Mother strolled to get coffee – but fell foul of long arm of the law

I was cuffed by the Covid stasi… queueing for a coffee: This 51-year-old mother strolled two miles to get some refreshment – but fell foul of the long arm of the law

  • Floss Knight, 51, walked to Borough Market, London, with a friend and her son
  • Mother-of-two claims four police officers approached and put her in handcuffs
  • Ms Knight, who works as psychotherapist, is now waiting to receive a £200 fine 

Floss Knight, 51, walked to Borough Market, London, for a coffee with a friend and her 13-year-old son

Even now I feel traumatised, exhausted, incredulous. Four days ago, on an afternoon of glorious sunshine when I’d allowed myself to hope that the bleakest days of the pandemic were past, I was pitched into an ordeal that has left me reeling.

A girlfriend and I were standing with her 13-year-old son in a queue at an artisan bakery waiting for a coffee. We were doing nothing more. 

Chatting at a social distance, masks ready, we stood outside revelling in the unaccustomed warmth of the sun, waiting to buy our drinks and cake.

Five minutes later, four police officers had surrounded me. In a flash, a thickset policeman had my arm in a vicious, vice-like grip, twisted behind my back. 

The pain was sharp. It made me wince. ‘Why are you hurting me?’ I cried out. ‘What the hell are you doing?’

Meanwhile, a female officer was handcuffing me. I started to panic. ‘I don’t believe this,’ I sobbed. ‘It’s insane.’

I tried to calm myself, to slow the pace of my thudding heart. One of my wrists was cuffed, my other arm was wrenched back and the male officer was trying to grab my phone.

How had it come to this? How had a pleasant afternoon’s walk — which combined physical exercise and much needed mental relief from the pandemic — to a coffee shop in Borough Market two miles away from our homes in South-West London descended into such chaos and terror?

The mother-of-two claims that four police officers approached her before putting her in handcuffs (above)

As I think back over the events of last Saturday afternoon I still find it hard to believe how swiftly and arbitrarily the mood changed; how outrageously heavy-handed the reaction of the police was. 

I consider myself a law-abiding citizen. A married mother of two teenage sons, I work as a psychotherapist. 

Indeed, I had two flourishing practices specialising in helping those with mental health problems until the pandemic decimated my business. I am now upwards of £70,000 in debt. But I’ll come to that later.

For our family — as for countless others — the pandemic has been a trial of our resilience and fortitude. It has not been easy, financially or emotionally. Yet we’ve stuck to the rules.

When my brother-in-law died of cancer, aged 60, last December we were unable to visit him as he breathed his last in hospital. We accepted it as a necessary corollary of the pandemic. We had to keep everyone safe.

I know I am not alone in struggling to remain hopeful. My close friend and her teenage son were also lowered by successive lockdowns, from observing the constraints imposed by the pandemic.

Which was why, when we woke to a day full of sunshine last weekend, we felt that hope was just around the corner. We proposed a modest outing — there is no other kind to be had, after all, these days — to cheer ourselves up. 

Ms Knight, who works as psychotherapist, said that she eventually gave officers her name and address and is expecting a £200 fine to arrive any day now

And as we walked along, chatting pleasantly — ensuring we kept the requisite two metres apart — we looked forward to the refreshments we proposed to buy at a bakery that had the foresight to arrange takeaways.

It was while we were queuing outside the shop that the mood started to turn sour.

Four police officers — three women and a man — were outside the bakery. The male officer held a loudhailer, as if he was preparing to marshal restive crowds at a riot. Was it really necessary to police people waiting patiently in a queue with such a heavy hand?

There were about six people ahead of us, standing sensibly at appropriate distances, and the officers were processing down the line asking where they’d come from.

Then they got to us. To the same question, we answered that we’d walked just over two miles from our homes in South-West London. The male officer didn’t question the number in our party, but to our surprise, said, ‘Then you need to leave. You’ve come too far. You’ve breached the Covid rules. We’re issuing you with a £200 fine.’

At this stage, I was bewildered. What exactly are the rules? Apart from the instruction ‘Stay Local’, no one seems to know. Boris Johnson rode seven miles on his bicycle to take exercise some months back and to my certain knowledge he was not reprimanded or arrested.

I did not ask what an appropriate distance to travel would be. I merely retorted calmly that we’d just come to buy our coffees and then go home. But this was when things turned ugly.

The four officers converged on me, getting so close they were certainly infringing the two-metre social-distancing rule. I suppose I could have meekly gone home, but I felt outraged. I was being asked for my address and ID just for queuing for a coffee. I confess I started to sound irritated. ‘Is it a crime to stand outside a shop and buy a coffee?’ I demanded. It seemed that it was. The whole thing was preposterous.

This was when the two officers descended; one arm was twisted behind my back, the other cuffed. ‘Why are you hurting me? That’s totally unnecessary,’ I wailed. ‘We learnt to do that at police training college,’ the burly male officer replied.

He tried to wrest my phone from me but I managed to wrench it back and hide it in my handbag. My friend was filming on her mobile. Another passer-by stopped to ask if I was OK. What on earth was happening?

Knowing how insanely the police were overreacting, I felt enraged. The huge pressures I’d endured during the pandemic started to crowd in on me: my lost business, my brother-in-law’s death; the months of bleak isolation at home. And now this one spark of joy — a little weekend outing — was ending in aggression and tears.

But then a small voice inside my head told me how stupid I’d be to find myself with a criminal record just because I was over-wrought and angry at the huge overreaction of the police. So I calmed myself.

I reasoned, too, that I am not a troublemaker. I also have a strong sense of justice; of what is morally right and wrong. Perhaps if I’d lied to the police that I lived just around the corner I would not have ended up incurring their wrath.

But I do not lie. That’s the whole point. With a heavy heart, I gave them my name and address, knowing notice of a £200 fine will arrive any day now. This is money I can ill afford to part with as I am my family’s main breadwinner and my business debts — including rent and business rates — are mounting.

I’m far from the only one dreading the consequences of an innocent trip out of the house. Reports of needlessly heavy-handed police tactics are numerous. I’ve heard of one father of two who was questioned by police after taking his children and dog out for a walk around a reservoir, four miles from their village in Yorkshire.

When he and his wife returned to their car, a policewoman appeared and asked them what they were doing. She said she had done a registration check and knew the car was from outside the area.

When the couple replied that it was their area, the officer said they shouldn’t be leaving their village. They challenged her on this, asking where does it say you can’t leave your village to take exercise?

The officer handed them a leaflet entitled Coronavirus Regulations: Restrictions On Movement, which advised them that the circumstances of their vehicle being present at that location was not a ‘reasonable interpretation of the exemption to restrictions on movement’.

He is still waiting to hear if he will be fined.

Yesterday, another man was allegedly strip-searched in custody after police arrested him for a suspected breach of Covid rules. He’d travelled to a beach 20 miles from his home in North Wales to walk by the sea and give his wife and teenage son a ‘mental break’ from the stresses of lockdown. 

There are, of course, grievous breaches that must be controlled and I applaud the police for their part in this.

In general, I have huge respect for the police who, by and large, do a difficult job in challenging circumstances. I know, too, the pressures exerted by the pandemic have made their task even more difficult. 

But why do they seem so readily to be picking on law-abiding citizens doing their best to follow confusing restriction rules while serious crimes go unpunished? What, for instance, are they doing about knife crime? Our capital city has its own epidemic of deaths from stabbings.

One of my sons — indeed just about every pupil in his class — has been the victim of a terrifying attack. He was stopped at knifepoint and surrounded by a group of thugs who told him they were going to ‘shank’ (stab or slash) him if he didn’t hand over his phone. He did so, they booked an Uber on it and fled.

I turned detective and was able to trace the route they took as the Uber was charged to my account. I provided the police with the information. The criminals were apprehended and found to have stacks of stolen credit cards on them, as well as my son’s phone.

That happened four years ago and the police promised to let me know when the culprits were charged. To this day, I’ve heard nothing. So I must assume they got off scot-free.

Then there is my dear old mum, now 80, who recently underwent a terrifying ordeal in her own home. Mum lives alone, independently, and one Saturday last year she heard banging on her front door. A gang had tried to kick it down and when they failed to do so — it’s a sturdy oak door —– they tried to ram it by reversing a van into it.Fortunately, the door did not succumb. Mum was frightened. She rang the police — but they said they could not come round until the following Tuesday. As far as I’m aware, the offenders have not been caught. Hardly surprising, is it, when police take three days to respond to an emergency call?

Yet there are officers aplenty when it comes to policing 50-something women in coffee-shop queues. If I sound resentful it is because I am. As I left Borough Market last Saturday, van-loads of police were arriving.

What upsets me most is that the country needs to heal. Yet, even now, when we dare to hope that the end is in sight, it seems that Covid is pulling us apart. As a psychotherapist, I managed two safe, calm practices. These have been destroyed by lockdown. My income has been reduced by 70 per cent, just at the time when the services I offer are needed most.

I’m working hard to help those who have suffered most — the young, students and single-parent familes — to find safe, affordable help. So many of us have mental health problems and, ironically, it was because my friend’s son was feeling particularly low that we decided to take that walk last Saturday to cheer him up.

Yet we walked home feeling disconsolate, wrung out, intimidated. It has made me wary. Should I even leave the garden? Now the weather brings the promise of an uplift in our spirits, mine remain at rock bottom.

How could a walk in the sunshine to lift the desperately flagging spirits of a teenage boy and two 50-something mums, with the modest reward of coffee and cake, end in such a nightmare?

How, after the year we have all endured in which we gave up our freedoms with good grace, do we now find ourselves living in a Stasi state?

A police spokesman said: ‘We are aware of a social media video in which a woman alleges she was handcuffed. The woman was contacted by police and asked to provide details of the incident. However, the woman has not yet responded.

‘While the Government’s roadmap contains positive news, the Met’s message is clear — now is not the time for complacency. Throughout the city, Londoners must continue to stick to the rules, which are fundamentally there to save lives.

‘That means you must stay at home wherever possible. You should not be meeting with other households unless a support bubble is in place or you are meeting one other person for exercise. 

‘Officers across London will continue to take action against rule breakers, adopting the ‘Four Es’ process of engaging, explaining, encouraging and then enforcing.’

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