Disabled campaigners have raised serious questions over the Metropolitan police’s decision to clear the officers who dragged an activist from his wheelchair during last December’s student tuition fees protests in central London.
Jody McIntyre had lodged a series of complaints with the force over two incidents, one in which he said he was struck with a baton and pulled from his wheelchair, and another in which he was tipped from his wheelchair and dragged across a road onto a pavement.
The second incident caused particular outrage among disabled people as it was filmed on a mobile phone and viewed by hundreds of thousands of people on the internet.
This week, the Met admitted to Disability News Service that it has no policy in place for how to deal with wheelchair-users in “public order” situations, with disabled people instead “dealt with on a case by case basis”.
It also admitted that it asked only one of the five members of its Disability Independent Advisory Group (DIAG) for advice during its internal investigation into the allegations.
Another member, Anne Novis, a leading disabled activist, wrote to the Met after viewing the footage last December and told them the actions of their officers were “potentially dangerous” and “totally unacceptable”. But Novis was not asked officially for her advice as part of the investigation.
She said McIntyre should appeal against the Met’s decision to clear its officers of any blame, but also called on the force to introduce new procedures for how its officers treat wheelchair-users in similar situations.
She said: “In other demos they always removed us in our chairs, so why that has suddenly changed I don’t know.
“I have sent several emails to the MPA [the Metropolitan Police Authority] and the MPS [the police force] and made it quite clear that it is inappropriate to separate somebody from their wheelchair unless it is a life or death situation.”
She also questioned how the force could argue that McIntyre was removed for his own safety when he was simply left by the side of the road without his wheelchair.
McIntyre has reacted angrily to the Met’s decision to clear its own officers after the internal investigation, and said he will now probably appeal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, although he had “very little expectation of getting any kind of justice”.
He said it was a “disgusting” decision while its conclusions were “almost laughable”, and he added: “There is a video that hundreds of thousands of people have viewed online of me being dragged out of my wheelchair and the police say there is no evidence – they have made themselves a laughing stock.”
But McIntyre did not call for new police policies on dealing with wheelchair-users in public order situations.
He said: “Someone in a wheelchair in a demo should be able to make their own decisions about how they conduct their lives without being dealt with in any way by any police officer unless they are under arrest.
“They don’t have the right to do anything to me. If you don’t want a safety issue, don’t attack unarmed demonstrators.
“I don’t think they should move me out of the way so they could charge into children on horses.”
In a statement, the force claimed that while there was evidence that McIntyre had been “inadvertently struck with a police baton”, the actions of officers were justifiable and lawful “given the volatile and dangerous situation”, while his removal from his wheelchair was “also justifiable” because he was at the front of the protest and they feared he “may be injured”.
They also claimed the second incident was justified because the officer who dragged him across the street was concerned that he might have been injured by approaching police horses.
A police spokeswoman added: “On reviewing all the evidence available it was found that the actions of the officers were justifiable in the circumstances.”
She said it was “normal practice” to consult only one member of the DIAG, but admitted that the disabled member they consulted had “expressed concern” about moving someone from their wheelchair and had called for new guidance on “the most appropriate way to move a wheelchair-user should it become necessary”.
She added: “The learning from this investigation is currently being reviewed and will be used to develop procedures for interacting with wheelchair-users, in public order situations.”
2 June 2011