PCSO didn’t lie about assault – he made ‘honest mistake’

By Mark Pritchett   |   Editorial manager   |
Thursday 26th July 2018 2:45 pm
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A POLICE community support officer from Wellington has been cleared of lying about being attacked by a homeless man after telling a jury he made an honest mistake.

Former PCSO Thomas Rowland was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice by a jury at Exeter Crown Court which spent hours studying CCTV of the incident.

Rowland radioed into police control and called for back up after claiming he had been punched in the abdomen by alcoholic Lawrence Best on the back steps of Tesco Express in Taunton’s High Street.

He went on to give the same account in an official witness statement, leading to Mr Best appearing at magistrates’ court charged with the offence.

The charge was dropped to drunk and disorderly after a CPS lawyer checked the footage from a Saturday afternoon in September 2016 and saw no evidence of a punch.

Mr Best, who suffered a cut lip during his arrest by three police officers and spent several hours in custody at Bridgwater police station, was fined.

He could have been jailed for up to six months if he had been convicted of the far more serious offence of assaulting a police officer.

Rowland was cleared by the jury after he told them he made an honest mistake. He said Mr Best had thrust his arm towards him, as shown on the CCTV, and he believed he had been hit by a fist.

He said it was only when he saw the footage during the investigation into his own conduct that he realised that Mr Best had grabbed at him with an open hand.

He said he was cautious about Mr Best at the time because there was a marker on his police national computer record showing he may be violent.

Rowland, 25, denied attempting to pervert the course of justice. He was found not guilty and discharged by Judge Erik Salomonsen.

During a three-and-a-half-day trial the prosecution said Rowland must have known that the statement he signed was wrong.

They said the CCTV showed there was no punch and that any contact with Mr Best’s hand had been fleeting and did not amount to an assault.

The CCTV from Taunton’s Crescent car park showed Mr Best slumped, drunk and semi-conscious, on the steps, behind Tesco, where he had gone to buy more vodka after being moved on by PCSO Rowland from the gardens outside the Crown Court building.

It showed Rowland removing his alcohol, going into Tesco to pour it away and returning to warn Rowland that he would be excluded from the town centre if he bought any more.

The footage showed Mr Best becoming agitated and shouting at the PCSO before sitting up and grabbing towards him with his left hand.

Rowland told the jury he saw Mr Best clench the fist of his right hand, which was not visible on the CCTV footage.

He said he thought he had been punched when Mr Best lunged at him and only realised he had an open hand when he saw the footage many months later.

He said: “When I signed my statement I believed it all to be true. I knew the CCTV would be obtained and thought it would corroborate what I had seen.

“The first time I became aware of the discrepancy was months later when I was told I was being investigated by the professional standards people.

“My Federation representative showed me the clip and I saw it was not a fist but an open hand. I was shocked. I was completely adamant it was a fist until he showed me the CCTV.

“I could not believe it because in my head it had always been a fist. I did not intend to pervert the course of justice at all. I did not intend to mislead anyone. Until I saw the CCTV I thought what I had said was 100 per cent true.”

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