UK: The Thin Blue Line

Last Updated: 10 September 2009
Article by Tom Walshaw

Buckley v Thames Valley Police

Alex Buckley, Luke Buckley and Simon Buckley v Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, Court of Appeal (2009) was an appeal by the claimants from a first instance decision dismissing their claims for wrongful arrest by the defendant's officers.

Background

On 22 January 2005, the three claimants, who are brothers, were arrested on suspicion of being involved in a hit and run incident in which a pedestrian had been killed.

The brief facts leading up to the arrest were that the vehicle involved in the hit and run was a white Transit van, which was found abandoned not far from the scene. Checks on the Police National Computer revealed it had been driven previously by a James Buckley. A witness to the incident reported to the police that three young men in their mid teens ran off from the van.

A police officer who heard the radio traffic relating to the incident rang in to say that he knew of several members of the "Buckley" family who would be of the right age to fit the description as reported by the witness. Another police officer was dispatched to attend the claimants' home, where he found the three brothers, together with their mother. During conversation, the claimants' mother suggested that a white Transit van had been connected with one of her other sons previously. The officer arrested all three brothers on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving.

It subsequently transpired that none of the claimants had in fact had anything to do with the hit and run incident, nor were they related to James Buckley, the owner of the Transit van.

The claimants brought proceedings for wrongful arrest against the defendant. At first instance, the judge found that the arresting officer did have reasonable grounds for suspicion so as to justify their arrest based on the information available to him. He referred in particular to the description given by eye witnesses, the possible connection between a Transit van and the family and the possible connection between the two Buckley families.

The Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal upheld the findings of the County Court. In the leading judgment, Lord Justice Hughes reiterated that the threshold for establishing reasonable grounds for suspicion is a low one. He found that the correct approach to making a judgment upon the lawfulness of an arrest is not to separate out each of the elements of the constable's state of mind and ask individually whether each creates reasonable grounds. Instead, the court should look at them cumulatively and ask whether they establish reasonable grounds for suspicion. In this case there were sufficient grounds to suspect when all the information was taken cumulatively and the judge's reasoning could not be faulted.

The appeal was accordingly dismissed.

Comment

This is an essential judgment for the police. The threshold for reasonable suspicion is low. The case states that even if an officer has a number of suspicions, which individually are weak, when taken together, as of course the arresting officer will do at the time, they can still give rise to reasonable grounds for suspicion. It reverses a worrying recent trend which was diluting the power of arrest and supports the police at a time when public opinion is questioning the role of the police.

Stellato v Thames Valley Police

In Stellato v Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, High Court (2009), the claimant brought proceedings for wrongful arrest and wrongful seizure of his car following his arrest on suspicion of burglary.

Background

Police received a report of a burglary where the victim's possessions had been taken and the gas left on and a candle lit by the burglar. The victim informed police she believed the claimant was responsible and was in the vicinity of her home.

The police officer who attended the scene found the claimant's car on the street near the victim's home and noted that it was still warm. The claimant was known to the arresting officer, who also knew he had previously been convicted of arson.

When the claimant arrived at his car, he was arrested on suspicion of burglary. His car was also seized. He was ultimately released without charge and brought proceedings for wrongful arrest and wrongful seizure of his vehicle.

Summary judgment

On the defendant's Application for Summary Judgment, His Honour Judge Harris QC the presiding judge at Oxford County Court, found in favour of Thames Valley Police. He found that the claim for wrongful arrest had no reasonable prospect of success based on the fact that the claimant was known to the arresting officer and the arresting officer also knew of the victim's belief that the claimant was in the vicinity of her house. So far so good.

The real argument was in relation to seizure of the vehicle. Section 19 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 gives a police officer power to seize anything on "premises" if he has reasonable grounds for believing it is evidence in relation to an offence which they are investigating. The query was whether the car was on "premises" for the purposes of that Act, if it was in fact situated in the public highway.

The judge found that in that Act, "premises" was used in its legal and not its popular connotation to mean land, whether or not there were buildings on it. The car was therefore on "premises" and the police officer had not therefore acted unlawfully in seizing it.

Judgment was given for the defendant accordingly.

Comment

This case neatly shuts down a potential loophole in the law as to when the general power of seizure may be exercised and makes it absolutely clear that it can extend to a vehicle, wherever it is situated.

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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