Two NHS nurses have won compensation from Greater Manchester police (GMP) after being fined over a socially distant protest about NHS pay during lockdown.
Karen Reissmann, a 61-year-old mental health nurse who worked throughout the pandemic, received a £10,000 fine for organising the protest on 7 March 2021 over the government’s proposed 1% pay rise for NHS workers.
About 40 people were expected to attend the demo in St Peter’s Square in central Manchester, which was to be socially distanced, with masks and hand sanitisers available.
After arriving at St Peter’s Square, Reissmann was warned by GMP officers that the protest was not permitted under Covid-19 regulations and could not go ahead. She told those who had turned up that the demo was cancelled, but was still cautioned and fined £10,000 as the organiser.
She sued GMP, along with Patricia Gallagher, 65, another NHS frontline nurse who was arrested at the protest. Gallagher was later de-arrested and fined £200 for contravening Covid-19 regulations.
Faced with having to pay the fines and report themselves to their professional body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the nurses instructed lawyers to challenge their fines.
Initially, GMP defended the £10,000 fine as “proportionate, legal, accountable and necessary in the circumstances”.
But GMP has now accepted that Gallagher’s arrest was unlawful and that the fines were unlawfully imposed, and they have agreed to withdraw them, said Bindmans, the nurses’ lawyers.
The police conceded that they had “misunderstood the effects” of the Covid-19 regulations, Bindmans said.
“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,” Bindmans said in a statement.
Reissmann said: “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?”
She added: “The NHS now has 110,000 unfilled vacancies. Over 100,000 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, the nurses’ solicitor, 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.”
A spokesperson for the GMP said: “GMP can confirm that a settlement has been reached after a 61-year-old woman was fined following a protest on 7 March 2021.”