MAGISTRATES who sentenced two police custody staff members for an attack on a “vulnerable” detainee said the pair’s greater punishment would be the tarnishing of their good names.
Stephen Harvey, a police custody sergeant at Peterlee Police Station, and civilian detention officer Michael Mount both escaped with fines for assaulting DIY shop boss David Healer.
They were both also ordered to pay £50 compensation to their victim, though Mr Healer said outside court he is now pursuing a civil claim for compensation from the police.
Harvey and Mount were found guilty of two counts each of common assault during a trial at Teesside Magistrates’ Court in March.
Harvey, 50, of Fenwick Close, in Chester-le-Street, was fined £400 with £930 costs, while Mount, 61, of Dunelm Road, in Thornley, was fined £200 with £465 costs.
CCTV footage had shown Harvey grab angina sufferer Mr Healer’s arm and twist it behind his back simply because Mr Healer refused to answer his questions.
Mount also joined in and held Mr Healer’s arm, while two police constables held him up during the incident in March 2011.
Mr Healer, 48, of Seaham, was earlier heard to repeatedly ask for a doctor but instead Harvey, while holding his arm behind his back, asked “are you going to answer my questions?”
When Mr Healer, who had been arrested on suspicion of breaching bail conditions, replied “yes”, he let go.
Questioning continued but when Mr Healer again failed to respond, Harvey grabbed Mr Healer’s wrist and forcefully pulled it over the custody counter with help from Mount.
Chairman of the magistrates bench Oliver Johnson told the pair: “The greater punishment you will receive today is not the fine imposed upon you, but obviously the fact your position in society will be severely downgraded and looked upon in a bad way.”
Steven Crossley, mitigating for Harvey, said Harvey was a man of good character who had “demonstrated high standards of performance and commitment and tolerance and sympathy towards those he had served as a police officer”.
He read out extracts of character references from Durham Constabulary police chiefs, including Superintendent Ivan Wood.
Supt Wood said Harvey had shown “at all times an exemplary manner despite dealing with hostile, awkward people in a calm and controlled manner” during his 30-year career.
In another statement, Chief Superintendent Ian Macdonald also hailed Harvey’s professionalism outside of work, including unofficially representing the police in America during 9/11 commemorative events.
Mr Crossley said Harvey prides himself on being a good police officer and his reputation, but added there has now been “devastating damage” to his reputation following the conviction.
Christopher Harbiston, for Mount, said Mount had an “exemplary” record of employment in both 22 years in the army and 10 years in his role with Durham Constabulary.
He added that Mount played a “subordinate” role and added “evidence shows he was not the instigator of the assault and his actions were less serious”.
Speaking after the hearing, dad of six Mr Healer said: “We knew they would only get a fine but at the end of the day it’s the consequences of what they did that’s going to affect them in society.
“As far as I’m concerned, the compensation can go to charity, I don’t really want to take their money.”
His solicitor, Stephen Gowland, said Mr Healer, who had to have pins inserted into his spine after the incident, will now have to prove a pre-existing back condition was made worse by the attack in order to get further compensation.
Durham’s Deputy Chief Constable, Mike Barton, said the force treat everyone brought into custody with due respect, but admitted “the actions of our staff were completely out of character but they were wrong and this shouldn’t have happened.”
He said, while not condoning Harvey and Mount’s actions, custody staff regularly face a “challenging environment” and in the vast majority of 20,000 prisoners processed each year there had been “no issues”.
He also confirmed that neither Harvey or Mount have been suspended and said he could not comment any further due to the ongoing claim against the force.
Elsie Davies, an independent member of Durham Police Authority and lead member for independent custody visiting, said the authority offered reassurance that the welfare and treatment of detainees in police custody are observed and checked on a regular basis under the independent custody visiting scheme and custody visitors are “extremely satisfied overall” with custody provision in the Durham Constabulary area.
Independent Police Complaints Commisioner Nicholas Long previously said the pair’s actions “amounted to a form of torture”.