Police failed to protect murder victim's right to life, argues Commission

The case is the Commission's first major intervention in a human rights case in the House of Lords

19 May 2008

The police breached a witness’s right to life after they failed to protect him from a murderer days before he was due to give evidence in a theft trial, the Equality and Human Rights Commission will tell the House of Lords this week. The case is the Commission's first major intervention in a human rights case in the House of Lords.

Giles Van Colle, aged 25, told Hertfordshire police that a number of threats had been made against him by Daniel Brougham, who was later sentenced to life for murder. But they took no action and Mr Van Colle was shot dead after leaving his Mill Hill shop in north London. A month before Brougham had warned Mr Van Colle in a telephone call: 'I know where you live. I know where your businesses are and where your parents live. If you don't drop the charges you will be in danger.'

Mr Van Colle was an optometrist who had employed Brougham as a technician. However, Brougham left after being challenged about giving a wrong national insurance number. Stolen property, including glasses and frames belonging to Mr Van Colle and other businesses, were later found at Brougham’s home.

Mr Van Colle later told a customer that he had received a ‘death threat’ from a former employee. His car was also burned-out and insurers subsequently concluded this was consistent with a ‘malicious vandal attack’, although at the time a connection with Brougham was not made.

Detective Constable David Ridley, of Hertfordshire Police, was later found guilty in a police disciplinary action of failing to perform his duties diligently with regard to the threats. Mr Van Colle’s parents then launched a case against the police under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act - the article which covers the right to life. They were awarded £50,000 by the High Court in 2006.

The police have appealed against the case, and a hearing will take place in the House of Lords today (Monday 19 May). The Commission will act as an 'intervener', an expert third party, and offer its views to the court that the state has an obligation to protect someone's right to life where they know there is a threat to it by a third party. In this case, the police's failure was a breach of Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, which is the right to life.

If successful, the appeal will result in a landmark judgement, which is hoped will promote significant policy and procedural change within the police force. It might also have implications for other parts of the public sector, where people's lives may be at risk, such as prisons and hospitals.

John Wadham, the Commission's Group Director, Legal said:
'The right to life is the most fundamental human right and despite the police knowing Mr Van Colle was at risk because of the threats made against him, they took no action to protect him. A public authority must take positive steps to protect the lives of individuals, when they know that they are at risk from a third party. This is the first time the Commission has used its human rights powers into such a vital case about the extent of public authorities' obligations to protect the lives of those in vulnerable situations. It is about preventing people in our society being murdered.

'This case shows why the Human Rights Act is important to everyone and can bring everyone real protection.'

Ends

For more information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Media Office on 02031170255, out of hours 07767272818.

Notes to Editors

The commission just has launched an inquiry into the state of human rights in Britain today and is now calling for evidence from public authorities and those who use their services. Follow this link for more information about the Human Rights Inquiry

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission will enforce equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It will also give advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.