It was the third judicial review case within a week in which the DPP, Dame Barbara Mills, and the Crown Prosecution Service, have been found to have mishandled cases of death or ill-treatment in custody.
Lord Justice Rose and Mr Justice Jowitt said Dame Barbara's department had made a "flawed" decision not to prosecute four former members of the now disbanded West Midlands Serious Crime Squad.
The case was brought by Derek Treadaway, whom another judge, Mr Justice McKinnon, had already awarded pounds 50,000 in damages in a civil claim for battery. Mr Justice McKinnon found "on a high degree of probability" that officers had obtained a confession to robbery by subjecting Mr Treadaway to torture through suffocating him with plastic bags.
The DPP and CPS must now reconsider whether to prosecute the four officers - Det Supt John Brown, Det Insp Timothy Russell, Det Sgt Alan Pickering and Det Insp James Price. If the rethink leads to a prosecution, it will be the first time that any officer from the discredited squad has faced charges in the criminal courts.
The CPS decided in August 1995 that there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. The decision was taken by a senior legal assistant, Martin Martyn-Woodnutt, who has since retired. He had concluded: "I do not think that the principal allegation that Treadaway was tortured has any substantial support, there is no medical evidence ... in my view he was extremely lucky to succeed in the civil claim. The evidence obviously came across in his favour, but on a much lower standard than we would require."
That approach was rejected as unreasonable and unlawful by the judges yesterday, who said Mr Justice McKinnon's judgment required a "most careful analysis", which it did not receive. The judges said the conclusions "demonstrate, repeatedly, a flawed approach", and a breach of the Code of Practice for Crown Prosecutors. "There was medical evidence ... Mr Justice McKinnon's conclusions were manifestly not reached on a `much lower standard' of proof," they said.
Mr Martyn-Woodnutt's decision was confirmed last year by Brandon Longden, a solicitor in the Central Casework Division, and Graham Martin, an Assistant Chief Crown Prosecutor, who was also involved in the two death-in-custody cases that Dame Barbara conceded last week. The judges ruled that the later decision relied significantly on the earlier one, and was equally flawed.
A CPS spokeswoman said: "We are obviously concerned that there seems to be a flaw in the decision-making process and we will reconsider this decision."
Raju Bhatt, Mr Treadaway's solicitor, said: "In Mr Treadaway's case, as in the case of Lapite and O'Brien last week, the decision makers have appeared intent on seeking excuses not to prosecute.
``It is now imperative that Judge Butler's inquiry into that decision- making process should examine the handling of all complaints against police as well as deaths in police and prison custody.
"Ultimately, what is in issue is the absence of will to bring police officers to account to the rule of law - an absence of will at every level within the police complaints process."Reuse content