Can I sue the police for injury?

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We are often asked, ‘Can I sue the police for injury?’ As this case study illustrates, you can sue the police if you are injured while in custody if it can be shown that they did not act correctly.

Our client was injured while in police custody at Taunton police station in Somerset. We made a claim against the police on a no win, no fee basis. At trial the judge agreed that the police had not treated him correctly and awarded compensation. This is a brief summary of what happened.

Our client had taken a legal high which had an adverse effect on him. He became paranoid and scared. His behaviour led to him being arrested to prevent a breach of the peace.

On arrival at the custody suite in Taunton officers noted that he was agitated, sweating, apparently insensitive to pain and paranoid. He was already struggling against the handcuffs being used to restrain him. The officer’s notes recorded that they was causing him bruising and bleeding around his wrists. He was deeply distressed, struggling to free himself and deliberately banging his head against the ground.

There is official national guidance on how people should be restrained in custody. These guidelines were drafted by the National Policing Improvement Agency (“NPIA”). The guidance specifically warns officers of the dangers of a condition known as “Excited Delirium”.

“Excited Delirium” is a set of symptoms that, if exhibited, mean that the person concerned is at risk of collapse and death in custody. These symptoms can arise as a result of psychiatric illness or an adverse reaction to alcohol or drugs.

Our client was displaying all but one of the symptoms listed in the national guidance. The only symptom he was not displaying was in relation to a reaction to incapacitant spray as this kind of spray was not used on him.

The police guidance specifies that where officers suspect a detainee is suffering “Excited Delirium” he should be treated as a medical emergency and immediately taken to hospital for treatment.

This did not happen. Instead, our client was instead put in the cells where he continued to suffer enormous distress. He remained delusional. He was scared that he was going to be tortured and killed. As a result he struggled against the handcuffs causing his wrists to be very deeply cut.

After some time the police called a medical professional, a nurse who had received training in “Excited Delirium”. She examined our client but made no recommendation for him to be treated as a medical emergency despite the severity of his symptoms and the deeps cuts to his wrists.

It was not until hours after his arrival at the custody suite that the police finally called an ambulance and our client was transported to hospital for treatment. Following sedation he underwent surgery to both wrists for his handcuff injuries.

It was against this background that we were appointed to sue the police. We were able to represent our client on a No Win – No Fee basis, so he was not at risk of having to pay legal fees.

We sent a formal Letter of Claim to Avon & Somerset Constabulary setting out the circumstances of the case. The police strongly denied liability and continued to do so as the claim progressed.

We obtained copies of our client’s medical records and arranged for medical experts to consider the impact the events had on him, physically and psychologically. We obtained reports from both a Plastic Surgeon and a Psychiatrist.

We also engaged a barrister who specialises in injuries sustained in police custody.

With the police continuing to deny any wrongdoing we issued court proceedings against them.

In an attempt to narrow the issues and find some common ground we invited the police to participate in a Joint Settlement Meeting. This is an “off the record” meeting between the parties where everyone can ‘put their cards on the table’ and see if an out of court agreement can be reached.

Although the police agreed to the meeting it soon became apparent that they had no intention of reaching any kind of settlement. They made it clear that the only outcome they would entertain would be for our client to discontinue his claim. We were confident that the legal claim would succeed and told the police that we would proceed to trial.

In a final effort to reach a conclusion without the costs and stress of a hearing we put forward formal settlement proposals, but these too were rejected by the police.

We therefore had no other choice but to press on with the court proceedings and the case was ultimately listed for a 5-day trial in Bristol in October 2018.

Over the course of the trial the court heard evidence not only from our client but from 7 police officers who had been involved in our client’s arrest and detention along with the nurse who had been called to examine him.

We are pleased to report that the judge accepted our client’s case. The court agreed that he should have been treated as a medical emergency on arrival in custody and that the delay had made a material contribution to his injuries. He was awarded compensation to reflect his pain and suffering as well as the financial losses he had suffered as a result of the handcuff injuries.

Can I sue the police for injury on a no win, no fee basis?

We deal with injury claims against the police and are always happy to work on a no win, no fee basis if we think the case has good chances of succeeding.

If you would like to sue the police for an injury and want to know where you stand simply call our free legal helpline on 0800 955 1038. Alternatively, send brief details of your claim to us at