A LONG-SERVING Carlisle police officer has been cleared of assaulting an irate suspect who threw a scrunched up sheet of paper at him.

PC Michael Stuart, 49, denied common assault, telling a district judge at the city’s Rickergate court he had acted in self-defence when he grabbed hold of the man in front of his solicitor at the city’s Durranhill Police HQ.

After hearing the evidence, District Judge Gerald Chalk said he had no reason to doubt PC Stuart’s account of what happened.

The officer was charged with a common assault after his interview with Graham Carruthers on January 29 ended in a violent scuffle.

Mr Carruthers had been arrested on suspicion of police assault and kidnap.

He initially refused to answer questions.

But when told about the police assault allegation, he accused another officer - not PC Stuart - of “jumping” on him, insisting he did not injure anybody.

He said he was at his home in Aglionby Street, unwell and in bed, when officers appeared in his room.

Six minutes into the interview, a recording captured the sound of Mr Carruthers becoming increasingly angry with PC Stuart, and yelling at him.

Next the tape recorded the sound of a struggle.

In evidence, Mr Carruthers said that the officer grabbed him around the throat and began punching him and pushing him against a wall.

Told that in his initial statement did not mention being punched around the face and body, as he claimed in court, Mr Carruthers told the court: “Maybe I wasn’t feeling very well and just wanted to lie down.”

Questioned further, he said: “I don’t know where he punched me: I just know there was a flurry of punches. He had me by the throat. There was several punches to my upper body; I don’t know where they connected.

“At the end of the day, I was assaulted by the officer.”

He claimed he had been calm until he was assaulted.“I may have raised my voice but that doesn’t give him the right to come round the table, past my solicitor, and start throwing punches at me,” he said.

PC Stuart denied losing his temper, saying: “I have no doubt that if I hadn’t intervened he would have assaulted me.”

The verbal abuse from Mr Carruthers had been more prolonged and extreme than anything he had experienced before, he said. He said the suspect's head may have contacted the wall but only because he was resisting.

He said he would not have been doing his job if he had walked away.

Eric Watson, the solicitor with Mr Carruthers in the interview, accepted that Mr Carruthers was livid.

“The officer was facing an enormous level of provocation,” he said.

But he added: “The response I saw to that level of provocation went beyond what it ought to have done.” He accepted he did not see the officer deliver a punch.

He said Mr Carruthers had not been violent but he was conscious that he could not see much of Mr Carruthers because of the defendant was between them. The flash-point was when Mr Carruthers threw the scrunched up paper at the officer.

Mr Watson added: “The interview until that point was done in a perfectly professional and proper manner.

“The flash-point was when the piece of paper was thrown towards the officer.”

Sergeant Kimberley Kidd, who ran into the interview room when she heard raised voices, said PC Stuart had hold of Mr Carruthers by his clothing.

Though the suspect was not resisting, the officer banged his head against the wall three times.

Sergeant Kidd accepted that she had drawn her Pava spray because she could see that Mr Carruthers was displaying aggression.

The court also heard from Sergeant Sarah Hodkinson, another officer who rushed into the room that day as raised voices were heard.

Describing what she saw, she said she saw that PC Stuart had hold of Mr Carruthers in the corner of the room.

The suspect’s head was hit against the wall at least three times, and then he was lifted up and thrown on to the floor.

She heard PC Stuart swear at Mr Carruthers, she said.

The officer accepted swearing is not banned at the city’s Durranhill Police HQ, agreeing that at times “robust language” is used with people.

Character references from former police colleagues spoke highly of PC Stuart, describing him as honest, hard-working, trustworthy and professional.

Announcing his verdict, District Judge Gerald Chalk said that he did not consider Mr Carruthers to have been a convincing witness.

His version changed from one account to another.

Faced with such aggression, PC Stuart was entitled to use reasonable force to defend himself and the solicitor.

The judge added: “I have no reason to doubt PC Stuart... He knew he was dealing with a man who could be unpredictable and ultimately violent.”

Former constable Anthony Milroy said he had always found PC Stuart to be professional and honest in his dealings with the public.

“He was always courteous, approachable, and good humoured,” said Mr Milroy.

Retired police officer Andrew Wilson said PC Stuart was a good communicator, always willing to help other people, whether on or off duty.”

Another retired officer, former inspector Peter Nichols, said: “PC Stuart is an honest, intelligent, and hard-working individual; a kind and caring person who worked tirelessly to keep people safe.” He described his approach to the job as calm and professional.

Mr Carruthers told the court he was not charged with the offences he was arrested for.