‘Did he get the sense that the Officers did not have a clue to what they were doing?
We are now hearing evidence from police and medical experts who are leading experts in their field. Many are ex-officers and practitioners who have years of experience. We resumed this morning hearing evidence from David Oliver and questioning by Patrick Gibbs QC, Thames Valley Force Counsel for the officers. Oliver confirmed that there was no specific guidance in place in 2008 about mouth searches and was not aware of any guidance now. Gibbs asked if officers ‘borrow’ from other training and Oliver was wary of answering this question.
Whatever officers do they are aware of the requirement to justify their actions/ Officer Safety training teaches officers to bring down a prisoner to the ground only if they are offering a physical threat. Ground pin manoeuvre is fairly standard practice. He was asked about knee on the shoulder blade and that the risk of positional asphyxia is taught to officers. He Went through risks of this with Oliver as per the training that the officers have completed and if signs of asphyxia are detected for them to desist.
He was asked about distraction techniques and the use of these and referred to Oliver’s report. Oliver was also questioned about pressure point techniques in reference to the ACPO guidance and technique application. He was also asked about whether these were done properly on Habib. Oliver states that there was no counter pressure on the head but did not want to speculate about how the techniques were used.
Gibbs asked him about the training in this area and the application of this and Oliver stated that if they continue to use these and the subject is compliant that this could be seen as excessive force. He had raised concerns about the application of this by DC Bazeley but confirmed he did not raise concerns about PC Grainger or PC Wynne.Issue AGAIN raised by Tony Metzer QC on behalf of the family about the nature of questioning by Gibbs
He confirmed with Oliver that he had raised concerns about PC Pomery & DS Liles and the use of force and techniques. Nose pinch is not a recognised technique. He focussed on actions of DS Liles – knee strike on the back is not a trained technique and then asked him about the back slap and this was the main criticism of him. He confirmed that in his opinion the strike on the back heightened the resistance. He does not feel that there was sufficient evidence that Habib posed a threat and that he was not choking and why Liles ‘launched a slap’ against him.
Oliver justified his view based on the lack of information that Liles had about what Habib had in his mouth and the level of resistance. Would have been a more effective strategy to engage with him verbally he moved too soon to the backslap. Oliver did not believe there was enough information to justify this course of action. Asked about the two further backslaps and that these may have also been inappropriate.
TVP Counsel for the force Sarah Simcox questioned DO in reference to the ACPO manual and guidance. She referred to the House of Lords Independent panel on deaths in custody report but there is no reference to ACPO or TVP documents. She also tried to downplay positional asphyxia and its role in the incident and related this to parts of the report to ACPO/TVP doc/manual. She also suggested that training in restraint was done as part of custody skills but in a controlled environment (police station). No safe or effective option exists for searching a mouth by force – officers have to sometimes ‘step outside the manual’. Simcox made comparisons of mouth searches in different contexts and how compliant the subject is
Jurors asked question about officers going outside the training or approved techniques and about the increased risks associated with this, the use of mandibular angle technique, and the need for a co-ordinator/controller. Oliver felt that there was no one who was overall in charge from the evidence given to him. He was asked also about the assessment of a situation in context of officers thinking that a subject is feigning. Good probing about Liles action and whether this was a medical emergency. Questions about training about drugs being concealed and the backslap. Oliver continued his assertion about this not being proportionate to the threat being offered. There was a question about safety of subject against safety of police officers and the level of perceived threat.
We heard then evidence from Leslie Pybus, ex police officer who is now a trainer and consultant to ACPO and IPCC. He has written two reports for the purposes of the investigation into Habib’s death. The last one was written with the knowledge of new evidence in particular linked to the changes of statements made by the officers.
He was taken through key parts of his most report in relation to statements of DS Liles. Pybus is critical of the way of the search was carried out and suggested that this should have been done one by one. In his opinion this was not a ‘spontaneous scenario’.
Liles and other officers KNEW that he was a vulnerable witness and should have acted more appropriately. He referred to backslap by Liles as being unlawful as there was no choking and it was not for a ‘defensive purpose’. Technique may be approved but was not necessary. Pybus challenged Liles about this being Level 4 active resistance and suggested that this was Level 2/3 (verbal/passive) resistance. Liles was moving towards Habib AND applying a strike using ‘maximum force’.
Again he mentioned WHY officers did not take them down in a rear take down as this enables a single officer to do this and this challenges the evidence of the officers trying to get Habib on his knees. He was also questioned the two additional backslaps when there was no evidence of choking and the legality of this.
Pybus also questioned why PC Pomery grabbed his throat and the justification for this and the effect of this and confirmed again that pinching a nose is not an approved technique. Again he pointed out why officers did not handcuff Habib if he felt that he was feigning or use their numbers to monitor and check him. He confirmed that there is poor assessment of Habib’s medical condition at the end of the struggle. One of the pressure point techniques was not appropriate (hypoglossal) as this closes the mouth rather than opening it!
His conclusions were critical of the conduct of the officers in terms of the backslaps and holding his arms away from his mouth. Dangers of their actions when he had item in his mouth
Family lawyer asked Pybus about his training and expertise and about his criticisms and crucially he felt that these were ‘clinical’ in his judgement. He was asked about the striking of Habib from behind and he concurred that there was no evidence that Habib was choking. Knee strikes and subsequent back slaps also not appropriate and possibly unlawful
A whole variety of techniques were used and vast majority of which were not focussed around his mouth. Questioned pain compliance techniques that were used and whether these were suitable. Level of force was not proportionate to the threat posed by Habib and he is critical of this Level 6 potential deadly force was used by Pomery when he grabbed his throat. He agreed that this was an unlawful use of force and is not mentioned ANYWHERE in police training manuals so cannot be justified in anyway. When asked if he got a sense that the Officers did not have a clue to what they were doing he replied that he agreed
They should have treated Habib as a vulnerable person and the backslap without signs of choking should be seen as an unlawful use of force. He also agreed that additional backslaps could also be seen as being unlawful. Apart from one interaction (Wynne) there is NO communication between the officers – no team work just individual officers who were working in ways that were contradictory. He was asked about the Officer’s perception that he was feigning it. His opinion is that they should have prioritised his welfare/health.
Use of pressure point techniques and in particular mandibular angle and that there were no verbal commands and that repeating ‘Spit it out’ is not sufficient. Communication is vital not just for the subject, but for the other officers and members of the public
He was critical of DS Bazeley not giving commands when applying these techniques when he was in the best position to do so by as he was by the head. He agreed with Oliver that the blow inflicted by Liles was a catalyst for what happened and that ‘break his arm’ command was wrong choice of words. He agreed with Oliver’s statement on positional asphyxia and that excited delirium was not present in this case. Officers did not allow Habib to respond to the instruction to spit the item out and allowed time to respond these times. What threat did he pose with his face down with his arms underneath him?
TVP Counsel for the officers questioned Pybus about techniques that were used and the relevance of these in Habib’s case. Pybus was critical of the escalation that took place. All actions have to be justifiable
Consistent themes are emerging of officer’s management of the situation, their actions and behaviour and overall conduct. These are key factors that led to Habib’s death. It is powerful when we have experts who are ex-officers and current trainers who are highly critical of the actions of the officers and that many of these were not just inappropriate but more significantly were unlawful.