A black plumber said he suspects his race may have factored into a decision to arrest him after a client reported £10,000 missing from her home.
Paul Peters, from Aigburth, spent five hours in police custody and two months on bail before the charges were dropped, despite Merseyside Police being aware that his client hadn’t seen the money for months before realising it was gone.
His arrest became even more shocking when it was revealed that 12 workmen had been in the property since she had seen the money, none of whom were arrested or questioned.
The Liverpool Echo reports that the 63-year-old had never been in legal trouble before, and worries that his reputation as an honest tradesman, his good character and his freedom was at risk after the accusation.
Merseyside Police were ordered to pay £8,000 in damages and £16,000 legal costs after a judge at Liverpool County Court ruled in Mr Peters’ favour, saying that his arrest was “not objectively necessary” and unlawful.
The force denied that racial bias played a role in his arrest and pointed out that the case didn’t make any claim of discrimination.
In his statement to the court, Mr Peters said: “Following my arrest I was very anxious, worried, depressed and angry about being accused of theft, being arrested and then being on bail for two months.
“I worried about being charged, having to attend court and being found
guilty of an offence for which I was entirely innocent.
“I worried that other customers would find out about my arrest and that it would affect my reputation and business…
“I knew that Mrs Mace had a lot of work done on her house and a number of workmen had been in and out of the house at the time the money went missing. There were then a number of suspects.
“I was disappointed to establish that out of all the other potential suspects I was the only one to be arrested. I am black and I wonder to this day as to whether my arrest was racially motivated.”
The court heard that Mr Peters and his son were called to Ms Mace’s house in Knotty Ash in June 2013 to inspect a leak in the bathroom of a home undergoing a major extension.
They had to go through an adjoining wall to access the leak and moved a wardrobe which had been used as a hiding place for £10,000 cash.
Ms Mace said she grew suspicious as their “manner changed” when they left the house, prompting her to check the wardrobe and discover the money missing.
She asked a neighbour to call Mr Peters and inform him the money was missing, and tried to reassure him that “we aren’t blaming you” when he protested.
The issue was reported to the police two weeks later, and Detective Constable Kevin Mitchell, who led the investigation didn’t arrest Mr Peters until October 8.
Solicitor Iain Gould, from DPP Law, handled Mr Peters’ case and found revealing notes written by DC Mitchell weeks before the arrest, which suggested he didn’t think there was enough evidence against him.
An entry in July said “there was no immediate need” to search the homes of suspects due to the delay in the crime being reported.
In September he said: “There is not enough to proceed at this time against Paul Peters…there is not enough in Peters’ background to support the notion that he has taken the money.”
Despite this, Mr Peters, who is diabetic, was held for five hours in custody.
Mr Peters said: “It was just all nonsense from start to finish.”
After the case Mr Gould said: “Mr Peters will now also be able to use this judgment to assist him in getting Merseyside Police to expunge all records of his wrongful arrest so that it will not besmirch his character in the future or hamper his ability to work and travel where he choses.
“The importance of this victory goes far beyond the counting of ‘pounds and pence.’
“Indeed, it was only half way through the Police barrister’s closing speech that Merseyside Police finally conceded that they now accepted that Paul had no involvement whatsoever with the alleged theft…
“Neither the Officer nor his Force showed any humility or contrition until – thanks to Paul’s courageous decision to see this case through to Trial despite all the financial and emotional risks entailed –they were finally brought to book in front of a Judge.”
A spokesperson for Merseyside Police said they “accepted the findings of the court” after the “technical claim.”
They added: “The court found that the officer did have reasonable grounds to suspect that the claimant was guilty of the offence for which he was arrested at the time.
“The court did, however, state that he should have been dealt with by way of voluntary attendance for interview at a police station rather than arrest.
“There was no suggestion in the case at court that the arrest was racially-motivated, and an internal investigation carried out in 2014 following a formal complainant found no case to answer in relation to the complainant’s allegations relating to his arrest.
“However, we continually review proportionality in our interactions with our communities, and through recruitment campaigns work hard to ensure our workforce is representative of the diverse communities we help to protect in Merseyside.”