Vellino v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police

[2002] 1 WLR 218; [2001] EWCA Civ 1249; [2002] 1 WLR 218; [2002] 3 All ER 78; [2002] PIQR P10;

[2001] Po LR 295; (2001) 151 NLJ 1441;

NEGLIGENCE, POLICE, DUTY OF CARE, DETAINEE, ESCAPE ATTEMPT, EFFECT OF KNOWLEDGE OF THE RISK, ARREST, CUSTODY, FORESEEABILITY, PERSONAL INJURY, POLICE OFFICERS

Facts

The plaintiff was well known to the local police, which were often called to arrest him at his second-floor flat. He sometimes evaded the arrests by jumping from his kitchen balcony or hanging from it and after that dropping to the ground. After failing to appear in court one day, the police were sent to visit his address with an arrest warrant. A noisy party was taking place at the claimant’s flat. He was arrested after a struggle in which one of the guests at the party punched the sergeant, but the constable held onto it. It was not clear what happened next, but the plaintiff managed to jump off a bedroom window which led to him fracturing his skull and suffering severe brain damage and tetraplegia. The plaintiff brought an action against the Chief Constable, claiming that the police officers had failed to prevent him from harming himself. The trial judge ruled in favour of the defendants. The plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Issue

Do the police owe an arrested person a duty of care that he is not injured in a foreseeable attempt for him to escape custody?

Held

The appeal was dismissed.

(1) The police owe an arrested person no duty of care that he is not injured in a foreseeable attempt for him to escape custody.

(2) The duty of care of the police arises from the prisoner’s detention, rather than his arrest. By breaking away from the police officer, the plaintiff committed a crime and he was no longer in the officer’s immediate power.

(3) The plaintiff is guilty of his own misfortune as he knew or must have known that his actions were dangerous.

(4) It is against the public policy to allow a claimant to recover damages against the police if he hurt himself as part of an escape attempt.