Police officers sacked for lying about arrest where man's neck was broken

Disciplinary panel found three Bedfordshire officers made dishonest statements

Three police officers have been sacked for lying about an incident in which a black university student suffered a broken neck and spinal cord injury, leaving him almost totally paralysed and severely brain damaged.

A disciplinary panel convened by Bedfordshire police found that the breaches of standards of honesty and integrity by PCs Hannah Ross, Nicholas Oates and Sanjeev Kalyan over their descriptions of the incident involving Julian Cole, a student at the University of Bedfordshire, amounted to gross misconduct.

Since the incident outside Elements nightclub in Bedford in March 2013, during which he was twice tackled to the ground, Cole, a talented athlete who was studying sports science, has been in a vegetative state, from which he will never recover. He was just 19 years old when he suffered the life-changing injury.

The officers were found to have lied in both their pocket notebooks and subsequent statements to investigators about Cole’s condition when he was taken to a police van after he was restrained and arrested. “The false accounts were intended to mislead and divert attention from their actions as they inevitably came under scrutiny,” said John Bassett, chair of the panel.

All three were also found to have committed misconduct after failing to conduct adequate welfare checks on Cole. A fourth officer, Sgt Andrew Withey, was handed a final written warning after he was found to have failed on the same issue.

After the decision was announced, Cole’s brother, Claude, said: “We are happy that some of the lies have finally come out. As a family it’s the start of a platform to get the rest of the truth out about who caused Julian the injury, so they can be brought to justice.”

Julian Cole after his injuries
Julian Cole after his injuries Photograph: Family collection

On the first day of the hearing, Claudia Cole, Julian’s mother, had quietly sobbed as the panel were shown footage of the moment Cole was taken to a police van with his legs dragging behind him, which contradicted claims by the police that he had walked.

After attending the disciplinary panel every day, the most difficult part of the process had been “when all of the police officers were lying,” she said. “According to the CCTV, when they showed dragging, instead they said walking; and from my own perspective that was not walking, it was dragging.”

In a statement to the media, she added: “When we first saw Julian in a coma and a life support machine, five and a half years ago, and the police officer said to us that he had been ‘chatty’ in the police van, we suspected a cover-up.

“This tribunal decision makes it clear that not only did the officers lie about the event involving Julian, but they showed an inhuman indifference to his welfare. Clearing away the lies about what happened that night enabled us to get closer to the truth, and we won’t stop until we know who put Julian into a vegetative state, and until they have to answer for what they did in a criminal court.”

No case was made against any of the officers for the injury inflicted on Cole. However, the panel heard evidence from a medical expert who suggested that, on the balance of probabilities, it was police who broke his neck when they tackled him to the floor.

Prof Charles Davis, a consultant neurosurgeon, said “it was possible but unlikely” that Cole was able to get up and engage in a further struggle with police if his neck was broken when he was first taken down, by a bouncer from Elements.

A CCTV image released at the Julian Cole inquest.
A CCTV image released at the Julian Cole inquest. Photograph: Bedfordshire police

Reading out the panel’s decision, Bassett said Ross was found to have made up her accounts of the welfare checks she made on Cole and his response to them, including claims he was still able to move his legs when placed in the back of a police van.

Kalyan was found to have lied to support Ross’s version of events, as well as over a claim that Cole had been well enough in the back of the police van to put back on a trainer that had fallen off his foot during the incident that led to his arrest.

Oates was found to have lied in saying that Cole was able to pull in his legs so that officers could shut the door, a claim that was not backed up by any other officers, particularly Ross, who had been pulling Cole into the van.

When Ross, during the disciplinary hearing, was by asked by Oates’s lawyer to agree that she was maybe not paying attention, “what he succeeded in doing was satisfy[ing] the panel that Ross was quite prepared to change her account if she felt it would assist a colleague”.

Calling for the officers’ dismissal, Mark Ley-Morgan, representing Bedfordshire police’s professional standards department, said no lesser sanction was possible under guidance on sanctions for gross misconduct. “I do say, forcefully, that the conduct of the officers has caused reputational harm. There is nothing more serious than officers not telling the truth in relation to operational matters,” he said.

“You may take the view that from the moment notes were made there was intent to fabricate, intent to conceal. I draw your attention to evidence of genuine remorse … in my respectful submission that is absent in this case. They have maintained their lies to the bitter end.”

Offering mitigation on behalf of Ross, Kevin Baumber, representing the officers, said she and her colleagues had been in “a difficult position”. They had found themselves left to account for their actions “without the protections of the post-incident procedure, without any advice, saying a couple of things that were not true”.


Damien Gayle

The GuardianTramp

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