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Solicitor James Watson attacks police 'vendetta'


A defence solicitor who secured more than £500,000 in damages from a police force after he was wrongly arrested says officers mounted a “vendetta” against him.

Middlesbrough lawyer James Watson argued his arrest by Cleveland Police officers in June 2009 and the subsequent search of his home and offices was malicious and took legal action against the force.

Now his lawyers have confirmed that the Cleveland chief constable has agreed to pay Mr Watson, his family and his colleagues a total sum of £550,000 in damages, plus costs.

He said: "Cleveland Police have wasted millions of pounds of public money on this vendetta against me.

"It spent three years investigating me when - as it now accepts - there was not a shred of evidence against me."

Mr Watson also criticised the Cleveland force for apparently allowing a senior detective to retire on a full pension rather than suspend him. He said that if the officer had been suspended, he could not have retired and could then have faced any potential disciplinary action.

The solicitor said his treatment by the officers follows his involvement in a prominent criminal case. Following the defendant's acquittal, detectives decided to investigate whether he was involved in getting witnesses to change statements.

He said: "Why were Cleveland Police so desperate to have me convicted of a crime they never really believed I had committed?

"Was it just sour grapes at the police losing a high profile kidnap trial or did important and powerful people have other reasons to want rid of me?"

Mr Watson said he was arrested early in the morning on June 3, 2009, on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.

He was taken to a police station and detained for twenty nine hours. His lawyers said the new chief constable of Cleveland, Jacqui Cheer, has now admitted that there were no reasonable grounds to suspect him of any offence and that he was falsely imprisoned.

Mr Watson said that while he was in custody dozens of police officers spent over twelve hours searching his home and his solicitors' firm, Watson Woodhouse.

He said they took away twenty six boxes of documents, which, he says, was outside the scope of warrants they had obtained.

Mr Watson said his wife and children were detained in their home while the searches took place. He said the chief constable has now admitted that they were falsely imprisoned.

He said the sum of £550,000 includes £80,000 in exemplary damages - the maximum amount allowed. The chief constable has also agreed to pay Mr Watson's legal costs and to correct police records to confirm that "no vestige of suspicion" remains against Mr Watson, his family or partners.

In a statement, Mrs Cheer said: "In 2010 Cleveland Police received six complaints which were the subject of a managed Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation.

"At the conclusion of the investigation four of these complaints were unsubstantiated, a fifth matter was a 'statement of fact' involving an officer from another force and the sixth complaint is subject of the settlement with Mr Watson.

"One of the officers under investigation retired in October 2011, some 12 months after the start of the investigation."

Mrs Cheer said assistant chief constable Sean White considered the suspension of this officer in October 2011 "in accordance with the policy and practices of the force and based solely upon the information and evidence presented to him by the investigation team".

She said: "Having fully considered the interim report of the IPCC investigator and having consulted with specialist advisers as well as inviting submissions to the suspension review process from key parties, ACC White decided that the conditions to justify suspension were not met.

"In smaller police forces senior police officers often make decisions about officers who work for them or with them.

"ACC White strongly refutes the claim that his decision was influenced or based upon anything other than the facts and evidence presented to him at the time of the decision making process.

"The IPCC report recommends that I debrief and discuss with ACC White the process for making this decision, with the benefit of hindsight, which I have done, and I fully support him.

"I have accepted the recommendations within the report and have implemented changes."

The chief constable said there is an ongoing managed IPCC investigation into new complaints submitted by Mr Watson and, therefore, it would not be right for her to comment further.