Brooks v Metropolitan Police Commisioner

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
Judgment Date21 April 2005
Neutral Citation[2005] UKHL 24
Date21 April 2005

[2005] UKHL 24


The Appellate Committee comprised:

Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead

Lord Steyn

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood

Brooks (FC)
Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis

and others


My Lords,


Duwayne Brooks, the respondent, was present when his friend Stephen Lawrence was abused and murdered in the most notorious racist killing which our country has ever known. He also was abused and attacked. However well this crime had been investigated by the police and however sensitively he had himself been treated by the police, the respondent would inevitably have been deeply traumatised by his experience on the night of the murder and in the days and weeks which followed. But unfortunately, as established by the public inquiry into the killing (The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Report of an Inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny (1999) Cm 4262-I), the investigation was very badly conducted and the respondent himself was not treated as he should have been. He issued proceedings against the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police and a number of other parties, all but one of whom were police officers.


I am indebted to my noble and learned friend Lord Steyn for his detailed summary of the history of these proceedings, the pleadings and the issues, which I gratefully adopt and need not repeat. As he makes clear in paras 12 and 14 of his opinion, the only issue before the House is whether, assuming the facts pleaded by the respondent to be true, the Commissioner and the officers for whom he is responsible arguably owed the respondent a common law duty sounding in damages to

  • (1) take reasonable steps to assess whether [the respondent] was a victim of crime and then to accord him reasonably appropriate protection, support, assistance and treatment if he was so assessed;

  • (2) take reasonable steps to afford [the respondent] the protection, assistance and support commonly afforded to a key eye-witness to a serious crime of violence;

  • (3) afford reasonable weight to the account that [the respondent] gave and to act upon it accordingly.


For reasons elaborated at some length in my dissenting opinion in JD v East Berkshire Community NHS Trust and others [2005] UKHL 23, I would be very reluctant to dismiss without any exploration of the facts a claim raised in a contentious and developing area of the law where fuller factual enquiry might enable a claimant to establish that a duty of care had been owed to him and had been broken. I would also be reluctant to endorse the full breadth of what Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1989] AC 53 has been thought to lay down, while readily accepting the correctness of that decision on its own facts. Two considerations, however, persuade me that this appeal should be allowed and the respondent's claims in common law negligence struck out.


The first is that the facts of this case have been exhaustively investigated. While theoretically the facts are only to be assumed, and have not been proved, it seems most unlikely that there are factual discoveries to be made or that there will be any substantial challenge to the facts as pleaded. If the case went to trial, the judge would base his decision on essentially the same facts as are now before the House. The second consideration is that the three duties pleaded are not, in my opinion, duties which could even arguably be imposed on police officers charged in the public interest with the investigation of a very serious crime and the apprehension of those responsible. Even if it were to be thought, for reasons such as those touched on by Lord Steyn in paras 27-29 of his opinion, that the ratio of Hill called for some modification, I cannot conceive that any modification would be such as would accommodate the three pleaded duties. This conclusion imports no criticism at all of the respondent's expert advisers, who have plainly pleaded the strongest duties available on the facts. But these are not duties which could be imposed on police officers without potentially undermining the officers' performance of their functions, effective performance of which serves an important public interest. That is, in my opinion, a conclusive argument in the Commissioner's favour. Fortunately, the respondent has other causes of action which he is free to pursue.


My Lords,


I have had the advantage of reading in draft the speeches of my noble and learned friends Lord Bingham of Cornhill and Lord Steyn. I too would allow this appeal. I can see no basis for sensibly imposing on the police any of the three legal duties asserted by Mr Brooks on this appeal. These duties would cut across the freedom of action the police ought to have when investigating serious crime.


Like Lord Bingham and Lord Steyn, in reaching this conclusion I am not to be taken as endorsing the full width of all the observations in Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1989] AC 53. There may be exceptional cases where the circumstances compel the conclusion that the absence of a remedy sounding in damages would be an affront to the principles which underlie the common law. Then the decision in Hill's case should not stand in the way of granting an appropriate remedy.

I. The Racial Attack


My Lords,


The background to this appeal is the tragic event of the evening of 22 April 1993 when a gang of young white thugs attacked Stephen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks, two eighteen year old youths, for no other reason than that they were black. Stephen Lawrence died from stab wounds less than an hour later. Duwayne Brooks was a key witness to the attack on Stephen Lawrence and was the surviving victim of the attack.

II. The Macpherson Report


On 31 July 1997 the Home Secretary appointed Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, aided by three experienced advisers, to inquire into the matters arising from the death of Stephen Lawrence in order particularly to identify the lessons to be learned from the investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crimes. It was an exhaustive inquiry: the oral hearings took 59 days. The unanimous Macpherson report was delivered on 15 February 1998. It exposed a litany of derelictions of duty and failures in the police investigation. Although there were large numbers of police officers early on the scene, the Inquiry was astonished at the total lack of direction and organisation during the vital first hours after the murder: [46.6]. For present purposes only brief references to the conduct of police towards Mr Brooks are necessary. The report described Mr Brooks as someone who: "… saw his friend murdered, dying on the pavement, and dead as he was carried into the hospital. And he has had to endure that night, and the whole course of the failed investigation. He was a primary victim of the racist attack. He is also the victim of all that has followed, including the conduct of the case and the treatment of himself as a witness and not as a victim": [5.7]. The criticisms of the police conduct towards Mr Brooks included the following passages:

"5.10 We have to conclude that no officer dealt properly at the scene with Mr Brooks. His first contact was probably with Police Constable Linda Bethel. She described Mr Brooks as being "very agitated". Police Constable Joanne Smith said that he was "jumping up and down and being very aggressive". Police Constable Anthony Gleason said that Mr Brooks was "Highly excitable. Virtually uncontrollable". Considering what Mr Brooks had seen and been involved in none of that should have been surprising. Furthermore Mr Brooks was justifiably frustrated and angry, because he saw the arrival of the police as no substitute for the non-arrival of the ambulance, and to his mind the police seemed more interested in questioning him than in tending Stephen.

5.11 Yet there is no evidence that any officer tried properly to understand that this was so, and that Mr Brooks needed close, careful and sensitive treatment. Furthermore even if it was difficult at first to gain a coherent story from him the officers failed to concentrate upon Mr Brooks and to follow up energetically the information which he gave them. Nobody suggested that he should be used in searches of the area, although he knew where the assailants had last been seen. Nobody appears properly to have tried to calm him, or to accept that what he said was true. To that must be added the failure of Inspector Steven Groves, the only senior officer present before the ambulance came, to try to find out from Mr Brooks what had happened. He, and others, appear to have assumed that there had been a fight. Only later did they take some steps to follow up the sparse information which they had gleaned. Who can tell whether proper concern and respect for Mr Brooks' condition and status as a victim might not have helped to lead to evidence should he have been used in a properly co-ordinated search of the estate?

5.12 We are driven to the conclusion that Mr Brooks was stereotyped as a young black man exhibiting unpleasant hostility and agitation, who could not be expected to help, and whose condition and status simply did not need further examination or understanding. We believe that Mr Brooks' colour and such stereotyping played their part in the collective failure of those involved to treat him properly and according to his needs."

III. The Criminal Proceedings


A public prosecution of two youths for the murder of Stephen Lawrence was commenced. On 9 July 1993 it was discontinued. The family of Stephen Lawrence started a private prosecution against five youths for murder. Three of them stood trial at the Central Criminal Court. Mr Brooks gave evidence...

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