19 September 2020


In Pile v Chief Constable of Merseyside Police [2020] EWHC 2472 (QB) the Court states 

Cheryl Pile brings this appeal to establish the liberty of inebriated English subjects to be allowed to lie undisturbed overnight in their own vomit soaked clothing. Of course, such a right, although perhaps of dubious practical utility, will generally extend to all adults of sound mind who are intoxicated at home. Ms Pile, however, was not at home. She was at a police station in Liverpool having been arrested for the offence of being drunk and disorderly. She had emptied the contents of her stomach all over herself and was too insensible with drink to have much idea of either where she was or what she was doing there. Rather than leave the vulnerable claimant to marinade overnight in her own bodily fluids, four female police officers removed her outer clothing and provided her with a clean dry outfit to wear. The claimant was so drunk that she later had no recollection of these events. 

It is against this colourful background that she brought a claim against the police in trespass to the person and assault alleging that they should have left her squalidly and unhygienically soaking in vomit. Fortunately, because this appeal will be dismissed, the challenge of assessing damages for this lost opportunity will remain unmet. 

She also alleges that the circumstances in which these events took place amounted to an unlawful invasion of her right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Her claims came before Recorder Hudson in Chester last November. The hearing lasted three days at the conclusion of which the Recorder found for the defendant Chief Constable on all issues. 

Ms Pile now appeals against the Recorder's decision to this Court with the permission of the single judge. For ease and continuity of reference, I will refer to her henceforth in this judgment as the claimant.

Turner J notes

On 22 April 2017, the claimant got into a taxi in an advanced state of intoxication. Her condition was such that she has no, or virtually no, recollection of what happened afterwards. 

The relevant events can, however, be pieced together from evidence from other sources. The unfortunate taxi driver rang 999 after the claimant had started abusing him and "kicking off". She had been physically sick all over herself and the back of the taxi. The police officers who arrived in response to the call described the claimant as being covered in vomit. Indeed, on the following morning, the claimant herself asked the police to dispose of her trousers because of the foetid state they were in. One officer said that the vomit was in her hair and had gone all down her front. There can be little doubt from the evidence that the claimant's clothes were filthy and unhygienic when she arrived at the police station. 

The claimant's behaviour at the police station continued to be challenging. I have seen the CCTV footage of the claimant's arrival. As the Recorder accurately observed, the officers accompanying her were clearly sympathetic and trying to help her. Her befuddled attempts to give her details, including her own name, reveal that she was incoherent with drink. 

On her way to the cells, as the Recorder found, she started to flail her arms with the clear intention of striking at the officers accompanying her. The cell to which she was taken was monitored by a CCTV camera. Some legitimate criticism could, and indeed was, levelled at the decision of one Inspector Fairhurst not to require initially that she should be detained in an unmonitored cell but any such criticism was overtaken by events with the claimant's aggressive display in the corridor on the way to the cells. By that stage, it was obviously in the claimant's own best interests, and those of the officers responsible for her detention, that she should be monitored from the outset. 

Once in the cell, the officers tried to replace the claimant's wet and soiled clothes with clean ones. They were wearing protective gloves and managed to put her dirty clothes in a plastic bag. The claimant, however, continued to struggle and they left the cell. After that, Inspector Fairhurst looked into the cell through the hatch to check on the claimant. His intention was to ensure her continued safety. He had not known that she was still in her underwear. The Recorder found that all those involved in the detention of Ms Pile on the night in question were concerned with her welfare and the protection of her dignity. The officers had used no more force than was strictly necessary to remove the claimant's clothes and she was too drunk to understand what was going on. Furthermore, Inspector Fairhurst had no darker voyeuristic purpose when he was checking up on her. 

The CCTV monitoring in the cell fed back to the custody suite. In the event, it was fortunate for the claimant that she was kept under observation because, soon after she had been left alone, she lost her balance, fell over and banged her head on the cell floor. She was taken to hospital and treated for her injuries. I note, in passing, that she brought a claim in negligence against the defendant in respect of these injuries but that claim was rejected by the Recorder at first instance and this finding remained wisely unchallenged on this appeal. 

After her hospital visit, the claimant was returned to the police station and released. She agreed to pay a £60 fixed penalty for being drunk and disorderly and thereby avoided prosecution.