Police losing confidence to do the job after officer convicted of assault in fare-evasion row

Metropolitan Police constable Perry Lathwood was convicted of assault
Metropolitan Police constable Perry Lathwood was convicted of assault - Victoria Jones/PA

Metropolitan Police officers have warned they are losing the confidence to do their jobs after a colleague was convicted of assault for arresting a woman during a fare evasion row.

PC Perry Lathwood will be sentenced next month and could be sacked after a district judge ruled it had not been necessary for him to grab a woman by the arm and handcuff her when she refused to show a valid ticket while travelling on a bus in Croydon.

Mr Lathwood had been supporting Transport for London (TfL) staff who were carrying out ticket inspections when the incident happened in July last year.

But after footage of his actions went viral, the officer was referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and he was subsequently charged by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with assault by beating.

Mr Lathwood was found guilty of assault following a one-day trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in front of Deputy Senior District Judge Tan Ikram.

Following the incident, the Metropolitan Police Service announced it was withdrawing support for TfL fare evasion operations and it now no longer provides backup for ticket inspectors.

But rank and file officers have warned the implications of the case go even further, with many too worried to apply any force when carrying out their duties.

A screen grab taken from body camera footage seen at the trial
A screen grab taken from body camera footage seen at the trial - IOPC/PA

One Scotland Yard officer said: “This is just the latest in a string of cases where cops have ended up being charged with criminal offences for doing their jobs.

“Whatever you might think about this officer’s actions, the ramifications of criminalising him are huge.

“All cops expect to be held accountable for their actions, but too many are finding that they are following their training and then ending up in court for doing so.

“Understandably many of us are now asking ourselves ‘is it worth it?’ and when that happens then we are all in trouble.”

Rick Prior, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said there was a genuine crisis of confidence among officers and that the government’s recent accountability review had done little to ease concerns.

He said: “The vast majority of officers are genuinely scratching their heads about what powers they have and when they are lawfully entitled to use them.

“They are all now wondering ‘if I follow my training and put my hands on someone in a certain situation, am I going to end up in court?’

“Cases like this have resulted in a huge crisis of confidence among the men and women whose job it is to keep us safe on the streets.

“And it is not only situations involving checking people’s tickets on the transport network - which the Met no longer supports anyway - but it is in all sorts of scenarios.

Stop and search has fallen dramatically in part because officers are worried what will happen if they use it and then are accused of wrongdoing.

“These issues go to the very heart of policing and the recent accountability review from the government has done little to address the concerns that officers have.”

Possible appeal

Mr Lathwood’s legal team is understood to be considering appealing the conviction and Scotland Yard said it would wait for the legal process to be completed before deciding what misconduct action to take.

Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said despite the conviction the force was backing the officer.

In a strongly worded statement, he said: “We will continue to support the officer and continue to support our workforce, to ensure officers have the confidence to act decisively and make arrests when they believe they have the powers to do so”.

He went on: “The nature of this kind of fare evasion operation unnecessarily places officers in potentially challenging interactions with the public. Since this incident happened, we have stopped our involvement in supporting Transport for London fare evasion operations, but we continue our presence on the bus network tackling violent crime.”

Earlier this year, Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley slammed the decision to prosecute one of his armed officers who crashed while racing to the scene of a terror attack in south London.

Speaking after a jury at Southwark crown court cleared Pc Paul Fisher of dangerous driving, Sir Mark said no other country in the world would haul one of its most highly trained officers before the courts for bravely trying to preserve life.

In March, the government announced the results of an accountability review, which recommended the threshold used to determine whether the IOPC refers a case to the CPS be raised.

But the measures met with a lukewarm response, with Sir Mark saying they delivered “only very limited tangible progress for officers in the short term”.