Lord Boyd’s Opinion in Debbie Stevenson v Chief Constable of Police Scotland (2015) CS0816 was issued on 30 January. He found in favour of The Chief Constable.
A Police Officer with what was then Strathclyde Police suffered an injury during an Officer Safety Training (OST) course on 22 February 2012. Officers having received initial training at the Police College then undergo an annual refresher course in safety techniques.
One of the training techniques involved a simulated attack with the Officer on his/her back on the ground being straddled by the attacker who had his hands round the Officer’s throat in a “chokehold”. To escape this hold Officers were taught the “ground defence strangle technique”.
Officers are taught to use one hand in a hooking action on the attacker’s wrist. The Officer can then breathe and at the same time displace the attacker towards the side hooked. The Officer brings his feet up to the backside, thrusts up his hips and throws his free arm in the direction of the hook. If carried out properly, this should remove the attacker.
The Pursuer suffered an injury in the course of the training and alleged that the Police Instructors did not instruct that the Officer on the ground should hook the wrist and did not advise those attending to remove the attacker towards the side hooked. It was claimed that the Officer therefore had no control over how the attacker was displaced. It was alleged this increased the risk of a shoulder injury to the attacker.
The Court set out two issues:
- Did the Instructors/Trainers fail to instruct those acting as the Officer on the ground to hook the attacker’s arm?
- If the Instructors/Trainers were at fault, did their failure cause or materially contribute to the accident?
The Pursuer’s evidence was to the effect that Instructors demonstrated the technique in slow time and in real time. An explanation was given with the slow time but on neither occasion was there any demonstration of how to hook the attacker’s wrist. In the course of carrying out the technique the Pursuer acted as the attacker. She said she did not know to which side she would be moved by the Officer on the ground and claimed that the Instructors had said that the Officers on the ground should not tell the attacker in which way they were going to move them. In addition she claimed that there had been no safety briefing before the start of the course. She maintained there had been no discussion between her and the Officer on the ground as to which way she (the Pursuer) would be displaced.
Her evidence was by and large supported by another Police Officer on the course who was also her partner. The Officer paired with the Pursuer said those attending had been told to advise the Officer on the ground which side to go to.
Evidence for the Defenders came from the two very experienced Instructors taking the training course. They explained in detail the nature of the course and this particular technique. The evidence demonstrated a significant height and weight difference between the two Instructors. The taller and heavier Instructor acted as the attacker and the evidence was to the effect that if the Instructor acting as Officer on the ground had not used and demonstrated the hooking effect, there was no way he would have been able to displace the heavier Instructor who was the attacker.
Both Instructors spoke to giving the briefing and the order of the demonstrations.
Lord Boyd considered both Instructors were impressive witnesses and highly experienced. He accepted their evidence in relation to the demonstration of the technique and in respect of the safety briefing.
He considered it improbable that two very experienced Instructors could forget about the hook on more than one occasion. He pointed out that the Instructor acting as attacker was also the Safety Officer. If the hook had been forgotten during the slow time demonstration then this would have required an acceptance that the attacker rolled off without the hook being applied but nothing was said to either the Instructor on the ground or to those on the course about this omission.
The Judge was less than impressed with the Pursuer. In summarising and expressing his view on it he said that “It appeared to me that she had little interest in the course or its techniques and paid insufficient attention to what she was being taught.”
Lord Boyd therefore concluded that he did not accept the Instructors had missed out the hook from the technique.
He went on to comment that even if it had been omitted he had difficulty with causation. On the basis of the evidence he saw no reason why the Pursuer couldn’t have anticipated in which way she would be displaced.
He concluded by commenting that the technique should not have been new to the Pursuer given that she was supposed to have learned it during her initial training and in addition had done it in an earlier refresher course.