Police sued for van ride that broke man's neck

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A handcuffed man whose neck was broken when police took him on a "rollercoaster" drive in the back of a police van is suing Kent Constabulary for more than £50,000 damages.

Peter Rutherford, 57, said the journey from Margate railway station to Margate police station was a terrifying ordeal, and the police driver "behaved like Stirling Moss" as he pleaded with him to go slower.

Mr Rutherford and fellow prisoner Richard Overy were repeatedly thrown against the van's metal grille. When they arrived at the police station both were on the van floor.

"I knew I was seriously injured because there was blood streaming down my face and I could feel a throbbing pain in my neck," Mr Rutherford said.

The van driver, PC Ian Hill, was later jailed for two years for assaulting Mr Rutherford and Mr Overy, and for conspiracy to pervert justice. The High Court is expected to hear Mr Rutherford's claim this year.

On the night of the incident, he had been drinking in London after work as a builders' site agent. He fell asleep on his train home to Tonbridge and missed his stop, waking up in Margate. "It was a summer's evening so I decided to sleep in the station and wait for the early train home," he said. "But later the police arrived and told me to move on."

The officers, PC Hill and PC Kim Burgess, said Mr Rutherford was drunk and disorderly and tried to kick out, evidence rejected at PC Hill's trial. Mr Rutherford, who has had no problems with the law since he was a youth, was handcuffed and put in the van. It accelerated hard and braked suddenly, throwing him against the grille, and injuring his head.

A series of sudden, violent swerves knocked Mr Rutherford and Mr Overy to the floor, and although they shouted at the driver to slow he continued to accelerate, brake and swerve, and deliberately drove that way to injure Mr Rutherford. When Mr Rutherford arrived at the police station, his face dripping with blood, PC Hill tried to persuade the police surgeon not to examine him.

Mr Rutherford was taken to hospital on 7 June 1997, with multiple neck fractures, the head wound needing 10 stitches, bruising, a lost tooth, and tinnitus, mostly in his right ear. He needed an operation to give him a "halo jacket" neck support, with screws drilled into his skull, which he had to wear for many months.

Mr Rutherford says he suffers severe headaches, tinnitus and post-traumatic stress disorder. He claims police deliberately and dishonestly abused their powers, and falsely accused him of assaulting and kicking PC Hill.

At Canterbury Crown Court, PC Hill was convicted of assault on Mr Overy, and assault causing grievous bodily harm and unlawful wounding. He and PC Burgess were also convicted of conspiracy to pervert justice.

PC Burgess was bound over for two years, and reprimanded at a disciplinary hearing and PC Hill was permitted to resign from the force. Mr Rutherford, from Hadlow, Kent, could not go back to work until January 1998, but only in a supervisory capacity, with a reduced income.

His site agent's business, which he set up with his son, faces liquidation partly because his injuries meant he could not play a full part in the company.

He is also seeking aggravated and exemplary damages, saying PC Hill behaved in a high-handed, insulting, malicious and oppressive manner, and that he colluded with PC Burgess to try to cover up PC Hill's unlawful actions.

But Mr Rutherford says he holds no grudge against police. "It was just my bad luck to come across two rogues who for some reason that night were pissed off with the world."