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Police force accused of beating man was warned of stop-and-search failings

Singer says ‘aggressive’ South Wales Police officers got in his car and punched him – leaving him fearing for life

Adam Bychawski
2 December 2022, 11.02am

Kennedy (pictured) said he had to cancel gigs because of his injuries.

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Photo: Tom Damsell.

A police force that allegedly beat a man and left him fearing for his life during a drugs check was warned of a jump in unreasonable stop and searches earlier this year.

James Kennedy, a 42-year-old musician, told openDemocracy he was “absolutely terrified” when “aggressive” plain-clothes police officers got in his car without warning as he travelled home from a gig in Cardiff on 23 November. 

Kennedy says he was restrained, punched and threatened with a taser by officers from South Wales Police, whom he alleges forced him into an unmarked police car and took him to a police station, where he was subjected to a “degrading” strip-search. 

Now, openDemocracy has uncovered that just months before the alleged incident, the police watchdog warned South Wales Police that 30% of its stop and searches were ‘unreasonable’ – an increase of 16.2% since 2019/2020. 

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Responding to the news, Kennedy said he is “really sad and angry” at the thought that other people could have had similar experiences to his. Speaking to openDemocracy, he said he has been unable to sleep since the alleged attack last month.

Kennedy said three police officers entered his car as he pulled over to text his partner to say he was on his way home, then handcuffed him to his seat and repeatedly punched him in the face, despite him making no attempt to resist them. 

He said the men told him they were police officers, but he did not believe them because they emerged from an unmarked car and were dressed in all-black civilian clothing. 

“The nature of their intrusion into my car was also incredibly intimidating and aggressive and it felt much more likely to me that this was a group of three men who were robbing me,” Kennedy said.

He added that he was shown a police badge only after he was moved from his car into the back of the officers’ non-police car. From there, he says he was taken to a police station and strip-searched, but was eventually released when no drugs were found.

“I was given no paperwork or explanation, nobody signed me in or out of the station, no apology was made and as the three officers walked me to my car, one of them joked that ‘I must have taken a good five punches’ earlier on,” he said.

Kennedy said the attack left his face swollen and his wrist so bruised that a doctor told him he was too injured to perform the following weekend, forcing him to cancel gigs and lose income. 

“However, the physical injuries are nothing compared to the mental and emotional trauma of the experience,” he told openDemocracy. “I have barely slept in several nights and I have been unable to shake off the feelings of absolute terror that I felt when I was being restrained in my car.”

South Wales Police were told they were just “adequate” at “treating people fairly and with respect” after a routine inspection by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in August. 

The police watchdog found the force could not demonstrate that it had reasonable grounds to carry out almost a third of the stop- and- searches it made between 1 December 2020 and 30 November 2021.

The independent police inspectorate said this represented a “significant decrease” in the number of reasonable stop and searches since its last review in 2019.

Chief superintendent Mark Lenihan, head of professional standards at South Wales Police, said: “South Wales Police has recorded a complaint following a stop search conducted in the Whitchurch area of Cardiff on 23 November.

“The force takes such allegations extremely seriously and the matter has been allocated to the Professional Standards Department for investigation.

“As the investigation is at an early stage, it would not be appropriate to comment on the circumstances of the stop search or the specific allegations being made.”

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