Counsel at No5 Barristers’ Chambers has successfully appealed against the dismissal of a Custody Sergeant. The officer was formally reinstated after a hearing before the Police Appeals’ Tribunal.

Colin Banham represented Sgt Colin Travi at the Police Appeals’ Tribunal.

The long-serving officer had previously been dismissed without notice in 2017 after admitting his use of  a number of distraction strikes (punches) to the head of a violent detainee. The incident itself had occurred at Abingdon Police Station on the 16th of August 2016.

Sgt Travi had worked as a custody sergeant at Abingdon Police Station since 2015. He had previously worked in the Air Force and served as a police officer in different roles at Bicester and Kidlington Police Stations.

At first instance the misconduct hearing heard that the detainee, who had been arrested on suspicion of burglary and driving offences, became agitated in his cell when informed that there would be a delay in the attendance of his solicitor. The panel found that Sgt Travi was justified in laying hands on the male but that he had used ‘excessive and unnecessary force’ when deploying the distraction strikes against him.

CCTV footage, covering the incident in the call, had been shown to the misconduct panel. It showed that, after a conversation with the male, a struggle broke out where Sgt Travi and colleagues attempted to restrain him. The male kicked a fellow officer before Sgt Travi punched struck him to the head four times. Sgt Travi stated that the distraction strikes were in line with his training and were justified in the circumstances.

However, the original misconduct panel concluded that his actions amounted to gross misconduct and dismissed him without notice.

In his submissions before the Police Appeals Tribunal, Mr Banham gave four reasons why the panels’ findings fell outside the ‘range of reasonable responses’ open to them and/or were unfair:

  • There was a fundamental error in the panel’s findings of fact;
  • The panel ignored uncontested witness evidence that supported the appellant’s case;
  • The Panel’s assessment of the severity of the appellant’s alleged misconduct was unreasonable.

The Tribunal found in favour of all of these arguments.  It held that there had been a number of fundamental errors of fact, the approach of the panel was unreasonable and it led to an unreasonable finding. There had also been a disregard of evidence in the case, which meant their finding that the use of force was unjustified fell outside the range of reasonable responses open to them. It found the appellant was deprived of having a fair trial as (i) he could not have anticipated the approach of the panel; and (ii) relevant evidence was not taken into account which should have been.

In those circumstances the Tribunal had the power to replace the original panel’s finding with its own. It went on to rule that the appellant’s use of force was reasonable in all of the circumstances based upon the CCTV evidence, the witness statements from other officers present in the cell at the time, the risk assessment and Sgt Travi’s own evidence detailing his approach at the time. The hearing found this to be a controlled and stepped approach – verbal reasoning, physical restraint, pressure points application prior to the strikes being applied, which they found to be a reasonable use of force to gain control of the suspect who posed a threat.

The tribunal found that the punches to the head, as a distraction strike, were reasonable and had the desired effect after other attempts to control the suspect had failed.

The tribunal found Thames Valley Police’s original finding of gross misconduct was unreasonable and unfair. The finding of gross misconduct was quashed and the officer was reinstated with back pay.

In the circumstances, Thames Valley Police has granted Sgt Travi two weeks ‘special leave’ to make arrangements to return to work. Thereafter he will return to the Force with immediate effect.

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