By Iain Gould, Solicitor
In tonight’s edition of the Newsroom, the fictional HBO drama currently airing on Sky Atlantic, Neal Sampat is subjected to a police assault and wrongfully arrested at a New York protest rally.
His character, played by Englishman Dev Patel, is seen filming the protest and telling the police that he is a journalist, only to be assaulted by a police officer, arrested and held in a police cell. He is freed after an hour when anchorman Will McAvoy (a former lawyer) shows the custody sergeant Neal’s footage of the protest, including proof of the police assault and unlawful arrest.
Aside from being a good story, I am glad that the often- harsh treatment of protesters exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression is now being shown in popular media.
Police assault at a peaceful protest
As a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police I am frequently asked to represent clients who have been subject to a police assault, unlawful arrest and detention and, on occasion, malicious prosecution, simply because they exercised their right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression.
My former client Audrey White (name and details used with permission) received compensation following a police assault when she was protesting at a ‘Stop the War’ rally in Manchester. Mrs. White, who was 56 at the time, is an articulate, successful businesswoman, who was well-known to the police as an organiser and steward at these events.
To get publicity, for much of the day she wore a Gordon Brown facemask while carrying a banner-sized mock cheque which was payable to the ‘Oil Companies and Arms Industry for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq- the sum of 12 billion pounds, the blood of one million Iraqis and the deaths of 300 British soldiers’ and ‘signed’ by Gordon Brown (see photograph below).
The protest went off without incident, but near the end, a female police officer and colleague told Mrs. White to remove the mask. When Audrey asked why, they had no answer. Mrs. White refused, so the police officers forcibly removed the mask, dragging her to the ground.
Audrey White suffers from low bone density and was injured in the police assault. She was in pain, upset and humiliated by the police’s shocking and unjustified treatment.
Later, Audrey filed a police complaint about the assault, but as is often the case, the police rejected her complaint saying that their action was reasonable, necessary and proportionate.
Compensation claim after a police assault
Mrs. White instructed me to pursue a civil action against the police. Again, the police denied that they had done anything wrong, arguing that they had the power to remove disguises under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. This Section is meant to prevent people from hiding their identity to the police.
I obtained the police officer’s notebooks, which showed that they did not believe that the mask was being worn to conceal her identity, so that they had no right to remove it.
As such, the police assault was unlawful and breached Audrey’s legal right to freedom of expression.
Following negotiations, I recovered compensation for the police assault, a formal apology, and full legal costs for my satisfied client.
I am glad that The Newsroom highlighted the importance of the civil right to protest, and the police’s often overly- aggressive approach to dealing with protesters. Even though it is fiction set in New York, my client’s experience is remarkably similar, showing that civil liberties are under threat no matter where we are.
If you have been subject to a police assault, unlawful arrest and/or detention at a protest rally and want to claim compensation, contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website. Alternatively, read more about me, or more blog posts, by clicking on the links.