A Metropolitan police driver is under criminal investigation after using a special tactic to deliberately knock a fleeing suspect off a moped, the Guardian has learned. The teenager, aged 17 at the time, suffered head injuries and a broken foot as he fled from police. He was not wearing a helmet and later pleaded guilty…
A Metropolitan police driver is under criminal investigation after using a special tactic to deliberately knock a fleeing suspect off a moped, the Guardian has learned.
The teenager, aged 17 at the time, suffered head injuries and a broken foot as he fled from police. He was not wearing a helmet and later pleaded guilty to several offences.
The officer is believed to be the only one so far to face criminal investigation after using the controversial “tactical contact” measure, whereby police in cars knock a suspect off their moped or scooter, so they can be arrested.
The Met adopted the tactic in October 2017 as it tried to quell a wave of robberies carried out by suspects on mopeds. The incident subject to criminal investigation happened a month later and is one of two where suspects suffered serious injury.
The prime minister and home secretary have supported the tactic, but others such as the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, have expressed concern.
The incident happened on November 2017 in Erith, south-east London, not far from the border between the capital and Kent.
The police officer has been interviewed under caution as part of an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IPOC). The watchdog said it would decide within weeks whether the officer should be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service to face criminal charges, for an offence such as actual bodily harm.
As well as a criminal investigation, the officer has been told he faces a disciplinary investigation for potential gross misconduct.
The incident started with the suspect being chased by officers from Kent, followed also by a police helicopter. After he crossed the border into London, officers from the Met took up the pursuit. The collision took place on Eastern Way in Erith at about 2.15am on 7 November.
The teenager was not wearing a helmet and the IOPC said he suffered serious head injuries and fractures but was discharged from hospital a few days later.
The police who had been giving chase had to take him to hospital because the London ambulance service did not have a vehicle available, News Shopper, a local newspaper, reported at the time.
The IOPC said its investigation was “looking at the circumstances around the authorisation and use of the tactical contact”.
The teenager was charged and later appeared at a youth court where he pleaded guilty to attempted theft, interference with a vehicle, driving with no licence, driving with no insurance, and dangerous driving. Because of his age he cannot be named.
When the Met released footage a fortnight ago of its drivers knocking suspects off mopeds, it said it had used tactical contact 63 times. It also said the tactic would only be used by specialist officers called “scorpion” drivers.
The driver in the Erith incident is understood not to have been a specialist scorpion driver, although at the time the requirement was not in place.
It is the second tactical contact incident being investigated by the IOPC. Another took place on 27 March this year in Ealing, west London, where a suspect in his 20s suffered a broken leg after a police car knocked him off his moped. The IOPC said the investigation was continuing, with no warning notices served, meaning officers are being treated as witnesses.
The IOPC said it had a duty to investigate cases where suspects were injured after being knocked off their mopeds by police. “Ultimately no police tactic can ever be used with impunity in a country where we police by consent – be that tactical contact, the use of firearms or the use of restraint. It is always a matter of whether it’s reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances,” it said.
“If it is – for example as we saw at Westminster and Borough Market [during the 2017 terrorist attacks] – then our investigations treat the officers as witnesses throughout and their conduct is not in question. But it would be wrong to offer guarantees in every case. Independent scrutiny is a vital part of public confidence in the way policing is done.”
The relevant law is section three of the 1967 Criminal Law Act, which says: “A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.”
Such cases revolve around what is considered reasonable, given the circumstances.
A July 2017 case in Wimbledon, south London, where a teenager died as he fled officers on a moped and struck a police car, is not being treated as a tactical contact case. The suspect is understood to have accidentally ploughed into the side of the police car as it passed across a road junction.