Police seek limits on jury awards

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The Independent Online
Scotland Yard launched an unprecedented bid yesterday to limit punitive damages awards by civil juries to victims of wrongdoing by officers.

Sir Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, is appealing two of nine cases where juries have made heavy awards of "exemplary" damages to punish police misconduct.

David Pannick QC, for the police, told Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls and two other Court of Appeal judges that a pounds 220,000 record award to Kenneth Hsu, a hairdresser, and pounds 51,000 to Claudette Thompson, a mother of three, were "plainly unreasonable and excessive".

Mr Hsu, 32, was awarded pounds 20,000 for assault, false imprisonment and his injuries, and pounds 200,000 in exemplary damages, after being held in a neck lock, punched and kicked and wrongfully arrested following a dispute with a lodger in July 1992. After spending an hour at the police station he was left to make his way home penniless and barefoot. He has made two unsuccessful approaches to the Police Complaints Authority to investigate the three constables involved.

Ms Thompson, 30, had refused to take a drink-drive breath test and was thrown into a cell, jumped on, smothered and had hair pulled out after a sergeant suggested that officers "chuck her in the bin". When she was acquitted of a charge of assaulting a police officer she successfully sued for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and assault. The jury awarded her pounds 1,500 for the assault and her injuries and pounds 50,000 in exemplary damages. In a cross-appeal, she is claiming the pounds 1,500 was too low.

Of the hundreds of officers involved in cases brought against Scotland Yard over the past three years, costing the force pounds 4.5m, only nine have been disciplined. Damages awarded against the police have increased eightfold over the past decade.

Sir Paul hopes the appeal court will draw up guidelines setting damages at a far lower level. Win or lose, he will face renewed pressure to tighten operational discipline.

The hearing continues.

n Scotland Yard may carry out sting operations against its own officers in a pounds 2m-a-year crackdown on corruption in the Metropolitan Police, it announced yesterday.