Contrasting the British police with their counterparts from Spain, my Spanish boyfriend often raves: “In Britain they are so nice, so polite!”
Having had similar experience in the UK, it has become my deep conviction that the police were there to help, not to harass law obeying citizens. So I was (stupidly) bold when I faced constable S.
But from the beginning.
It was a good night out. Around 2:20 I said good-bye to my friends and headed home to get some sleep before a workday.
Just as I stepped out of a club, I realized only one glove was in the pocket of my coat. I wanted to return to get its pair, which must have been laying somewhere on or under the seat the coat had been placed on.
But the bouncer stopped me from re-entering, saying no-one could get in after 2 AM. He was closed to any negotiations. I really liked my gloves and so decided to sneak in behind his back.
The impulsive action immediately revealed its weaknesses. As soon as I passed the entrance door, I stopped surprised that it had gone so smoothly. A mistake of a beginner!
The bouncer was right behind me. He grabbed my arm and led me out. A grip of the strong man, at least three times bigger than I am, didn’t give me any option than to follow obediently.
Once in the street outside the club, I hesitated. No I didn’t think about trying again to get in the club. It was clear to me that if I hadn’t succeeded the first time, it would be even less likely the second time.
Do as I say or…
A police officer started to speak to me, sending me away. I recounted the glove story, hoping for some understanding. To no avail. I can’t really blame him. In the end, a glove might have seemed insignificant to him, even more so someone else’s glove.
But I was not ready to give up yet. Taking a mobile phone out of my pocket, I said I was going to call my friends who were still in the club to find the glove for me.
“But do it somewhere else,” the policeman commanded.
That made all the bits and pieces I had ever learnt, heard or read about human rights and freedoms appear in bold in my head.
“Why? I’m in thestreet, this is a public place. I have a right to be in a public place, don’t I?” I dared.
The constable didn’t like the defiance. “Do as I say or I’ll arrest you!”
I blinked in disbelief. “He can’t arrest me for nothing. He is surely just flexing his muscles,” I thought.
Of course, I can’t be completely sure of what was going on in his head. But even now, with the distance of time, I believe he just wanted to frighten me into obedience.
He didn’t expect my reaction. I simply said: “OK”, curious if he was serious. I guess he didn’t know how to backtrack without losing his authority. The fact that I didn’t have any ID with me, gave his case some strength.
If you expect I was pushed against the wall and searched, hand-cuffed or at least gripped by the arm, than you are wrong.
I obediently followed the officer as he had asked me to, still sceptical about his intentions.
A police car was around the corner. Only there did they search me and ordered me to sit on the metal seat at the back of the car.
The journey to a police station was long and dark. Had it been in South America, I would have thought the police were not the police and I was being kidnapped. In the end, the constable didn’t show me any ID, just gave me what he said was his number. Frankly, if I wanted to go with the kidnapping theory this wouldn’t have set my mind in peace.
Don’t drink if you want to be taken seriously
But, we were not in South America and we arrived at the police station.
There I heard what we all know from movies: “You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
I was searched again, photographed, my finger prints taken and breath analyzed.
Yes, I had been drinking. Five 3-5 % strong beers of different sizes, in the course of five hours on a full stomach. But where was the problem? It is not illegal to drink in the UK…
The breath analyzer gave a result of 36 mg per 100ml of breath, one mg above the drink drive limit. But I was not driving…
I was taken to a cell to “detoxify to be able to answer questions at an interview”.
My shoes stayed outside the cell so that I could not “use them to attack a guard”.
In case you are wondering: No, there weren’t any dangerously-looking women staring at me with hungry eyes, waiting to rob, beat or rape me as soon as a guard closed the door.
It was quite a decent cell, for one person only: a low upholstered bench/bed, a toilet, a sink with drinking water, which stops automatically if you switch it on too many times. On the wall there was a large note warning against destroying anything. The guard has even offered me a blanket.
I had noticed several other shoes lining the way to my cell and I wondered how many of their owners were there because they wanted their glove back…
Three hours after my arrest, constable S., suddenly very sympathetic, informed me they had decided to give me “a simple caution” instead of charging me with an offence.
A caution remains in police records along with photographs, fingerprints and may adversely affect both employment and travel prospects.
I could not accept that such a small error of judgement (as I believe sneaking into the club behind a bouncer’s back was) should have such a potentially serious effect on my life. I requested a solicitor.
Impressively alert and kind in the wee hours, she was surprised by the disproportion of the punishment.
But the police told her my breath analysis was done only 2 hours after I was arrested. I had no exact notion of time. The constable had taken my mobile phone as I was getting in the police car. But when I later checked with my boyfriend, he told me the police informed him of my arrest at 3:30. Supposing it was only after they completed the registration, the breath analysis must have been done less than an hour after the scene in front of the club.
Constable S. also reported I had attempted to re-enter the club three times. “Nonsense!” I objected, but that was the word of “a drunk who didn’t know what she was doing” against the word of the policeman.
All the solicitor could do for me was to request a CCTV recording of the events. Four hours after my arrest, I was granted a bail and ordered to return a week later.
The only thing I could do in the meantime was to study what it was I was accused of: “Drunk/disorderly person failed to leave relevant premises when requested” and whether the officer was right to arrest me.
I have not found out whether the pavement in front of a club is a part of licensed premises.
However, according to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, a lawful arrest requires two elements: A person’s involvement in a criminal offence AND reasonable grounds for believing that the person’s arrest is necessary.
As I studied the necessity criteria, only the fact the constable could not “readily ascertain my name” could loosely match. But, according to the act, I should have been given “a reasonable opportunity to establish my real name and address”.
There were least two easy and fast ways to do that: Ask my boyfriend, who was calling me just as I was being arrested, or enter the club and ask my friends who were still there. Not mentioning the police could have taken me to my house, which is just 10 min walk from the club.
I mentioned this to the constable S. during the interview. He replied the police did not have time to check people identities this way. Spending four hours at the police station with me, apparently seemed to him like a more efficient solution.
“Isn’t it possible that meanwhile some guys are fighting somewhere, someone gets robbed, raped or murdered?” I asked. “Yes, it’s possible,” he admitted.
The following Friday I returned to the police station, curious whether the CCTV recording would confirm or prove wrong my recollection of the events. An officer at a reception desk told me the case had been cancelled: “No further action needed”.
They tried to call me all the morning to spare me the troubles of getting there, but they failed to reach me. Interestingly, there was no missed call recorded on my mobile phone….