Furore over officer who dragged woman into police cell

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The Independent Online

CCTV images of an officer knocking a 57-year-old woman unconscious were released yesterday, sparking a renewed debate about public confidence in the police 16 months after the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests.

Sergeant Mark Andrews, an officer with Wiltshire Constabulary who was based in the town of Melksham, is facing the sack after he was caught on film hurling Pamela Sommerville into a police cell.

She had been arrested for failing to provide a breath sample after officers found her sleeping in her car, but the charges were later dropped.

Footage from inside Melksham police station, a provincial police headquarters for Wiltshire police, shows the 6ft 3in police sergeant dragging Mrs Sommerville across the floor and throwing her into a holding cell. She hits her head on the concrete floor and is knocked out. A minute later she comes to, with blood streaming from a gash above her left eyelid, and staggers around the cell before calling for help.

Sgt Andrews was convicted of assault causing actual bodily harm after a trial at Oxford Magistrates Court earlier this summer. He will be sentenced tomorrow and is expected to lose his job. The successful prosecution was helped in part by the testimony of a female officer who witnessed the attack. She is now expected to be commended for her actions.

Mrs Sommerville, now 59, told the Mail on Sunday that she had chosen to spend the night in the car after deciding not to sleep at her daughter's house in London. "I just wanted to get in my car and drive. My car is a safe haven, somewhere where I listen to music and relax," she said. She fell asleep and when she woke up the following morning her car battery had died because she had left the heater on.

When police officers approached her she asked whether she could borrow some jump leads to restart her car, but instead officers handcuffed her and arrested her for failing to provide a breath test. Mrs Sommerville has always denied failing to co-operate and says that the officers would not listen to her pleas for help.

She admits to being abusive towards officers when they took her to the police station, but claims it was because they refused to tell her why she had been arrested. In the CCTV footage, which contained brief moments of audio, Sgt Andrews can be heard shouting: "Oh shut up. Listen to me. You are in my custody now and you will be quiet and you will listen. Do you understand?"

He later drags her across the station and throws her into a cell. "I still find it hard to watch the images of me staggering to my feet with blood pouring from a head wound because I can remember how terrified I was," Mrs Sommerville recalled.

"I could have died. It seems utterly barbaric that an innocent person can be treated in such a horrific and violent way and then left alone, the fact that someone may even have been watching the CCTV footage of me not moving on the floor."

Jon Hubbard, a Liberal Democrat councillor from Melksham said that local residents had been shocked by Mrs Sommerville's treatment but added that it was not indicative of Wiltshire police. "Obviously what happened was completely unacceptable but I take some comfort from the fact that a fellow officer was brave enough to stand up and say that this sort of behaviour shouldn't happen," he said. "It takes guts to do that."

Wiltshire Police's assistant chief constable Patrick Geenty said: "People have a right to expect that the police will always act by placing the safety and welfare of the public as their first priority. This is particularly so when in police custody when, irrespective of the reason for their detention, people should feel and be safe."