Friday, May 20, 2016

Man jailed for assault on South Yorkshire police officer has conviction overturned after pictures emerged showing PC pushing the suspect's head against a car door

A man was wrongly imprisoned for assaulting a police officer and had his conviction overturned after a picture emerged of the policeman pushing the suspect's head against a car door.

Russell Hartley, 45, from Doncaster, was given a 10-week prison sentence for the alleged assault on Robert Heath, a south Yorkshire police officer, and a further two weeks in jail for drink-driving.

But following a two-day hearing at Sheffield Crown Court, a judge quashed the assault conviction.  Judge Peter Kelson QC said he was a 'little surprised' the officer felt he needed to restrain Mr Hartley when he was already in the back of the police car.

PC Heath had claimed he had restrained Mr Hartley when he grabbed his wrist and pulled him in to the vehicle.

To that, the judge said: 'If the police and prosecution are to consider charging assault on a police officer every time a police officer's arm is taken hold of by somebody, this court would be inundated with criminal prosecutions.'

The case is a further blow to the reputation of the police force which was strongly criticised for its conduct at the Hillsborough inquest, which concluded the 96 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed.

The ruling that the supporters were utterly blameless for the disaster came after a 27-year cover-up by the police force which Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham described as being 'rotten to the core'.

Mr Hartley had been arrested in September 2014 outside the Flare Path pub in Dunsville village, in Doncaster on suspicion of drink driving.

PC Heath had claimed he had put him in the back seat of his car to carry out a breathalyser test but he quickly became aggressive and he had to ask for back-up.

He said Mr Hartley then wound down the window, grabbed hold of his wrist and pulled him into the vehicle where he tried to restrain him.

PC Heath said: 'I felt in danger, obviously he is a lot bigger than I am. There was another person there. I was on my own and I didn't know what was going to happen.'

By contrast, Mr Hartley claimed he had been punched repeatedly and urged his friend, Peter Barnes, to record the footage.

He said: 'He opened the door and hit me with a flying headbutt, diving in like he was going to score a goal in football.'

His sunglasses were smashed in the assault, he claimed, which led to him suffering broken teeth.

Doncaster magistrates' court accepted the police account of the incident last August and Mr Hartley was sentenced to ten weeks in prison with a further two weeks for drink-driving.

But pictures taken by Mr Barnes on his mobile phone were produced at the appeal hearing at Sheffield Crown Court.

Judge Kelson said: 'It is not part of our role to pass any judgement about what happened in the vehicle.

'On any analysis of the evidence we are a little surprised that PC Heath felt it necessary to open the car door to embark upon restraining Mr Hartley when he was already in the police car, effectively restrained.'

He said PC Heath had not sustained 'any injuries whatsoever' and the court would be 'inundated with criminal prosecutions' if police charged people with assault every time they grabbed an officer's arm.

The drink-driving conviction was upheld but the prison sentence for that offence was quashed.

The judge said it was for the panel to consider any potential disciplinary matters relating to PC Heath's conduct.  

Speaking after the case, Mr Hartley said the outcome had been 'brilliant'.  He said: 'Justice has been served. The judge was very fair and he listened. A lot of judges don't listen.'

He added that it had been 'terrible' to go to jail for an offence for which he was wrongly convicted.

Mr Hartley said he now intends to pursue a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

He claimed footage of the incident was deleted by police, although Judge Kelson said there was no evidence for that.

Original report here

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