‘Knee-on-neck’ Met Police officer subject to criminal investigation, watchdog says

Andy Gregory
·4-min read
An officer who appeared to press his knee into the neck of 48-year-old Marcus Coutain is under criminal investigation: @realairavish/Twitter screengrab
An officer who appeared to press his knee into the neck of 48-year-old Marcus Coutain is under criminal investigation: @realairavish/Twitter screengrab

A suspended Metropolitan Police officer has been told he is the subject of a criminal investigation for common assault and gross misconduct after appearing to kneel on a black man’s neck.

The police watchdog has launched a probe into the actions of two officers during the arrest of Marcus Coutain, 48, who was filmed pleading with officers to “get off my neck” as he was handcuffed on the pavement in Finsbury Park last month following a stop and search.

A second officer involved in the arrest was placed on restricted duties over the incident on 16 July and is now subject to a misconduct probe into whether he failed to challenge and report improper conduct.

In a new statement, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said it will also “investigate whether the officers treated the man differently because of his race”.

Scotland Yard referred itself to the watchdog the day after the incident, the footage of which deputy commissioner Sir Steve House subsequently described as “deeply disturbing”.

Some of the techniques used, which are “not taught in police training”, caused him “great concern”, Sir Steve added.

Mr Coutain was subsequently charged with possessing a knife in public, with Highbury Corner Magistrates Court hearing that police believed he matched the description of a suspect in an assault on the same road on which he was stopped and searched.

However, his lawyer, Timur Rustem, claimed that Mr Coutain was initially searched for drugs and was carrying the knife lawfully for repairing his bicycle.

“Essentially Mr Coutain was stopped and searched for matters for which he has not been charged,” he told reporters after the hearing. “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 suffered “fortunately minimal” injuries to his wrists and neck, he said, adding: “Fortunately it didn’t lead to the tragic consequences that we saw in America”.

Having indicated a plea of not guilty ahead of his next hearing on 17 August, Mr Coutain has called for a formal apology from Scotland Yard and for the Crown Prosecution Service to drop the charge.

Launching a witness appeal on Monday, the IOPC said: “One officer has been advised that they are subject to a criminal investigation for common assault and investigation for gross misconduct on use of force; authority, respect and courtesy; discreditable conduct and honesty and integrity.

“A second officer has been advised they are subject to a misconduct investigation on challenging and reporting improper conduct; authority, respect and courtesy and honesty and integrity.”

Regional director Sal Naseem added: “We are independently examining whether the use of force and the stop and search on this occasion were appropriate and proportionate in line with approved police policies.

“We will also investigate whether the officers treated the man differently because of his race.”

The incident is the second in as many months reported to the IOPC in which a black man has complained of officers applying force to their neck, after viral footage of the 2019 arrest of Simeon Francis prompted a fresh complaint in the weeks following George Floyd’s death. His death in a Torquay police station a year later is also under investigation.

And in the wake of a series of high-profile cases involving alleged racial bias, the watchdog is preparing to launch a probe into whether police officers across England and Wales discriminate against ethnic minorities, and to establish whether there are “systemic issues which should be addressed”.

The police watchdog review will focus on the use of force and stop and search – both of which black people are disproportionately likely to face at the hands of officers – and will review cases to determine whether a pattern of racial bias exists.

Of Mr Coutain’s arrest, the IOPC’s Mr Naseem added: “This incident took place in public and was witnessed by several members of the public. A video of the incident has been widely shared on social media platforms.”

Witnesses are asked to call 03003035724 or email isledonroad@policeconduct.gov.uk

Additional reporting by PA