Greater Manchester Police have agreed to settle Karen Reissmann and Patricia Gallagher’s claims for compensation after legal proceedings were brought against the force.
Ms Reissmann, a 61-year-old frontline nurse who worked throughout the pandemic, organised a protest on 7 March 2021 to protest against the government’s proposed 1% pay rise for NHS workers. Ms Reissmann had organised a small protest outside in St Peter’s Square in Manchester. This was to be a socially distanced protest, with masks and hand sanitisers available. Around 40 people were expected to attend.
Ms Reissmann was informed by Greater Manchester police officers that the protest was not permitted under the Covid-19 regulations and could not go ahead. She was then fined £10,000 for organising the protest and was cautioned by a police officer.
Ms Gallagher, also an NHS frontline nurse who was 65 years old at the time, was arrested by the police. She was later de-arrested and fined £200 for contravening the Covid-19 regulations.
Faced with having to pay these fines and report themselves to their professional body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, Ms Reissmann and Ms Gallagher instructed Bindmans LLP to challenge their fines. As a result of these legal proceedings, Greater Manchester Police accepted that Ms Gallagher’s arrest had been unlawful and that the fines were unlawfully imposed, and they have agreed to withdraw them.
The police conceded that they had ‘misunderstood the effects’ of the Covid-19 regulations. The force however refused to apologise to Ms Reissmann for the distress caused to her by the £10,000 fine, or for the professional embarrassment the criminal sanction caused her. The police have also refused to make a fulsome apology to Ms Gallagher for her arrest and the impact that this had on her.
Ms Reissmann commented:
In March 2021 the NHS had 100,000 unfilled vacancies. When the government offered a 1% pay rise to traumatised and exhausted health workers after a year of battling the pandemic, we knew this situation would only get worse. We needed to protest to protect the NHS. I received a fine 200 times the amount of the fine Boris Johnson has received. Why, when the protest I organised was lawful and intended to improve the world, not party in a flagrant abuse of the rules? The NHS now has 110,000 unfilled vacancies. Over a hundred thousand people died in the UK from Covid-19. Millions are on NHS waiting lists. The Prime Minister should be resigning over this, as well as his parties.
Emily-Jade Defriend, solicitor at Bindmans LLP who represented Ms Reissmann and Ms Gallagher, said:
The Covid-19 regulations did not introduce a blanket ban on protest; protest is an important right in a functioning democracy and constituted a ‘reasonable excuse’ for gatherings. Greater Manchester Police got it wrong in imposing criminal sanctions on Ms Reissmann and Ms Gallagher. The gathering that Ms Reissmann organised was not frivolous, it was an important public statement about how NHS workers were being treated beyond the weekly clap. It was a privilege to work with these NHS stalwarts as they stood up for the NHS and the right to protest.