst other grounds, ruled that this was a matter of “considerable public interest”.
The Substantive Hearing of the Judicial Review was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in July 2012 before HH Judge Jeremy Richardson QC (pictured top centre). The IPCC were represented by Ivan Hare (pictured top right) and West Yorkshire Police’s counsel was Matthew Holdcroft (pictured top left). The police case, in essence, was that the function of the IPCC is not to determine criminal or civil liability. It’s role was investigative and to report any alleged findings of breach of criminal law or police discipline. Judgement was reserved at the end of the RCJ hearing and subsequently handed down at Hull High Court on 11th September 2013. HHJ Richardson found in favour of the police – emphatically so – and ruled that the IPCC report was outside the ambit of the law. The IPCC were given leave to Appeal which simply prolongs the agony for all concerned and places a further burden on the public purse.
PC Armstrong, who joined West Yorkshire Police in 2003, had previously been prosecuted for an assault on a member of public. This happened in 2007 when Armstrong was taken to court for allegedly using excessive force while arresting a man for being in possession of an offensive weapon in Keighley twenty two months before. HH Judge Jonathan Durham Hall, at Bradford Crown Court, clearing the police officer said: “Mr Armstrong you have in my judgement, if your actions are anything to judge by, a very good career ahead of you”.
It is not clear whether West Yorkshire Police are pursuing disciplinary action against PC Armstong in line with the IPCC’s recommendations.
More to follow….