Black woman claims race discrimination after being locked in police van… while her white friend was not
A black woman is suing police for racial discrimination after being arrested and locked in a van – while her white friend was not.
Bianca Durrant, 34, claims she was wrongly arrested and ill-treated by police officers due to the colour of her skin in 2009.
She launched a civil claim against Avon and Somerset Constabulary but the force’s lawyers failed to meet two deadlines to provide her with vital witness statements.
Now the bungling police legal team will not be able to call ANY officers to give evidence in the trial.
A judge has even lambasted the “inexcusable incompetence” of the police force which missed two High Court deadlines in the race row case – which has dragged on for FIVE years.
Police lawyer Nicola Hammond has admitted she is “professionally embarrassed” by the debacle and accepted full responsibility for the failures and delays.
Bianca is claiming racial discrimination, false imprisonment and corruption after she was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a taxi marshal in Kingswood, Bristol.
She claims she was discriminated against because she was caged in a police van while her white friend was not.
Bianca, who is of mixed race, also claims custody officers refused to let her use the toilet, causing her to wet herself.
She was charged with public disorder and assault – but both were dropped at a trial where no evidence was offered.
The clerk complained to the force’s Professional Standards Department which said the only “error of judgement” was not letting her go to the toilet.
Avon and Somerset apologised and offered #200 compensation – which she did not accept – and no disciplinary action was taken against any officers.
Furious Bianca then complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission which rejected her claim, forcing her to take her protest to the highest civil court in the UK.
A new trial – minus any police witnesses – will now go ahead at the High Court in London later this year.
Bianca, from Downend, Bristol, said: “Throughout my proceedings, I believe Avon and Somerset constabulary have continually abused process and have not adhered to the civil procedure rules.
“It will make my case easier as the officers in question cannot be called as witnesses.
“I have no fears whatsoever. The battlefield has now been cleared, I am now able to present my case and justice will be done.”
In November 2012 The Honourable Mrs Justice Lang, sitting at the High Court, ordered that witness statements must be exchanged by the police and Bianca – who is representing herself – before January 21 last year.
The police failed to meet the deadline but another judge granted a seven-week extension – which the police legal team ALSO missed.
Lawyers then made an application to allow the time lapse, which was granted on the first day of the trial in June.
However, this decision was overturned at the Court of Appeal in December by three justices in a scathing judgement.
They wrote: “The failure to meet the final deadline was not the result of any unforeseeable event.
“It was due to incompetence, as Judge Birtles found, and was simply inexcusable.”
They said the force still had a “real prospect of successfully defending the case” but that the lack of witnesses “will make the claimant’s task that much easier, but she will still need to prove her case”.
Solicitor lawyer Nicola Hammond is still working on the case.
In a statement to the court made in May asking to be allowed to call witnesses, she admitted she was “embarrassed”.
She said: “I accept full responsibility on behalf of the defendant for any failings or delays in complying with court directions and I am professionally embarrassed by the need to make this application to the court.
“My concern is that while the court has every right to be critical of me as the solicitor in this case for being tardy, ultimately, some very serious allegations have been made against the individual officers in this case and those officers ought to be given an opportunity to explain their position and put forward their side of the case.
“I can assure the court that the failure to comply with the court directions was not intentional. The claim unexpectedly gained pace.
“This was unforeseeable to me as the defendant’s representative and I naively underestimated the time scales involved in responding to the numerous allegations made by the claimant against the defendant’s officers.”
Sue Dauncey, director of legal services for Avon and Somerset Police admitted timescales had “slipped” and said the force had since reviewed its management of civil litigation.
She added: “This should not have happened, but it is exceptional.
“At the time, Ms Hammond was dealing with a particularly heavy workload of complex cases including this one.
“Much of our legal work is carried out by a team of in-house lawyers, like Ms Hammond, all of whom provide a highly professional service and excellent value for money, and I have total confidence in each and every one of them.”