A union barrister claims he was wrongfully arrested at a protest outside St George’s University in Tooting today and plans to take legal action against the Metropolitan police.
Franck Magennis of Garden Court Chambers, who is currently the head of the legal department for union United Voices of the World (UVW), was protesting with workers from the hospital who are striking over continued outsourcing of staff at the hospital.
University management called the police to break up what the union said was a lawful protest.
UVW said: “The incident which took place shortly after 9am saw 12 police officers arrive at the university after being called by management to dispel workers and trade union officials from a lawful picket.
“Police officers swiftly issued workers and union officials with a letter from the University claiming that the picket needed to take place outside of NHS property.
“Several police officers then warned all workers and union officials that they would be arrested if they failed to leave the property within five minutes.
“When barrister Franck Magennis inquired into the legal basis of the warning he was swiftly arrested and handcuffed and subsequently de-arrested and released less than five minutes later on the condition that he immediately leave the site.”
Franck Magennis said: “If my false imprisonment goes unchallenged that would allow the Metropolitan Police to criminalise what is lawful civil activity and would have a chilling effect on workers’ ability to stand up to bosses and exercise their civil liberties.
“Anyone concerned with a worker’s right to take industrial action and with a citizen’s right not to be arbitrarily arrested should be seriously concerned about the way the police have acted today.
“Workers should be allowed to go on strike without being threatened with arrest. This is an outrage.”
Mr Magennis legal representative, Susie Labinjoh, of Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors, said: “Clearly important constitutional issues are raised by Mr Magennis’ arrest. We will be looking at all legal avenues to ensure that the police are held to account that trade union members are not criminalised for going on strike and that people are not arbitrarily arrested.”
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said: “Police were called to St George’s Hospital in Blackshaw Road shortly after 8.30am on Monday, January 13 to reports of anti-social behaviour.
“Officers attended. A group of protesters were found who were refusing to leave NHS premises.
“One of the protesters was arrested for a public order offence but was then dearrested once the group of protesters had been moved off NHS premises.”
Security guards are striking as they are paid less than in-house staff and they only receive £18 per day in sick pay and nothing for the first four days, according to UVW.
In a statement released by St George’s University, they said: “The University fully acknowledges the right of striking workers to picket.
“The police were called on the morning of 13 January 2020. The Union had previously been advised that picketing was required to take place outside the boundaries of the site as the NHS Trust is the University’s landlord.
“When those striking contravened this request, establishing a picket line by the University’s main entrance, the University asked that it be moved outside the site to Cranmer Terrace. This request was refused. The NHS Trust made the same request. Following further refusals, the police were called.
“With regards to one of the areas of dispute, in 2016 St George’s reviewed the possibility of bringing all its outsourced facility services in-house.
“The Strategy, Planning and Resourcing Committee, the University’s most senior executive committee at the time, carefully considered a number of factors and concluded that St George’s did not have the capacity and capability to bring its security provision in-house.
“We are in active conversation with Bidvest Noonan, our security contractor, with the aim of bringing this dispute to conclusion as swiftly as possible.”