Court set to hear £5 million civil claim against police

A county court claim filed in October, 2015 by a Bradford doctor, Abdul Rashid, is, finally, set to be heard later this year. The defendant is the chief constable of West Yorkshire Police.

A second trial, to determine quantum, will follow if the claim succeeds in establishing liability against the police. The first trial is listed for hearing in Bradford County Court between 9th and 19th September, 2019.

Since July, 2018, two case management hearings and a pre-trial review have focused mainly on unresolved disclosure issues.

The court has already heard that the claim, for aggravated, exemplary and special damages, including loss of earnings, concerns events that took place over seven years ago.

Shortly after 6.15am on Wednesday 7th March, 2012, eighteen police officers attended at Dr Rashid’s home in a pre-planned operation, threatened to break down the front door, arrested him in front of his wife and three children, then searched the house before taking him to Trafalgar House police station in Bradford, a short time later.

The arresting officer was Detective Constable Mark Lunn, who features centrally in a claim that turns upon the lawfulness of this officer’s actions before, during and after the arrest of Dr Rashid. Expressed succinctly by HHJ Neil Davey QC at the second case management hearing: ‘There is only one issue: Did the arresting officer have reasonable grounds‘.

The court has also heard that the large group of WYP officers, led by DC Lunn, not only searched Dr Rashid’s home, in full view of his neighbours, but also seized computers, other electronic devices, as well as life-saving medication for the use of one of Dr Rashid’s three children, putting that child’s health and safety at risk. The police deny the latter allegation.

DC Lunn was, at the time, involved in an investigation codenamed Operation Thatcham, seeking to disrupt a large scale ‘cash for crash‘ fraud in Huddersfield, where he was based. Lunn was working under the supervision of Sergeant Mark Taylor (now an inspector in Bradford CID) and the operation was led by Detective Chief Inspector Paul Jeffrey. Counsel for WYP, Olivia Ceca-Dover, has told the court that Sergeant Taylor (as he was then) will give evidence in these proceedings and the police will rely on his account for the necessity of the arrest.

The Ministry of Justice and the Insurance Fraud Bureau were partners assisting the police in the investigation. It followed a similar, three year investigation that had led to conviction of two Huddersfield men at Bradford Crown Court in March, 2011. DC Lunn had been ‘officer in the case’ in that investigation. Operation Thatcham began the following month.

The court has heard that a Huddersfield-based insurance claims management company, trading as Advanced Claims UK Ltd, was at the heart of the second investigation. A large number of men were convicted of fraud at Leeds Crown Court in April, 2014. Counsel for Dr Rashid, Ian Pennock, has told the court that disclosures within the course of this civil claim have revealed that the police knew before they arrested Dr Rashid that it was unrealistic to connect him to that company. That assertion is disputed by WYP.

Dr Rashid’s surgery and other premises were also raided on that same March morning in 2012. At the time, he also ran a very successful medico-legal practice, employing four people, in addition to his two general practices at Thornton and Denholme. This involved travelling the country at the request of many different firms of solicitors, providing expert medical reports upon predominantly soft tissue injuries such as ‘whiplash’. The loss of his private medico-legal practice alone is said to have cost Dr Rashid at least several hundred thousands of pounds per year.

Very shortly afterwards DC Lunn told others, including the Bradford Primary Care Trust (PCT) and the General Medical Council (GMC), that Dr Rashid was involved in a conspiracy to defraud insurance companies by assisting fraudulent ‘cash for crash’ claims. Mr Pennock asserts that such an allegation was ‘without foundation, baseless and ludicrous’.

He also told the court that ‘there was no evidence at the time, and there is still no evidence, whatsoever, to even reasonably suggest he has acted dishonestly within such an alleged conspiracy, or otherwise’.

Following his arrest, a large squad of WYP detectives carried out a protracted investigation of Dr Rashid’s private and personal life. Ranging from his early educational life at school, university and, thereafter, his early career as a doctor.

The court has heard that the investigation into the minutiae of Dr. Rashid’s life failed to reveal any criminal offences, or any other wrongdoing, by Dr. Rashid, in relation to any of the medical reports which he compiled, and submitted, on behalf of solicitors acting for insurance claimants. Mr Pennock says that this was an unsurprising conclusion given that it is widely known within the insurance, medical and legal arenas that such ‘expert’ reports are prepared, independently, by doctors, for the benefit of the courts. Not for either the underwriters or injured parties and their legal representatives.

This detailed and seriously intrusive investigation, says Mr Pennock, was motivated by the police’s increasingly urgent need to justify the wrongful arrest and detention of Dr. Rashid. The police deny such a motive and say that there were a number of identified defects in the medical reports, and Dr Rashid appeared to charge solicitors above the ‘going rate’ for the work. Both gave rise to suspicion of other wrongdoing.

At the forthcoming trial, says Mr Pennock, Dr Rashid will rely upon that same police investigation to prove that he is a man of integrity, who fully deserved the respect and standing he had in the Bradford community at large, together with his well deserved reputation amongst other doctors, solicitors, barristers and other fellow professionals, prior to the arrest. The police have told the court that Dr Rashid will be put to proof on those points.

The court has heard that the mere fact that Dr Rashid, along with other doctors, accepted instructions from solicitors of good standing to examine a claimant, and report upon the same, makes him no more involved with any alleged fraudulent claim than any other professional such as a barrister, psychologist, psychiatrist, doctor, occupational therapist,  or other such expert also instructed by those same solicitors. As such it was an insufficient basis for any reasonable grounds, or belief, to justify the arrest and detention of Dr. Rashid says Mr Pennock.

The court also heard that it has not been alleged, or even suggested, during the numerous and prolonged interviews by the police, that he was knowingly involved in any claim that was said to be fraudulent, and upon which he is said to have reported. He played no part in the Thatcham prosecutions, either as defendant or witness

In those interviews, lasting many hours, and cumulatively days, in various police stations in the Bradford, Huddersfield and Wakefield areas, the detectives only concerned themselves with matters such as Dr. Rashid’s qualifications, income, properties and background. Not one specific allegation was put to the doctor by the police. The interview transcripts, says Mr Pennock, summarise the police’s position at that time: “You are guilty of committing crimes and should own up to them, this is your last chance to tell us”. The court has heard that Dr Rashid was released from police bail in June, 2013. A file had been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service, later reviewed at the police’s request, but no charges were authorised as a result.

The court has heard, on at least two occasions, that the arresting officer, Mark Lunn, appeared to claim he was also the officer in charge of the investigation against Dr Rashid and others. Ms Ceca-Dover says that Lunn was not in charge and he, in fact, reported to Sergeant Taylor (as he was at the time). She went on to say that the basis for the arrest of Dr Rashid is set out in some detail in the witness statement of Inspector Taylor (as he is now).

At the time of Dr. Rashid’s arrest, and subsequently, DC Lunn purported to be a director of a company called “Insurance Fraud Consultants Ltd”, an operation which sought work from insurance companies, including a well known name in Sussex, to investigate suspected insurance fraud claims. But no such company existed in official records at Companies House.

Ms Ceca-Dover told the court that WYP has not admitted that such an enterprise was in place, or that such records existed on police systems, or that they did exist and were, subsequently, deleted.

Enquiries with Companies House revealed that the purported company did not exist before the arrest of Dr Rashid. But, on the same day that DC Lunn was removed from the Operation Thatcham investigation, a company of that name was incorporated at Companies House.

The company was dissolved in 2014, and this was, Mr Pennock says, shortly before Mark Lunn started work for the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) in January, 2015. Ms Ceca-Dover has told the court that WYP will not be calling Mr Lunn as a witness at the trial and that her client does not know where to locate him, in any event.

She has asserted, on instructions from WYP’s Deputy Force Solicitor, Alison Walker, that his actions were at all times lawful and proportionate. The police also deny that DC Lunn was acting as ‘a malicious, lone decision maker’.

DC Lunn did not have the authority of the chief constable to undertake this additional employment and/or have any involvement with the so-called “Insurance Fraud Consultants Ltd.” The claimant’s lawyers have sought an explanation from the police, or Mark Lunn, to refute the fact that he held himself out as being a director of IFCL, who sought work from insurance companies to investigate suspected insurance fraud claims. The court has heard the claimant’s allegation that Lunn, for his own financial gain, was allegedly acting wrongfully, in purporting to represent a company that did not exist.

The court has heard details of a specific allegation that Lunn prepared a detailed business plan, using police computers, and may have received a payment of £183,000 from an insurance company as a result. Ms Ceca-Dover has told the court that searches of WYP files, systems and archives, conducted by Sergeant (now Inspector) Taylor, have not, so far, revealed the information sought by the claimants.

It has also been asserted by Mr Pennock that this unauthorised business association created a serious conflict of interest with DC Lunn’s Oath of Constable, and his obligations as an independent and impartial police officer. Particularly, when coming to assess the involvement of Dr Rashid in examining personal injury claimants, and the decision to arrest him. Mr Pennock told the court that Dr Rashid was a ‘prized scalp’ for Lunn in his attempt to establish credibility for his ‘burgeoning private enterprise’.

After complaints by Dr Rashid’s criminal defence solicitors, DC Lunn was removed, by his superiors, from the investigation into Dr. Rashid. That was in July 2012. Mr Pennock asserts that Lunn was, following those complaints, subject to a professional standards investigation, Operation Waffleedge, and no longer works for the police. He left the force in August, 2013. Ms Ceca-Dover told the court that Lunn resigned of his own volition. He was not forced to, or asked to, resign by the police, or dismissed. Any wrongdoing by the officer is denied. She added that the police admitted he was the subject of a UPP (Unsatisfactory Performance Plan), more of a human resources sanction than a disciplinary process, she explained. The police also say that Operation Waffleedge was not a covert investigation into Lunn.

The court also heard that reference had been made, in earlier disclosures by the police to Dr Rashid, to a written warning given to DC Lunn by WYP regarding misuse of police databases, and an admission that he had used WYP computers during his lunch hour to send correspondence, on his official police email account. This was alleged to be in connection with his own business interests. The police position is that their professional standards department has no record of this written warning.

HHJ Davey asked, during the pre-trial review, if the written warning was part of the materials that Ms Ceca-Dover says the police have ‘weeded out’ as part of their data management obligations. Ms Ceca-Dover, after taking instructions, told the judge that would be dealt with in later disclosures and after further internal enquiries had been made by the police.

Mr Pennock also told the court that Lunn has ‘a track record of unlawful arrest allegations’, citing the reference numbers of five complaints. The relevance being, Mr Pennock added, that there was a ‘wrongful motive’ by DC Lunn to arrest Dr Rashid and that this would, in any event, negate any reasonable grounds. Mr Pennock has told the court, on several occasions, that Lunn is presented by the claimant in this case as a “bad apple” and asserts that is why he left, or was asked to leave the police force.

The police force’s Professional Standards Department say DC Lunn did not have any disciplinary findings against him and that Sergeant (now Inspector) Taylor gives an explanation in his statement, as credible evidence, as to why DC Lunn left WYP.

On 7th March 2012, the day of the arrest, Detective Constable Lunn approached and informed Dr Rashid’s ’employers’, Bradford Patient Care Trust (PCT), of the fact that he had arrested Dr Rashid, whom he said ‘was involved in a serious and substantial conspiracy to defraud’. Mr Pennock says that the wording forming that contact is important. DC Lunn did not, he says, describe Dr Rashid as a suspect and, instead, asserted guilt.

As a result of DC Lunn’s approach to the PCT, they wrote to the General Medical Council to initiate complaints against Dr. Rashid, which included his previously unpublicised arrest that day and the reasons for it, as provided by DC Lunn.

At the end of that month, the court heard, Dr Rashid’s contract as a general practitioner with the PCT was terminated and he lost his practice, built up over a number of decades, operating from two surgeries. Mr Pennock asserts that this was all as a direct consequence of the wrongful actions of the police. An allegation they strongly deny.

He went on to say that DC Lunn again circumvented police policies and procedure for deciding if, and when, to make any disclosure to professional bodies and communicated directly with the GMC. Ms Ceca-Dover denied their had been any breach of protocol by her client. Mr Pennock lifted up a bundle of papers, approximately 300mm thick, to demonstrate to the judge the welter of information given to the PCT, and the GMC, by the police. Which, he says, consisted mainly of improper disclosure of selective and prejudicial material. The police assert that all disclosures were made in good faith, lawful, proportionate, in line with force policy and bore on their responsibility to keep the public safe.

On 24thApril 2012 the GMC suspended Dr Rashid from practice for a period of 18 months, as an interim measure pending a final hearing, if any, before the Fitness to Practice Panel of the GMC. The court heard that the final hearing did not take place until October, 2016. Dr Rashid had challenged the interim suspension in the High Court in Leeds in September, 2012 and, as a result, it was quashed.

The police evidence supporting the GMC’s interim suspension was described by the judge, HHJ Mark Gosnell, as ‘sparse’. A point noted by HHJ Davey at the pre-trial review.

Mr Pennock says that even though the suspension was lifted, by this time irreparable damage had been done to Dr Rashid’s personal and professional reputation. Mr Pennock has told the court that Dr Rashid fears that his reputation may never be restored.

The GMC Panel found that Dr. Rashid’s fitness to practice was not impaired, because he was not culpable of any of the misconduct previously alleged by the police. Mr Pennock says that the allegation he was actually involved in a large scale conspiracy to defraud, involving false personal injury claims, rather than merely being a suspect, is particularly damaging.

It was, he says, also demeaning and offensive to a respected and well established medical doctor working within that particular sector of personal injury claims.

The court has also heard of an Application, made in the same Bradford County Court, for third party disclosure from WYP to identify the complainants (if any) and reasons for his arrest. This court action, instigated in August 2012, was compromised by the parties, ahead of a scheduled hearing, after West Yorkshire Police confirmed, in writing; “…not one specific allegation has been made against him by any individual outside, or within, the West Yorkshire Police”.

At the pre-trial review, there was a lengthy examination, by HHJ Davey, of the progress of disclosure requests made by the claimant, and the responses so far made by the police. The court heard that despite the protracted investigation into Dr Rashid’s private and professional life the police have only been able to conclude that, out of thousands of professional medical reports compiled by Dr. Rashid, only nine were not entirely accurate, or that his examination of them was not entirely proficient.

Mr Pennock asserts that this conclusion is drawn by the police despite those, as yet, ‘anonymous insurance claimants’ having read and approved Dr. Rashid’s report, and signing confirmation that it was accurate, and that they wished to rely on that same report in support of their claim for damages.

He further contends that the police sought to frustrate Dr. Rashid’s ability to practice as a doctor by disclosing only limited, and highly selective, details of those alleged nine complainants to the GMC as a basis for suspending, or terminating, Dr Rashid’s licence to practice. The police do not rely on evidence from any of those nine as part of their defence in this wrongful arrest claim. Their identities are known to the police.

Mr Pennock complained to the court that the police had ‘drip-fed’ disclosure to his client and previous searches for relevant materials by WYP had been ‘inadequate’. This amounted to Dr Rashid, and his lawyers, being given ‘the runaround’ by the police, he says. ‘The object of the exercise is to establish what the arresting officer knew, why was Dr Rashid arrested, and a definition of the offence over which he was arrested, beyond being told at interviews he was being detained over a cash for crash conspiracy’. The police have refused to inform the claimant whether any other doctor was arrested in connection with Operation Thatcham.

One of the main, and repeated, complaints by Mr Pennock was that the police appeared to have weeded out materials relating to the ‘cash for crash’ investigations and prosecution, when that criminal case concluded only the year before the claim form in this case was filed at court and served on West Yorkshire Police. He maintains that, in such instances, and as required by the Criminal Investigation and Procedures Act, all documents should be retained for six years after conclusion of the Advanced Claims UK Ltd trial. Ms Ceca-Dover told the court, on behalf of WYP, that all documents would have been destroyed at the end of the statutory period. Further, she said that her clients did not consider that such materials were relevant to the issues in this case (the civil claim).

HHJ Davey told the court that the submissions for the pre-trial review amounted to 621 pages – and that he had read all of them by way of preparation for this hearing. He retires in June, 2019 and will not be available to preside over the trial of a case he describes as “interesting”. It is uncontroversial to note that Neil Davey QC’s steady hand, wise words and pleasing court manner, will be missed on the circuit bench in Bradford.

Proceedings continue. A further pre-trial review is expected to be listed for hearing in July or August, 2019.

 

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