Serious questions remain over how the police treat disabled protesters, after an independent watchdog ruled that an officer used “excessive” force in dragging an activist across a road and away from his wheelchair.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) partially upheld an appeal lodged by disabled activist Jody McIntyre over the treatment he received in two separate incidents in Westminster during last December’s student tuition fees demonstrations.
McIntyre had appealed after an internal Metropolitan police investigation concluded that the actions of its officers were “justifiable in the circumstances”.
The IPCC said it could not prove whether a Metropolitan police officer tipped McIntyre from his wheelchair, after failing to move him while he was sitting in it, but that it was clear that he had used “excessive force” when he then dragged him across the road.
The IPCC concluded that although the officer could justify attempting to move McIntyre to a “safer location”, he did not need to drag him across the road.
The IPCC added: “The evidence indicated that the officer had the option of returning Mr McIntyre to his wheelchair, because Mr McIntyre’s brother moved it towards the officer for this purpose.”
The incident was filmed on a mobile phone and has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people on the internet.
Although the IPCC said the officer’s conduct should have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider a criminal charge of common assault, the six-month time limit for such action had expired by the time McIntyre lodged his appeal.
The results of the Met’s internal investigation into the two incidents had been announced just days before the six months expired.
McIntyre told Disability News Service that the IPCC seemed to believe that “pushing a disabled man out of his wheelchair is acceptable”.
He said: “For disabled groups, that would be the most shocking element of the story, that the police now have the power to push you out of your wheelchair onto the floor.”
He said the IPCC had delivered a “partial confirmation of what I already knew – that the police seriously mistreated me on the demo”.
But he questioned why the Met had been allowed to drag out its internal investigation to ensure its officer could not be prosecuted.
He said: “When young people riot in the streets, the courts are open 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week in order to prosecute them, but the police couldn’t meet a time limit of six months to prosecute their own officer.”
The IPCC concluded that the officer’s conduct had “fallen below the standards of professional behaviour and should be subject to management action”.
It also concluded that the force owed McIntyre an “apology” for an earlier incident in which another officer had struck him with a baton.
But McIntyre said an apology would be “completely inadequate”, and added: “If I assaulted someone, I am sure they would be expecting more than an apology.”
He is now considering civil legal action against the Met and individual officers.
The Met has so far failed to comment on whether it needs a policy on how to treat wheelchair-users in “public order” situations.
Earlier this year, the force admitted it had no such policy in place, with disabled people instead “dealt with on a case by case basis”.
26 August 2011