Lorette McQueen, a off-duty nurse with the East London NHS Foundation Trust, was on her way to meet some friends at a restaurant in Brick Lane in July 1996. En route she met some of her psychiatric patients who were sitting outside a pub** in East London on a pleasant summer’s evening. She stopped to chat with them, not knowing they were being spied upon, unaware of the horrors that was to come.

Soon enough the Met Police, consisting of officers from Bethnal Green station along with the SO19 firearms squad were on the scene. The SO19 are the ones who killed Harry Stanley.

The Met police very unfortunately accused both Lorette and her patients of planning to rob a bank. The police say they had intelligence which suggested her patients were about to enact a robbery and were in possession of a gun for the purpose. They had ‘intelligence’ on this plan (non-existing of course) to hit a local bank and believed Lorette had arrived to brief her patients.

Police officers surrounded the three with guns. Her two patients, both men, were forced to lie on the ground face down whilst they were handcuffed. Lorette pleaded with the cops they had made a mistake and showed them five different forms of identification, one of these ironically being a prison pass.

Ironically Lorette had also been an advisor to the Met Police and trained its officers on how to manage incidents involving mentally ill people.

The police were just not satisfied with her ID or explanations and held her at gunpoint. She was told to squat with her arms raised and when she didn’t comply the officers threw her to the ground where she was placed in an armlock which sustained injuries. She was placed under arrest and strip searched at Bethnal Green police station.

bethgrn - Met Police mistake Black nurse for armed bank robber
Bethnal Green Police

Three hours later she was released, police having admitted they had made a mistake. Her patients had no gun about them, neither had they been planning to rob a bank. Despite the errors by the Met Police it just would not admit liability nor accept its officers had assaulted her.

Lorette spent two years being treated for anxiety and pain following the incident. She was determined to take the Met Police to court and also seek a public apology from them. In response to this, the police’s spokesperson from Scotland Yard, Liz Curtis, said “We are not in a position to discuss an on-going civil action.”

The case was brought up at the Royal College of Nursing stewards’ conference in September 1999 as an example of a “wrongful and quite horrendous arrest.” The RCN’s spokeswoman added, “Nurses going about their work – whatever their ethnic background – have the right to expect fair treatment from the police.”

Members of the nursing profession supported her action against the police and attended the court hearing. One of these was RCN officer Tony Durcan who said of Ms McQueen, “She’s a very hardworking, highly committed, highly respected community nurse who has made a real difference to the homeless people.”

clcc - Met Police mistake Black nurse for armed bank robber
Central London County Court (old location Park Crescent)

At the Central London County Court in Park Crescent, London where the hearing took place over eleven days in October 1999, Ms McQueen sued the Met Police for unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, whiplash injuries, post-traumatic stress and depression. WPC Dooley, the officer identified as the one responsible for the assault, refuted she had neither placed Lorette in an armlock nor injured her.

Ms McQueen told the court she thought she was going to die when the Met squad surrounded and pointed guns at her. The Central London County Court ruled that an assault had taken place and awarded Lorette punitive damages for assault and injury. The Met was ordered to pay her £30,125 damages.

**Note: Some news reports say the meeting with the two patients took place at Stepney.  Eg The Daily Mirror. Others such as the Nursing Times say Brick Lane.

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