I’m a Lawyer and I’m (Sort Of) Glad That I Was Assaulted

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Andrew Gray — Solicitor

Thirteen years ago, I was assaulted on my first day at work as a trainee lawyer.

Given what happened to me, I never would have dreamt that one day I would write an article about why it was a good thing.

Not least because, 13 years ago, because of the attack, I developed a mental health problem.

Most of my friends and family know the story of how I was attacked on my first day as a trainee solicitor. However, what most of my friends and my family won’t know is the psychological impact that the assault had on me.

I am still a lawyer — a fully-qualified solicitor for the last eleven years. I now run my own law firm, which has been going from strength to strength in its 6-year history. It’s only in the last year that I have ‘confessed‘ to my wife (and not parents until this essay) that I needed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to overcome a mental health problem.

Why has this been so difficult, and yet still such a positive experience?

Perhaps I’d first better tell my story — of how a trainee solicitor was assaulted by an off-duty police officer.

***

Monday 15th August 2005 was my first day at work as a trainee solicitor. It had gone well. That evening, I drove to Manchester Piccadilly Station to collect my girlfriend (now my wife). I parked opposite the station, near to the taxi rank. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, so it’s fair to say I didn’t look much like a lawyer.

I jogged across the road, eager to collect my girlfriend in good time, and headed towards the station entrance. As I did so, a car pulled up, and a large man got out. Instead of walking towards the entrance, he walked straight towards me. I got the sense that he meant trouble.

As our paths crossed, he slammed me to the floor and put his fist in my face. It was like a scene from a movie. “You’re under arrest,” he said.

Stunned, heart pounding and mind reeling, I spluttered: “What for? Where’s your ID? Where’s your ID?” Ever the lawyer, as you would expect.

He didn’t reply.

“I’m going to put you in a van,” he said. Menacingly, he kept looking up and down the street.

I came to the only sensible conclusion: I was being kidnapped. I offered him my wallet, my phone, my car keys, but he wasn’t interested. I was definitely being kidnapped.

Fighting isn’t my thing, but I had no choice. I had to escape.

I still don’t know how I did it, but — somehow — I managed to wrestle my attacker off me. In the process, I lost my shoes, wallet, phone, keys and chain. Barefoot, I ran as fast as I could, screaming, “Help! Call the police!” Unfortunately, the streets of Manchester at 11pm on a Monday night are pretty empty.

I took a left, under a long bridge, running as fast as I could. Then I hid in a nook, where the bridge melded into another bridge. When the coast looked clear, I started running again until I found two Royal Mail workers who were cleaning vans. Covered in blood, barefoot and out of breath, I asked that they call the police. They did.

Almost immediately, two police officers arrived in an unmarked car. I told them my story and they put me in the back of the car (once I had seen their ID!). They agreed with me — they thought that it was a potential kidnapping. They radioed headquarters to report it and we returned to the location of the incident to hunt for my attacker.

Then, scouring the streets, we came across a marked police car. We could see that two police officers had arrested a 20-something bloke (a similar age and build as me). My girlfriend was standing nearby. The two police officers alighted to find out what had happened. When they returned they explained that there had been an armed robbery in the area and that the man who had assaulted me was in fact an off-duty British Transport Police officer, who had believed I was the armed robber. It was all a case of mistaken identity.

Turning midnight, my family came to the station to collect my girlfriend. To the senior officer on scene I demanded that my attacker (the police officer) return to the station to explain himself. When the errant officer returned (he had gone home, even though he knew that I was barefoot, bloodied and without my belongings), in front of his commanding officer, he explained why he did what he did. When I asked him why he didn’t show me his ID — hence why I fled! — he had the temerity to deny that I had asked him for it! Why else did I offer him my belongings, I argued? Not the actions of your typical armed robber. I’m still miffed about that. Really miffed.

After only a few hours sleep, bloodied and confused I went to work the next day. I still don’t think anyone believed what had happened. Who had they hired, I know they wondered.

***

You might think that a lawyer subjected to that kind of treatment is only going to react in one way: by suing. But I didn’t. Fortunately, my physical injuries cleared up after a few weeks.

Of course, I didn’t do nothing: I complained, over the telephone, to a super senior British Transport Police Officer. He was aware of the incident. I received an unreserved apology. I decided not to take it further because, frankly, the officer who attacked me thought that I was armed. That took bravery, no matter how mistaken he was. I admire the police; they have a difficult and dangerous job. I know I couldn’t do it.

Over the comings months I came to realise that, mentally, I wasn’t right.

For the next two years, I lived in the city centre, just five minutes’ walk from Piccadilly Station. Gradually, I began to feel awfully claustrophobic. Inside my flat or at work, I was fine. Outside, however, on the streets, I was anxious. I felt suffocated. Scared — of nothing in particular — all the time.

At the time, I didn’t know what the feeling was, and that confusion in itself was frightening. I hated it. I didn’t want to go outside.

I have one particular memory which still haunts me. I remember standing by the side of the road in the city, with cars flying past, wondering what would happen if I stepped out into the path of a bus. It felt like a part of my mind wasn’t my own. It wasn’t as if I wanted to commit suicide — that wasn’t what I was thinking.

These thoughts led me to develop a habit. When I was about to cross a road, I didn’t stand on the end of the pavement like ‘normal people’; I stood much further back, just in case I felt the urge to…… I don’t know what.

It all came to a head one weekend when I was alone in my flat. I worked myself into a frenzy. I cried uncontrollably. I don’t normally cry. I hadn’t cried like that before and I haven’t cried like that since. That’s when I realised I had to do something.

***

But despite my resolution, I felt ashamed. I was a lawyer: my mind was my tool. I couldn’t allow it to be broken.

Secretly, I went to my GP. With my referral letter, I arranged a private referral to a Consultant Psychologist. I didn’t tell anyone about it.

I loved my girlfriend, but I couldn’t tell her. I was close to my family, but I couldn’t tell them. I had lots of friends, but I couldn’t let them know. I suffered on my own.

As you would expect, I was itching to recover, to get back to ‘normal’, to avoid anyone finding out. The Consultant appointment couldn’t come fast enough.

The appointment cost was high, so high, but, as I didn’t want the transaction to appear on my bank statement, I withdrew loads of cash to pay the ‘shrink’.

I don’t remember much of what happened in the appointment with the brilliant, caring Consultant Psychologist, but I do recall being diagnosed with anxiety (it might have been a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I didn’t have enough sessions to find out). I distinctly remember the Consultant saying to me that, even if he opened his second-floor window as wide as he could, he knew I wouldn’t throw myself out of it. He was right. I never would. I guess that I was just seeing danger everywhere.

It’s impossible to describe just how comforting it was to be told by a top medical expert that I wouldn’t throw myself out of a window, though writing that does seem quite ridiculous.

I think — because I cannot tell you for sure — that this was my first and only experience of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I felt rewired. Or, mostly rewired.

Most people with a psychological condition have many sessions of CBT and I probably should have had many more, but I couldn’t afford any more, nor did I want to wait on the NHS. I really didn’t want to come up with excuses as to where I was going.

***

So why am I glad about all this?

As I mentioned at the start, it has taken me many years to see the positive side of this experience. But it is there.

I completed my legal training in Manchester and, although my law firm wanted me to stay after I qualified as a solicitor, I was desperate to leave the city. With hindsight, it’s crystal clear to me that I chose to move to the wonderful Northern spa town of Harrogate (with its very low crime rate) because of the attack. I love Manchester, I’m a Mancunian — born and raised, but I knew I had to leave.

Fast-forward several years, by coincidence or not, I worked for a national law firm, specialising in assault at work compensation claims. Although the attack on me wasn’t in a work environment, I felt a strong empathy with my clients who had been attacked whilst performing their work duties — this empathy gave me an edge. I was good at representing them; my assault became my advantage. I shared my experience with my clients: I had been there and bought the (bloodied) T-shirt.

I represented nurses attacked by patients. Security guards caught up in armed robberies. Care home workers attacked by residents. Teaching assistants attacked by pupils. Social workers attacked by parents. All sorts of unlucky people. I felt — and still feel — for them all. And like me, in the majority of cases, the main injury caused by an assault at work was psychological, not physical.

Thanks to my expertise in assault claims, I had the confidence, as a junior lawyer, to set up my own law firm, Truth Legal, specialising in assault claims.

As I have learned, it takes bravery and support to overcome mental health issues; to acknowledge they are there, to dispel any feelings of shame, and to fight a fight against a constant and unseen enemy.

My clients were braver than me, because they had the strength to tell me — their solicitor — about their mental health issues caused by an attack and to bring a compensation claim which often required talking about the attack and the injuries over and over again with strangers.

Contrary to popular belief, my clients didn’t bring compensation claims for the cash — although this was a by-product — they brought claims so that no other person had to suffer as they did; that systems are put into place to prevent further violence at work. I salute all of you.

That police officer was the midwife of my law firm. Unbeknown to him, thanks to his assault on me, he has helped my firm to help victims of assaults.

Written by

I am a solicitor in North Yorkshire, UK. I founded Truth Legal in 2012, an honest and ethical law firm, and I am President of Harrogate & District Law Society.

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