AN INNOCENT family who claimed they suffered terror, distress and psychiatric harm after police raided their home in a hunt for armed robbers, have won a landmark human rights case.
Merseyside police were yesterday found to have breached Moira and Gerard Keegan's right to a private life, nearly seven years after officers slammed a battering ram into their front door.
The European Court of Human Rights ordered the UK Government to pay the couple ?2,065 each, and their four children ?1,375 each, for the stress and long-term trauma of the raid.
The couple and their sons Carl, 14, Michael, 3, and two-year-old twin daughters Katie and Sophie, were woken at 7am when officers raided their Liverpool home, in October, 1999.
Police got a search warrant for their house on New Henderson Street, in Toxteth, as part of an investigation into a spate of armed robberies. The sergeant leading the raid showed his warrant card to Mr Keegan as he went into the house, but apologised when he realised the mistake, and left at 7.15am.
But the Keegans said the shock had caused them terror, stress and psychiatric harm, and medical reports showed they were suffering varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The family's solicitors, Liverpool firm Jackson and Canter, fought the case and an appeal in the UK on the grounds of unlawful entry and false imprisonment by Merseyside police.
But the domestic courts ruled the police had not acted maliciously in breaking into a house they believed could be occupied by armed robbers or their relatives, and could contain stolen cash.
Yesterday, the Human Rights judges overturned the decision, describing the police entry into the Keegan home as "shocking and violent", causing "undoubted distress" to the family.
The action, the judges said, was not malicious, but it breached the Human Rights Convention, which states: "Everyone has the right to respect for his home.
"There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society . . . for the prevention of disorder or crime."
The judges ruled Merseyside police had not done enough to check whether the house they were targeting was likely to be occupied by wanted criminals.
They also ordered the Government to pay the ?6,500 costs to the family of taking their case to Strasbourg.
Last night, the Keegans' solicitor, Chris Topping, partner at Jackson andCanter, said: "It was clear the family were very distressed by what happened to them.
"They are a law-abiding family trying to live a quiet life bringing up their kids, and they were very upset about the way the police came in for reasons entirely not to do with them."
He said the overwhelming impact of the case would be to encourage police forces to check properly before getting a warrant.
"The key is the courts no longer have to prove a police force acted in malice," he said.
"It shows the Human Rights Act does have a real impact on individuals whose lives have been trampled on by the authorities."
Merseyside police Deputy Chief Constable Jon Murphy said the force was disappointed with the judgment, but was bound by the decision.
He said: "Merseyside police regret the distress caused to the Keegan family through what was a genuine mistake."