Police agree to pay pounds 80,000 damages

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The Independent Online
Three men received pounds 80,000 damages yesterday after claiming they were assaulted by police officers who then fabricated evidence against them.

The settlement is another blow to the Metropolitan Police which has been forced to pay more than pounds 20m in compensation and costs since 1986. In the year to April, the total was pounds 2.5m.

Lawyers representing the three men who received yesterday's pay-outs said their clients had gone straight to the civil courts because they had no faith in the police complaints procedures, which they described as biased and discredited.

There is growing disquiet at the number of people obtaining damages for alleged abuse by the police and the apparent inability of chief constables to sack or discipline officers. But Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has accused lawyers of milking the system and has pledged to fight more claims for damages.

The police denied liability in the three most recent cases and no officer involved has been disciplined. The officers deny all the allegations.

Mark Thomas, now 26, accepted pounds 30,000 after claiming damages for assault and injury and wrongful arrest. Mr Thomas said he was punched in the face by an officer while another officer held his arms and racially abused him during a demonstration in north-west London in 1989. In 1990, a judge ordered a jury to clear Mr Thomas of causing grievous bodily harm to a police officer and violent disorder.

In the case of Timothy Murphy and John Racz, who yesterday accepted pounds 30,000 and pounds 20,000 respectively, they claimed they were falsely arrested after being ejected from a pub in 1991. Mr Murphy said he was forced to the ground while officers kicked and beat him. Both men were later cleared in court of any wrongdoing.

Fiona Murphy, who represents the men, said: "They chose to pursue civil claims against the police rather than rely on the discredited police complaints process."

Lawyers are opposed to police officers investigating fellow officers, the higher standards of proof needed against the police and the lack of legal representation. Ms Murphy said the Commissioner knew of the allegations, which were aired in court, but failed to take any action against his officers. "On the contrary, he continues to deny liability, has refused to apologise and has taken no action whatsoever against the police officers, who continue to serve in the police force," she added.

Scotland Yard said in a statement that none of the three men concerned had made a complaint to the police, but had chosen to pursue civil actions. "Increasingly, we are living in a litigious society where members of the public are more inclined to take out civil actions against the police rather than make a formal complaint as they stand a high chance of obtaining a large financial settlement. This is frustrating for the police who are unable to bring disciplinary charges without co-operation from the plaintiff."

Yesterday's settlements are part of a long dispute between the police and members of the public seeking damages. In February, the Court of Appeal cut by pounds 185,000 a pounds 220,000 award for wrongful arrest and assault, and placed a pounds 50,000 ceiling on jury awards for police brutality.