A woman was locked inside Luton Police Station for two hours after officers forgot about her and went home.
Patience Tagarira attempted to sue Bedfordshire Police after she was left trapped inside the station’s main lobby while attempting to report an accident on May 24.
She said: “I was left waiting for someone who had left his shift and gone home. I strongly believe the officers have failed me, this is a serious error that they made.”
On May 24, Ms Tagarira was involved in an incident on Mill Street in Luton, when a cyclist fell off her bike and landed in the road, edged beneath her stationary car.
Mrs Tagarira called 999 and was told to report the incident at the police station. She went that night at 7.30pm and was given ticket 89.
She said: “A male officer came to see me and I told him what happened.
“He told me to take a seat while he spoke with the operator and got a reference number.
“Other people were dealt with and left, I sat at the reception and after the final two people left I was by myself.”
At 8pm, Ms Tagarira says a female officer came to lock the doors and draw the shutters down.
She said: “She reassured me to stay and informed me that the officer who was serving me would come and complete my report with me as well as let me out.”
But after another half-hour wait, Ms Tagarira became concerned that she had been forgotten about.
She attempted to draw the attention of people outside and made three phone calls that went unanswered.
Ms Tagarira said: “I kept hoping someone would come for me... I had been forgotten, left and locked up in the reception lobby.”
Eventually, at 9.45pm she saw a police car parked outside and after gaining the officer’s attention, she was released 15 minutes later.
Ms Tagarira says the incident has had a negative impact upon her. She suffers from a medical condition and believes there could have been “fatal consequences” of being deprived of her medication.
She contacted Liberty Law Solicitors who proceeded with a civil case against Bedfordshire Police on her behalf. But the force has robustly defended its position and in a letter from legal representatives Broadspire, By Crawford & Co. they claimed that after an investigation, no misconduct was found to have taken place..
The letter stated: “Whilst it is accepted that the station officers failed to communicate with each other and all assumed the other was dealing with your client’s enquiry, your client could have resolved the situation by alerting Bedfordshire Police by using the internal telephone in the waiting area which she had access to and is free to use.
“This phone has a direct connection to various force departments and had she used this, or her mobile telephone which she was seen frequently using, she would have been seen by an officer immediately.
“We have no alternative but to deny liability for the reasons outlined above and we would also refer you to the case of Hills-v-West Yorkshire Police, in which it was held that the Police and CPS do not generally owe individual members of the public a common law duty of care in undertaking and performing their operational duties.”
Mrs Tagarira’s solicitors decribed the response as “astounding”.
Attiq Malik of Liberty Law Solicitors said: “In effect, what Bedfordshire Police appear to be saying is that if a member of the public attends Luton Police Station to report a crime and whilst they are there they suffer a physical or psychological injury due to their negligence, it is not their responsibility or liability!
“This is astounding and incredible to say the least. Does this also mean that if a police car runs you over, or a person dies whilst in their custody, due to their negligence, it is not their responsibility either?
“Such a stance as adopted by Bedfordshire Police does nothing less than damage the trust and confidence of the populace of Luton in their local police force.”
A spokesman for Bedfordshire Police said: “We have reviewed the case put forward regarding this incident and an apology has been provided to the claimant regarding the breakdown in communication.
“Claims are reviewed to ensure the force identifies any organisational learning and where necessary we will implement changes to policies and procedures.”
>Hills-v-West Yorkshire Police is a 1988 case where the mother of the Yorkshire Ripper’s last victim Jacqueline Hill, made a claim against the Chief Constable on the grounds that the police had been negligent in their detection and detention of Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Ripper.
The police applied to have the claim struck out on the grounds that there was no cause of action since no duty of care was owed by the police in the detection of crime.