Woman arrested for not wearing a face mask sues police force

IT consultant, 55, sues police who arrested and ‘STRIP-SEARCHED’ her when she refused to wear a mask in Waitrose because she was exempt

  • Juliet Johnson, 55, claims she was ‘wrongfully arrested’ in Chichester, Sussex 
  • She had visited Waitrose in February this year and refused to wear a face mask
  • After she was arrested while shopping in the supermarket, Mrs Johnson says she was taken back to the station where she was questioned and strip-searched
  • She has sued Sussex Police for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and assault

An IT consultant is suing police for being ‘wrongfully’ arrested in Waitrose and claims she was strip-searched by police for refusing to wear a facemask while shopping despite being exempt. 

Juliet Johnson says she was quizzed by store security and a manager at the store in Chichester, West Sussex, about not wearing a mask, which was compulsory at the time.

Although she said she had ‘proved’ she did not need to wear one as she suffers from an autoimmune disease which affects her breathing, police were called to the store.

Ms Johnson says that while browsing groceries she was then confronted by two officers and subsequently arrested, taken to a nearby police station, quizzed and strip-searched.

After being detained for two hours, the 55-year-old was released the same day with no charges.

The consultant maintains that during the entire episode she was neither abusive nor rude to anyone in the store but has since been banned from Waitrose and John Lewis – a ban which even includes ordering online.

She is now suing police for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and disability discrimination.

Sussex Police said a civil claim has been made which the force ‘strongly disputed’, with a spokesman adding ‘liability has been denied.’ 

IT consultant Juliet Johnson, 55, says she was quizzed by store security and a manager about not wearing a face mask in Waitrose in Chichester, West Sussex – before later being arrested

On February 25 this year, Ms Johnson said she was ‘peacefully’ and ‘quietly’ pushing her trolley selecting items from the shop in Chichester, West Sussex.

She had ‘proved’ her exemption to the security guard of the store on a previous visit by showing three forms of proof including her NHS exemption card.

But she says she was then confronted by the supermarket’s manager who had been alerted by the guard and was asked why she was not wearing a face mask.

At the time, wearing a face covering in shops and supermarkets was a legal requirement, mandated by the government, unless exempt for health reasons.

After explaining she did not need to wear a mask, Ms Johnson said the manager left her to carry on shopping but as she was picking up a can of baked beans she was confronted by police officers.

Ms Johnson said: ‘I had already proved I did not need to wear a facemask. I, like many others, suffer from a chronic health condition, invisible on the outside but at times debilitating.

‘The manager called police without my knowledge. I told the police officer of my human rights and that I had already proved I was exempt.

‘I was perfectly civil and was just talking sensibly. I was accused of being abusive. I was not abusive – I was just having a conversation.

‘I did not want to be arrested. But when they arrested me, I think I laughed because I was in shock – I have shopped there for years.

‘They handcuffed me and put me in the back of a police car. That was really painful because I had my hands cuffed behind my back.

‘I was really upset because I am not an ASBO case, I am not abusive, I am a good, law-abiding citizen.’

Ms Johnson said her possessions were taken when she was arrested and she was questioned in custody about her mental health at Chichester police station.

She is now suing Sussex Police for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and disability discrimination. Above: Juliet Johnson outside Waitrose, Chichester with a face mask

She added: ‘The sergeant was quite aggressive towards me. I did not want to challenge her much because at that stage I was quite scared.

‘I was incarcerated in a cell. I was forced to strip naked and told if I didn’t strip myself, the female officers would do it.

‘The sergeant’s risk assessment that I needed to be put in safety anti-rip police-issue shirt and shorts had me worried she was going to have me sectioned as she had questioned my mental health.

‘I told the police my own risk assessment of myself was that I was not a risk to myself or anyone else.’

Ms Johnson says she was held in a cell for two hours before she was released by a different sergeant with no charges against her.

She is now taking legal action against Sussex Police.

In a letter she received from police in response to her witness statement, Mrs Johnson said they made no mention of having strip-searched her.

She said: ‘The one thing that I was upset about was they made me strip naked. This was the main thing in my witness statement and they completely ignored it.’

Ms Johnson is now raising funds to take Sussex Police to court and has so far raised £2,600.

On her crowd justice funding page she wrote: ‘Bad practices in the police must be addressed and rooted out.

‘We need to see this end now. We need your support to see that justice is done, please contribute and share this page.

‘Don’t let the police get away with human rights abuse and illegal practices. It is time for action.’

A ‘protocol letter before action’ has been sent to Sussex Police and Waitrose and the police have replied to say they need more time.

A Waitrose spokesperson said: ‘This is an ongoing civil claim with Sussex Police to which we are not a party to, and therefore we are unable to comment on the matter.’

A Sussex Police spokesperson said: ‘A woman was arrested in Waitrose, Chichester, for a public order offence on February 25, 2021, and released without charge later the same day.

‘A civil claim has been received in relation to this incident, including raising concerns about her treatment whilst in custody, however this is strongly disputed by Sussex Police and liability has been denied.

‘It would be inappropriate for us to comment further whilst the legal matter is ongoing.’

End of the face mask in fight against Covid? Around 4.3MILLION people stopped wearing coverings this summer, data shows 

By Luke Andrews for MailOnline 

Millions of Britons stopped wearing face masks in public this summer, Government data suggests.

An Office for National Statistics survey found 89 per cent of people wore coverings outside their home in the week ending September 5. For comparison, uptake stood in the region of 98 per cent at the start of May when the second wave was receding.

This equates to around 4.3million people having turned their backs on masks, figures suggest. 

Face masks help stop the spread of the coronavirus by catching miniscule droplets exhaled by infected people. But the science on how well they work has been patchy, although experts insist the benefits of wearing coverings are obvious. 

Boris Johnson scrapped rules which enforced mask-wearing indoors in England on ‘Freedom Day’ July 19, despite No10’s top scientists calling for people to keep using them. 

But unveiling his winter plan this week, the Prime Minister warned they could still be brought back if the virus again spirals out of control. 

The ONS coronavirus and social impacts survey highlighted the drop in face mask use across the country.

The survey, of around 3,400 adults, asked people if they had used a face covering when outside their home in the past seven days. 

England does not require them to be used at present but they are still required on Transport for London.

Scotland still has rules saying masks must be worn in shops, on public transport and in restaurants and pubs when seated.

In Wales, the coverings are still mandatory on public transport and in public areas indoors.

And in Northern Ireland they must still be worn in shops and hospitality venues.

Some 89 per cent of Britons said they wore face masks outside the home at the end of August. For comparison, in May it was 98 per cent

Throughout the pandemic there has been fierce scientific debate about how well they guard against transmission, despite nearly every country in the world mandating or encouraging their use.

Lab tests and observational studies have shown masks can block infected people from exhaling up to 80 per cent of the virus into the air and also protect wearers from inhaling up to 50 per cent of the particles.

But real-world studies, which involve more scientific rigour, have produced mixed results. 

Experts previously told MailOnline that vaccines were doing such a good job there was little reason to wear face masks.

But they said the coverings could still be beneficial in hospitals, care homes and crowded places with poor ventilation such as the tube.

They said high grade FFP3 masks would be the best option, over homemade cloth masks.

It comes as Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday said that Mr Johnson and his cabinet did not need to wear masks in close spaces because they were not ‘strangers’.

Asked about a photo of a cabinet meeting where no one was wearing face masks, Mr Javid insisted to Sky News yesterday: ‘That is perfectly consistent with what the PM said yesterday and what I said yesterday.

‘Because what we said is that people should consider wearing masks in crowded places when they are with strangers, when they are with people they are not normally spending time with.’

Government guidance reads: ‘We expect and recommend that members of the public continue to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet.’

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