“… the third occasion within a week in which the courts have questioned the way the DPP has handled allegations of police violence.”
The Director of Public Prosecutions was under renewed pressure last night after the High Court again questioned her department’s refusal to proceed against police officers accused of violence towards an offender in custody.
Lord Justice Rose said that Dame Barbara Mills made “flawed” decisions not to prosecute four ex-members of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad who allegedly handcuffed a suspect and put a plastic bag over his head to gain a confession.
The court said that Dame Barbara should reconsider the case; the third occasion within a week in which the courts have questioned the way the DPP has handled allegations of police violence.
Last week, she set up an inquiry into the way that decisions had been taken in two cases involving deaths in custody. On Monday, Dame Barbara was called to see the Attorney General, John Morris, and told that, pending the outcome of the inquiry, she must seek independent legal advice before any similar decisions are taken.
Yesterday’s ruling concerned the case of Derek Treadaway, 52, who spent nine years in jail after being convicted of robbery and conspiracy to rob before being cleared on appeal last year. He maintained that a confession was extracted by oppression and violence inflicted by five officers.
In 1994, Mr Treadaway was awarded £50,000 damages for assault in a civil action against the Chief Constable of West Midlands. Last November, his convictions were quashed on appeal. At the civil trial, Mr Justice Stuart McKinnon said he was satisfied that five detectives from the now-disbanded West Midlands Serious Crime Squad had carried out the assault and were guilty of “criminal acts”.
However, the DPP decided not to prosecute, on the grounds of insufficient evidence to guarantee a realistic prospect of conviction. This was upheld after the Appeal Court hearing. While these were decisions for the DPP, Lord Justice Rose said there should have been a careful assessment of whether to bring charges in the light of the trial judge’s “trenchant” comments on the case. The High Court ruling said: “In our judgment, it did not receive such an analysis.” The way the decision was reached was also a breach of the department’s Code for Crown Prosecutors and was perverse and flawed by failing to give reasons.
Lord Justice Rose and Mr Justice Jowitt quashed the DPP’s decision and invited her to reconsider whether all or any of the police officers should be prosecuted. Dame Barbara’s office said last night that the case would be looked at again, although this did not mean that prosecutions would follow.
The court accepted that Dame Barbara was not personally involved in the decision over Mr Treadaway. Officials said her department handled more than 10,000 cases a year and she could not examine them all herself. But the ruling was a further setback at a time when the future of the Crown Prosecution Service is being reviewed and the Government wants to devolve more powers to local prosecutors.
Last week, Dame Barbara agreed to reconsider decisions in two cases involving deaths in police custody. Richard O’Brien, 37, died from asphyxia when he was arrested in south London in 1994 and handcuffed face-down on the ground.
The third case concerned Shiji Lapite, whose larynx was crushed when he was pinned down by police after being arrested outside a nightclub in Stoke Newington, North London, in 1994.
(By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor, 1 August 1997, Electronic Telegraph)