An innocent man pepper-sprayed in front of his children before being stripped naked and “intimately searched” by Sgt Eckersley, was paid £35,000 in damages by Lancashire police.
Shocking footage shows Paul Ponting, being stripped by police and then refusing to put on a “paper suit” officers threw to him on the dirty floor, as they left his cell at Skelmersdale Police Station.
But Mr Ponting says he feels “vindicated” after a four-year legal battle with Lancashire Constabulary, who decided not to fight a civil claim for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and malicious prosecution.
The force confirmed it had settled the case without liability, meaning it made no formal admission of wrong-doing, although the settlement including a letter of apology.
A defence filed on behalf of the Chief Constable before the out-of-court settlement was agreed strongly denied that any officer had acted inappropriately, unlawfully or maliciously.
Mr Ponting, of Yew Tree Road in Ormskirk, was later charged with assaulting the officer who arrested him, harassing another officer and public order offences.
However he was cleared of all charges following a trial at Chorley Magistrates’ Court, with the bench criticising the arresting officer.
Mr Ponting told the ECHO the stress of the arrest and legal battle left him needing medication.
“I have always said I’m not anti-police; I’m anti-police corruption. It has never been about money.
“It was a massive weight on our shoulders. It is that frustration when you know you are right and you are not being believed.
“People have this view of the police that they are always right and they are never wrong, and don’t get me wrong they do a great job in a lot of areas, but they’re not perfect and they can be pretty evil when they want.”
According to the terms of the settlement, agreed at Liverpool County Court, Lancashire Police have until October 10 to send a letter containing this apology:
“The Chief Constable wishes to apologise to you for the way the incident was handled.
“The Chief Constable hopes now your action against the Force has been settled you will be able to regain your health and, in time, your faith in Lancashire Constabulary.”
Iain Gould, of DPP Law, who specialises in actions against the police and represented Mr Ponting, said:
“This was a case of a law abiding family man subjected to gratuitous violence, unlawful arrest and prosecution – a huge waste of police time and public resources – and as a result, his faith in the Police was shattered.
“Paul is man of principle and the most important thing about this settlement, is not the level of damages but the apology he has now received from the Chief Constable. I applaud the Chief Constable for doing so; a sense of justice being done is the primary objective for people like Paul, and that cannot be measured in money.”
The court heard the arrest followed a dispute between IT business owner Mr Ponting and former employee and Police Informant, Paul Turner, who Mr Ponting had reported to police for posting malicious articles about him.
Two officers, named as Sergeant Hayes and PC Ward, attended Mr Ponting’s home at 10.30pm on June 18, 2014, where he was told Mr Turner was no longer under investigation, although there was substantial evidence that Paul Turner had posted 100’s of malicious articles calling Mr Ponting a paedophile. Mr Ponting alleges that Lancashire police were more interested in protecting their police informant.
Mr Ponting accepted being upset and angry at the news, and a heated conversation followed.
Sgt Hayes then arrested Mr Ponting, spraying PAVA spray in his face, wrestling him to the floor and forcing him into a van, while his two young children watched from a window.
Mr Ponting suffered cuts and bruises in the struggle, caused by being dragged along the rough ground.
Notes recorded by Chorley magistrates, when Mr Ponting was acquitted of assaulting Sgt Hayes, stated there was no evidence that an arrest was required.
“The officer, when the struggle between himself and the Claimant occurred, was not acting in the execution of his duty as the officer did not have reasonable grounds for believing that he must immediately arrest the Claimant, as the Claimant’s behaviour was not threatening.“
According to a Particulars of Claim document, filed to the court, Mr Ponting was also poorly treated at Skelmersdale Police Station.
The document said:
“Within a minute of the Claimant’s arrival in the custody suite, Custody Sergeant Sigley directed that the Claimant should be taken to a cell in order to ‘calm down’ and also authorised officers to strip- search the Claimant.
“On being taken to the cell, the Claimant was held down by four officers and subjected to an intimate strip search… The Claimant was left naked in the cell with a paper suit.”
Mr Ponting became so distressed during the incident that he was rushed to hospital from the cell suffering from chest pains and initially diagnosed by the Hospital as suffering a heart attack after detecting high levels of troponin in his blood.
He told the ECHO he planned to place the money awarded into a trust fund for his children.