Sascha Lavin reveals the vast scale of claims made against the police by members of the public – for everything from unlawful arrest to assault

Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent on more than 2,000 out-of-court police settlements in two years, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal. 

Out-of-court settlements have cost police forces at least £3 million in legal fees over the two-year period from January 2020.

A further £2.3 million has been handed out in compensation to victims of unlawful police behaviour, according to data obtained from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. 

This comes as Home Secretary praised the police this week in a speech to the Police Federation, claiming that “no one does more… to make our country great”. The Government had been hoping to focus its agenda on crime this week, “as ministers prepare to announce a package of additional measures to crack down on crime across the country”.

While these figures are likely to be the tip of the iceberg – 26 police forces responded with relevant information, while 23 police forces failed to share information about legal costs, and 32 police forces refused to respond to the FOI requests for details on settlements – they suggest that there is more than one ‘bad apple’ when it comes to mistreatment by officers. 

After repeated accounts of police failings, often steeped in misogyny and racism, police forces across England and Wales should be facing greater scrutiny – but experts warn that they are escaping accountability by agreeing compensation deals with victims out of court. 

Following each policing scandal – from the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Police officer to the strip-search of 15-year-old Child Q at school – activists and police leaders have called for greater accountability.

Habib Kadiri, policy and research manager at police monitoring group Stopwatch, says the new data on out-of-court settlements is “indicative of the lack of transparency that has become standard practice” in police dealings.  

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Sascha Lavin

‘It Costs Us All’ 

A total of 2,148 out-of-court settlements were agreed by 26 police forces in England and Wales in the two years following January 2020. 

However, the picture of police over-reliance on settlements is incomplete: 17 police forces failed to respond entirely to Byline Intelligence Team’s FOI request including London’s Metropolitan Police, Britain’s largest police force. 

Had the Met shared out-of-court settlement figures, it is likely that the number and amount of pay-outs would be significantly higher. In the 2020/21 financial year, for example, public information shows that the Met settled 323 public liability cases, costing £339,786 in compensation and legal fees. 

The Met paid £250,000 in compensation and legal costs to BBC radio DJ Paul Gambaccini in November 2020, after he was falsely arrested in 2013 as part of the Operation Yewtree investigation into sexual abuse. 

According to analysis of FOI responses, police forces in England and Wales handed out settlements for a range of unlawful police behaviour, from “loss of clothing” to a breach of human rights. 

One-in-five successful compensation claims were the result of false imprisonment or unlawful arrest, and 14% of settlements were reached because of assault or battery at the hands of a police officer. 

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Sascha Lavin

In March, Greater Manchester Police handed out £8,000 in compensation, after a police officer encouraged a sexual violence survivor to meet her suspected rapist to “set the record straight”. This case was not included in the data. 

Use of out-of-court settlements also varied throughout police forces: one force only settled five wrongdoing claims, while another paid out 354 compensation agreements in the two-year period.

This week, Priti Patel granted more powers to forces across the country – including lifting restrictions on stop and search use and allowing special constables to use tasers, to “ensure they have the tools power and resources they need to keep us safe”.

Yet, noticeably absent from her plans were greater scrutiny and transparency.

“The stubborn refusal to be held properly accountable and to openly admit failings costs us all, not just monetarily, but also in the emotional damage that victims of police abuse suffer,” Habib Kadiri told Byline Times. “Things will only improve with a greater degree of honesty from forces about the conduct of their personnel.”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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