Eight officers under investigation over force used against woman during Lewisham arrest

Images by Umer Khan captured during the arrest. Pic : BBC Newsnight.

Eight Metropolitan Police officers are being investigated for using force against a black woman during her arrest and custody at Lewisham police station earlier this year.

The investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct is also examining whether racial profiling or discrimination played a part in the incident in May this year.

Details were made public after a BBC Newsnight investigation, which was broadcast last night. The Met told ELL: “We became aware of footage of the arrest of a man and woman circling the public domain on May 30. The woman made a complaint on her arrest, which was referred to the IOPC.”

Six officers pinned the woman down and was seen to have been apparently repeatedly punched during the arrest on Lewisham High Street which was filmed on mobile phone footage shared widely on social media.

The Met said officers had pulled over the car – in which the woman was passenger – during stop and search prompted by erratic driving. The driver was convicted of drunk-driving on July 6.

Allegedly the woman resisted her arrest, resulting in charges of “obstructing a drug search,” the Met said. The charges were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service on September 10.

The BBC referred to the woman as Janet, as she wished to remain anonymous. Pic: Still from BBC Newsnight

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, the women, who is known as ‘Janet’ said: “I told the female officer who hit me: ‘He’s killing me,’ as another officer was pinning me down on my neck.”

At Lewisham police station, Janet claimed she was strip-searched with both female and male officers present – the latter being a breach of regulations. She told the BBC the whole experience was “dehumanising.”

Reasonable measures

Regulations state that officers can use force during an arrest, but the measures should be “reasonable.”

The Met’s South East BCU Commander Rob Atkin said: “In the small minority of cases where force is used, an officer must properly record this and account for why the level of force used was lawful, proportionate and necessary in the circumstances.”

Seven of the Met officers are part of the Territorial Support Group, one of whom is under investigation for gross misconduct relating the arrest. The eighth officer is a detention officer, also subject to a gross misconduct investigation relating the search of the woman. These two officers have been placed on restricted duties. The other six are subject to misconduct investigations relating to “failure to challenge the actions of an officer.”

Communities across London increasingly expressed their concern over use of force and disproportionality across London to the IOPC in June. BBC Newsnight reported that use of force by police officers increased over the first lockdown period. The Met say there has been a rise of 26 percent from use of force incidents in April and May compared to the same period the previous year.

British athlete Bianca Williams spoke up in July after she and her partner were stopped and handcuffed by Met officers, in presence of their three-month-old son. The situation made her feel like “being Black was a crime” and also led to an IOPC investigation into the officers actions. Use of force by police officers against Black people has been under more scrutiny than ever since George Floyd was killed by police officers on May 25, sparking world-wide protests.

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