Following a summary trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court, Sheriff A Miller found PC Paul Fanning not guilty of assault.

On reaching the verdict Sheriff Miller made the following remarks in court:

“A woman detainee in her 50’s, Miss Dickson, was brought into Stewart Street police station on 7th October 2010 by 2 male officers: yourself and your neighbour. She appeared to be under the influence of drunk or drugs, was abusive and behaving unpredictably and aggressively. By the time you brought her in she had already tried twice to bite you.

She was sat on a bench in the station holding area but tried to get up. You brought her back to a seated position with a hand on her shoulder, but she tried to bite that hand. You pushed her over to a lying position on the bench, at about 18” above the floor. From there I find that she again tried to bite your hand. At that point you pulled her from the bench and the force of gravity took her to the floor, where she landed with a loud scream. Throughout this process your neighbour was sitting a few feet away, filling in detention paperwork.

Subsequently Miss Dickson made what turned out to be an entirely unjustified complaint about how you dealt with her in the street. In the course of investigation of that complaint, the CCTV footage of the above incident was identified. As a result you were charged with assault and appeared for a trial which has lasted 6 days. Following amendment of the charge, the trial focused exclusively on the question of whether your pulling the woman from the bench to the floor constituted an assault.

It is entirely proper that you were prosecuted in respect of this incident. A police officer is subject to the law in the same way as any other citizen. When a police officer’s conduct potentially breaches the law it is right to scrutinise that conduct thoroughly. Police officers have extensive powers and also extensive responsibilities, not least towards those who find themselves in police custody. A state in which police officers are not answerable for their actions in carrying out these responsibilities would be a police state.

There are two fundamental questions in this case. There is no dispute that you did pull Miss Dickson from the bench – the first question is whether you committed an assault when you did that. That turns on whether you had the intention to assault her – to cause injury or the fear of injury. If you did assault her, the second question arises – were you nevertheless acting in self-defence.

Looking at the situation as a whole, I find that your actions may have been clumsy and perhaps even careless, but they were not done with the intent to assault. The clear inference I draw from the whole circumstances is that they were done to impose control in a high-risk situation that was potentially slipping out of control.

The Crown rely on the force you used and the words you spoke before and after the pulling. These words were not professional but were spoken in a context of dealing with Ms Dickson’s behaviour over a half hour period. Before pulling her form the bench you said don’t bite me Jennifer or I will lose my temper. That was spoken in a controlled way. While your blood may well have been up and in fact I do not accept your evidence that you were not annoyed, it nevertheless appears to me that your anger was channelled into a somewhat clumsy communication.


The response to that communication was that Ms Dickson said she would bite you – and then tried once again to do exactly that.

Your pulling motion itself was executed quickly and, in retrospect, was bound to result in a fairly heavy fall unless you had the unusual level of upper body strength required to control her fall. I find that the force used was reasonable in the context of the intention of taking Ms Dickson to the floor, which in itself was entirely justified by her behaviour. I find that you did keep hold of Ms Dickson’s arm all the way to the ground. Whether you did make any attempt to control her fall, and whether that was successful or not, are matters that have not been explored in evidence. Certainly there was nothing to suggest that you had in any way forced her, by your own strength, downwards onto the floor. It is also relevant that all witnesses agree that taking Ms Dickson to the floor was an acceptable and appropriate action

Your comments immediately after about her being an “animal” and her having “the manners of a baboon” were again unprofessional but, in my view, not indicative of evil intent. I infer they were a natural human reaction of relief at having finally dealt with the threat of biting. I think it particularly significant that all of your further actions at that point and beyond were professional and appropriate. Nothing in your actings at the time of these comments in any way infers evil intent.

I heard evidence from two expert witnesses. Without going into detail, where there was any conflict I preferred the evidence of Mr Smith to that of PC d’Ambrosio, taking into account the manner of giving evidence, the willingness to give a straight answer to a straight question and the clarity and consistency of the evidence given. The gist of Mr Smith’s evidence, which I accept, is that your actions were careless but were appropriate given the high degree of risk in the situation. That included the risk to Ms Dickson herself given that she was appropriately handcuffed and liable to behave in a way that she could not control herself.

In all the circumstances, I find that your actions did not amount to an assault and I find you not guilty of the charge”.

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