Two NHS nurses have been awarded compensation from the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) after being fined for a social distancing protest over NHS payment during lockdown.
Karen Reissmann, a 61-year-old mental health nurse who worked during the pandemic, was fined £10,000 for organizing the 7 March 2021 protest over the government’s proposed 1% pay increase for NHS workers.
About 40 people were expected to attend the demonstration in St Peter’s Square in central Manchester, which had to be kept socially distancing, wearing masks and hand sanitizers.
After arriving at St. Peter’s Square, Reissmann was warned by GMP officials that the protest was not allowed under Covid-19 regulations and could not go ahead. She told those who showed up that the demo had been canceled but was still given a warning and a £10,000 fine as the organizer.
She sued GMP along with Patricia Gallagher, 65, another NHS frontline nurse arrested during the protest. Gallagher was later arrested and fined £200 for violating Covid-19 regulations.
Faced with having to pay the fines and report 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, statutory, imputable 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.
Police admitted they “misunderstood the effects” of the Covid-19 regulation, Bindmans said.
“However, the police declined to apologize to Ms Reissmann for the distress caused to her by the £10,000 fine, or for the professional embarrassment the criminal sanction caused her. Police have also declined to apologize to Ms Gallagher for her arrest and the impact it had on her,” Bindmans said in a statement.
Reissmann said: “By March 2021, the NHS had 100,000 open vacancies. When the government offered a 1% pay increase to traumatized and exhausted health workers after a year of battling the pandemic, we knew this situation was only going to get worse. We had to protest to protect the NHS. I was fined 200 times the amount of the fine Boris Johnson received. Why, when the protest I staged was legal and intended to make the world a better place, didn’t participate in a flagrant violation of the rules?”
She added: “The NHS now has 110,000 unfilled vacancies. More than 100,000 people have died in the UK from Covid-19. Millions are on NHS waiting lists. The prime minister would have to resign for this, as would his parties.”
Emily-Jade Defriend, the nurses’ lawyer, said: “Covid-19 regulations did not introduce a blanket ban on protest; protest is an important right in a functioning democracy and was a ‘reasonable excuse’ for gatherings. Greater Manchester Police got it wrong in imposing criminal penalties on Ms Reissmann and Ms Gallagher. The meeting Ms Reissmann organized was not frivolous, it was an important public statement about how NHS workers were treated after the weekly blow.”
A GMP spokesperson said: “GMP can confirm a settlement has been reached after a 61-year-old woman was fined following a protest on March 7, 2021.”