Humberside Police will have to pay damages to Michael Curran and also face a legal bill that may run to £500,000 after two officers deliberately sought to secure his dismissal even though he had been cleared of any wrongdoing at court.
Judge Jeremy Richardson QC described the behaviour of the officers, who he did not name and who are no longer with the force, as “appalling and unlawful” when he upheld a civil claim for misfeasance in public office. His judgment was handed down at Hull County Court yesterday, following a trial in January.
Mr Curran had formerly worked at the St William’s children’s home at Market Weighton in east Yorkshire, which has been the subject of a series of investigations into alleged historical sexual abuse. The home was staffed by the De La Salle Brotherhood, a Catholic lay order of which Mr Curran is a member.
He was arrested in 2002, 10 years after the home had closed and by which time he was running a centre for children with behavioural problems in Liverpool. He was subsequently charged in relation to a small number of alleged indecent images of children found on a computer following his arrest in Liverpool but the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case and Mr Curran was formally acquitted in December 2003.
However, two police officers –both before and after the acquittal – met Liverpool Council officials who were considering Mr Curran’s position and claimed he was “a dangerous paedophile”. As a consequence he was sacked in December 2004 and never worked in teaching or education again.
Judge Richardson said he did not believe evidence from Stuart Smith, the then Liverpool director of education and current head of children’s services wtih Calderdale Council, that the police comments had no influence on the decision. The judge said he could not rely on Mr Smith’s evidence which he described as “comprehensively unimpressive”.
He found the language used by the police was so “utterly toxic” it could not have failed to influence Liverpool Council’s disciplinary process, led by Mr Smith.
The judge said: “I am convinced, upon the evidence before me, that after the acquittal of the claimant in the crown court, officers (certainly one and probably the other) acted with targeted malice towards the claimant.
“It must be remembered the comments were made in the context of a formal meeting where information was exchanged and would have consequences.
“The malice was targeted as it was plainly designed to harm the claimant – indeed to get him dismissed. It was a deliberate misuse of the power the officers possessed, to harm him.”
He described events as a “personal tragedy” for Mr Curran which should have been resolved a long time ago. The judge also said the case might not even have reached court if Humberside Police had issued a fulsome apology.
Responding to the judgment, assistant chief constable Alan Leaver said: “Humberside Police apologise unreservedly to Mr Curran for the way in which the disclosure was made in these circumstances, the form that it took and for the personal consequences of this for him.”
The force did not respond when asked why it had run-up substantial legal costs fighting the claim, including a failed attempt to get it struck out two years ago, when an apology and earlier settlement might have saved hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The amount of damages is yet to be settled.