Professional security – use the force
 
Claire Sandbrook, CEO of Shergroup looks into the finer points of the law surrounding reasonable force

What is seen to be reasonable force when confronted with a burglar in your own home? The issue was debated at length in the media following the attempted burglary of Tony Martin’s farm in Norfolk in 1999, when the farmer shot dead one of the intruders and wounded the other.

The subject is rarely discussed in relation to High Court Enforcement officers carrying out an eviction, but it has been highlighted after the BBC’s questionable reporting of the Parliament Square eviction on July 20th carried out by Shergroup.

Reports on BBC Breakfast News, BBC news online and BBC London News, that appeared to show a protester being assaulted by one of Shergroup’s officers, demonstrate the stigma that surrounds the industry and the agenda that some in the media have. As we were able to prove using official video footage taken from another angle, far from assaulting the protester, he is in fact attempting to free his leg from the grip of the demonstrator’s legs.

In search of a definition for the use of ‘reasonable force’ it is worth starting at case law. Examples in case law relate to a person who has the right to possession of the property and that person and their agent(s) have the right to use reasonable force to remove a person from the property. The law also says the person using force must honestly believe that it was justified, and not excessive.

Applying those principles to the enforcement process, the Mayor of London was entitled to possession of the site at Parliament Square and sought a High Court Writ of Possession to enforce that right. As the named authorised High Court Enforcement Officer, I was therefore appointed to carry out the eviction using Shergroup officers through delegated power.

Failure to carry out the ‘command’ of the Writ would have meant I would be personally liable for any damage. The true weight of responsibility in taking on the appointment of an HCEO comes to the fore when faced with these high profile evictions. Ultimately I, or any of the other 60 appointed HCEOs, face the possibility of having their licence terminated if they fail in their legal duties as set out in The High Court Enforcement Officer Regulations 2004.

When you consider what is at stake, it is easy to understand why appropriate training of the officers is imperative, especially for evictions that are as contentious and as highly charged as this. To date training on the enforcement of Writs of Possession is given through a specially developed Shergroup in-house course. HCEOs and senior managers must also complete the IOSH Managing Safely course that teaches them to anticipate risks in our work as HCEOs. In addition to this, the officers who are tasked with carrying out the eviction are drawn from an ex-military and security background, with a wider range of competencies than is found in the traditional enforcement arena. While it is impossible to anticipate confrontation, Shergroup’s approach to eviction work involves a proven track record spanning more than two decades. In that time we have also developed insurance schemes to cover the risks associated with this type of work, and a health and safety policy akin to policing standards. In consultation with the Metropolitan Police, Shergroup also pioneered the development of its own Evidence Gathering Team Film Unit which is deployed at all major eviction sites to capture evidence, as it did at Parliament Square.

In this particular case, publicised unfairly by the BBC, the video evidence has proved invaluable in ascertaining the extent to which the force used by the Officer to remove the protestor from his leg was reasonable or not. After an immediate and thorough investigation including consultation with the Police, it was agreed that no assault had been committed and the Officer involved was exonerated from any wrongdoing.

After each major eviction, the Shergroup panel of experts, including police representatives, specialist tactical teams, and health and safety experts regroup to debrief, watch the evidence that has been gathered and move their Operational Planning process forward.

However, the BBC’s reportage of the Parliament Square eviction and subsequent entrenchment despite our presentation of official footage which disproved its allegations of kicking, highlights a challenge that we collectively need to overcome.

Whilst we, and our counterparts involved in enforcing High Court Writs of Possession, are confident that we understand and professionally uphold the ‘use of reasonable force’, this understanding is not necessarily understood by the media and the wider uninitiated public.

As a result of the Parliament Square eviction it is highly likely that in future more positive engagement with the media will take place both before, during and after the eviction to ensure reports which are publicised are both fair and balanced.

 
 
Press Archive