Police force set to agree record damages: West Midlands to pay pounds 70,000 to man who claims Crime Squad detectives fabricated confession

WEST MIDLANDS Police is set to pay a record pounds 70,000 compensation plus costs of about pounds 250,000 to settle a civil action by a man who claims detectives in the force's discredited Serious Crime Squad fabricated his confession to armed robbery.

The settlement in the action being brought by Paul Dandy, details of which will be announced at a hearing at the High Court in Birmingham today, is believed to be a record for a civil claim over allegations of false arrest and malicious prosecution. It was offered by the West Midlands Police early in September, before the civil case was due to begin in October and after the force had defended the claim for four years. The force does not admit any liability.

At Mr Dandy's trial in November 1987, the prosecution offered no further evidence after Esda tests, whereby indentations on a page can be matched with the writing on the page above, suggested that a one- line admission to the offence had been added to his statement by interviewing detectives. Mr Dandy was released after spending eight months on remand in solitary confinement as a high security risk prisoner.

The Dandy case was one of several which collapsed after allegations about the evidence of squad detectives and which was raised in the Commons by Clare Short, the Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood. After an inquiry, three other detectives, all of whom are still serving, were reprimanded after pleading guilty to minor discipline offences. One is a former head of the squad.

The squad was disbanded in August 1989 amid repeated allegations of fabricated confessions, but a two- year inquiry into the Squad by West Yorkshire Police failed to result in any criminal charges. A number of other officers have since been disciplined over unrelated minor matters.

Twenty men have had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal because of doubts about the reliability of evidence given by squad detectives. The Dandy case is the first civil claim to be settled as a result of the affair, although a number of those freed have already received substantial Home Office compensation payments, totalling more than pounds 90,000.

David Simon, solicitor for Mr Dandy, last night refused to comment in advance of the hearing before Mr Justice Popplewell today. However, it is known they have obtained fresh Esda tests which lawyers claim would cast further doubt on the reliability of the interviews with police.

West Midlands Police also declined to comment.

Mr Dandy said he accepted the settlement, although he was concerned his allegations against the detectives had not been tested in court. 'This money can never compensate for the stress and strain of the last six years and the time I spent in prison in solitary confinement for a crime I did not commit.'