Common assault or self defence: the case of Sgt Delroy Smellie

Will the case of Sgt Delroy Smellie help with our understanding of how the courts approach the use of force by police officers?

You may remember that it was Sgt Delroy Smellie who allegedly struck a woman with his police baton during the G20 protests in London in April 2009. Sgt Delroy Smellie who is a member of the Metropolitan Police has been charged with common assault on Nicola Fisher. The incident was caught on video at the time and posted on YouTube. The case is being heard by City of Westminster Magistrates. Sgt Smellie denies the charge.

 

The case illustrates that in the event of an allegation of criminal behaviour, such as assault by individual police officers possibly exceeding their powers, proceedings can be brought against the individual officers. Officer Smellie has told the court that he felt threatened and he has added that he was fearful that Ms Fisher may have been holding weapons in her hand. The court has learnt that Ms Fisher had been holding a carton of orange juice.

 

The difference in size between them has already been highlighted and Sgt Smellie acknowledged that he was aware that Ms Fisher was ‘ significantly smaller’ when he had been asked how hard he had hit Ms Fisher. The officer then went on to tell the court ‘However it had to be hard enough to achieve the object of negating the threat’. The officer could not remember hitting Ms Fisher a second time with his baton across the leg. Initially, Sgt Smellie had struck the woman across the face which in his words was a ‘clearance strike’.

 

Was the force used justified?  Will the court accept that an experienced police officer can feel threatened and isolated in such situations?  What was the mood of the protesters before the confrontation?  Was it fair to say the mood of the crowd changed and that they closed in causing the officer to feel isolated?  We must wait and see as the case continues but there is no doubt that the outcome will be of interest to individual police officers and Senior Officers alike as well as members of the public.

 

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