Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED November 4, 2003

A police officer was not acting in the execution of his duties in circumstances where he had merely taken hold of the arm of a girl who had been missing and told her that she was going to have to go with him.Appeal by way of case stated against the decisions of Fareham Youth Court on 5 February 2003 that: (i) there was a case for the appellant ('C') to answer in respect of a charge of assaulting a police officer in the execution of his duties contrary to s.89(1) Police Act 1996; and (ii) to subsequently convict C of the same. Police had been called at 12.15 am by the father of a fourteen-year-old girl ('B'), who was concerned that she had gone missing with a school friend and C, her boyfriend. The police spotted B and C from a patrol car and told them to stop. The police were met with an abusive comment whereupon an officer took hold of B's arm and said that she was "going to have to come with us". C then struck the officer with a clenched fist. The police restrained C who, it was alleged, was threatening and abusive. On appeal, C argued that: (a) the officer who had taken hold of B had not been acting in the execution of his duties because he had exceeded that which he had been entitled to do. The officer should have approached B calmly and told her that he was acting on instructions from her father. He should then have told her where he was going to take her and taken into account any reason why she should not go there on the basis that in such cases there might be a risk of physical and/or sexual abuse at home. Further, the officer should have used no more than reasonable force; (b) there was insufficient evidence to show that the police had acted in loco parentis with the delegated authority of B's father; and (c) in reliance on Rice v Connolly (1966) 2 QB 414 and since the magistrates' court had found that the police had carried out what they had described as a "socially desirable" act, their conduct in locating and seeking to bring B back to her family home did not fall within their duties in any event.HELD: (1) This case was different from the type of case where the interference with a person's liberty was only trivial. Here the justices had specifically found that the actions of the officer comprised conduct which was more than a trivial interference with B's liberty. In those circumstances the officer should have explained to B that he had spoken to her father, that her father wanted her to come home and that the officer intended to take her back there. There was also force in C's submission that B should have been given an opportunity to explain any reason that she might have for not wanting to return home and that conclusion was supported by the police's own local policy. (2) Accordingly, the court was satisfied that whilst the police had acted in good faith they had exceeded that which they were entitled to do and had not acted in the execution of their duties. (3) The evidence indicated however that the police had been acting under authority delegated by B's father. (4) Moreover, the police had an interest in the protection of children and duties in that regard. The law had moved on since the decision in Rice (supra) and the police were not acting outside the execution of their duties in seeking to track down a missing child. (5) In light of the fact that a conviction for common assault would have been inevitable, the prosecution might consider bringing such a charge in future cases if there was doubt over whether an officer had acted in the execution of his duties or had performed a "socially desirable" act.Appeal allowed.