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Woman unlawfully arrested by Notts officers paid £40,000 by force

Sgt Jonathan Flint, dismissed for gross misconduct in November 2019 following the incident, was reinstated with a final written warning in September 2021 after appealing the sanction twice.

A woman who was unlawfully arrested by two Nottinghamshire Police officers who trespassed in her home has been paid £40,000 in compensation from the force.

Nottinghamshire Police has admitted that the officers used unlawful force during the incident in April 2017 at the woman's home.

They had been called after a bailiff - who was attending the property to reclaim an outstanding debt - reported that a parcel had been stolen from his car nearby, with the suspect potentially inside the address.

One of the officers, Sgt Jonathan Flint, was dismissed for gross misconduct on November 7, 2019 after 12 of 13 allegations were found proven against him.

Among these were claims relating to the use of his powers, and his conduct during the incident.

An internal misconduct meeting was held for the other officer, PC Elliott, against whom a finding of misconduct was made. There was no formal sanction recorded.

Originally, the force's Professional Standards Department (PSD) concluded that both officers had a case to answer for misconduct.

However, Sgt Flint ended up facing a gross misconduct hearing after the woman appealed both findings to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

While the IOPC agreed with the force on PC Elliott, it upheld the part of the appeal relating to the other officer.

Sgt Flint appealed his dismissal to the Police Appeal Tribunal (PAT), which heard the case on June 5 and 11, 2020. The PAT allowed that appeal and substituted the decision to impose a final written warning.

Nottinghamshire's Chief Constable, Craig Guildford, sought a judicial review of the PAT's decision which was overturned by the High Court.

The High Court judge remitted the case for a fresh decision to be made; on September 29, 2021, the PAT concluded that Sgt Flint should receive a final written warning to last for a period of 12 months.

To reach this conclusion, the PAT looked at the misconduct panel's findings on all the allegations - minus the one which had been quashed - before taking a view on sanction based on the stages set out in the College of Policing's (COP) guidance on outcomes.

Allegations

Two key allegations centred around how Sgt Flint entered and remained in the property (as a trespasser). 

It was found that he instructed the woman to let him in to search for the parcel the bailiff had reported stolen.

The PAT outlined that an officer has a legal right to enter an address under section 17 PACE if the purpose is to arrest a person for an indictable offence, which the theft could be. 

However, this power only exists if Sgt Flint had reasonable grounds for believing that the suspect was on the premises.

It was concluded that the officer had no legal right of entry in this instance, and that his belief that the suspect was in the property "cannot be objectively justified".

However, the PAT concluded that both allegations were driven by the fact that Sgt Flint was "mistaken about his actual powers". 

Other allegations centring around his language, which included calling the woman a 'fucking loony', were found proven, as was the claim that Sgt Flint used unlawful force when trying to retrieve the woman's key (which she had used to lock the door, preventing the bailiff entering the property).

Moreover, it was found that Sgt Flint assisted in an unlawful arrest and application of handcuffs.

Conclusion

To come to an overall conclusion, the PAT assessed the seriousness of the misconduct in line with the three stages outlined in the COP's guidance on outcomes.

This was assessed by looking at officer culpability, harm caused, and aggravating/mitigating factors.

On culpability, the PAT concluded that Sgt Flint's action "were not intentional or deliberate and were not reflective of his behaviour as a police officer".

The PAT found: "We find that it is clear from the findings of fact that the Panel made, that whilst the Appellant [Sgt Flint] was to blame for his demeanour, language, ignorance and lack of thought, his actions in relation to entering the property were found to be born out of mistake as to what his actual powers were."

His conduct was assessed when looking at harm, with the PAT concluding that Sgt Flint "bears some responsibility for the physical harm" caused to the woman, which included slight bruising consistent with the use of handcuffs.

The woman's loss of confidence in the police as a result of the incident was also acknowledged, as was the reputational harm to the force.

With all this considered, particularly the context of "mistaken belief" in which the incident occurred, led the PAT to conclude that a final written warning was the proportionate outcome.

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