Exempt shopper, 55, arrested & 'strip searched' for not wearing a mask at Waitrose

Exempt shopper, 55, arrested & 'strip searched' for not wearing a mask at Waitrose

September 16, 2021

AN IT consultant has claimed she was strip-searched after being arrested in a supermarket for not wearing a face mask.

Juliet Johnson was shopping in Waitrose when she was quizzed by store security and a manager for not donning the protective cloth during the pandemic.

Although she said she had “proved” she did not need to wear a mask as she suffers from an autoimmune disease which affects her breathing, police were still called to the store.

The 55-year-old was perusing groceries in her favourite supermarket when police approached her and detained her for two hours.

She alleges she was even forced to strip naked – which police have since denied.

Ms Johnson was later released with no charge.

Ms Johnson said: "I had already proved I did not need to wear a facemask. I, like many others, suffer from a chronic health condition, invisible on the outside but at times debilitating.

"The manager called police without my knowledge. I told the police officer of my human rights and that I had already proved I was exempt.

"I was really upset because I am not an ASBO case, I am not abusive, I am a good, law-abiding citizen."

The incident took place on February 25 this year, when wearing a mask in shops and supermarkets was a UK Government requirement unless exempt.

Ms Johnson said she had "proved" her exemption to the store's security guard on a previous visit by showing three forms of proof including her NHS exemption card.

When she was confronted by the store's manager about the matter, she said she didn't have to wear a mask, and was then left to carry on shopping but was later met by police officers.

Ms Johnson said her possessions were taken when she was arrested and she was questioned in custody about her mental health at Chichester police station.

She added: "I was incarcerated in a cell. I was forced to strip naked and told if I didn't strip myself, the female officers would do it.

"The sergeant's risk assessment that I needed to be put in safety anti-rip police-issue shirt and shorts had me worried she was going to have me sectioned as she had questioned my mental health.

The consultant maintains that during the entire episode she was neither abusive nor rude to anyone in the store but has since been banned from Waitrose and John Lewis – a ban which even includes ordering online.

She is now suing Sussex Police for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and disability discrimination.

Ms Johnson has since set up a crowd justice funding page to take the branch to court.

A Waitrose spokesperson said: "This is an ongoing civil claim with Sussex Police to which we are not a party to, and therefore we are unable to comment on the matter."

A Sussex Police spokesperson said: "A woman was arrested in Waitrose, Chichester, for a public order offence on February 25, 2021, and released without charge later the same day.

"A civil claim has been received in relation to this incident, including raising concerns about her treatment whilst in custody, however this is strongly disputed by Sussex Police and liability has been denied.

"It would be inappropriate for us to comment further whilst the legal matter is ongoing."

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