Health scare for police officer in violent clash with a mother and her son

NEWS from Nottingham Magistrates' Court.
NEWS from Nottingham Magistrates' Court.

A police officer told a court that he feared for his health after he had been allegedly assaulted at a flat in Hucknall by a mentally-ill man.

PC Andy Sansom was “in a state of distress” and “emotions were running high” after he sustained cuts and grazes in the clash and spit accidentally flew into his face as he was shouted at by the man.

“I was pretty shaken,” he admitted at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court. “It became apparent that he had a medical condition that may be transferrable through spit and blood.”

Once the man had been detained, PC Sansom rushed to the accident and emergency unit at King’s Mill Hospital in Sutton. Only after precautionary tests was he given the all-clear.

The scare arose from a 999 call-out to a domestic incident at the flat on Holgate Walk, Hucknall that the police received on the afternoon of Friday, January 16 last year, the court heard.

The man, 32-year-old Liam Nunes, was living at the flat with his 60-year-old mother, Christine Nunes, who reported that he had been violent towards her, pushing her on to a settee in a row about vodka that she wanted from his bedroom. A concerned neighbour had also rung the police about “an ongoing disturbance”.

When they arrived, PC Sansom took Mr Nunes into his bedroom, while his colleague, female officer PC Lesley Wilson, took Mrs Nunes into the living room.

However, what began as “a low-key incident soon escalated into something more serious”, the court heard.

Mrs Nunes, who appeared drunk as well as agitated, said she had called the police to “scare” her son, and to urge them to have a word with him. But she “wanted no action taken against him”.

Initially, Mr Nunes was calm, although he told PC Sansom that he was suffering from depression and had been to see his doctor earlier that day.

The mood changed, the court heard, when PC Sansom told Mr Nunes he was going to remove him from the property, perhaps to a friend’s house, for a cooling-off period and to prevent any further trouble.

The officer explained this was force policy “to diffuse the situation”, but both Mr Nunes and his mother reacted angrily.

He ripped off his T-shirt, flexed his muscles and shouted: “Take me like this!” PC Sansom told the court: “I believed I was in danger of being assaulted.”

He tried to put Mr Nunes in handcuffs, but both fell backwards into the bathroom of the flat where there was a tussle on the floor, with Mr Nunes kicking out, struggling violently and screaming.

Also shouting, Mrs Nunes tried to grab the officer off her son. She kicked him in the legs and also punched PC Wilson, who told the court the mother was “hysterical”.

The Nunes’s pet Jack Russell dog started barking persistently and bit PC Wilson on her trousers. The officer said she felt so threatened that she pressed the emergency button on her radio for extra assistance.

Only when more officers arrived was Mr Nunes quelled, taken outside and bundled into a police car, the court heard.

Most of the mayhem was filmed on Mr Nunes’s mobile phone, and the footage was played in court, although some of it was sound-only.

He was charged with assaulting PC Sansom in the execution of his duty, while his mother was charged with assaulting both officers in the execution of their duty.

However, they pleaded not guilty and, after an all-day trial, they were acquitted on a technicality because the two officers were found not to have acted lawfully in the execution of their duty.

This was because, in detaining Mr Nunes, it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that PC Sansom told him he was formally under arrest.

Abigail Hill, prosecuting, argued that two “completely credible” officers “attempted to deal with things in a calm manner” and then “had reasonable grounds to suspect that a breach of the peace would occur”.

However, both defending solicitors claimed the officers did not handle the furore “within mandatory legal parameters” and should have shown more flexibility considering Mr Nunes was mentally ill.

For Mr Nunes, Bill Soughton, defending, said: “PC Sansom’s detention of Mr Nunes was illegal. He did not set out to brutalise him, but he made a mistake. .

“He grabbed hold of, and handcuffed, a vulnerable adult without any explanation. That was an assault which took him outside of the execution of his duty.”

For Mrs Nunes, Mary Dixon, defending, said: “Two experienced police officers had a duty of care. The situation got out of control when the suggestion was made to remove Mr Nunes from the property. His mother was shocked by that.

“She had every right to protect her son, who was vulnerable and on medication.”

In delivering the verdict, the chairman of the Bench, Martin Wakeling, said: “It was a very difficult situation in which the two officers believed sincerely they were acting in the best interests of Mr and Mrs Nunes.

“However, the contentious issue is whether or not Mr Nunes was told he was under arrest before the alleged assaults took place. We cannot be certain that the words were used.”