Mr Matthew McConville, the Head of our specialised Actions Against the Police Department at Irvings Law has successfully represented a client in a civil claim against Merseyside Police which went all the way to a contested Trial. Due to the nature of the factual background, Mr McConville’s client will be referred to as ‘Miss J’ for the purposes of this case report.
Miss J met her then friend, B (anonymised due to the nature of the allegations) at in his flat in Liverpool. After this, Miss J and B attended the Camp and Furnace for a “Bongos Bingo” event. At the said event, Miss J and B met with four other of their friends. The reason why Miss J and her friends were out was to celebrate her 30th birthday
Miss J and her friends stayed at the Camp and Furness until around 23:00hrs. After this, all of them went back to B’s flat to further their night. The last thing that Miss J remembered was sitting on the floor in the kitchen talking with one of her friends which would have been well into the early hours of the morning. Then, at around 06:00hrs, Miss J awoke to find herself in B’s bedroom being sexually assaulted. Miss J collected her belongings and left the flat in a state of panic and severe upset.
Miss J then spoke to a friend who is a serving Police Officer in Merseyside Police and she advised the Claimant to go to the “Safe Place” and report the matter. As advised, Miss J did so and was examined whereby swabs and samples were provided by her too. Miss J tried to continue her already arranged birthday celebrations with her family and other friends so did not report the matter to Merseyside Police until a few days later when she worked up the courage to speak about what happened.
After her initial account to Merseyside Police, Miss J was told that she would need to provide a further more detailed account/interview and that B had been arrested for the alleged crime. Later that day and when released on bail, B sent Miss J an apology in a letter. To add to this, B’s mother sent a text to Miss J too. Despite this, Miss J was informed by Merseyside Police that B had denied the offence. Understandably, Miss J was very upset upon hearing this but nevertheless agreed to assist the ongoing investigation by providing another interview. Miss J was also told that forensic analysis of the swabs and samples that she provided to the “Safe Place” and her clothing, which she had submitted, would be undertaken also by Merseyside Police.
As requested and agreed, Miss J provided a visually recorded interview to Merseyside Police which maintained her account of what happened. Miss J also handed the above mentioned letter and text that she had received from B and his mother which contained the apologies. Despite this further evidence which could have assisted in charging B at this time, B was not re-interviewed. The Officer in Charge of the said investigation then attended the “Safe Place” that Miss J had attended but he only collected one single swab that Miss J and none of the other samples were asked for. Thankfully, Miss J received confirmation that B had been charged and his trial then began at Liverpool Crown Court but B was found not guilty.
After trying to understand what had happened with the outcome of the criminal case, Miss J contacted Merseyside Police to query matters that had become apparent during the trial. Miss J’s main concern was why Merseyside Police did not collect all evidence from “Safe Place” to pass over to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as this would have likely secured the conviction of B. The reason why this was Miss J’s man concern was because B had changed his defence to the alleged crime against him from nothing happened to something did happen but it was consensual to then counter-alleging that Miss J had been under the influence of drugs on the night in question. If Merseyside Police had collected everything from the “Safe Place” such counter-allegation would have been swiftly disproven and B’s credibility tarnished making prosecution inherently more likely. Further, a re-interview of B about the apology letter and text at the time they were sent would too possibly stopped any change of defence to the alleged crime and avoided B’s ability at trial to say that he was apologising for something else.
After considering Miss J’s concerns, Merseyside Police sincerely apologised for their errors within the investigation as regards not appropriately dealing with the Claimant’s forensic samples that were provided by Miss J to the “Safe Place” and that it would have been ‘best practice’ for B to have been re-interviewed but this did not happen in this case.
After this, Miss J sought the expert assistance of Mr McConville for further recourse and without any hesitation whatsoever, no win no fee terms were offered to Miss J and then Mr McConville sent a Letter of Claim to Merseyside Police alleging that their failures contravened Article 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Mr McConville stated that there is a positive duty upon Merseyside Police to properly investigate crimes of sexual assault and their failures here were ‘serious and egregious’ to engage a breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Mr McConville requested Merseyside Police to extend Miss J’s Human Rights limitation (a year since the alleged failure) so that they could investigate her civil claim for compensation. Unfortunately and surprisingly, Merseyside Police refused such a reasonable and cost-saving request from Miss J stating that there was no need to issue such a claim as there was no prospects of Miss J succeeding with the same. As such, Mr McConville issued and served Court proceedings upon Merseyside Police after they formally denied liability and refused to engage in resolution discussions.
Mr McConville stated on behalf of Miss J within her served Court proceedings that she sought a declaration and compensation for an alleged a breach of Article 3 of her Human Rights as:
- Merseyside Police failed to re-interview B about the comments/admissions made in correspondence even though the matter was brought to their attention by Miss J;
- Merseyside Police failed in the first instance to collect or test the forensic samples taken from Miss J during her initial medical examination;
- Merseyside Police then failed to have the items tested after the accused had raised the issue in his defence in order to rebut the defence allegations raised in the Crown Court trial; and
- Merseyside Police failed to bring to the attention of the Crown Prosecution Service the existence of “unused material” relating to the forensic samples taken from Miss J;
In their formal Defence to Miss J’s served Court proceedings, Merseyside Police finally began to acknowledge that there were some deficiencies in the investigation but still denied Miss J’s claim on the basis that the errors were not ‘serious and egregious’. Due to the above disputes between the parties, the matter was listed for a trial as it was evident that the Civil Court would be needed to reach determination the lawfulness of Merseyside Police’s actions.
On approach to trial, Merseyside Police then asserted that the Officer in Charge was unable to attend trial as he had now retired from the Force although an exceptionally crucial witness to the matter. This was evident of Merseyside Police’s poor conduct throughout the initially investigation and Miss J’s litigation. Thankfully, the Trial Judge saw right through Merseyside Police and ordered that ‘the Court declares that on the facts found, Merseyside Police acted in a manner that was incompatible with a convention right … in that it failed to act with appropriate diligence in order to conduct an effective investigation as required by Article 3 … following Miss J’s complaint of serious sexual assault and in addition to the above declaration, Merseyside Police shall pay Miss J the sum of £2,000 as just satisfaction of her claim under the HRA 1998 in respect of her rights under Article 3 …’.
Further to this, Merseyside Police were ordered to pay Miss J’s hefty legal costs in making her have to go through the Court process all again and to make matters worse for her, Merseyside Police even attempted to appeal such a decision of the Court but rightly, the Court dismissed such a meritless submission.