Friday, November 06, 2015

Ill-judged prosecution costs an Australian police force a heap of legal fees

NSW Police ordered to pay legal costs to Rickey Caton and Adam Antram over toy dinosaur incident

The police case against Rickey Caton started with a "roaaaar!" when he was forcibly arrested by two officers after jokingly producing a toy dinosaur during a roadside car stop.

But it ended with a whimper on Friday when a magistrate ordered the police force to pay more than $100,000 in legal costs after finding the matter should never have gone to court.

The police are facing even more financial pain over the ill-judged prosecution, with Mr Caton and his mate set to launch a claim for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for assault, wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution.

"The [police] proceedings should not have been brought," Magistrate Mark Douglass told Kiama Local Court on Friday, as an inspector from the police force's Professional Standards Command looked on.

"The prosecutor failed to reasonably investigate relevant matters ... which might have suggested that the accused was not guilty."

The magistrate was referring to the evidence of the third officer present on the night of the arrests - Lucie Litchfield - who said that far from assaulting police as her colleagues had claimed, it was Mr Caton and his mates who had been the victims of aggression.

Ms Lichfield said that when police stopped Mr Caton and his mates in Queanbeyan in late December 2013 and asked if they had any weapons, the local father had cheekily pulled out the toy and declared "I've got a dinosaur – roaaaar!".

She said one of the officers, Senior Constable Todd Finnegan, had subsequently forced Mr Caton from the car, pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him. Her other police colleague, Senior Constable Patrick Hicks, had then crash-tackled Mr Caton's friend, Adam Antram into a retaining wall.

The police prosecutors in the case were aware that Ms Litchfield had contradicted her colleagues' version of events, but they failed to question her about it and continued with the prosecution.

On Friday Magistrate Douglass described her evidence as "cogent and compelling".

Ms Lichfield told Fairfax Media that the magistrate's comments had been "extremely satisfying".

"If the police had done their job properly they would have questioned me about my evidence before it went to court," she said.

Ms Lichfield says she was subjected to bullying and isolation at work after blowing the whistle and has since resigned from the force.

Magistrate Douglass upheld the application for legal costs by Mr Caton's barrister, Steven Boland, ordering the police to pay more than $100,000 after finding that the prosecution had been conducted in an "unreasonable manner".

The police had strenuously opposed the costs application.

Mr Caton and Mr Antram are expected to file civil claims next week against NSW Police in the District Court.

Fairfax Media understands the men will claim that the police committed the civil tort of "trespass to a person" during the arrest and then concocted the assault claims in a bid to cover up their behaviour.

The men are expected to allege that police then pursued a malicious prosecution, deliberately ignoring the evidence of Ms Lichfield that contradicted her fellow officers' claims.

Fairfax Media understands that the matter is now the subject of an internal police investigation involving the Professional Standards Command.

Original report here

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