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Police must apologise for ‘knee on neck’ arrest, says lawyer

Marcus Coutain was filmed pleading with officers to ‘get off my neck’ as he was handcuffed on the pavement in Islington on Thursday.

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The lawyer for a man who was arrested as a police officer knelt on his neck – in a case that “mirrors almost identically what happened to George Floyd” – has called for a formal apology from Scotland Yard.

Marcus Coutain, 48, was filmed pleading with officers to “get off my neck” as he was handcuffed on the pavement in Islington, north London, on Thursday evening.

The police watchdog is investigating the manner of the arrest, which has resulted in one Metropolitan Police officer being suspended and another placed on restricted duties.

Deputy Commissioner Sir Steve House has described the footage as “deeply disturbing” and said some of the techniques, which are “not taught in police training”, caused him “great concern”.

Coutain appeared in custody at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court on Saturday afternoon charged with possessing a knife in public.

He indicated a not guilty plea and was granted technical bail as the case was sent to Snaresbrook Crown Court on August 17 by District Judge Gillian Allison.

Scotland Yard has said officers were called to a fight in Isledon Road at around 6.30pm on Thursday and the court was told Coutain matched the description of a suspect.

Footage posted on social media on Thursday evening shows two officers holding a handcuffed black man on the pavement and one appears to be kneeling on the man’s neck and has his hand on his head.

The man struggling on the ground can be heard shouting: “Get off me … get off my neck, I haven’t done anything wrong, get off my neck.”

But Coutain’s lawyer Timur Rustem told the court his client was initially searched for drugs and was then told he matched the description of “someone involved in an attack”.

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Timur Rustem outside Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Timur Rustem outside Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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Timur Rustem outside Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Rustem named officer David Herald in court and read his statement which said: “I considered I used proportionate, necessary and reasonable force.”

Coutain was charged on Friday with possession of a knife in a public place, which was found in his trousers, the court heard.

Mr Rustem told the court Coutain had the blade for repairing his bicycle, adding: “He had a lawful reason to have that item on him.”

He said the case “mirrors almost identically what happened to George Floyd in America”, telling the court his client wanted an apology from police and the charge withdrawn.

As Coutain appeared in the dock wearing a green 7-Up branded T-shirt and grey jogging bottoms for the 15-minute hearing, protesters from Stand Up To Racism staged a demonstration against “police brutality” outside Islington Police station.

Speaking outside court, Mr Rustem said his client was “very distressed and very confused and not quite sure why he was targeted in this way”.

He told reporters: “Essentially Mr Coutain was stopped and searched for matters for which he has not been charged.

“It is the use of what I would regard as excessive force, a knee being placed on his neck … references which mirror exactly what happened to George Floyd in America.

“A man saying ‘I can’t breathe’ and ‘get your knee off my neck’, while he was already handcuffed and while he was restrained by two police officers.

“Mr Coutain will be contesting the charge against him. What I would hope to happen is that the Crown Prosecution Service properly review this case before then and drop the charges and offer a formal apology to Mr Coutain for the conduct of those Metropolitan officers.”

He said Coutain suffered “fortunately minimal” injuries to his wrists and neck, adding: “Fortunately it didn’t lead to the tragic consequences that we saw in America.”

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