Police have admitted they were wrong to fine Manchester nurse Karen Reissmann for organising a protest against low pay during a Covid lockdown. Karen thinks that with Tory lockdown parties on the front pages, Greater Manchester Police were reluctant to let the case go before a court.
Karen never paid the fine, which has now been cancelled. Karen organised a small, socially distanced rally in the city centre in March 2021. However, as she closed the event cops approached her to say they would be fining her £10,000 for breaching lockdown rules.
At the time, officers said that the union-backed gathering was illegal under Covid-19 legislation. That was despite organisers ensuring everyone who came was wearing a mask and standing in marked positions well away from others.
Greater Manchester Police agreed two days ago that the fine was unlawful and will pay a four-figure sum to Karen in compensation. They have also admitted that they were wrong to penalise fellow nurse Pat Gallagher. She was arrested on the protest and subsequently fined £200.
Karen told Socialist Worker that she was happy at the police decision but still angry that they tried to stop people protesting.
“It was outrageous that we were fined in the first place,” she said. “But to know that my fine, which was for fighting in defence of the NHS, was 200 times the amount that Boris Johnson was fined for attending parties is absolutely shocking.”
Karen says that the police tried to use publicity surrounding her case to put others off from protesting. “The price of that decision is that things in the health service have got worse. We went into the pandemic with 100,000 unfilled vacancies.
“During the height of Covid, the government first offered us just a 1 percent pay rise. Now look at the situation—we’ve got 110,000 unfilled vacancies, and millions of people on waiting lists for care.”
The period after the protest were traumatic for Karen as she faced the possibility of being struck-off the nurses’ register.
“For eight months my livelihood was under threat as the Nursing and Midwifery Council investigated me,” she said.
“What stopped me being demolished by the situation was the support that I received from ordinary people across Britain – mostly people I’d never met before. They wanted people to stand up for the health service. The £10,000 fine, and extra for legal costs, was raised within hours of my arrest.”
Karen says that the money raised, together with the compensation, will go to a campaign being run by the Hazards Centre in Manchester which encourages people to fight for their right to work without the stresses that make so many workers mentally distressed and unwell.
And, she says, the best way to defend the right to protest is to go on a protest. “Look at what is happening to working class people during the cost of living crisis,” she said. “If we don’t protest things are just going to keep getting worse.
Law firm Bindmans, which represented Karen and Pat, insist that Covid 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,” its statement says.
“Greater Manchester Police got it wrong in imposing criminal sanctions on Ms Reissmann and Ms Gallagher. The gathering that Ms Reissman organised was not frivolous—it was an important public statement about how NHS workers were being treated. It was a privilege to work with these NHS stalwarts as they stood up for the NHS and the right to protest.”
Socialist Worker has approached Greater Manchester Police for comment.
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