Landmark judgement on false arrest of teachers31 March 2011
National police procedures must be rewritten following a court ruling on the wrongful arrest of a teacher.
In a significant decision for the teaching profession and for all workers whose careers depend on the content of their Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, the High Court has ruled today that the police unlawfully arrested and falsely imprisoned a member of the largest teachers’ union, the NASUWT.
West Midlands Police have been ordered to pay compensation to a teacher who was arrested after volunteering to be interviewed by the police following an allegation of assault.
The police will also now be required to consider removing the entry of the arrest on the Police National Computer (PNC) and destroying DNA samples, fingerprints and photographs taken of the teacher.
In light of today’s judgement, further legal action will follow if they decline to do so.
Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, said:
“This is a landmark decision for teachers and others who are vulnerable to allegations made by children and young people.
“New guidance for police is needed urgently to prevent these needless arrests that wreck innocent people’s careers.
“Teachers are vulnerable to allegations made by pupils. Such allegations frequently involve police investigation. The overwhelming majority prove to be false but teachers are often deeply traumatised and their career is blighted.
“This situation is compounded when the police then unnecessarily arrest a teacher who has presented themselves voluntarily for interview.
“Today’s ruling significantly restricts the widespread, unacceptable practice of police arresting teachers and indeed others when they volunteer to be interviewed.
“On the basis of today’s judgement, I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Education and the Home Secretary to seek changes to national procedures to end this disgraceful practice.”
Details of the case
The allegation of assault against the teacher was not pursued by the claimant’s parents and the School had intended dealing with it through its disciplinary process.
The police suggested a local resolution, which the teacher was not prepared to accept because no assault had taken place. The teacher was therefore asked to attend a police station for interview, which he did voluntarily and by appointment.
However, when the teacher attended the police station on 16 December 2009 with his NASUWT solicitor, he was arrested unnecessarily and held in custody for two hours.
The police claimed that it was necessary to make the arrest in order to prevent the teacher from leaving the interview. But the Court held that there was no evidence that the arresting officer had properly assessed whether it was necessary to arrest the teacher, as required by Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).
Crucially, the Court held that an arresting officer must have grounds to believe that the arrest is necessary, and those grounds must be objectively reasonable.
In January 2010 the police decided to take no further action in relation to the assault allegation.
Ms Keates continued:
“Once a teacher has been arrested, regardless of whether they are subsequently exonerated, they are left virtually unemployable because the disclosure of the arrest on Enhanced CRB certificates that teachers are required to produce is generally fatal in any future job application.
“Arrest can also put at risk their current employment.
“Only around five per cent of NASUWT members who face allegations from pupils have any further action taken against them following arrest. In the majority of these cases there is ultimately no case to answer.
“It is, however, unacceptable that 95 per cent have a permanent stain on their character and career record.
“Following this judgement, the West Midlands police must heed the strong steer given by the court that they should amend the police records held for this teacher, and destroy DNA and other samples they have taken from teachers.”
Since the NASUWT started campaigning on this issue, considerable progress has been made on improving the relevant procedures, but more needs to be done.
The NASUWT is calling for:
• police guidance to be rewritten;
• training to be introduced for police officers to prevent teachers being arrested when they voluntarily and willingly co-operate with an investigation into an allegation made against them; and
• a legal provision to be introduced to provide anonymity for staff up to the point of a court decision.
Paula Porter, head of the Criminal Law Unit at Thompsons Solicitors, the NASUWT’s lawyers, said:
“This ruling represents a very significant reining-in of police powers to arrest teachers, firefighters, prison officers and other professionals whose careers are ended by such an arrest appearing on their CRB check, even though they are wholly innocent of the allegation.
“The PACE guideline codes should now be amended to clarify the law in terms of the grounds on which the police can arrest someone who attends a police station voluntarily for interview.
“ACPO should issue urgent guidance to ensure other people are not arrested unlawfully in this way.
“This is a widespread problem that has occurred in many police areas.”