Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Punchy British cops

Police officers investigated after assault of Mark Aspinall caught on CCTV

Three police officers are being investigated after a soldier claimed he was repeatedly beaten while being pinned to the ground. CCTV footage shows Lance Corporal Mark Aspinall, who was praised for his bravery against the Taleban in Afghanistan earlier this year, being held down by two officers while a third appears to hit him on the back. Mr Aspinall, 24, was later found guilty of of assaulting the police offices but the convictions have been quashed on appeal after a judge watched a video of the incident.

The nine-minute video, obtained by the Sunday Mirror, shows a drunken Mr Aspinall gesticulating at three police officers in Wigan, Lancashire, in July. It is claimed that he was mistakenly identified by the officers who had been called to deal with a man causing a nuisance to paramedics in the centre of the town. Mr Aspinall is then seen tripping as he attempts to run away from the police and then is then held down by three officers in fluorescent yellow jackets. An officer, identified in court as PC Peter Lightfoot, appears to twice push Mr Aspinall's head on the ground in the middle of the road. Two colleagues - PC Richard Kelsall and another named only as Sergeant Russell - pin down his legs.

When Mr Aspinall bites one of the officers legs, PC Lightfoot appears to scrape his face on the road. He then hits Mr Aspinall eight times on the back before he is put in the back of a police van.

Mr Aspinall was convicted of two counts of assault by Wigan magistrates after the three officers read statements that he had been "behaving violently" and "issuing challenges". He was given a three-month suspended prison sentence, ordered to serve 200 hours community service and told the pay the officers $500 compensation.

But the conviction was overturned after the video was shown at an appeal hearing at Liverpool Crown Court. Judge John Phipps told the court: "I am shocked and appalled at the level of violence shown here." He said he had "great concerns" about the footage of the incident and questioned the officer's accounts, saying: "I would go as far as to say the statement contain untruths."

Greater Manchester Police has said that the force's Professional Standards Branch was investigating the conduct of officers on the Wigan division. The matter has also been voluntarily referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Mr Aspinall told the Sunday Mirror that he had suffered 14 injuries to his head and face during a six minutes he was held on the ground. "I was scared for my life. I was being battered and my head was being pushed into the ground," he told the newspaper. "I remember thinking, `I'm going to die here. I can't believe I've survived Afghanistan and Iraq and and now I'm going to die on this main road in my home town at the hands of the police'. "I had been drinking, I was pretty leathered, I know that... but I was not being violent."

Mr Aspinall served in Iraq and Afghanistan during his seven years with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He returned to Britain from a front-line posting in Afghanistan in March and was working out his notice in the Army at the time of the incident. He had planned to join the fire service but his application was rejected because of his criminal conviction. "I went in to the Army thinking this country was worth fighting for," said Mr Aspinall. "I put my life on the line every day in Afghanistan, so to come back and be treated like this for no reason was just so depressing. My plan was to join the fire service when I came out of the Army - but I was rejected because of my conviction. It meant I was unemployable for anything I wanted to do."

After his arrest his commanding officer, Major Christopher Bell wrote a letter praising Mr Aspinall as "a model professional". The letter added: "He is a constantly punctual, reliable, honest, self-motivated and self-disciplined. Above all, his is personable and considered." Major Bell said that Mr Aspinall had served for six in Afghanistan where was fought almost daily and was constantly under enemy fire. "He personally fought almost daily, and was under enemy fire constantly. I know that he accounted for a significant number of targets as a Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle gunner and it is not an exaggeration to say he held the lives of his comrades in his hands constantly."

PC Lightfoot, 39, a van driver who has worked as a special constable for 19 years, refused to comment on the incident.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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