A compensation case over actions taken by West Yorkshire Police in May 2007 reached court this week and resulted in payments to four individuals who had claimed that the police response to a noisy party was heavy handed and too violent.
Riot police had been called to Hessle Terrace in Hyde Park, to deal with a student house party which had attracted several hundred guests. Local residents had called the police, complaining that the party was getting out of hand. Faced with crowds which they wished to disperse, the police used dogs to clear people away, claiming that missiles had been thrown at them and orders to clear the area ignored.
One of those present at the party was Will Hillier, 27, at that time a student at Leeds Metropolitan University. Mr Hillier had actually organised the party and, whilst accepting that too many people may have attended, he contended that the actions of the police had ‘antagonised’ things: “The first thing a lot of people knew about what was going on was when they were being attacked. We heard that one guy had been bitten on his testicles. Another guy claimed he was attacked while trying to protect his girlfriend. The way it was handled by police exacerbated the problem.”
Before the case could be heard the West Yorkshire Police paid out a total of £75,725 in out-of-court settlements to four people who had been attacked by their dogs, as well as sending each one of them a formal apology.
Despite this, however, the West Yorkshire Police Force are continuing to defend the way in which they handled the party, insisting they were acting upon the basis of complaints from other residents.
Three people were actually arrested at the time of the incident due to alleged public order offences, although none of these cases resulted in a successful prosecution, and a number of formal complaints were made but found, by the police themselves, to be groundless. Referring to the out of court settlements the police said that the money was paid out because the claims were ‘unlikely to be successfully defended’.
Speaking on their behalf, Chief Supt Dave Oldroyd, commander of North West Leeds division, maintained that officers had tried for 90 minutes to disperse the crowd, but had been ignored. He insisted that ‘public order tactics’ had been used after missiles were launched at the police.
Pointing out the scale of the situation, he said: “Out of a crowd of hundreds, four people were later paid compensation over police dog bite injuries.
“We have rightly apologised to those individuals but we make no apology for our overall response to a situation which, if allowed to run out of control, presented a genuine threat to public safety.”
Mr Hillier, on the other hand, felt that the payments were an admission of fault, saying: “I’m glad the police have paid out. It proves they were heavy-handed.”