Society Magazine

Excessive Force Or Justified Action?

Posted on the 04 November 2011 by Minimumcover @minimumcover

I am going to put my neck on the line here and examine the circumstances surrounding a recent complaint by 24 year-old Jonathan Billinghurst against six Metropolitan Police Officers who arrested him after his car was stopped in North London. After a lengthy investigation it has been decided that the officers from Enfield Crime Squad will not face criminal charges and their suspension from duty is currently being reviewed following the CPS decision. An internal disciplinary procedure has resulted in one officer being reduced in rank and the others receiving a formal reprimand.

Have a look at the video below which was taken by a member of the team.

There are two obvious opinions in respect of this incident. There are those that believe that the actions of the officers were well above the acceptable level of force that should be used by UK officers. Then there are those that believe that the officers were completely justified in their methods.

Billinghurst bought the nice looking Mini car for the amazingly cheap sum of £6,000 after seeing it advertised in the local area. Not surprisingly the car turned out to be stolen, but Billinghurst said he had no idea that this was the case. It appears that the ridiculously low price which would have set alarm bells ringing in my head (and that of most rational people) did not make him suspicious, and he bought the car. This was his first mistake.
Billinghurst’s second mistake was the misguided belief that he should then drive his nice new stolen car around North London, and to his job at Ikea, despite being disqualified from driving.

As you can see from the video clip above, officers surround the car and use a number of unorthodox items to smash the side windows and the windscreen of the vehicle before removing Billinghurst from the driver’s seat and cuffing him on the ground beside the car. This is the main cause for complaint.

The officers stated that they had intelligence that indicated that Billinghurst was a violent individual who used weapons and posed a particular threat to Police officers. If this was the case, I would be prepared to argue that the force used to damage the car was justified.
The baseball bats are not normal PPE, I agree, but their purpose was purely to effect a safe and rapid entry into the car by taking out the side windows, and to prevent escape by damaging the windscreen – note that only the area immediately in front of the driver was shattered.
I have  attempted to perform similar distraction and disorientation strikes on vehicle windows in the past with an ASP baton and failed to achieve the desired effect on a number of occasions in training and in two live incidents. I understand the reason behind the decision to use more robust methods here.

An investigation by the anti-corruption team subsequently confirmed that this intelligence did not exist. It does not confirm, however, that the officers were aware of this fact. I have seen incidents where officers are provided an intelligence pack and briefed on an operation only for it t be discovered afterwards that the information was incorrect or incomplete. It is possible that the officers acted in an honestly held belief that Billinghurst posed a real threat to them and acted accordingly having been given inaccurate or even fictitious information.

The information that supposedly existed also makes the arrest method used by the officers in taking Billinghurst to the ground before cuffing him justifiable if the officers believed they were acting in response to it.

The questions then have to be:

  • Did the officers who conducted this arrest believe the intelligence relating to weapons and violence was genuine?
  • If they believed the intelligence existed, was the level of force used acceptable in the light of this belief?
  • Should Billinghurst have been driving around in a stolen Mini without a valid driving license in the first place?

If the answer to the first question was ‘Yes’, then I believe the answer to the second question should also be ‘Yes’. The answer to the third question is a resounding ‘No’ regardless of the previous answers. The subsequent conviction for Disqualified Driving and Handling Stolen Goods answers that question for those of you who were still on the fence.
If the answer to the first question was ‘No’ then (and it appears that this may have been the case if we consider the subsequent disciplinary action) there are questions to be asked.

However, (and this is where I can hear a few sharp intakes of breath) the rights of a disqualified driver in a stolen car to make a complaint about the fact that he was caught committing a crime, the method of the arrest (which I do not believe resulted in any injury) and the fact that the officers damaged a car he had no right to be driving are questionable. He should not have been there in the first place!
If Billinghurst had been dragged from the car and beaten by the officers, or if they had picked on an innocent member of the public on the back of some private vendetta then the book should be thrown at them. I have seen nothing that suggests that either of these scenarios are the case.

Right result with a questionable method or a group of renegade officers working outside the law? Let the debate begin…

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