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Clarke v Chief Constable of North Wales, Court of Appeal, 5 April 2000

28 April 2000
The issues

Civil Claim against Police – Unlawful Detention – Wrongful Arrest

The facts

September 1991 D received evidence that drugs were to be delivered by Clarke’s Ford Escort to a doorman at the Cotton Club, Wrexham. The car arrived outside the club at 11.00 p.m. Appellant was in front passenger seat, her husband was driving – her brother in the back seat. The car was stopped by the Police. Its windows were smashed. The occupants were hauled out and arrested.

The arresting Police Officer testified that she had told the appellant that the arrest was ” on suspicion of possession of controlled drugs”. Appellant said she had been given no reason whatsoever.

They were taken to Wrexham Police Station. 25 minutes after arrival Custody Sergeant authorised continued detention for questioning and to secure further evidence. Searches of the Claimant, the car and the home produced no evidence. No evidence was found against the brother. The husband was found to have 1 ecstasy tablet and £90.00 in counterfeit notes. This was known by 5.20 am to the Wrexham Police. The appellants were allowed to sleep until 7.30 am but not released until 2.50 p.m. on the day after the evening arrest. The Custody Sergeant had reviewed detention at 00.50 am and again at 10.05 am. By the time of the second of the reviews the appellant had not been interviewed.

Appellant sued for wrongful arrest, assault and forced imprisonment.

The decision

Issue A

Did PC Hill know enough to form a reasonable suspicion of an arrestable offence?
The information known to the drugs squad and passed on in its entirety of the arresting Officer was that
a) the controlled drug was suspected of being carried was ecstasy and a class a drug and
b) the drugs were being carried with an intent to supply them

The answer therefore was yes.

There was no requirement of law that the Constable must have first hand knowledge of the matters amounting to reasonable suspicion as long as they come from a source which is reasonable for her to rely upon.

Issue B

Were the words of arrest sufficient to make the arrest lawful?

The Judge at first instance took the words “suspicion of possession of drugs” to carry the necessary implications relating to possession and circumstances which carried the power of arrest without warrant. The fact that the Constable did not add “with intent to supply” made no difference. The Court of Appeal found the Judges reasoning on this point unsustainable. Per Sedley LJ “I have no difficulty with the position that technical or formal words are unnecessary. Although no Constable ever admits to saying “your nicked for handling this gear” or “I’m having your for twocing” either will do, and I have no doubt, frequently does”. However the words spoken were general enough on this occasion to encompass both arrestable and non-arrestable drug offences. Sedley LJ confessed to having a difficulty on this point and one in which he had no concluded view and wished to hear further argument – but accepted that this was pointless given that the two other members of the Court were against him.

Issue C

The Custody Officer was not in the same position as the arresting officer. He was entitled to assume that the arrest was lawfully effected although he must not shut his eyes to evidence that it was not.

Staughton LJ and Brook LJ both agreed with Sedley LJ save as to the issue of the wording used by the arresting Officer. Brook LJ dealt robustly and shortly with the issue on which Sedley LJ had difficulties “in Christie v Leachinsky “the requirement that the person arrested should be informed of the reason why he be seized does not mean the technical or precise language need be used. The matter is a matter of substance . A person is only required to submit to restraint on his freedom if he knows in substance the reason why restraint should be imposed”. The Claimant understood perfectly well why the police were arresting them, a serious offence in connection with possession of a controlled drug for which they had the power to arrest her. “To require a Police Officer to refer to a Class A drug or a Class B drug because they have no power of arrest in relation to a Class C drug is in my judgement to adopt an over loyally approach and to elevate technical form over real substance”.

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