Man wrongly jailed over clash with South Yorkshire Police officer, court rules

The incident in the police car involving Russell Hartley, who was wrongly jailed for assaulting a police officer
The incident in the police car involving Russell Hartley, who was wrongly jailed for assaulting a police officer

A Doncaster man was wrongly jailed for assaulting a police officer after being accused of grabbing his arm and belt when he was detained for suspected drink-driving, a court has ruled.

Russell Hartley, aged 45, of Bessacarr, was given 10 weeks in prison for the alleged assault with a further two weeks in jail for driving over the limit following a trial at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court.

Russell Hartley has had his conviction for assaulting a police officer quashed

Russell Hartley has had his conviction for assaulting a police officer quashed

But following a two-day hearing at Sheffield Crown Court, in which Hartley claimed he had been the one attacked by PC Robert Heath, his assault conviction was quashed.

Although his drink-driving conviction was retained, the jail term he received for it was overturned.

Mr Hartley said he now intends to pursue a complaint with police watchdog the IPCC.

Judge Peter Kelson QC, who heard the appeal alongside two magistrates, said: “If the police and prosecution are to consider charging assault on a police officer every time a police officer’s arm is taken hold of by somebody, this court would be inundated with criminal prosecutions.

Russell Hartley has had his conviction for assaulting a police officer quashed

Russell Hartley has had his conviction for assaulting a police officer quashed

“No injuries whatsoever were caused here.

“We are not satisfied it is proper to regard this as an assault on PC Heath.”

The two convictions related to an incident outside the Flare Path pub in Dunsville on September 3, 2014 when PC Heath had followed a Renault Laguna containing Hartley and his friend Peter Barnes that the officer had said was driving erratically.

Hartley claimed a third person – a Ukrainian man called Uri to whom the car is registered – was driving the vehicle.

PC Heath said Hartley had been driving and he took him over to his police car and put him in the back seat with the original intention of conducting a breathalyser test.

But he said Hartley’s ‘demeanour and behaviour’ as he was in the back of the car led him to ask for back-up before conducting the test.

He said Hartley had then wound down the window and grabbed hold of his wrist, pulling him into the door, before grabbing hold of his utility belt and ‘pulling me into the vehicle’.

PC Heath said he had pressed his emergency button on his radio calling for assistance and then attempted to restrain Hartley in the back seat.

PC Heath said: “I have been a police officer for 12 years. I have pressed that button possibly two to three times in my career.

“I felt in danger, obviously he is a lot bigger than I am. There was another person there. I was on my own and I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

He said Hartley was resisting having handcuffs put on by ‘tensing his arms and tensing his body’.

He said when two colleagues arrived, they managed to get Hartley out of the vehicle and arrest him.

But Mr Hartley said there had been ‘strong words from both of us’ when he was taken to the back of the police car and he had not grabbed the policeman through the window.

“We were having words back and forth. I said something I shouldn’t have done when he opened the door,” he said.

“He opened the door and hit me with a flying headbutt, diving in like he was going to score a goal in football.”

He said he had then been punched repeatedly while he was ‘screaming’ at his friend, Mr Barnes, to film what was happening.

Mr Hartley said that as he was arrested outside the car when the other two police officers arrived, PC Heath had pulled his trousers down.

His friend Mr Barnes said his phone on which he filmed and photographed the incident was confiscated by officers at the scene and when it was returned to him a few days later at Doncaster, a female officer told him she had deleted the footage as he was not allowed to film ‘official police business’.

He said photographs he had also taken only remained in back-up files on the phone rather than in the usual folder.

Judge Kelson said there was no evidence there had been a video or that it was deleted.

He said the panel had the ‘gravest of doubts’ PC Heath had headbutted Mr Hartley and attacked him in the manner the appellant described.

Judge Kelson said the panel had taken into account when assessing the differing accounts that PC Heath had been ‘stone-cold sober’ and Mr Hartley and Mr Barnes had been drinking.

But he added: “It is not part of our role to pass any judgement about what happened in the vehicle.

“On any analysis of the evidence we are a little surprised that PC Heath felt it necessary to open the car door to embark upon restraining Mr Hartley when he was already in the police car, effectively restrained.”

Judge Kelson said it was not for the panel to consider any potential disciplinary matters relating to PC Heath’s conduct on the night.

Speaking after the case, Mr Hartley said the outcome had been ‘brilliant’.

He said: “Justice has been served. The judge was very fair and he listened. A lot of judges don’t listen.”

He said it had been ‘terrible’ to go to jail for an offence for which he was wrongly convicted.