Planet police officer given no guidance on bailiffs

January 2017 - Allan Richards follows up his investigation into the events surrounding C&RT's seizure of an historic lightship.

The ineptitude that has surrounded the handling of the dispute between the Canal & River Trust and the owner of the historic lightship Planet continues to engulf those involved.

Now Merseyside Police has admitted that it gives its officers no guidance for dealing with bailiffs. The revelation follows concerns that an unnamed officer who attended the seizure of the lightship ‘Planet’ at the request of C&RT Harbour Master, Andrew Goudie, failed to check the identity of persons purporting to be bailiffs.

​Furthermore, he failed to check the bailiffs were in possession of the necessary court order or warrant allowing them to seize the vessel.
Friends of the historic Mersey Bar light vessel ‘Planet’ have accused the Canal & River Trust of stealing the much loved ship from its berth in Canning Dock in Liverpool.

This follows the Trust’s claim that the owner had not paid a bill of £4,256 for 2015 berthing fees. C&RT has said that it intends to sell the historic vessel in order to recover the costs of moving it to Sharpness.

The 1960 built ship was the last manned light ship in the English Channel and on the Mersey Bar. It was purchased by Alan Roberts for £139,000 some years ago with a further £60,000 spent converting it to public use.

When the ship was towed away in September last year Mr Roberts was filmed climbing over railings at Canning Dock East.
Friends have since claimed that the Trust’s action was illegal and they will fight to recover the ship and return it to a Liverpool.
Meanwhile, the Trust has provided no explanation as to why it has failed to obtain the necessary court order to seize, move and sell the ship and subsequently.

The Merseyside police admission that it doesn't have a policy of checking the identity and legality of seizures by bailiffs comes at a time when the unquestioning assistance of the police nationally in what may be illegal acts is being questioned. Some forces are more responsible.

In 2008, Devon & Cornwall Police provided written policy and guidance to its police officers based on home office guidelines. Later this policy and guidance was published under the Freedom of Information Act. It has been adopted or used as a model in some other forces.

It says ‘The policy gives officers guidance on their role when attending premises with bailiffs, and for their information also provides summaries of the rules bailiffs should follow when lawfully conducting their business’.

… and further on ‘Advice for bailiffs is that they should always, upon request, produce relevant identification, such as a badge or ID card, together with a written authorisation to act on behalf of the creditor.’

'If a bailiff or court officer is unable to provide evidence of identity, status, authority or power, and is causing a breach of the peace or committing an offence, the police constable should prevent the bailiff from entering the premises, or if already on the premises, should remove the bailiff/court officer at once.’

The incident log provided by Merseyside police, states that an unnamed officer would, the following day, attend ‘the RED SHIP [i.e ‘Planet’] to assist canals trust staff who are seizing the ship using bailiffs’. The log shows that an officer did attend but failed to check bailiff identification or that they were in possession of the appropriate court documents. The officer did, however, see fit run a Police National Computer (PNC) check on a person found on the boat.

Within the last couple of days, a worried C&RT has issued a ‘To Whom It May Concern’ letter attempting to address the disputed ownership of ‘Planet’.

Signed by C&RT solicitor Thami Nomvete, it gives a somewhat one-sided view and fails to the address key issue surrounding the dispute.

Specifically, it fails to explain why C&RT did not seek an order under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1997 at the same time as they were taking legal action for debt. Such an order would have provided potential purchasers with the requisite reassurance concerning the right to sell the ship.

Instead C&RT is still floundering, with nobody willing to buy a ship with disputed ownership, Merseyside Police has at least accepted its involvement in the debacle could have been handled better.

It now says that it is a producing a document for its officers based on the Devon & Cornwall guidance. It will be published after consultation and the agreement of its Chief Constable, Andy Cooke.

Photos: (Top) Planet being towed away while Alan Roberts looks on in distress, and (below) Merseyside Police Chief Constable, Andy Cooke

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