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Judge rejects challenge to police decision on council conduct and criminal proceedings

The High Court has dismissed a challenge to a decision by Thames Valley Police that, regarding the conduct of Oxfordshire County Council, there was insufficient evidence to meet the Crown Prosecution Service’s threshold so as to justify criminal proceedings against anyone.

The case of Wyatt & Anor, R (On the Application Of) v Thames Valley Police [2018] EWHC 2489 followed a criminal complaint by the claimants, Ronald and Michael Wyatt.

The Wyatts are the directors of a company that owns the Waterstock Golf Course in Oxfordshire. The company, and in consequence the Wyatts, have been involved in a number of disputes with the county council in relation to planning matters and the land in the vicinity of the golf course.

At the heart of the subsequent criminal complaints by the Wyatts was one of three plans that an inspector had directed Oxfordshire to produce to make the requirements of enforcement notices more precise and the implementation more straightforward.

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The claimants made a number of allegations against the council and a consultant working for it over the plan. One of the allegations was that the submission of an inaccurate plan amounted (on the facts) to perverting the course of justice.

The council submitted that the circumstances in which the plan in question was created were apparent on the available evidence, and they did not give rise to any cause for criminal complaint against the consultant or anyone else.

After concluding that the CPS’ threshold had not been met, Thames Valley Police closed its investigation into the allegations, as recorded in a decision letter dated 15 March 2017.

The following issues arose from the grounds of challenge advanced by the Wyatts:

  1. whether the decision was flawed on the basis that it was an unlawful failure to carry out a proper/diligent investigation;
  2. whether the decision was flawed on the basis that it demonstrated a lack of independence;
  3. whether that decision was flawed on the basis that it contained inadequate reasons; and
  4. whether the decision was flawed because it contained a misdirection in law regarding potential criminal liability for copyright offences.

A further, fifth ground was considered by the High Court: whether the defendant chief constable of Thames Valley Police misdirected himself regarding the mens rea required to establish perverting the course of justice.

Mr Justice Bryan dismissed the legal challenge. The High Court judge concluded that:

  1. There was a proper and diligent investigation undertaken by Thames Valley Police, with the defendant having conducted all reasonable steps and investigated all reasonable lines of inquiry including the consideration of all of the documentary and factual evidence that was available. The conclusion that there was no realistic prospect of conviction in relation to any offence was one the police officers were entitled to make.
  2. A fair-minded and informed observer “would most certainly not conclude that there was a real possibility of bias in the police investigation or any lack of independence or partiality.”
  3. Far from the reasons in the report being inadequate, the police explained, “in an appropriate level of detail, why it was considered…..that there was no realistic prospect of any individual being convicted in relation to the claimants' allegations”.
  4. The report and decision letter did contain a misdirection in law. “However, having regard to the Report as a whole, the evidence that was before [the detective constable] and the conclusions that she expressed, I do not consider that the decision was flawed such as to justify the quashing of the decision, by reason of the misdirection.”

The judge also said he was satisfied that it was highly likely that the outcome for the claimants would not have been substantially different if the defendant had not misdirected itself in relation to copyright offences. “Indeed I would go further than that…..I am in no doubt whatsoever, that [the detective constable] would have concluded (justifiably) that there was no realistic prospect of success in relation to any prosecution of [the consultant] for copyright theft.”

Mr Justice Bryan said the fifth ground also failed.

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