Police pay damages to group who were fined for court protest

Police apologise and pay damages to group who were fined for court protest in support of four people charged over toppling of Edward Colston statue

  • Rowland Dye, Paula Richardson, Rosalind Martin and Taus Larsen, were arrested
  • They had gathered outside Bristol Magistrates Court to support ‘Colston Four’
  • Avon and Somerset Police admitted they should not have been arrested or fined 
  • The group has instead now received compensation payouts for damages

Police have apologised and paid ‘substantial damages’ to the group who were fined for a court protest in support of four people charged over toppling of Edward Colston statue.   

Retired teacher Rowland Dye, 68, gardener Paula Richardson, 61, artist Rosalind Martin, 60, and architect Taus Larsen, 43, all turned up outside Bristol Magistrates Court in January despite England being under ‘stay-at-home’ coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

They had gathered ahead of the first court appearance of four people charged with the criminal damage to the statue of slave trader Edward Colston back in June last year. 

The protestors had all been spoken to separately by police officers and had been asked to leave – which they agreed to do.

But moments later, each was arrested and taken to Patchway Police Station, where they were all – apart from Paula – held for several hours before being issued with fines.

In an out-of-court settlement, Avon and Somerset Police’s Chief Constable Andy Marsh has admitted that they should not have been arrested or fined and should have been given the chance to leave the area after being warned. 

He has also issued an apology.

The fines have now been cancelled and the group has instead received compensation payouts for damages. 

Retired teacher Rowland Dye, 68, gardener Paula Richardson, 61, artist Rosalind Martin, 60, and architect Taus Larsen, 43, all turned up outside Bristol Magistrates Court in January (pictured)

There had been a heavy police presence around the court in Upper Maudlin Street ahead of the appearance of the ‘Colston Four’ who had been charged over toppling of Edward Colston statue.

Avon and Somerset Police had warned people that they risked arrest and a £10,000 fine if they gathered at the court to protest or show support because such a protest was illegal.  

Bristol Live reported at the time that two 60-year-old women had been arrested for chalking a message of support on the pavement, and another man had been arrested for riding up and down the area with a sound system on a bicycle playing music. 

The protesters were all wearing masks and had arrived separately to show their support for the ‘Colston Four’. 

Speaking after the incident, Rosalind Martin told Bristol Live that she had initially been arrested for criminal damage – she had written a single message on the pavement in chalk – before being de-arrested for that offence at the police station, and charged and fined for a Covid regulation breach. 

She also told how she had not been given the opportunity to move away after police first warned her – and she was arrested straight away. 

They had gathered ahead of the first court appearance of four people charged with the criminal damage to the statue of slave trader Edward Colston back in June last year

The protestors had all been spoken to separately by police officers (Taus Larsen pictured) and had been asked to leave – which they agreed to do

All four refused to pay their fines and threatened legal action against the police. 

In response to a letter from Bristol law firm Irwin Mitchell, the police admitted to unlawfully arresting Taus and Rowland, and apologised for breaching their human rights. 

A similar letter by lawyers acting for Paula and Rosalind lead to the force admitting its officer had treated them unlawfully, and police have now agreed to cancel all the fixed penalty notices and pay them substantial damages. 

Chief Constable Andy Marsh has admitted that was wrong, and there was an ‘honest’ misinterpretation of the ‘Tier 4 Covid lockdown’ laws. 

It is believed this is the first time a police force has admitted it misapplied coronavirus powers to ban protests. 

‘I was in two minds as to whether to attend on that day due to Covid, but I really wanted to show my support for the Colston Four,’ said Taus. 

‘I decided to go alone, masked and socially distanced, but playing music from my bicycle – this seemed like a sensible compromise,’ he explained. 

‘The officers who rushed over after I’d already agreed to leave seemed like they’d made their minds up and were intent on taking me away to a cell – which seemed crazy given we were in the middle of a pandemic. 

But moments later, each was arrested and taken to Patchway Police Station, where they were all – apart from Paula – held for several hours before being issued with fines

‘The whole thing was ridiculous. I wasn’t posing any risk to the public, but the police put me in a position which increased the risk to me and to the officers dealing with me. 

‘They could have just warned me and let for me cycle away, or issued me with a fine on the spot, rather than forcing me to spend hours in a cell for no good reason. 

‘The police’s public statement the day after my arrest was a complete misrepresentation of what actually happened. 

‘They made it sound like I was posing a public health risk and had refused to leave. 

‘The worst thing is how this relates to the proposed Policing Bill – if it had been in force that day then I would have risked being fined £2,500, or even sentenced up to 10 years in prison, for causing “serious annoyance”.’ 

He added: ‘Allowing the police to arrest people they think are causing a “serious annoyance” in any given circumstance, would be a significant deterrent to peaceful protest and would hugely undermine our human rights of freedom of expression and assembly.’ 

Taus said he wanted to show support for the four people currently facing trial for toppling the statue of Edward Colston. 

‘Like a lot of Bristolians I think that statue should have come down a long time ago and I wanted the Colston Four to see there were people supporting them when they arrived at court,’ he said. 

There had been a heavy police presence around the court in Upper Maudlin Street ahead of the appearance of the ‘Colston Four’ who had been charged over toppling of Edward Colston statue

‘Because I was being so careful about coronavirus it was really alarming to be put in the back of a police van and then in a small holding room with an officer. 

‘It felt like a total overreaction, not to mention potentially dangerous, not only to my health but for the officers as well. It just seemed like a total failure of common sense.

‘To read the police’s press release the next day that there had been “an unlawful protest” and that protestors had been “detained by officers after refusing to disperse” felt like an added kick in the teeth. 

‘I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong and here the police were bragging about arresting peaceful protestors. It was shocking.’ 

Rosalind Martin, a founding member of the campaign group Countering Colston, later told Bristol Live that the police’s statement to the press about her arrest had been wrong. 

Avon and Somerset Police said officers had given the protesters a warning to disperse and they had refused – which was not what had happened. 

‘In the week that justice has been served for George Floyd, it is vital that the right to peaceful protest in support of the Colston Four has prevailed,’ she said. 

‘It is fundamental to our democracy. The locking up of peaceful protestors should never happen.’ 

Paula Richardson added: ‘Peaceful protest must never be silenced by the Government or the police at any time. It is an essential part of what it means to be a caring, conscious citizen.’ 

Civil liberties lawyer Gus Silverman from Irwin Mitchell, who represented Taus and Rowland, said the police should remember their role is to facilitate peaceful protest. 

‘This case is a reminder that the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly can’t be taken away by a minister signing off regulations or a police force issuing unlawful restrictions. 

‘The police must remember that their role is to facilitate the right to peaceful protest unless it is strictly necessary to do otherwise. Human rights aren’t there just to be respected when it’s convenient but should be at the heart of police decision making regardless of the circumstances. 

‘Otherwise officers risk treating the public unlawfully and even risk placing them in danger, as was the case here. We believe that this is the first time a police force has admitted to using coronavirus legislation to unlawfully arrest protestors. 

‘It is to be hoped that police forces across the country will take notice of this case, and will reflect carefully on whether they have misused coronavirus powers to unlawfully restrict the right to protest. We must be wary of trading away our hard won liberties, even in challenging times,’ he added.   

The apology provided by the police to the group reads: ‘The Defendant apologises to [the Claimants] for their arrest on 25th January 2021, and that their opportunities to continue to exercise their Article 10 and 11 rights to protest peacefully on that occasion were curtailed. 

‘At all times officers were acting in good faith, based on their understanding of the restrictions imposed by the Regulations at that time and were, at all times, motivated by a desire to protect the health of the public at the height of the pandemic. 

‘However, we fully accept that the arrest was based on a misunderstanding of the legal effect of the Regulations in place at the time, and that as a result they were unlawfully arrested,’ it added. 

Avon and Somerset police said they had wrongly misinterpreted the regulations. 

‘On 25 January this year a small protest took place outside Bristol Magistrates’ Court. Four people were subsequently arrested and issued with fixed penalty notices (FPNs),’ a spokesperson for the police said. 

‘At the time, officers had an honest belief the individuals were committing an offence under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 (‘the Regulations’). 

‘However, we now accept we misinterpreted the regulations and that the arrests and the issuing of FPNs were unlawful. 

‘We have apologised to them and explained officers’ actions were motivated purely by a desire to protect the health of the public at the height of the pandemic.’

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