How CCTV balances the scales of justice
Iain Gould, solicitor and specialist in civil actions against the police, comments on the upside of the surveillance state
It is often said that Britain is the CCTV capital of the world.
According to a report from the British Security Industry Association there are between 4 million to 5.9 million CCTV cameras operating in the UK.
Most of those are privately owned but not all.
A 2009 Freedom of Information request made by the BBC’s Newsnight programme showed that both Shetland Islands Council and Corby Borough Council have more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco Police Department.
Wandsworth Borough Council in London has just under four cameras per 1,000 people, more than the police departments of Boston (USA), Johannesburg (SA), and Dublin City Council combined.
This contributes to the 7,431 public CCTV cameras in London, almost 23 times as many as Paris.
In my day-to-day work as a solicitor who sues the police and those who act with police-like powers I am regularly told about situations where the police have over-stepped the mark. CCTV footage is often instrumental in proving how.
CCTV in a Supermarket Proves Police Lies
I represented a client (who wishes to remain anonymous) after he was prosecuted for a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act (allegedly using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’) after he spoke to a Leicestershire police officer in his local Morrisons Supermarket.
Mr. X (as I will refer to him) saw the officer shopping for shoelaces and approached him. He asked,
‘There is a 9.2 million pound deficit for the next 3 years and you are here shopping for bloody shoelaces and shoe polish. Do you think this is acceptable?’
To which the officer replied that he needed new laces to catch criminals.
The officer then warned Mr. X that his conduct amounted to a breach of Section 5. Mr. X disagreed and said he would lodge a complaint.
Two months later he received a summons to attend court in connection with the alleged offence.
At trial the police officer gave evidence that Mr. X had been aggressive and intimidating during the exchange.
The police and/or Crown Prosecution Service failed to disclose the supermarket’s CCTV footage so, without evidence to the contrary, Mr. X was convicted at Magistrates’ Court.
He was sure he had done nothing wrong so appealed his conviction to the Crown Court. In advance of the appeal hearing the CCTV footage was disclosed.
Although there was no audio, the footage showed that Mr. X was neither aggressive nor intimidating towards the officer. Crucially, the officer showed no signs of alarm or distress.
As a result, the appeal was allowed and his conviction was overturned.
I later sued Leicestershire Police for damages for malicious prosecution and assault.
Despite the CCTV footage, Leicestershire Police denied liability, leaving me with no alternative but to issue proceedings and prepare Mr. X’s case for trial.
Mr. X’s claim settled out-of-court for 15 times more than the police’s original offer, plus full legal costs. Read his case report on my website for more.
Assault by Security Guard Caught on Train Station CCTV
In a similar case which settled this week, my client Mark Holt (pictured and again, details used with permission) has received a five- figure compensation award after an assault by a security guard (or ‘byelaw enforcement officer’) employed by Carlisle Security. You can read his case report here.
Mark Holt, 53, is a prominent local businessman and peace campaigner who has never been in trouble with the police before. On 10 January 2012 he was returning home from a day out in Liverpool with his wife.
He and his wife had shared a bottle of wine over a meal, and he had a double whiskey later on. He was not drunk when they went to the train station at 9.45pm to go home.
Both had valid tickets. Mrs Holt went through the barriers. Mark stopped just short of the barriers as he attempted to find his ticket. A ticket inspector (now known more grandly as ‘revenue officer’) came up to him and said, ‘you’re drunk, you’re not travelling’.
Mr. Holt, who was not acting in a disorderly way, calmly found his ticket and put it into the barrier machine. The ticket inspector ordered that all barriers be locked, and called for help.
A security guard, or ‘byelaw enforcement officer’, grabbed Mark in a headlock and wrestled him to the ground.
Mark fell heavily face first onto the station floor, breaking his right front tooth and cutting his lip.
Another guard helped restrain Mr. Holt while British Transport Police were called. The first guard told the police that Mark:
- was drunk and abusive;
- swung a punch (which missed;
- so the guard, fearing for his own safety, wrestled him to the ground.
The police did not question this version of events and arrested Mark for a breach of Section 4 POA.
He was taken to a local police station where he was kept for 12 hours before being released on bail.
Mark instructed me to bring a compensation claim.
I obtained the CCTV footage from the station operator, Merseytravel.
Although it confirmed Mark’s version of events, the guard’s employers, Carlisle Security, denied liability.
In a letter which will cause concern to anyone interested in the over-reaching powers of private security firms, they claimed that Carlisle Security byelaw enforcement officers have the power to arrest and detain, so that they were acting within their rights.
I had no alternative but to issue court proceedings. A fresh pair of eyes working for Carlisle’s insurers sensibly settled Mark’s claim for substantial compensation and costs, four times as much as their original offer.
CCTV Provides Equality of Arms
Without CCTV footage Mr. X would now have an unjust criminal conviction and both he, and Mark Holt, would have lost their legitimate compensation claims.
Police and defendant insurers routinely fight cases even after they have viewed the CCTV footage.
They plan on fighting to trial where they have a distinct advantage. The officers involved invariably have exemplary records. They turn up at court confidently prepared and trained to give evidence in full uniform. Juries are impressed. No one wants to call a policeman a liar.
By contrast, any independent eye-witnesses, even if they co-operate, can be unreliable. And my clients are ordinary people who have often never been in trouble with the police before, let alone given evidence in a trial. They can be nervous, which sometimes comes across as unsure. The burden of proof is on the claimant. It is easy to create doubt in the mind of a juror.
The scales of justice weigh heavily in favour of the police and those who act with police-like powers. CCTV footage can help balance the scales.
Image credit: cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Quinn Dombrowski: http://flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/4697813093/