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Kent Police exceeded powers in too-tall photographer case

'Because we can' is not proper grounds for an arrest

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Police in Kent have at last acknowledged that arresting people for being too tall might not be a very good idea.

Or rather, arresting someone for no better reason than "because they could" was unlawful and not altogether sensible.

The story begins this July when photographer Alex Turner was stopped whilst taking snaps in Chatham High St and approached by two men, who refused to identify themselves, but demanded that he show them some ID. When he refused, they called for back-up. A PCSO and WPC arrived: Turner took a photo of the pair, and was promptly arrested.

He was then handcuffed, held in a police van for 20 minutes, searched in public by plain clothes officers before being released. It remains unclear, both from from his own account and from subsequent police explanations, exactly why he was arrested – although he did note at the time that the WPC stated she had felt threatened by his size - 5' 11" and about 12 stone - and implied that she found it intimidating.

Mr Turner complained: a police internal investigation was carried out; and this week, the Investigating Officer (IO) finally got back to him with the very welcome news that, according to their barrister, his arrest was unlawful.

This would therefore render both the subsequent search unlawful as well as Mr Turner’s detention in a police van.

The professional standards department of Kent Police will now consider the report, together with any recommendations made.

The IO apologised for the delay explaining that "special branch" had claimed that the burden of proof required to lawfully arrest under terrorist legislation was somewhat less than it is under other legislation, and that they believed Mr Turner’s arrest to have been lawful. For that reason, Kent Police had sought the advice of legal counsel.

According to Mr Turner, the IO said that he thought he had had a “raw deal” on the day of the arrest. He added that the arrest was in part a consequence of the strong message given to the police on the ground and council officers about being alert to potential terrorist threats.

However, as there were few terrorist activities in Kent, regular officers generally have a low level of knowledge of anti terrorist legislation, and Kent Police have now launched county-wide awareness raising training of anti-terrorist legislation to address this shortfall.

This refreshing candour on the part of the IO is in sharp contrast to statements put out at the time of the arrest by Kent Police.

El Reg asked Kent Police on several occasions to explain what had happened and also to reveal the precise legal grounds for the arrest. Even if an arrest is subsequently determined to be unlawful, police officers should, at the time of making that arrest, have a clear idea of the legal grounds for so doing, and be able to make that clear to members of the public.

Failing to respond directly to our inquiry the first time, Assistant Chief Constable Allyn Thomas claimed merely that Mr Turner’s quite legal behaviour was "suspicious" – thereby implying that generalised suspicion, irrespective of any statutory basis for arrest, is good enough for Kent Police.

This was followed by a statement from Chief Superintendent Steve Corbishley, who also failed to identify the precise legal powers used, alluding merely to "a number of powers which [police] are able to use in relation to stop and search" and expressing confidence that the public are happy with the police acting in this way.

We have asked Kent Police for further comment on this result – but at time of writing, we have not received any. ®

Bootnote

Kent Police did get back to us in the end, with the following statement: "Kent Police can confirm that Mr Turner has been updated on the internal investigation. The investigation is on-going with Kent Police’s Professional Standards Department and it would not be appropriate to comment at this time."

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