Sunday, November 30, 2008

police brutality Iraq war veteran Mark Aspinall

By Kate Mansey 29/11/2008

The pictures of police brutality that will shock all of Britain.

POlice beat handcuffed war veteran Mark Aspinall

These shameful and inexcusable scenes show a war hero who served his country in Iraq and Afghanistan fearing for his life amid a violent and unprovoked assault by police.

Lance Corporal Mark Aspinall – highly praised by his commanding officer for bravery against the Taliban in Afghanistan – was set upon by three uniformed officers on his home town High Street.

The sickening attack – caught in forensic detail on CCTV – led a crown court judge to label it one of the worst examples of police aggression he had ever seen. Yet, in a travesty of justice, it was Mark who was at first convicted by magistrates of attacking the policemen.. despite the video footage clearly showing he was the victim.

Last night, Mark, 24, who had 14 head and face injuries, said: “I was scared for my life. I was being battered and my head was being pushed into the ground.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to die here. I can’t believe I’ve survived Afghanistan and Iraq and and now I’m going to die on this main road in my home town at the hands of the police’.

“Yet I was the one who ended up in the dock, not the officers.”

Mark was convicted by magistrates of two counts of police assault – and his ordeal only ended when Crown Court judge John Phipps watched the damning footage and quashed the verdict on appeal.

He said: “I am shocked and appalled at the level of police violence shown here”, adding that he had “great concerns” about the footage and effectively branding the policemen liars by saying: “I would go as far as to say the statements (by the officers) contain untruths.”

The nine-minute video shows PC Peter Lightfoot punching Mark eight times.

Mark had been out for drinks with friends in Wigan, Lancs, and left the town’s Walkabout bar at 2.40am on Sunday July 27. Police had been called to deal with a man said to be causing a nuisance to paramedics.

Special constable Lightfoot, 39 – a volunteer officer whose main job is as a van driver – and his two colleagues wrongly believed Mark was their man. He explained he had done nothing wrong, but they chased him and threw him to the floor.

“They asked me what I was doing and I told them I was just standing around. They came up and pushed me and I said ‘Don’t f***ing touch me’.

“I had been drinking, I was pretty leathered, I know that... but I was NOT being violent.”

The footage opens with an unsteady Mark drunkenly standing in the street and calling out to the officers.

As can be clearly seen, he stands 10ft from them in the middle of the road as they stand on the pavement.

Suddenly, the three officers move as one and start running across the road towards Mark.

Startled, he falls over and as he gets to his feet one officer rugby-tackles him, while the other two help bundle him to the ground. Then the vicious assault begins.

PC Lightfoot, who weighs more than 20st, bangs Mark’s head on the road twice before leaning over and shouting into his ear, while his two colleagues kneel on Mark’s legs.

Mark, in pain, tries to kick out and bites one of the officer’s legs in self-defence.

His punishment is fierce and immediate. The officer pushes his booted foot in Mark’s face while PC Lightfoot grabs his hair and repeatedly scrapes his face on the tarmac.

Even though Mark is lying unmoving on the ground, PC Lightfoot punches him twice, checks to see who is watching, then punches him another six times on the back and shoulders.

The eight pump-action blows come in eight seconds. PC Lightfoot stops the beating only as people driving past slow down to watch. The footage shows Mark pinned to the floor for a total of five minutes and 16 seconds. The most brutal section lasts for one minute 35 seconds.

Eventually, Mark was bundled into a police van in handcuffs, taken to Wigan police station and kept in custody for 20 hours.

He was charged with two counts of police assault and a public order offence – swearing at the officers. On September 22, at Wigan magistrates court, the three officers read statements to the court that Mark had been “behaving violently” and “issued challenges”.

Three JPs found Mark guilty of the two assaults – despite viewing the footage. In a final insult, he was ordered to pay PC Lightfoot £100 in compensation and one of the other officers £150.

He was also ordered to serve 200 hours community service and given a three-month suspended prison sentence. Mark, who returned from Afghanistan in February and was working his notice in the Army at the time of attack, said: “I went in to the Army thinking this country was worth fighting for.

“I put my life on the line every day in Afghanistan, so to come back and be treated like this for no reason was just so depressing. My plan was to join the fire service when I came out of the Army – but I was rejected because of my conviction. It meant I was unemployable for anything I wanted to do.”

Determined to clear his name, Mark lodged an appeal. And at Liverpool crown court on November 13, Judge Phipps saw the footage and asked incredulously: “Where is this man of violence?”

Mark said: “In court the police said I was out of control, but you can see I was just lying there. I was drunk, I’ll admit that, but I wasn’t causing trouble. I swore at the officers after they pushed me, but I was not challenging them or threatening them. At no point in the CCTV can you see me being violent.

“It was awful. I had come back from fighting in Afghanistan and now, on community service, I was painting a school as a convict, standing next to men who were drug dealers and robbers.”

Yesterday Mark received the £250 compensation back from the officers.

Brought up in Wigan by supermarket assistant mum Kathleen, 59, and his factory engineer dad John, 61, Mark revealed: “My grandad had been in the Army and when I joined my parents were so proud of me.

“I lost two friends – one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan – and although I loved the Army I wanted to come out and try something else.”

He added: “I’m delighted to have cleared my name, but it is scandalous that I was treated like this.”

At his home in Orrell, Wigan, PC Lightfoot, a Special Constable for 19 years, refused to discuss his attack on Mark saying: “Go away. You are not welcome.”

Special constables have the same power of arrest as regular full-time officers and are subject to the same rules, but are not paid.

A police spokesman said: “Greater Manchester Police’s professional standards branch is investigating the conduct of officers on the Wigan division.

“One officer has had his duties restricted and another two are being investigated.

“The matter has been voluntarily referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but an independent complaint has also been made.”