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Hough v Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police

19 February 2001
The issues

Police National Computer – Lawfulness of Arrest

The facts

The Claimant was passenger in a car stopped by the police on a motorway because of a damaged windscreen. A routine check on the police computer revealed an entry concerning the owner of the car warning officers that the occupant might be armed with a firearm. An armed response team was summoned and the Claimant was arrested, handcuffed, searched and taken to a police station. No weapon was found.

The Claimant brought an action for damages.

The decision

The Judge at first instance had accepted that the arresting officer genuinely suspected the Claimant to be guilty of the unlawful possession of a firearm.

The Judge had therefore turned to the second question, namely whether there were objectively reasonable grounds for the constable’s suspicion. The Judge at first instance had taken the view that it was necessary to go back to the stage of the officer who placed the entry on the police national computer. That was wrong. It was not relevant to consider whether the officer who made the entry had reasonable grounds for placing the information on the computer. That approach was inconsistent with the decision of the House of Lords in O’Hara v Chief Constable of the RUC in which it was held that the only relevant matters were those present in the mind of the arresting officer.

Where the arresting officer suspicion was formed on the basis of the police national computer entry, that entry was likely to provide the necessary objective justification. It might be that a claim in negligence would lie against an officer making the entry in the first place or perhaps for failing later to alter it if it could be established that he had no proper basis forever having made it. In considering any such claim it would have to be recognised that the computer entry of itself was likely to lead to just such an arrest as occurred in the present case. Some support for this cause of action might be found in the decision of Clarke v Crew, Court of Appeal, transcript number 0891 of 1999. “That however was a question for the future”.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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