Fault Lines: Tort Law as Cultural Practice

By David M. Engel; Michael McCann | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
The Role of Tort Lawsuits in Reconstructing the Issue
of Police Abuse in the United Kingdom

CHARLES R. EPP

“A High Court jury yesterday awarded record damages of £100,000 to a man who had cannabis planted on him by a police officer,” a London newspaper reported in 1989 (Rose 1989). “The sum is nearly eight times the previous highest award in a case of this kind, and highest ever against the police. Mr. Rupert Taylor, aged 30, a BBC motor engineer, lay preacher, teetotaler and non-smoker, was arrested and planted with the drug by PC David Judd on his way to play dominos with a friend at a community centre in Notting Hill, west London. He told the court PC judd had radically (sic) abused him saying, 'You had to open your fucking black mouth.'”

Although such a report might seem unremarkable in an American city, in Britain in the 1980s it was stunning. It was centered in a poor London ghetto long the subject of lurid press reports of “black” muggings and riots, often portrayed as contained only by heroic police action. Yet in contrast to earlier depictions, the black man entangled in the criminal justice system in this story is portrayed as innocent, the police as abusive, vulgar, and racist.

The difference—and, as we shall see, it was part of a radical shift in the legal terrain—lay in the endorsement of the man's story by a jury of ordinary Britons. For virtually the first time, a jury threw their sympathies wholeheartedly with the black victim and expressed outraged indignation against the police, punctuated by their award, in addition to £30,000 in compensatory damages, of £70,000 in exemplary (punitive) damages. Although British newspapers had previously reported a handful of damage awards and settlements involving police

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