It was said to be a warning to hoodlums on mopeds that the Old Bill have a few tricks up their blue woolly sleeves. Indeed they do. But British police officers are not paramilitary forces or gendarmes – they are citizens in uniform and governed by the law. So can coppers really play tactical skittles with absconding scallywags on mopeds?
As the law currently stands the police officer who on direct instruction from his superiors forces a wretched felon from his – probably stolen – scooter is almost certainly guilty of the offence of dangerous driving; there is no defence recognised in English law of obedience to superior orders. But, with a relatively modest change to the law of dangerous or careless driving the unlawfulness could be erased with a sweep of a Parliamentary draftsman’s pen.
If the scrote gets killed, death by dangerous driving which almost always carries a custodial sentence would be the appropriate offence, so the current Home Secretary’s (at the time of writing) twitter spat with his Labour shadow is rather pointless. The Right Honourable Mr Javid does have the power to introduce amending legislation into Parliament, which is his job, and could thus remove the risk of Police Officers being prosecuted for tactical contact. The criminal law defines dangerous driving as falling far below the standards of a reasonably careful driver and deliberately knocking a scooterist of his/her scooter is, whatever the justification, far below the standards of an ordinarily prudent driver.
It is only a matter of time before an officer is prosecuted. The Crown Prosecution Service has thus far not prosecuted, but its own guidance is pretty vague. It is always open to either the injured absconder or his/her family to mount a private prosecution in which the Attorney General can intervene to end the prosecution. However, until the law of dangerous driving is changed to give a defence of lawful tactical contact. If I were a police officer, I would not be doing it. The state does not have a good record of supporting its servants when they carry out the direction of the state, in controversial circumstances.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of tactical contact, and for what it is worth I think the tactic is justified on grounds of public order and public safety, the police officers involved are taking a high risk with their liberty, and warm words of support from the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary do not amount to a defence in law. Until the law changes, I would counsel any officer against it, and I would be very slow, were I a copper to place any weight on words of comfort from Government.
Bike Magazine March 2019