Page last updated on Monday 22nd April 2013 at 15.35
Michael Bunting had been a West Yorkshire police officer for six years. He had been given three commendations in that short time and served bravely during street riots in the 1990s. He had also arrested high profile Leeds United footballer, Carlton Palmer, for disorderly conduct and indecent assault, of which Palmer was subsequently convicted.
A career in the police had been his ambition since childhood, when he saw his chief inspector father Melvyn in his uniform, but his dream ended in the worst manner imaginable. He was one a number of response officers called to a domestic incident in Burley, a suburb of his home city of Leeds (and co-incidentally the birthplace of Jimmy Savile), which quickly escalated into serious violence. As Michael tried to make an arrest he was pinned against a wall, repeatedly punched and then accidentally sprayed from colleague’s CS gas canister.
He suffered eight injuries to his face and head. He lost a tooth, and he was off work for five weeks with migraines. He was awarded £1,000 in compensation and his attacker John Patterson – who had a record of petty crime – was prosecuted and sentenced to 120 hours of community service.
At the time it seemed that justice had been served, and the matter closed, but then came an astonishing sting in the tail. Despite being blind drunk and with little cogent recall – and having only minor injuries himself – the convicted man insisted it was Michael who had assaulted HIM with four kicks to the head. Shocked, Michael admitted kicking out once – at the man’s chest – because he was so afraid for his own safety and wanted to help his colleagues get the man to the ground.
He was adamant his version of events were correct and expected the matter to be dropped. But an internal PSD investigation went on for two years. Then Michael was tried, convicted of common assault and jailed after a jury trial in which a string of witnesses gave confusing accounts of the incident. “I had always been one of the staunchest defenders of the legal system, I never had much time for all those so-called miscarriages of justice,” he says. “It was always my opinion that if anyone went to prison there was usually a good reason for their being there, whatever they said“.
“How wrong could I be? How naive could I be to think that, if you were honest and decent, you had nothing to fear? I hadn’t made allowances for how our old-fashioned ideas of right and wrong had been turned upside down.”
Michael served 33 nightmare days of a four-month sentence and all through that time he kept a rough diary, scribbled on scraps of toilet paper and old envelopes. “I had to write down what was happening to me because none of it seemed real,” he says. It started as a way to cling on to his sanity. Now he has turned it into a harrowing and acclaimed book, A Fair Cop, to tell the story of his prison ordeal. From the moment he went inside the grim stone walls of what its inmates call the “Armley Hilton”.
He was dismissed from the police after his sentencing and lost his pension. Today, Michael has established a new life. He runs a sports injury clinic in Leeds and lectures on fitness – even prison couldn’t take that mental or physical conditioning away from him. In his solitary cell, he kept up a daily regime of press-ups.
“Writing the book has been a therapy of sorts, but that wasn’t the only intention,” Michael says. “I don’t want the world to forget what happened to me”. I was a young man, educated at grammar school, from a decent background, a law-abiding citizen who wanted to help to enforce the law and make the place a bit safer. And for no reason, I found myself in jail. I can only think it was because I was a copper, that the judiciary wanted to make some kind of statement.
When the accusations were first made against PC Bunting his colleagues rallied round. The officers he worked with, who knew him well, supported him all the way. Lots of them still stay in touch. “I’m still pursuing another CCRC appeal. I will never give up. I’m not optimistic I will succeed but I hope people will ask themselves whether I received natural justice”.
The officer whose testimony effectively sent Mick Bunting to jail was Sgt Samantha Millar who, until his recent retirement, was a DCI and Staff Officer to Rogue Chief John Parkinson. She has retained the role with his replacement and fellow Rogue Chief, Mark Gilmore. There would, we surmise, be very little point in either Parkinson or Gilmore having a scrupulously honest officer as bag carrier so “Sammy” would be a appropriate choice in those circumstances.
Mick tells us he is currently working with the BBC on a series about his case and his second book The Dark Side will be published after his second CCRC appeal is heard.
The Bunting Case is another West Yorkshire Police miscarriage of justice with too many similarities to the Danny Major case for uPSD’s taste. The Greater Manchester Police investigation into the Danny Major cover-up is under way and clearing Danny’s name may assist Michael Bunting to do the same.