A detective who doused an innocent member of the public with PAVA spray at Kettering Tesco and was involved in a 100mph crash on the A1 has had his appeal dismissed by Britain’s chief justice.
Lord Ian Burnett Of Maldon, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, led a bench of three senior appeal court judges hearing a request by police detective Michael Chang to overturn his conviction for possession of a prohibited weapon.
For the crown, barrister Andy Peet argued that Chang had not been acting as a servant of the crown at the time of the offense and was therefore not offered any legal protection.
Chang, a former plainclothes detective with Huntindgon Police Station, had admitted driving at speeds of up to 114mph before crashing his car onto the A1.
At the initial hearing, Crown Court heard Chang was late for a hearing at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court on March 30, 2020. He drove at 114mph, with sirens and blue lights, calling twice his supervising officer on his hands-free phone while driving.
Three seconds after a call was connected, Chang attempted to pull off the road but left it too late and lost control. He hit a barrier at 100 mph and crossed the road ahead of another vehicle. The driver of the car he passed in front called 999 but as she did so Chang picked him up saying he was a policeman.
He then called his superior officer, claiming only to have stopped on the side of the road to ask for the name of the lawyer he was to meet in court, without referring to the accident. His supervising officer found out what had happened when the other driver reported it. Chang later admitted that he shouldn’t have used the lights and sirens, and that he “put his foot down”.
Two weeks later, on April 15, 2020, during the lockdown, Chang left Huntingdon Police Station at the end of his shift and on his way to his home in Slipton Road, Burton Latimer, he stopped at Tesco at Carina Road, Kettering. He put on a police uniform so he could go to the front of the queue as a Covid ‘key worker’.
He then went to buy petrol but saw an argument between a member of staff and a member of the public. Chang believed – wrongly – that the man was trying to leave without paying. Chang stood in front of the man’s car and tried to talk to him by pointing and shouting.
He then went to his own car and retrieved his belt to which the PAVA spray holster and police baton were attached. The spray should have been left in an assigned PAVA locker when he left work.
Chang chased after the man and sprayed him with PAVA, some of which blew on his female partner’s face.
Northamptonshire Police were called and an officer monitored the pursuit.
Chang pleaded guilty to the driving offense midway through his trial in Crown Court, but went to the Court of Appeal in February to ask leading judges to reconsider his offensive weapon conviction and the sentence imposed jointly for the two offences. The Lord Chief Justice heard the appeal due to its nature and seriousness.
For Chang, attorney John Lyons argued that his client was not in unlawful possession of the PAVA spray because he was a servant of the Crown, even though he was not acting as a servant of the Crown. at the time of the incident.
In a written judgment delivered yesterday (Thursday 7 April), Lord Burdett said: ‘It follows that if the submission were correct, not only would, for example, all servicemen and ministers of the Crown still be free to bear arms .. but they could do the other things with impunity with weapons criminalized by the 1968 law. The (trial) judge was unable to accept this argument and so were we.
“The caller acknowledged that he was not allowed to take his PAVA vaporizer to the police station and store it in his own private car; and he did not suggest that his presence there was related in any way to his duties as a police officer.”
He said Cambridgeshire Constabulary policy was that all officers assigned to PAVA would have their own locker which they had to store in when off duty.
He added: “In the circumstances, there is no doubt that the appellant was acting outside his official capacity by having a police-issued PAVA spray in the trunk of his personal motor vehicle. He was properly convicted on his plea of guilty to the offense of possession of a prohibited weapon”.
At the first trial, Chang was sentenced to 14 months in prison, suspended for two years, banned from driving for 14 months, fined £1,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,300.
He maintained that it was excessive. But the appeals court judges disagreed.
In his judgment, Lord Burnett described Chang’s conduct as ‘appalling’, adding: ‘These two offenses show the appellant’s attitude that the ordinary rules do not apply to him.
“The dangerous driving was aggravated by what amounted to an abuse of power by seeking to take advantage of a necessary ability to drive at very high speed in an emergency to compensate for a personal fault: being late.
“The guilty plea came after the driver of the other vehicle testified and during the Appellant’s own testimony, when on cross-examination he effectively admitted all elements of the offence. “
His appeals were both dismissed.