AN ELDERLY woman injured during a suspected drug dealer’s arrest in Yorkshire today won a landmark legal battle with the police that could have far-reaching implications for the way officers across the country carry out their duties.
Innocent bystander Elizabeth Robinson, now 86, was hurt when she was knocked to the ground as the suspect was arrested by two police officers on Kirkgate in Huddersfield town centre in 2008.
I am so pleased that after such a long, hard fight which has taken us all the way to the Supreme Court in London, we have been successful and my client will finally obtain the compensation she deserves.Elizabeth Robinson’s solicitor Helen Grieves
Mrs Robinson, from Huddersfield, launched a fight to win compensation for her injuries from West Yorkshire Police but her case was initially dismissed at Bradford County Court in 2013.
Now, however, the Supreme Court in London has ruled in the pensioner’s favour, saying the police are liable to pay her damages as the officers breached their “duty of care” to protect her.
Legal experts have expressed concern that a case of the type brought by Mrs Robinson could encourage so-called ‘defensive policing’. But West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart last night told The Yorkshire Post he believed the Supreme Court’s decision would not fundamentally change how rank-and-file officers do their jobs.
He said: “Policing is not risk free – it certainly isn’t risk free for the officers, you are looking at probably four assaults a day on West Yorkshire Police officers – and we try to mitigate risk to the public as much as we can but it is an inherently dangerous business.”
Mrs Robinson is described as “relatively frail” in the Supreme Court’s written judgment, which says she was in “line of sight” of the “sturdily built” officers when they approached the suspect and grabbed hold of him while attempting to make their arrest.
It goes on: “As the men tussled, they moved towards Mrs Robinson and collided with her. The initial contact was between her and [the suspect], who backed into her. She fell over, and the men fell on top of her.” Today’s ruling hinged in part on interpretation of a case brought against West Yorkshire Police in the 1980s by the mother of Jacqueline Hill, the final victim of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe.
Mrs Robinson’s solicitor, Helen Grieves, said: “I am so pleased that after such a long, hard fight which has taken us all the way to the Supreme Court in London, we have been successful and my client will finally obtain the compensation she deserves.”
West Yorkshire Police’s Deputy Chief Constable John Robins said: “We regret that an innocent member of the public was caught up in this incident, for which we apologise. Officers have to make difficult split second decisions every day and public safety is their primary consideration. We acknowledge the judgment of the court.”
Craig Purshouse, from the University of Liverpool’s School of Law and Social Justice, backed the ruling, saying: “Victims of police wrongdoing should be compensated and there is no reason why the police should receive special treatment when those in other public service jobs do not have immunity from negligence actions.”
A decision on the amount of compensation due to Mrs Robinson has yet to be made.