A prison sentence imposed on a Hucknall man has been quashed -- after a court doubted evidence by a police officer he was accused of assaulting.
Joseph Fairlie, 23, of Linby Grove, was jailed for nine weeks after a trial at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court in January for allegedly striking the officer in the face and spitting at him while handcuffed in the back of a police car.
But Mr Fairlie vehemently denied the charge, claiming it was the officer, PC 2711 Howell, who assaulted him after he had taunted him and “wound him up” with verbal abuse.
Now he has won an appeal against his conviction, which was heard at Nottingham Crown Court by a judge and two magistrates.
The judge, Recorder Simon Ward, said: “We have come to a majority decision that we cannot be sure Mr Fairlie hit PC Howell as the officer described.
“There are a number of questions that have cast doubt, therefore we have to ask if it is possible that PC Howell lost his self-control. Two of us can’t rule that out, so we allow the appeal.”
The court heard that the rumpus happened when PC Howell and a female colleague, PC Stewart, were called to the Tesco Extra superstore in Hucknall town centre at 10 pm on Thursday, August 6 last year.
At the store, Mr Fairlie was being detained by security officers after being refused service because he was drunk. He had wanted to buy three bottles of beer for £5 and had started drinking out of one of them before he got to the checkout.
“He was very drunk,” PC Howell told the court. “His speech was slurred, his eyes were glazed, he smelled heavily of alcohol and he was swaying from side to side.”
As he was escorted to a police car, Mr Fairlie threatened to “nut” both officers, claimed PC Howell, and also said: “My solicitor will wipe the floor with you.”
Throughout the car-journey to Mansfield police station, he continued to be abusive as he sat alongside PC Howell in the back seat, while PC Stewart drove. Both officers told the court he insulted PC Howell’s wife and accused him of having a small penis.
“He hit me in the face with his clenched fists in the handcuffs,” said PC Howell. “I was shocked.
“I then saw his head coming forward as if to headbutt me, so I raised my elbow and caught him in the face, sending him flying backwards.
“He banged his head in the car, turned, lunged towards me and spat blood at me, so I pinned him back.
“However, when we got to the police station, from being abusive and aggressive, he suddenly turned totally timid. It was like a scene from a Monty Python film.”
PC Howell’s evidence was largely backed up by PC Stewart, even though she said she could only “briefly glance” to see the struggle and “commotion” on the back seat and only heard the blows being struck, rather than seeing them.
However, Mr Fairlie’s barrister, William Bennett, defending, picked up on one crucial discrepancy. For while PC Stewart insisted Mr Fairlie was wearing a seat belt in the car, PC Howell couldn’t remember and felt that he probably wasn’t.
“It is inconceivable that a prisoner who is showing signs of violence and non-co-operation would not be placed in a seat belt,” said Mr Bennett.
But if the seat belt was applied, it was “highly implausible”, he added, that Mr Fairlie carried out the assault as described by PC Howell, especially as he was handcuffed as well.
“Mr Fairlie was abusing the officer in a most horrific fashion,” added Mr Bennett. “Many would say he got what was coming to him, and if the officer lost his temper and did something unprofessional, it would be understandable. But in this case, it gave the officer a reason to lie and cover things up.”
Mr Bennett put it to PC Howell: “You lost your temper because of the obscene, offensive language that was spewing from Joseph Fairlie. He pushed you too far and you wanted to hurt him.”
The officer replied: “No, that is not correct. I reacted because he was going to headbutt me. I had no reason to assault him.”
In giving his evidence, Mr Fairlie admitted that he had been drunk and that his abusive behaviour in the police car had been “out of order”.
“But it was just frustration,” he claimed. “I didn’t think I deserved to be arrested. I had the money to pay for the beer, and I just wanted to go home.”
Mr Fairlie said he did not strike PC Howell at any time and was “shocked” when the officer elbowed him in the face.
“It nearly knocked me out, and I was sure my nose was broken,” he said. “Blood was going everywhere and he jumped on top of me and sat on me. He then punched me three times in the face and dug his nails into my face. I couldn’t fight back. I was completely defenceless.”
Mr Fairlie said this was the reason he was “limp” and “lifeless” when arriving at the police station. “I was not acting,” he said.
The court heard that Mr Fairlie was seen by a doctor at the station, but no photos were taken of the injuries to his face. However, his girlfriend took some images with her phone the next day, and these were shown to the judge and magistrates.
The court also heard that Mr Fairlie had a long criminal record, comprising 24 convictions and 47 offences, including for assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.
He accepted that his record was “awful” and made for “a sickening read”, but he insisted that he had calmed down since the birth of his daughter in 2010.
It was also pointed out by Mr Bennett that in all bar one of his previous convictions, Mr Fairlie had “held his hands up” and pleaded guilty whereas, on this occasion, he knew he wasn’t responsible for what he was being accused of.