France: Court makes €6.5 million damages ruling

Human rights judges have ruled that a youth, wrongly suspected of throwing stones at trains, who alleged he was a victim of ill-treatment whilst under arrest, should receive €6.5 million in damages.

Today’s judgment in the case Ghedir v. France (no. 20579/12) concerned the question of the application of Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the human rights convention.

The court awarded 6,500,000 euros (EUR) to Abdelkader Ghedir, in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, and EUR 39,950 in respect of costs and expenses.

The ruling followed the judgment delivered by the European court on 16 July 2015 relating to alleged ill-treatment during a 2004 arrest by SNCF (French national railway company) security officers and the police.

In 2008, Ghedir’s degree of permanent partial disability was estimated at 95%. He was confined to a wheelchair and was unable to perform basic everyday tasks independently.

The court unanimously found that there had been a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) as regards the treatment inflicted on Abdelkader Ghedir, and no violation of Article 3 in respect of the manner in which the investigations had been conducted.

Noting that the investigations had uncovered a number of contradictory and disturbing facts, the court, in particular, considered that the French authorities had not provided any satisfactory and cogent explanation for the injuries to the applicant, whose symptoms had appeared while he was under the control of the police officers.

The court therefore concluded that there was a sufficient body of evidence for a finding of a violation of Article 3.

The applicants are two French nationals, Abdelkader Ghedir and Houcine Ghedir, and two Algerian nationals, Abbas Ghedir and Fatiha Ghedir, who were born in 1983, 1985, 1937 and 1947 respectively.

They live in Villepinte (France), except for Houcine Ghedir, who lives in Drancy (France). Houcine Ghedir, Abbas Ghedir and Fatiha Ghedir are the brother, father and mother respectively of Abdelkader Ghedir.

Abdelkader Ghedir was stopped and questioned on the evening of 30 November 2004 at Mitry-Villeparisis station by officers of the SNCF’s general security service (“SUGE”) who wrongly suspected him of throwing stones at trains.

Five SUGE officers, among them officers L.P., Y.F. and O.D.B., arrested him, forcing him to the ground and fastening his hands behind his back with handcuffs before frisking him. He was then handed over to police officers who had come to the scene, before being driven to a police station.

On arriving at the police cells, Abdelkader Ghedir lost consciousness, fell into a coma and was taken to hospital.

An investigation under the flagrante delicto procedure was opened that evening. When questioned, L.P., Y.F. and O.D.B. described a standard arrest operation, whereas the police officers who had been present described the operation as “robust”.

Some of the police officers said that they had seen the SUGE officer Y.F. kneeing Abdelkader Ghedir in the face while he was pinned to the ground.

On 2 December 2004, the three SUGE officers involved in the arrest were taken into police custody.

The following day, the Meaux public prosecutor requested that a judicial investigation be opened in respect of L.P., Y.F. and O.D.B. A large number of witness statements were taken.

In particular, an SNCF official stated in 2006 that she had heard that Abdelkader Ghedir had been involved in a fight during the afternoon prior to the incident and had had a bottle smashed over his head.

Medical examinations in December 2005 revealed that Abdelkader Ghedir had suffered wideranging neurological damage, including partial loss of active motor ability in all four limbs, and serious cognitive and behavioural disorders.

In 2008, Abdelkader Ghedir’s degree of permanent partial disability was estimated at 95%; he was confined to a wheelchair and was unable to perform basic everyday tasks independently.

Four expert reports were included in the file. The third report (dated 19 October 2006) stated in particular that it was very likely that Abdelkader Ghedir’s injuries had been caused as a result of the conditions in which he had been arrested at the station, whereas the fourth report (dated 9 March 2009) stated that this assumption could not be accepted.

The same report nevertheless concluded that there was no evidence to support the theory that the applicant could have been hit by a bottle in a fight during the afternoon prior to his arrest.

On 15 February 2010, the investigating judge at the Meaux tribunal de grande instance discontinued the proceedings, finding among other things that Abdelkader Ghedir’s behaviour had been abusive and violent and that Y.F. had merely responded to it by means of a restraint technique.

In a judgment of 3 September 2010, the Investigation Division of the Paris Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the applicants. It accepted that Abdelkader Ghedir had behaved in a violent manner, while also noting that the SUGE operation had probably been more robust than the officers’ description had suggested, before concluding that some uncertainty remained as to whether Y.F. had actually kneed Abdelkader Ghedir and, if so, whether he had done so deliberately.

It further noted that it was generally agreed that Abdelkader Ghedir had been “loaded in good condition” into the police vehicle after being handcuffed and that neither his position in the vehicle nor the speed of the journey supported the possibility that he had suffered any blows during this phase of the events.

It observed that it seemed plausible that he had had a previous injury that had taken time to manifest itself. The Investigation Division concluded that the investigation had not yielded sufficient evidence to charge anyone with an offence.

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