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Dele Johnson: Nigerian-born lawyer given George Floyd treatment in UK court

Night club bouncers or court security guards? That is the questions many users of the Stratford Magistrates’ Court in east London are asking following what has been described as ‘invasive pat-down’ searches by its security apparatus.

This is even as lawyers have threatened to boycott the court after up to five security guards allegedly pinned down a Nigerian-born solicitor, Dele Johnson, and ignored his pleas that he could not breathe.

Defence solicitor Johnson said court guards wrestled him to the ground after he refused to take off his shoes in a security search.

Johnson, 37, said it was like the ordeal of American George Floyd, whose murder by Minneapolis police, as he protested ‘I can’t breathe’, sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I never thought I’d also be saying ‘I can’t breathe’,’ said Johnson. “I was just trying to do my job.”

The drama follows female lawyers protesting at highly invasive ‘pat-down’ searches at Stratford Magistrates’ Court in east London.

Indeed, a female criminal defence solicitor said a guard felt her legs under her dress ‘up to my groin’ in a search, while a barrister said a guard insisted on touching her inside leg – despite her asking him not to.

Now the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) says lawyers may boycott the court if the guards who allegedly assaulted Johnson are not suspended by private company OCS.

LCCSA president Edward Jones said it was ‘appalled’ at the guards’ alleged behaviour.

Mr Johnson’s identification card was checked when he arrived as a duty youth court solicitor last Wednesday.

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After leaving the building to have a cigarette, he agreed to a pat-down search when he returned but refused to take off his shoes, which he said resulted in four guards forcibly removing him.

With a defendant waiting for him, he re-entered the building via a side door but was blocked from entering a court and allegedly grabbed by ‘four or five’ guards.

“I started swinging, I felt I was fighting for my life against five men to stop them grabbing me. Eventually, they got me on the ground. Their knees were on my arms, legs and my back.

“I have asthma, my chest was being pushed to the floor so now I am struggling to breathe,” Johnson narrated.

It is claimed other court staff pleaded with the guards that Mr Johnson could not breathe and that police were called.

Johnson told The Law Society Gazette that he cries when he thinks of the ordeal: “The only thing I could think of is the George Floyd video and him saying ‘I cannot breathe’, with everyone on camera phones, not assisting.”

The incident came two weeks after defence solicitor Katie McFadden revealed on X that security staff at the court insisted on feeling under her dress during pat-down searches.

The drama follows female lawyers protesting at highly invasive ‘pat-down’ searches at Stratford Magistrates’ Court in east London

A barrister, who asked not to be named, told The Mail on Sunday that security guards at the court behave like ‘night club bouncers’.

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HM Courts & Tribunals Service said: “These are serious complaints we are urgently investigating as a priority. Our security measures are designed to protect all court users and under constant review. They are in place in consultation with the judiciary and the police.”

OCS said it was “aware of allegations concerning an incident at Stratford Magistrates’ Court.”

It added: “We take such matters seriously and we are working with HMC&TS to conduct a thorough review of the events in question.”

Bridget Benson
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