Wednesday 15 July 2009

Police officer 'attacked by 40-strong mob after he told teenage girl to pick up burger wrapper'

A police officer described today how he was attacked by a mob after asking a schoolgirl to pick up a burger wrapper.

PC Anthony Smith was surrounded by up to 40 people after confronting the teenager in a shopping precinct in Croydon, south London.

The town's Crown Court heard how the 15-year-old exploded into a frenzy of violence and screamed abuse as PC Smith tried to speak to her friend.


The scene of the alleged mob attack in the North End shopping area of Croydon in south London

The beat officer told a jury he was suddenly grabbed by the throat from behind and pulled to the ground before being kicked and stamped on.

He was targeted by members of the crowd as the girl grappled with his colleague, PC Perry Lathwood, before repeatedly punching him in the face.

The teenager then jumped on the second officer's back and bit his shoulder, inflicting a wound through his protective vest, the court heard.

The girl, who cannot be named because of her age, and two men went on trial today accused of violent disorder. They all deny the offence.

Mr Smith relived the terrifying ordeal in court as he described how a routine conversation suddenly spiralled out of control.

He said: 'Perry shouted out she had bitten him. She needed to be arrested. I went over to try and arrest her and took hold of her arms.

'Her arms were swinging wildly in front of me. At this point I was held from behind and I felt some people were kicking me on the back and stamping on me.

'I felt arms around my throat, I was dragged to the ground. I could not see anything. I had someone's arm around my throat and I was trying to get out of their grip.

'In a matter of seconds a bigger crowd had built up. It felt like someone a lot bigger. It was a member of the public, not one of her friends.

'There was a group of people. Once I was on the ground all I could see was the feet of people trying to stamp on me. I was trying to protect myself as best I could.

'Luckily I managed to get back to my feet. I had lost my cap and my radio but I had not drawn my baton or my CS gas. The first thing I tried to do was locate PC Lathwood - we had been separated.'

The attack took place in the busy North End shopping area of Croydon shortly after 3pm on July 16 last year.

CCTV footage capturing part of the incident, a large crowd and several police officers arriving at the scene was shown to the jury.

Prosecutor Martin Goudie said the reinforcements were summoned by PC Lathwood when he pressed the emergency button on his police radio.

Witnesses told police that the 15-year-old girl tried to strangle the officer and he hit her across the back of her legs with his baton.

The teenage suspect was only subdued and handcuffed after the officer sprayed CS gas in her face.

Opening the case today, Mr Goudie said the two officers confronted a group of up to six schoolgirls on a bench outside Burger King.

They asked one of them to pick up a paper wrapper which had been dropped on the floor in front of them.

She did so, the court heard, but as they walked away it was thrown on the ground again and the officers threatened her with a fixed penalty notice.

Mr Goudie said the officers tried to move the girl away from the group but the 15-year-old, on whose lap she was sitting, held her back.

He said: 'Her intervention led to the officers to try and arrest her and as they did she became louder and more violent.

'It was a busy time of the afternoon and a large crowd gathered. Many of them became involved in an aggressive manner, which including assaulting the officers.

'The officers were so concerned by the actions of the crowd that they pressed the emergency alert buttons on their radios and summoned help.

'A significant number of officers attended and were also forced to draw their batons and PC Lathwood used CS gas spray on the first defendant.

'The officers both suffered primarily minor injuries from the incident, although because of its nature they were in shock.'

Pc Smith suffered bruising to his knee and head as well as cuts to his hands, the court was told.

PC Lathwood suffered a bite to his shoulder as well as bruising to his head, arms and legs. A police doctor declared him unfit for duty.

The prosecutor said the two accused men, Wayne Elliston, 34, and Harold Hill, 38, both from Croydon, both admit being at the scene.

They were arrested the next day after making a complaint at Croydon police station hours after the attack about the behaviour of the two officers.

Elliston admitted talking to the officers and Hill claimed to have been trying to control the teenage girl, the court heard. Both deny any violence.

The attack was witnessed by a large number of shoppers and employees at nearby stores including Woolworths and Vision Express.

One shopper, Jamie Pyatt, told police the teenager went 'berserk' and he dialled 999 because he was concerned for their safety.

One Woolworths employee described the crowd as 'hostile and like animals' as others filmed the incident on their phones.

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