Huugo Boateng was taking part in a charity bike ride with his father along the River Lea in north London when he says he was grabbed from his bike a plainclothes police officer, threatened with a stun gun and fell face first into thorny bushes.
The 13-year-old told the Observer: “I’d turned around to see if my dad had caught up behind me, and suddenly this man came out of nowhere. He was crazy angry and shouting. I got scared because I thought he might be mugging me or trying to give me corona so I ran, but there was nowhere to go but in the bushes.”
While he was down on the ground, the teenager says the officer pointed a Taser at him and threatened to shoot. The officer then arrested Huugo and put him in handcuffs. Further down the towpath, his father, Andrew, 43, was told to get on his knees and put his hands behind his back. Andrew was also handcuffed. The two were detained, suspected to have been involved in a stabbing in the area.
The Boatengs, who live in Tottenham, say they were shocked and humiliated the experience. Huugo suffered lacerations to his face and bruises on his legs, and spent that night sleeping on his parents’ bedroom floor, anxious not to be alone.
The arrests, partly filmed photographer Louise Paton, drew concern from the Tottenham MP and shadow justice secretary, David Lammy. Speaking to the Observer, Lammy said: “It has understandably caused alarm in the community. Frankly, this could have been me and my teenage son, both of us having cycled down that path on many occasions. A complaint has been lodged and, given a minor was injured, it is essential there is a thorough investigation.”
Andrew said: “If this was a normal stop and search, I could respect that. But it is obvious why we were treated the way we were. The police came in at high-octane aggression level 10. We were on a family bike ride, and my son was essentially assaulted a police officer. We were threatened with Tasers even though we weren’t resisting, and then just put in handcuffs.”
The incident, which occurred around 6.30pm on Thursday 4 June, drew between six and eight police officers to the scene. The officers said they were responding to a stabbing in a near park, and that the father and son matched the description of the assailants. One officer, when questioned Paton on camera, said: “The victim at this point was very unwilling to give us descriptions. The only thing he has given us is IC3 [police code for a black person] males on a bike … That’s very vague, isn’t it?”
When contacted about the stabbing incident, the Metropolitan police told the Observer: “Police were made aware of a man with a stab wound on Markfield recreation ground, N15. Officers attended and a 21-year-old man was taken to hospital. He was later discharged.” No charges have yet been brought in connection with that case.
Paton described the scene as “racial profiling at its worst”. The photographer, who lives on a boat on the river, had responded to Andrew’s pleas asking someone to film what was going on. “The mood was defensive, borderline aggressive and patronising,” she said. “I was disgusted. It really drove the issue [of racism] home for me. The way they spoke to Andrew, the way they treated him and kept him in handcuffs so long when he could prove so quickly he was completely innocent and the wrong person. It was just so disappointing to see.”
The family were visited a community officer later that evening. “Huugo didn’t want them to come in so they stayed on the doorstep and asked if we were OK,” said Andrew, who works at City University. He is also active in local projects including coaching a youth football team and volunteering for the outreach programme Kickoff@3 , which is co-run a black Metropolitan police officer, Michael Wallace.
“I couldn’t vouch for a more humble and more dedicated member of the community,” said Wallace. “The irony is that Kickoff@3 is about building good relationships with youth and the police, and Andy is instrumental in helping with that programme. The bike ride he was doing was organised us – we were raising money for a homeless charity and a domestic violence one.”
“There has to be some learning from the police,” said Andrew. “I got this when I was a teenager, and you were taught to keep your head down and stay calm. You’d think now things would have changed and I wouldn’t have to have that conversation with my own kids. I’ve always taught them to trust the police – I’ve worked on youth and knife crime initiatives with the Met.”
The Metropolitan police said: “The Met has received a complaint from a member of the public in relation to this incident. The Met takes all complaints seriously and this will be thoroughly investigated. ”
Borough commander Treena Fleming said: “In the hours following the incident, one of my senior leadership team spoke with the parties involved to offer a personal explanation about the situation and to listen to and understand their concerns. We are keen to maximise any learning that comes from this.”