Last week I wrote about the trial of PC Lee Birch who tasered a naked man in a cell at Melksham police station in Wiltshire.
At the end of the trial yesterday neither the judge, prosecution, defence nor the tasered man Daniel Dove objected to the footage being released. However, for some reason, Wiltshire police decided they didn't want it to come out. Luckily the Guardian has got it from another source and you can watch the 26 second clip here.
It plainly shows that Dove is down to his wet socks and boxer shorts. He is not making any attempt to resist, nor is he squaring up to the officers in any way. PC Birch is one of three officers in the cell, so is hardly in a vulnerable position. One is idly looking through Dove's wallet, which is not the action of someone on their guard against a volatile threat.
After Dove removes his socks and puts them by the wall away from the officers, he starts to take his shorts off. As he does so Birch reaches out his hand, a gesture that can only be seen as asking for the shorts to be handed to him. Dove removes them and flicks them at PC Birch's face. He briefly brings his other hand up and makes as if to start folding the shorts, turning his face. This is not the act of someone challenging Birch.
Without hesitation or saying anything, Birch draws the taser that had been concealed behind his back and fires. It is less than three seconds since the shorts were flicked.
TRY TO JUSTIFY THAT
In his trial for assault causing actual bodily harm and misconduct in a public office, PC Birch said
I am not saying what he did was particularly life-threatening, but it was an indication that he was still intent on carrying out assaults. I felt he would continue to assault either myself or one of my colleagues if I didn't use that device upon him....
He was now naked and was soaking wet and I would not wish to restrain a naked man. There was nothing to grab hold off – there's no clothing to grab.
So, all those times that you see police officers grabbing people by the wrists, the arms or round the neck are presumably novel innovations that Birch and friends have never thought of. Likewise tripping someone and kneeling on their legs with colleagues pinning shoulders down.
Birch also appears to be claiming that that, though Birch was only two steps from having Dove isolated in a locked cell, the unapparent threat was so imminent that it didn't warrant any sort of warning to back off, but an immediate tasering was the lowest level of force necessary. It is plainly horseshit of the highest order. And yet it took the jury 90 minutes to acquit him.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE?
In last week's post I covered an earlier case in which two separate taserings happened at Burnley police station. In direct contravention of guidelines on the use of tasers, officers had fired them at people in order to get them to comply with a request to be strip searched. The Independent Police Complaints Commission found that there'd been 18 uses of tasers in cells in a year among six forces and it was all fine. Yesterday's verdict at Bristol underlines this.
If being naked, unsteady and surrounded by police officers in a cell doesn't make you undeserving of being shot with a taser because an officer feels like it, I don't see what can.
But, like Sergeant Delroy Smellie whose casual assault was caught on video, once again filmed proof is not enough to secure a conviction. Even in the Ian Tomlinson case, the inquest jury found he was unlawfully killed by PC Simon Harwood's baton strike but the trial jury - working to the same standard of proof - found he was not.
Courts do not like convicting individual police officers, no matter what. Impunity makes abuse inevitable.