The obvious and immediate answer most people would give to being asked the question of whether the police should be allowed to torture suspects would be a very loud ‘NO!’
Well, it may be of surprise to many people to hear that at a recent international policing conference, a very senior German policewoman started an interesting debate about the acceptable use of torture by the police in certain specific circumstances.
It’s an argument that I first heard over ten years ago, but until this week I thought it was a theoretical argument, rather than one based on an actual case.
I didn’t know that, in 2003, an 11-year old boy had been kidnapped in Germany and it was believed that he had been placed in a location where, within several hours, the child would suffocate. The police had arrested the kidnapper but he was refusing to answer any questions.
A police chief took the decision to threaten the suspect with violence, who then made admissions but unfortunately too late to save the child.
The officers were prosecuted and sacked and the evidence obtained through oppression was deemed inadmissible in the trial.
Had the same circumstances occurred in this country, there would have been exactly the same outcome, although I doubt whether the threats would have been made in the first place due to the legal protections provided to suspects.
The rush to save a child’s life who has been kidnapped is a very rare set of circumstances, but it is something that could happen.
The police do have a duty to protect life, and the Human Rights Act does permit the State to take measures to protect life from criminal acts, but this law does not obviously make it lawful to use violence on a kidnapper in custody, to save the life of a victim.
And whilst some people may suggest releasing the suspect from custody and allowing members of the public to commence interrogation, that isn’t lawful either!
As a parent, I think it should be lawful for the police to use violence to save the life of an innocent child and quite a considerable level of violence.
As a former police officer, I don’t think it’s a decision for the police.
I suggest it should be a call to the Prime Minister and if he authorises it, the next call should be to members of the police rugby team!