12,000 pounds damages for arrests under anti-terror law: Innocent couple were held at gunpoint and strip-searched after raid on wrong house

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The Independent Online
A COUPLE arrested at gunpoint, assaulted and strip-searched when police investigating an IRA bombing raided the wrong house have accepted pounds 12,000 damages. It is believed to be the first successful claim for false imprisonment under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Sarah Cohen suffered a black eye and bruising to her chest and hand as she and Sean Hampson were arrested by anti-terrorist officers carrying semi-automatic weapons in a night raid on their home last March.

Miss Cohen, 28, said she was denied food and water for 10 hours, was not allowed to contact anyone and was released after 15 hours without even being questioned. She only learnt that her arrest was in connection with the bombing of Harrods in January - for which two men have subsequently been charged - five minutes before her release.

She said yesterday: 'This was my first and only encounter with the police and it was terrifying. The only explanation I was ever given was that the raid was some kind of administrative error.'

She recently gave a graphic account of her ordeal to Liberty, the civil rights group that took up the couple's case against the Metropolitan Police. 'I was temporarily stunned when I saw nine or ten hefty-looking men toting machine guns, clad in bulletproof jackets and a sort of motorbike helmet, screaming, 'get on the fucking floor'.

'I was pushed against a cabinet and flung on to the floor where my hands were severely pulled behind my back. I felt a large boot in the nape of

my neck which sank my head into the carpet . . .'

At Charing Cross police station she was strip-searched. 'I was humiliated, ridiculed and treated with contempt. The experience was extremely traumatic and has damaged my reputation with friends, neighbours and workmates,' she said.

In a letter of settlement, a solicitor for the Metropolitan Police said: 'It is entirely accepted that the experience must have been an unpleasant one . . . and I am authorised to offer a full apology for the distress or discomfort caused.'

John Wadham, Liberty's legal director and solicitor for Ms Cohen and Mr Hampson, said the case underlined the need to abolish the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which gives police powers to arrest suspects without a warrant and to detain them for 48 hours without access to lawyers.

Last night, a Scotland Yard statement expressed surprise that Liberty was claiming a victory against anti- terrorist legislation. It said: 'Due to an administrative error police went to the wrong address. As soon as the error was realised they were released with apologies. As Liberty well know, human error arises from time to time and when this does occur the police settle civil claims. The fact that this particular incident involved arrest under the PTA is irrelevant.'