Treatment of disabled protester raises fears for other activists


Campaigners say the treatment of an activist who was dragged across a road by a Metropolitan police officer raises serious concerns about the safety of other disabled people taking part in mass protests.

They have demanded that the police answer urgent questions about the treatment of Jody McIntyre, who was allegedly hit with a baton and twice pulled from his wheelchair during the student tuition fees protests in London.

Anne Novis, who until this summer was co-chair of the Met’s disability independent advisory group, said: “I have tried to make repeated contact with the [Met] on this issue and had no appropriate response to the seriousness of disabled people’s concerns.

“Police policies are quite clear that wheelchair-users are not to be treated like this. If they have to be moved then it should be done in their wheelchair.”

She said there was an urgent need for answers from the Met and the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) – the body that monitors and scrutinises the force – with many disabled people likely to take part in future demonstrations around government spending cuts.

Disabled activists who took part in a protest this week over housing benefit cuts said images of McIntyre seemingly being dragged from his wheelchair and across a road by a police officer had made them consider their own safety.

Maz, a wheelchair-user who took part in the housing benefit protest, said: “It was the first thing that was in my mind when I got up this morning. I’m scared, but I’m willing to get thrown to the floor and hurt.

“We have as much right to voice our concerns about these cuts as anyone else.”

McIntyre was widely interviewed across the media after the two separate incidents. YouTube footage strongly backed his claims that he had been tipped out of his wheelchair and dragged across a road by a police officer.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said no complaint had yet been made about McIntyre’s treatment.

But an EHRC spokeswoman said police forces facing such complaints would “have to demonstrate that their tactics were fair and proportionate”.

She added: “On a case-by-case basis, you would have to ask very serious questions about whether it was appropriate or proportionate to pull a disabled man from his wheelchair.”

A Met police spokesman said: “As a result of the media coverage, the [force’s] directorate of professional standards is investigating the circumstances surrounding this matter.”

Following that decision, McIntyre lodged a complaint with the Met over both incidents, and also alleged that his treatment amounted to disability discrimination.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is supervising the Met investigation.

Deborah Glass, the IPCC commissioner for London, said: “There is no doubt that this footage is disturbing and it is right that it should be thoroughly investigated, both for Mr McIntyre and in the wider public interest.”

An MPA spokeswoman said: “The MPA is aware of the incident and has been advised by the [Met] that they are conducting an internal investigation.”

But she declined to comment when asked what measures the MPA would be taking to ensure the safety of other disabled protesters.

16 December 2010

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