March 13, 2012 02:00 ET

Four Friends Compensated by Metropolitan Police After Assault at Gunpoint

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM--(Marketwire - March 13, 2012) - The Metropolitan Police have agreed to pay over £23,000 compensation and costs to four young professionals who were mistakenly involved in a bungled stop and search operation.

Claire Clarke, James Barber, Nicholas Fairbairn and Ruth Fairbairn (nee Watson) are all in their late 20's and have never been in trouble with the police. They were driving home from a visit with friends at 9.15p.m. on 19 April 2010 when they were stopped by several marked police cars with sirens blaring and lights flashing in Sudbury Court Road, Harrow.

Their Renault Clio hatchback was quickly surrounded by armed officers with their weapons drawn. They used offensive language and shouted conflicting instructions while pointing their guns at the terrified friends. One of the armed officers smashed the driver's side window with the butt of his gun, showering the occupants with glass.

James Barber, the driver, was dragged from the car, thrown face down to the glass-covered ground, handcuffed and then taken away for questioning. Nicholas and Ruth Fairbairn were also forcibly removed and handcuffed.

About 20 minutes later they were re-united and informed that the police had mistakenly stopped their vehicle instead of a Renault saloon, which they suspected had firearms in it.

All four were deeply traumatized by the attack. Ruth Fairbairn had a panic attack and Claire Clarke subsequently required counselling. Ruth described the episode as one of 'total disbelief. It felt surreal, like something from a t.v. police drama.'

'Proportionate and necessary' force

The friends complained to the Metropolitan Police and subsequently the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The police accepted that they had made a mistake in identifying the wrong car but blamed this on human error, saying that they had been 'in the wrong place at the wrong time'. The IPCC supported the police's arguments and rejected the complaint.

The four friends instructed Iain Gould, a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police, to pursue a compensation claim. The police denied liability on the basis that they were entitled to stop and search a vehicle which they reasonably suspected to be carrying a firearm, and that the force used was proportionate and necessary given the perceived threat. Mr. Gould argued that the police failed to conduct basic checks to ensure that the friends' Renault Clio was involved in any suspected firearms offence. As a result, he was able to show that the subsequent assaults, property damage and detention, were illegal.

Following the issue of court proceedings the Metropolitan Police agreed to a round table meeting. Without admission of liability they have formally apologised and settled all four claims for a total of £23,050 plus costs.

Mr. Gould commented, 'Claire Clarke and friends are the public faces of the police's errors. At a time when their resources are being stretched the police should be working harder to maintain public confidence, not undermining it by making mistakes and refusing to acknowledge them'.

About David Phillips & Partners Solicitors:

  • Offices throughout the UK including London, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.
  • Regulated by Solicitors' Regulation Authority (SRA Ref#: 73353).
  • Founded in 1982 and has over 29 years legal experience in the following specialised areas; criminal defence, accident claims, actions against the police, matters involving children, motoring offences and prison law matters.

Contact Information