Record damages for man framed by police squad

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A man who served five years in prison for an offence he did not commit will receive record damages from police today. Officers from the now disbanded and discredited West Midlands Police Serious Crime Squad had invented his confessions.

Michael Streeter, Legal Affairs Correspondent, looks at a clear

case of police corruption.

George Lewis will receive pounds 200,000 in an agreed settlement with the force today, one of the biggest compensation pay-outs for police malpractice.

It is almost certainly the largest sum in damages since a Court of Appeal guidance early last year limiting the level of such awards.

The scale of the settlement, which will be announced at the High Court in Birmingham this morning, reflects the gravity of a case in which a young man was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment after detectives invented a confession.

Mr Lewis, now 31, said: "I'm very happy that [the force] have admitted liability. That is more important than the financial settlement."

His only "crime" had been to go to a West Midlands police station, almost exactly 10 years ago, to collect his stolen car.

He was arrested twice, racially and physically abused, then informed by two detectives from the squad that while in a police car he had already "confessed" to committing a robbery.

One of the officers, Detective Constable John Perkins, who has since died, was one of those implicated in the false confessions which led to the Carl Bridgewater murder miscarriage of justice in the Seventies.

Mr Lewis was refused access to a lawyer and after being threatened with a syringe and a small bottle to make him talk, he signed blank pages of interview notes.

A "confession" to a burglary and two robberies were later fabricated by officers.

When he asked an inspector why he was being treated in this way, he was told it was because he had "fucked" the detectives around.

Despite later complaints of his treatment, made through a solicitor, Mr Lewis was convicted in June 1987 for the three offences and given a 10-year jail sentence; he was also told he had no grounds for appeal. Eventually, after a five-year battle, his case was referred to the Court of Appeal, which ordered a retrial; but he remained in custody until the prosecution offered no evidence in July 1992.

Five years ago Mr Lewis, who has suffered psychiatric problems, began civil action against the police but it was only last November that the force said that they were no longer contesting the case. The Bridgewater appeal revealed that Perkins had faced 23 other allegations of making up evidence.

The squad was disbanded in 1989 amid widespread allegations that detectives fabricated confessions.

In one of the cases which led to the disbandment, the Court of Appeal said that Perkins had "effectively lied" about an alleged confession.

The court quashed the convictions of more than 20 men, some serving long jail sentences, who had been convicted on the basis of squad evidence.

Despite a marathon inquiry, no detectives were ever convicted of criminal offences.

Other officers involved in the Lewis case have since retired without disciplinary hearings.

Last Thursday the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended big changes to procedures to ensure quicker and more effective disciplining of corrupt officers.

Mr Lewis is said to be still "full of anger" at his treatment, at the time it has taken to clear his name and at the lack of punishment for the guilty officers.

His solicitor, Tony Evans, said: "He has struggled for more than 10 years to clear his name."

Last February the Court of Appeal moved to reduce the level of "exemplary" damages awarded by juries in police misconduct cases to around pounds 25,000 or less in most instances.

l A black couple who reported a violent arrest by police in Stoke Newington, north-east London, and who were then themselves arrested, abused and accused of assaulting and obstructing police will receive substantial damages from the Metropolitan Police in a court settlement today.