Sunday, 1 August 2010

What happened in Wigan to a War Hero

The estimable Jack of Kent legal blog carries a post about What Happened to Lance Corporal Mark Aspinall in Wigan on a night out in July 2008.  Jack of Kent has raised this because two of the officers have been acquitted by a jury at Manchester Crown Court of assault occasioning actual bodily harm to Mr Aspinall.  A verdict on the third officer - Special Constable Peter Lightfoot - is awaited in the near future - see BBC 30th July 2010.

This case is interesting in that Wigan Magistrates convicted Mr Aspinall of assault on the Police and sentenced him to 3 months imprisonment suspended with a condition of 200 hours unpaid work.  Mr Aspinall was also ordered to pay £250 in compensation - see The Times 1st December 2008.  Mr Aspinall appealed his conviction to the Crown Court and the conviction was quashed - see Daily Mail 1st December 2008.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) managed an investigation into this matter and their brief statement may be read here.  This report names the officers as Sergeant Stephen Russell, P.C. Richard Kelsall and Special Constable Lightfoot.  The report informs us that charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice were brought and a further charge against Special Constable Lightfoot of perjury.  Please see the Jack of Kent post.

Addendum 1st August 2010:  See the Manchester Evening News report on the case dated 1st August.

Addendum 2nd August 2010: Special Constable Lightfoot was convicted by a jury of assault occasioning actual bodily harm to Mr Aspinall - see Manchester Evening News 2nd August.  Lightfoot is also guilty of perjury which occurred at the Crown Court hearing of Aspinall's appeal.  Further coverage of the verdict is on BBC News Manchester.

See also the IPCC statement relating to the conviction.   Here is what they have to say:

It is clear from the evidence that Mr Aspinall was drunk, aggressive and causing a nuisance. He was exhibiting the kind of behaviour that police officers have the unfortunate duty to deal with on a regular basis. That is why officers are trained to deal with such individuals in a professional manner. However in this incident Special Constable Lightfoot's training would appear to have been replaced by a red mist. His actions were violent, excessive and unjustified.
I am grateful to Greater Manchester Police and our investigators for the thorough and professional work they have done in examining this matter. I have noted the jury’s decision in relation to the other officers and we respect that. The IPCC and Greater Manchester Police must still consider whether it is appropriate for any of the officers to be subject to misconduct action.”
This makes it clear that Mr Aspinall's conduct left a great deal to be desired.  Nevertheless, the assault occurred when he was down on the ground with 3 officers over him.  Whatever Aspinall was up to in the Walkabout Bar occurred before the confrontation on the streets with the three officers.  For whatever reason, it appears the Aspinall was not charged with any matter other than the assault on the Police for which he was later acquitted on appeal from the magistrates.  The Magistrates' Court trial is interesting in that the magistrates did not have the benefit of any visual evidence but, on appeal, the Crown Court did.  Another matter which is not reported is whether Aspinall had any legal representation in the Magistrates' Court.  Legal Aid is not easy to get in the magistrates' court since the defendant has to pass both a means test and an interests of justice test.  Where a charge is serious (as is Police Assault) then the interests of justice test is normally met since there is the possibility of imprisonment and unrepresented defendants have to face the difficulty of examining professional police witnesses.  That is something which requires considerable forensic skill and ability.

Lightfoot will be sentenced at the beginning of September.


  1. There is no doubt, as I have blogged today with reference to Sussex Police and its Chief Constable`s press statements, that public confidence in police is at an all time low. When the ordinary citizen cannot trust or is in fear of police one of the foundations of our civil society is cracking; it must be shored up or the consequences in a society which has seen such upheavals in two generations where liberals are talking of this community,that community and any other like squares on a quilt, will be profound.

  2. If you'd attended court you would have heard from various independent witnesses that Aspinall was certainly drunk and a high probability that he had taken cocaine (from door staff and paramedics at scene). He was extremely aggressive and failed to leave the area, instead offering resistance to the officers. Constantly shouting racist abuse and bragging about shooting people whilst being in the army are not admirable qualities. Why is society not angry at Aspinall for getting in the situation in the first place?
    The internet is great for the uninformed righteous.

  3. Anonymous - I note your reluctance to use your real name.

    There is no reason to believe your implication that you either attended court or have any reason to know what was said there.

    Your other assertions similarly have no evidential weight whatsoever.

    But even taking your assertions at their very highest, they offer no excuse - or even explanation - for the assault on Aspinall.

    Nor do your assertions explain the now-admitted perjury by Lightfoot.

    In fact, you do not mention the perjury at all.

    One wonders why.

  4. ObiterJ - excellent follow-on post with good links. Thank you.

  5. Now that we know that Lightfoot has been convicted, I have added an addendum to the post which, I hope, balances my coverage of this worrying case. It is difficult to comment too much prior to hearing the outcome of a case.

    Certainly, as the IPCC statement makes clear, Aspinall's behaviour on the night in question was reprehensible. Nevertheless, the jury have found that the Police Officer used excessive force.

    Justice of the Peace made a fair point (above) when he refers to public confidence in the Police. It has taken a bashing in recent times over cases such as de Menezes, the G20 protests, the death of Mr Tomlinson and cases such as Lightfoot. However, there is great deal to be admired about the British Police who are faced time and again with appalling behaviour on the streets of our towns and cities. They do well on the whole and deserve the public's support.

    Anonymous referred to Aspinall's behaviour. We should be angry that he was not charged with something relating to his conduct in the bar. Regrettably, we don't know why this was. We do know that he was charged with assault on the Police but later acquitted on appeal to the Crown Court. [The Crown Court had the benefit of visual evidence]. It will be interesting to see whether Aspinall's conduct acts in any way as mitigation for Lightfoot.

    I am grateful to Jack of Kent. His pursuit of fairness and justice is second to none as a reading of his blog will show. He is very interested in libel actions - a subject which I know precious little about - but his blog is recommended reading for anyone seriously interested in law.

    Jake also made a fair point about the Police remaining quiet whilst investigations and proceedings continued. Personally, I would prefer things to be that way rather than have the Police putting out misinformation - as may have happened in the Tomlinson case. Maybe the Greater Manchester Police will eventually issue a statement but we have to note that all 3 officers may yet have to face disciplinary proceedings. The criminal trial is not necessarily the end of it for them.