Costello v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police [1998] EWCA Civ 1898

Whether a police officer has a common law duty to go to the aid of another officer in danger


The claimant was taking a prisoner to a cell and was, at the time accompanied by a police inspector. When the prisoner attacked the claimant, the accompanying officer did nothing to assist her. The result was that the claimant was injured. The claimant brought proceedings against the accompanying officer’s Chief Constable on the basis that the officer had a duty of care to assist. The claim was successful at first instance and the Chief Constable appealed to the Court of Appeal.


The issue in this context was whether a police officer was placed under a duty of care to go to the aid of a fellow officer.


It was held that in exceptional circumstances a police officer could be found to have assumed a duty of care to a member of the public and therefore, certain circumstances would give rise to this duty being assumed in respect of a fellow police officer. In this case, the officer had acknowledged that he had a police duty to assist his colleague and had failed in that duty. However, it was considered that this matter should not be limited to internal police investigation and that the police duty should extend to a common law duty of care, which was necessarily breached on the facts. Furthermore, from a public policy point of view, it was considered that public would be shocked if made aware that there was no duty of care in these circumstances. The appeal was dismissed.