Disgraced Burton Latimer police detective has court appeal turned down by UK's most senior judge

‘Both these offences display the appellant's attitude that the ordinary rules have no application to him’

Friday, 8th April 2022, 6:03 am
Michael Chang had his appeal turned down by the country's most senior judge. Image: Getty / Inset: Cambridgeshire Police
Michael Chang had his appeal turned down by the country's most senior judge. Image: Getty / Inset: Cambridgeshire Police

A detective who sprayed an innocent member of the public with PAVA spray at Kettering Tesco and was involved in 100mph smash on the A1 has had his appeal rejected by the head of the UK judiciary.

The Lord Ian Burnett Of Maldon, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, headed up a bench of three senior court of appeal judges hearing an application by police detective Michael Chang to overturn his conviction for possession of a prohibited weapon.

He also appealed on the grounds his 14-month suspended prison sentence – imposed for both the prohibited weapon offence and a dangerous driving offence by His Honour Judge Rupert Mayo at Northampton Crown Court in October last year – was manifestly excessive.

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Between the two offences in 2020, Michael Chang played Somewhere Over the Rainbow on his trumpet outside Huntingdon Police Station in tribute to NHS workers

For the crown, barrister Andy Peet argued that Chang had not been acting as a crown servant at the time of the offence and therefore was offered no protection by the law.

Chang, a former plain-clothes detective at Huntindgon Police Station, had admitted driving at speeds of up to 114mph before crashing his car on the A1.

At the original hearing, the 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, twice calling his supervising officer on his hands-free phone whilst driving.

Three seconds after a call connected, Chang attempted to leave the road but left it too late and lost control. He hit a barrier at 100mph and crossed the carriageway in front of another vehicle. The driver of the car he crossed in front of called 999 but while she was doing so, Chang took it over saying he was a police officer.

He then called his supervising officer, pretending simply to have pulled over to the side of the road to request the name of the lawyer he was due to meet at court, making no reference to the accident. His supervising officer discovered what had happened when the other driver reported it. Chang later admitted he shouldn’t have been using the lights and sirens, and that he "put his foot down".

Two weeks later, on April 15, 2020, during lockdown, Chang left Huntingdon Police Station at the end of his shift and on the way to his home at Slipton Road, Burton Latimer, he stopped at Tesco in Carina Road, Kettering. He put on some police uniform so he could go to the head of the queue as a Covid ‘keyworker’.

He then went to buy petrol but saw an argument between a staff member and a member of the public. Chang believed – wrongly – the man was attempting to leave without paying. Chang stood in front of the man’s car and tried to speak to him by pointing and shouting.

He then went to his own car and retrieved his belt to which the police-issue PAVA spray holster and baton were attached. The spray should have been left in an assigned PAVA locker when he left work.

Chang chased the man and sprayed him with PAVA, some of which blew into his female partner's face.

Northamptonshire police were called and an officer watched the chase.

Chang pleaded guilty to the driving offence part-way through his crown court trial but went to the appeal court in February to ask senior judges to reconsider his offensive weapon conviction and the sentence imposed jointly for both offences. The Lord Chief Justice heard the appeal because of its nature and seriousness.

For Chang, barrister John Lyons argued that his client was not in illegal possession of the PAVA spray because he was a crown servant, even though he was not acting as a crown servant at the time of the incident.

In a written judgement handed down yesterday (Thursday, April 7) Lord Burdett said: “It follows that if the submission were correct not only would, for example, all servicemen and Ministers of the Crown be at liberty always to carry arms.. but they could with impunity do the other things with weapons criminalised by the 1968 Act. The (trial) judge was unable to accept that submission and so are we.

"The appellant accepted that he was not given permission to take his PAVA spray from the police station and store it in his own private car; and he did not suggest that its presence there was in any way connected to his duties as a police officer.”

He said Cambridgeshire Constabulary policy was that all officers allocated PAVA would have their own locker within which they must store it when off duty.

He added: “In the circumstances there can be no doubt that the appellant was acting outside his official capacity in having a police-issued PAVA spray in the boot of his personal motor vehicle.. He was properly convicted on his guilty plea of the offence of possession of a prohibited weapon.”

At the original 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 argued this was excessive. But appeal court judges didn’t agree.

In his judgement, Lord Burnett described Chang’s driving as ‘appalling’, adding: “Both these offences display the appellant's attitude that the ordinary rules have no application to him.

"The dangerous driving was aggravated by what amounted to an abuse of power in seeking to take advantage of a necessary ability to drive at very high speed in an emergency to make up for a personal failing: being late.

“The plea of guilty came after the driver of the other vehicle had given her evidence and during the appellant's own evidence, when under cross-examination he effectively admitted all the ingredients of the offence. "

His appeals were both dismissed.