On 7th September 2010 Sgt Mark Andrews, a custody sgt with Wiltshire Police was convicted in a court of law for an offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He was sentenced to 6 months in prison. The footage of the event was captured on the custody CCTV system.
In a custody suite we get customers who are cooperative and compliant all the way through to those who will do absolutely nothing to help. Those who simply want to come, be processed and released as quickly as possible and those who wish to make it as unpleasant as they can. Those who urinate up the door, throw excrement at the cell camera, spit, bite, fight and hurl abuse at anyone who comes near them. It’s a very challenging environment and one that tests the ability of the staff employed there to keep their cool. I cringe every time I watch this video and my gut reaction is that the treatment of the detainee is wholly inappropriate.
Sgt Andrews was convicted in a court of law and so we can be satisfied that the court felt the same way. An appeal was immediately lodged and Sgt Andrews was bailed after spending 6 days in prison pending the appeal hearing. In November 2010 the appeal was heard at Oxford Crown Court and the conviction was quashed. The judge stated he was satisfied that Sgt Andrews did not intend to throw Ms Somerville into the cell and that injuries she sustained were probably caused by her falling to the floor after letting go of the door frame.
In December 2010 Wiltshire Police dismissed Sgt Andrews from the force as he was deemed unfit to hold the office of constable. Another appeal was lodged and over the next two years the process has continued until today when a High Court judge has instructed Wiltshire Police to reinstate the officer and provide him with back pay. The Chief Constable of Wiltshire will now have to contact Sgt Andrews and discuss the terms of his return to the force.
I can remember this incident happening. It has been shown in my force as part of a training/awareness package. I can recall being horrified by the footage and the debates we had at work about how bad it looked. Many of us believed the prison beckoned and indeed it did. But those beliefs have been turned on their head over the last few years and many people are left scratching their heads wondering how this can be.
I don’t propose by any means to know all the facts. All I do know is that he has been convicted in a court of law, appealed and won. He has been dismissed from his force, appealed and won. He has been honourably exculpated by the courts of this land and I do not challenge this. The similarities to the Tomlinson case are quite apparent albeit PC Harwood pleaded guilty at his discipline hearing. David Allen Green wrote about the Tomlinson case describing PC Harwood as a thug. I tended to agree. I have said many times before that there is no place in the police for people like that.
So now I find myself in a quandary. The CCTV footage still lends me to think that Sgt Andrews did not act appropriately. However, two successful appeals show that in the eyes of the law and discipline processes he is not guilty.
Cases such as this come along regularly and there is always much debate in the media and across social media platforms. The video footage is damning and conclusions are drawn. I too was guilty of such an assumption. But I do believe in due process and I have to stand by the judgement of the court.
My custody suite is absolutely littered with CCTV cameras. They are there to protect the detainees as tried in this case but also to corroborate officers actions and observations on a detainees behaviour. However, it is clear that they don’t capture everything. We can only assume from the comments of the Judge and the successful appeals that there is an awful lot more to this case than just that shown on the CCTV.
Do people get dragged to cells kicking and screaming? On occasions yes they do. Do people get brought into custody handcuffed, wrapped up in limb restraints and wearing a spit hood? Yes they do. Do we have to use force to deal with those who would otherwise assault us? Yes we do. Custody isn’t always a pretty place but that doesn’t mean we can overstep the boundaries.
What bothers me is that Wiltshire Police and much of the public have found Sgt Andrew guilty based on the CCTV footage alone. Notwithstanding todays conclusion I fear he will continue to be judged in the same way because the camera never lies does it? Of course not but it doesn’t show the whole picture.
I wish Sgt Andrew well though having been treated the way he has been I’m not sure I’d want to return to an employer like that.