There are some days in your life that are so awful you remember every detail, whether you want to or not. Monday, August 15th 2005 was one of those days for me.
It was the evening of my first day of work as a trainee solicitor at a prestigious Manchester solicitors practice. After five years of studying, I was relieved that my first day of on-the-job training had gone well. I had driven to Manchester Piccadilly Station to collect my girlfriend (now my wife), from her train, which was due to arrive at 11pm. If you know Piccadilly Station, you’ll know it’s not an ideal place to while away the time (particularly at night)!
At 10.58pm, I parked opposite a taxi rank and jumped out of the car. I jogged across the road towards the station wearing jeans, a T-shirt and trainers. I had left my faithful border collie, Becky, on the backseat of the car. Slowing to a walk, as I reached the pavement on the other side of the road, I turned to look at Becky; she was watching me. Then, I saw her divert her attention to a man getting out of a car in front of me.
In about half a second I weighed him up: a thick-set man, around 35 years old, broad shoulders, muscular, wearing jeans and a jacket. He began to walk quickly towards me, staring at me. It struck me that he was weighing me up, too. As I passed an empty bus shelter, he came close to me, and suddenly ran at me. His arms came towards me and he knocked me to the ground. Before I realised what was happening I was pinned to the ground with his fist pressed into my face. I tried to assess the situation: I needed help. Even though we were in the town centre, it was late and nobody seemed to be around.
“You’re under arrest,” he growled.
“What for?” I said, his fist now hovering over my face.
“I’m going to put you in a van.”
My legal training kicked in. “Where’s your ID?” I asked.
“I’m going to put you in a van,” he said again.
I hadn’t done anything wrong, he didn’t have ID, and he certainly didn’t look like a policeman. In that moment I thought that the only rational explanation was that I was being kidnapped. Crazy, sure, but what else did he want me for?
“Take my wallet!” I said. “Take my phone, my car, take everything!”
After years of living in Manchester, even after playing in some pretty rough football matches, I had never been in a fight. I had no idea how I was going to get out of the situation. But I am not the kind of person who gives up easily. What happened next is quite hazy in my memory – anyone who has been attacked will testify to that feeling.
I summoned all my courage and fought back. Screaming at the top of my lungs I wrestled with my assailant, managing to get on top of him. (I would realise later that in my efforts I had banged my knee, dropped my phone, wallet, shoes and my cross). Grappling with him for a few seconds, I managed to break free and found myself running barefoot down the road and under one of the long railway arches. Risking a glance behind me, I was relieved that I seemed to have outrun my attacker. I ducked behind a kink in the wall of the arch. I waited for him to roar past in a van, but no-one came.
After what felt like about ten minutes, but which may well have been only two, I hobbled on, bleeding and shaking, looking for help. The first people I came across were a group of Post Office workers cleaning a van. They eyed me suspiciously as I tried to explain, incoherently, what had just happened. Luckily, they believed me and agreed to call the Police.
Moments later, two plain-clothed police officers arrived in an almost unmarked car. I told them that the guy who attacked me had said he was arresting me, but they confirmed he wasn’t a police officer. They said they were treating it as kidnapping, put me in the back of the car and drove me around the area trying to find my attempted kidnapper.
Minutes later, we came across a marked police car. Standing nearby was a man in handcuffs, who, in hindsight, looked a bit like me. My girlfriend, who in the meantime had left the station to look for me, was with the uniformed officers; she was thrilled to see me.
As the police officers compared notes, the pieces started to fall into place: the man who had tried to arrest me was a police officer working for the British Transport Police rather than the Greater Manchester Police; and he wasn’t even meant to be on duty. It transpired that he had been driving past the station when he heard on his radio that someone fitting my description had robbed a local convenience store, armed with a knife. When he saw a person matching the suspect’s description he stopped his car and tried to do his colleagues a favour by arresting me. When I escaped, he had got back into his car and driven home. Becky, my poor dog, had watched the whole thing from the car, no doubt frantic to leap to my defence.
Unbeknown to me, whilst I was hiding under the bridge, my girlfriend had come out of the station to find my belongings strewn over the road and police officers on the scene. She was horrified to learn that I had apparently ‘resisted arrest’!
Angry and upset about what had happened, I met with my attacker’s senior officer, who summoned the officer back to the station. He took his time, returning at around 2am. Although he agreed to speak to me, he was defensive and unapologetic. His senior officer was embarrassed (the whole incident had been recorded on CCTV), but the officer wouldn’t even accept that he had done anything wrong! He even denied that I had asked to see his ID.
This still infuriates me: had I known he was a police officer I would have accepted the arrest and waited for the mistaken identity to be sorted out. There are, of course sometimes cases of mistaken identity, but what I cannot accept is the fact that once the off-duty officer realised he had got the wrong man, he went home without making any attempt to put right what he got so wrong.
Several hours later, battered and bleeding, I went to work to start my second day as a trainee solicitor. I tried to convince my somewhat sceptical new boss that I wasn’t a thug who had just got into a fight! That night, and for days afterwards, I couldn’t sleep: the events of the evening kept playing over and over in my head. For many months afterwards I was cautious about being out alone at night and was jumpy when strangers approached me. This attack was one of the reasons why I left my hometown of Manchester for a quieter life in Harrogate.
I am telling this story for four reasons, all of which I think have made me a better, more compassionate solicitor:
First, I want my clients to know that I understand what it’s like to be attacked. Luckily for me, and unlike many of my former clients, because I wasn’t assaulted at work, I didn’t develop a fear of work as some of them did.
Second, the whole incident has made me more aware of the unreliability of human memory: I was certain that my assailant had got out of a red car, when in fact it was green. I realised that my recollection of events was poor, even though I was consciously trying at the time to commit all the details to memory.
Next, I understand from my own experience that the mental or psychological impact of an assault is often worse than the physical injuries, whether you are male or female, young or old.
Finally, I realised the enormous impact of people in authority making mistakes and then trying to cover their tracks.
I like to think that the whole experience has given me a better insight into what my clients are going through when they come to Truth Legal for help. That is why our priority is to help clients to recover: physically, emotionally and financially.