‘Given that Mr Ullah had been compliant throughout the incident I must question why DS Liles thought it justifiable to pre-emptively strike rather than attempt to verbalise with him.’
Today we heard from David Oliver, former police officer and currently police trainer and expert on personal safety who was brought in by the IPCC.
It was confirmed that he had access to all the statements of the officers, witnesses and previous inquest transcripts but also looked at the training manuals/guidance that were in place in 2008. Oliver took jury/coroner through a sequence of events that take place with many deaths in custody.
He went through statement’s from the Officers and looked at variances in these so for example whether they had Habib’s arms when Liles gave him a backslap. He questioned why Liles gave him a backslap without engaging with him verbally and does not believe this to be proportionate in this context. He picks up on the use of mandibular angle with two thumbs is NOT contained anywhere in police training. Coroner asked about use of this if someone is face down and head is not fixed. Disapproved of this and suggested that it wouldn’t have done much good in these circumstances.
He was asked if an officer goes outside this and uses unapproved techniques that it needs to be justifiable. Referred to ‘Parallax principle’ in terms of how officers and witnesses saw events from the physical position of the parties. People will see different things from different angles. Used this to justify how witnesses would have felt that he was being strangled.
Also asked about the repeat use of the backslaps and whether these are effective. Questioned about subjects being a prone position and being restrained in reference to House of Lords report 2003-2004 and Article 2 (Right to Life). Oliver believed that PC Grainger and PC Wynne acted as any ‘reasonable’ officer would have but raised concerns about DC Bazeley about use of MA pressure point and questioned the reasonableness of this – this was demonstrated in court.
He stated that PC Pomery use of Hypoglossal and Labial Sulcus pressure point techniques are approved and ‘reasonable’ in these circumstances but ONLY if what was about Habib not swallowing an item and a last resort. He also confirmed that Habib had complied up to turning his back and the first strike by Liles. No indication that he was choking and that a ‘reasonable’ officer would have engaged verbally instead of this action (referred to ACPO Guidance).
Oliver confirms that the first blow by Liles is the ‘catalyst’ for the struggle that follows and then refers to the command ‘break his arms’ and that this would have caused him ‘redouble his resistance’ and then the poking of the eye incident. He referred to Liles kneeling on his back and that this was in ‘contravention of any training regarding positional asphyxia’.
TM asked Oliver to clarify his background as a former police officer and then referred him to ACPO guidance on mouth searches and that his report findings concur with these. He confirmed that use of force must be proportionate, lawful and necessary and that there should be a clear verbal commands. Direct pressure should only be used for short period of times in line with Article 3. Risk assessments and lawful control management techniques should be in place
He was referred to Independent Advisory Panel on deaths in custody guidance and was asked about the term and was clear that this term did not just refer to deaths at a police station which he agreed with. Use of restraint should be a last resort which again he agreed with. Use of force needs to be proportionate, lawful and necessary in this context
Tony asked Oliver about approved techniques and the evidence base of these but it is ‘great problem’ about unapproved techniques which may be lawful but carry additional risks which he agreed with. He also referred Oliver to ACPO NPIA guidelines about positional asphyxia and took him through the risk factors. Being prone face down, intoxicated, being overweight, as well as restraint and stress. Went through key signs of this in particular if subject goes limp. All officers would have received training on this.
The issue of compliance in the situation was raised. Oliver saw Habib offering ‘active’ resistance later but the only aggression that Habib offered was kicking out his legs in terms of resistance. Officer perception is important and they need to be aware of commands and active listening. Oliver emphasises using instructions and verbal commands and is inconsistent with this module. Voluntary compliance needs to be encouraged. 97% of arrests are completed without the use of force – examined assessment skills and risk & threat assessments and look at aim of action, subject and environment etc.
Oliver stated that backslap used by Liles was inconsistent with standing back and monitor role. Agreed with Tony that if he had not taken this action that there may have been a different outcome. This being done by surprise is problematic and whilst there may be a need to act quickly it carries many risks. This should only be done if they were choking and overall Oliver sees no justification for this action.
Family lawyer took him to section about dangers of positional asphyxia and being in a prone position and death can take place very rapidly. It was pointed out to him about the changes of colouration that had taken place and about the direct pressure that was put on his back.
‘I don’t believe the strike to be a necessary & proportionate action at that time’
Tony took Oliver to his report and key sections. Oliver has not seen two thumbed MA technique being taught and is outside the training guidelines. Use of head support is required and reasonableness and necessity of this action is questioned. There is no reference of the House of Lords report on deaths in custody in TVP training manuals.
PC Pomery’s actions round grabbing the throat were not actions of a ‘reasonable’ officer. Oliver openly question actions of DS Liles re: first slap and further strikes to be disproportionate use of force and unlawful. His subsequent command of ‘break his arms’ could have caused him to panic but Oliver did question if Habib heard this. He also asked him about the evidence from two witnesses who saw one or two knees being placed on Habib’s back and that this was DS Liles. Oliver agreed that this could have caused positional asphyxia but suggested that this pressure could have been on his shoulder blades rather than his back
He was asked about use of pressure point techniques – advice is that if these are not working not to keep repeating but to try other techniques. He also asked Oliver to comment on Pybus response in reference to knee strikes on the back and whether this was approved and the techniques being used on the mouth were effective or not.
Oliver confirmed that the level of force used by Liles was at the top end of what can be applied in these circumstances. Level 6 force used by Pomery and he agreed that this was a high level of force that could be deadly. He was asked to comment on management of the situation and he said that this was not systematic enough. He identified again the slap as being the trigger and accepted Pybus’s assertion that Habib was vulnerable and agreed that Lile’s actions may have been unlawful.
Oliver agreed that one officer could have taken Habib to the floor using a rear takedown. He agreed that throat grabbing is not an approved technique and that this could have a reverse effect. Same with pinching of the nose. He also agreed with Pybus’s criticism that the officers should have handcuffed him and about the lack of communication between the officers and also with Liles again applying two pressure points at the same time. Agreed with subject needing to understand commands or will lead to further aggression
Pybus observation regarding Liles comment about asking Paps’s what’s in his pants and subsequent search are strong evidence for a mismanaged search process and Oliver agreed with this. The hands to mouth gesture by Habib – could have been his intention to take item out of his mouth but officer’s actions may have stopped him in breach of their training and control management. There were other techniques that could have been deployed. Kneeling on shoulder blades/back was also in breach of their training.
TVP Counsel for the officers Patrick Gibbs raised questions about use of handcuffs and gaining control and welfare. Management of the scene – Oliver confirmed that he would advise searching suspects one by one and allow monitoring and the giving of commands. Oliver suggested that commands needed to be given at all times. Again Oliver questioned use of the pressure point techniques and the methodology used by the officers at the scene.. He was asked about prior knowledge of Habib but this was objected to by family lawyer. The questions were inconsistent with the evidence being presented and expert stated that he was being asked to speculate on matters outside of his expertise.
Oliver stated that officers needed to assess situation and are trained to see the signs and bring in other services if needed. Asked about guidance about objects being in the mouth. Oliver stated that officer’s first priority in terms of safety is to themselves. No evidence of any search by mouth by force training for Bazeley and Liles.
It was good to see a police expert who is prepared to take on TVP Counsel Patrick Gibbs and not just toe the line. Unfortunately Gibbs continues to drive the questioning in a way that seeks to move away responsibility away from the officers to Habib and his drug use or past. The jury will have to make a decision on evidence and not on speculative matters that Gibbs is trying to introduce.