Five police officers deleted evidence “on a breathtaking scale” and “deliberately manipulated” their accounts of a stop and search that resulted in the death of an Asian man, a gross misconduct hearing was told.
Father of three Habib “Paps” Ullah, 39, died in July 2008 shortly after Thames Valley officers conducting a drugs search confronted him and a group of friends in a residential car park in High Wycombe. DS Jason Liles gave Mr Ullah a slap on the back “one level below deadly force” despite Mr Ullah showing only “passive resistance”, the hearing heard.
Mr Ullah collapsed and went into cardiac arrest during the search and was pronounced dead in hospital around an hour later. There is no suggestion DS Liles’s backslap caused Mr Ullah’s death but experts have deemed it “unnecessary” and “disproportionate”.
DS Liles, PC Chistopher Pomery, DC Richard Bazeley, PC Howard Wynne and PC Katie Grainger are all accused of gross misconduct for breaches of the Standards of Professional Behaviour code for allegedly altering their statements submitted to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. DS Liles also faces a gross misconduct charge for “excessive” use of force. They all deny the charges.
The three-person disciplinary panel, chaired by Thames Valley’s Assistant Chief Constable, Laura Nicholson, heard that the five officers conspired to omit “almost every facet” of their confrontation with Mr Ullah. The officers all made draft statements at High Wycombe police station before altering them and submitting different signed versions to the police watchdog.
Gerry Boyle, presenting the case against the officers, said: “The nature and extent of the deletions and amendments these five officers made were on a breathtaking scale, covering almost every single aspect of the incident.”
Mr Boyle said one of the most significant changes was DC Bazeley’s initial description of the backslap DC Liles gave to Mr Ullah as being made “with some force”, words that were removed from his IPCC statement. DC Bazeley also removed details of other force being used on Mr Ullah, the hearing heard.
Mr Boyle said PC Grainger altered her statement, removing the description of Mr Ullah “lurching forward” following the backslap. PC Wynne altered his statement so he no longer described himself “grabbing” Mr Ullah by the throat, changing it to “taking hold”.
“Literally from beginning to end almost every facet of their interaction with Mr Ullah and the other occupants of the carwas removed or covered up,” Mr Boyle said, adding that the changes were all “self serving” as they tried to minimise the extent of force used.
Mr Boyle said the officers’ behaviour was “inexcusable” and that it was no defence to say, as they have previously indicated, that they were advised to do so by a Police Federation solicitor.
IPCC investigator Adam Stacey told the hearing the commission was not aware in 2010 of the officers’ original statements when the watchdog’s initial investigation was carried out.
He said that the officers should have known they did not have to accept the legal advice given to them to change their statements.
The officers admitted under oath at the original inquest in December 2010 into Mr Ullah’s death that they had removed potentially vital information from their statements, which led to the coroner abandoning the investigation. A second inquest was heard earlier this year and recorded a critical misadventure and narrative verdict.
The disciplinary hearing is expected to last until 11 June. If the charges are upheld the punishments for the five officers could include a written warning, management advice, or instant dismissal.
Changing stories: Deletions and amendments
* Alterations allegedly made by officers to their draft statements before they submitted signed statements to the IPCC:
* DS Liles Removed references to Mr Ullah “struggling” and “coughing unusually”.
* DC Bazeley Removed references to Mr Ullah being “probed with some force”, details given to paramedics on the scene and his belief Mr Ullah was “faking it”.
* PC Wynne Removed reference from a friend of Mr Ullah in the car who shouted at the officers “you’re strangling him”.
* PC Pomery Removed reference to “grabbed” in relation to Mr Ullah’s neck with “held”
* PC Grainger Removed reference to Mr Ullah “lurching forward” following his backslap from DS Liles.