UK: Better than Poirot...

Last Updated: 29 October 2010
Article by Tom Walshaw

Ollivierre & Others v The Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police (2010) was a Central London County Court Decision from His Honour Judge Collender QC.

A recent case examines the threshold for arrest and the requirement of objective reasonable grounds for suspicion.

Background

On 7 May 2005, Mary-Ann Leneghan and her friend, referred to throughout as "M", were victims of one of the most disturbing crimes that Thames Valley Police have seen in recent years. In a botched revenge attack, the girls, aged 16 and 18 respectively, were kidnapped and taken to a hotel in Reading.  There, they were raped, tortured and forced to take drugs. The girls were then driven to a park, where Mary-Ann was stabbed over 40 times and M was shot in the head. Mary-Ann died but, miraculously, her friend survived.

A massive investigation was implemented by Thames Valley Police, as they raced to preserve vital forensic evidence before it was contaminated, lost or the offenders escaped.  Six men were ultimately convicted in Reading Crown Court in 2007 and sentenced to between 23 and 27 years imprisonment each. As part of the investigation, three wholly innocent members of the public were also arrested, as it was believed at the time that they could have been involved. They each brought a claim against Thames Valley Police for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment, although one of these claims was dropped shortly before trial.

The Claimants' Case

The claimants asserted that, on the basis of the investigation, no reasonable grounds for their arrest existed. Both the first and second claimants were arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender. They contended that the police needed to have reasonable grounds to suspect that the claimants had done an act to assist an offender, as opposed to reasonable grounds to suspect that they may have done an act to assist. There was no evidence to show that the claimants had done any such act, they argued, and therefore the threshold for arrest had not been met.

The claimants also asserted that, even if there were reasonable grounds for arrest, those grounds were not communicated to the arresting officers and, therefore, the arrests were still unlawful.

The Defendant's Case

The Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police argued that her officers had had overwhelming grounds on which to arrest the claimants on suspicion of assisting an offender. The suspects could have done any of a number of acts to assist, including providing a safe-house for an offender, washing clothes for an offender, or helping them to flee the country. 

This case necessarily involved a detailed analysis of the evidence and whether it objectively constituted reasonable grounds for arrest. That question is a matter solely for the judge.

The Judgment

On hearing the evidence, the judge concluded that the following information had been available to, and was reviewed by, Thames Valley Police at the time of the arrests:

  1. When being interviewed, the surviving victim, when questioned as to who had been involved in the attack on her and Mary-Ann, had given the name "Redz" to the police. Intelligence identified "Redz" as a person known to the police, Adrian Thomas. A detailed review of Thomas' mobile telephone records led to another mobile number, which had been "topped up" at a Shell garage in Reading on the night of the murder.
  2. CCTV images captured at the Shell Garage allowed the police to identify the Nissan Almera that had been used by the offenders when topping up the phone. The same car was also caught by a speed camera on the London-bound M4, which showed the vehicle to be heavily laden with passengers.
  3. DVLA records showed the first claimant to be the registered keeper of the vehicle at her registered voter address. It was later revealed that she had, in fact, sold her car to one of the offenders days earlier, but the DVLA records had not been updated and, therefore, she remained as the registered keeper.
  4. The vehicle was found parked very close to the first claimant's address and a "walk-by" revealed that it was in a suspiciously clean state.
  5. There was huge national interest in the crime and any individual at that address would have heard about it on the news.

The judge held that the suspicion that the occupants of the premises at which the car was registered had done an act to assist an offender was inevitable and the police would have been in dereliction of their duty had they not arrested the claimants. Although the circumstances did not prove that either of the claimants assisted an offender, they did objectively give rise to reasonable grounds for arrest. 

The investigating was co-ordinated by senior officers, and it is important that the chief constable proves that those officers passed relevant evidence down to the officers actually carrying out the arrest, the well known "O Hara" point. Here, the knowledge transfer was conveyed through a briefing, prior to the dawn raid during which the suspects were detained.

On the evidence, the judge was satisfied that the briefing given to the arresting officers by the senior investigating team was sufficient to allow them to form the requisite reasonable grounds for arrest in their own minds.  On any view, the briefing was substantial, lasting between 25 and 45 minutes, and provided the arresting officers with knowledge of the car and the address, and sufficient suspicion of the crime.

The claims were accordingly dismissed.

Comment

This is a welcome decision for the police.  There was concern that the decision in Raissi v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis (2008) had begun to erode police powers of arrest. In that case, it was held that the brother of a suspected terrorist could not be arrested on suspicion of terrorism, despite the fact that the brothers lived in close proximity and had access to each other's houses.

The threshold for reasonable suspicion remains low. In a large-scale operation such as this, the police need to act quickly: the longer it takes to arrest suspected offenders, the greater the opportunity for evidence to be destroyed. To require the police to investigate all avenues before making an arrest would put them in an intolerable position and endanger the public.

The courts' watchword should be Lord Woolf in Castorina v The Chief Constable of Surrey (1988), where he said "...it is an inherent, but regrettable, risk of the police diligently performing their duties that sometimes innocent members of the public are arrested".

Tom Walshaw acted on behalf of the successful defendant.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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