Police have defended using force during a raid on a gym that refused to close in defiance of coronavirus restrictions after video emerged of the confrontation.
Officers swooped on Prophecy Performance Centre in Liverpool on Sunday 7 February after receiving a call from locals.
Nathan Deasha, the gym’s owner, said he had defied restrictions to offer people a “safe place” to train in a bid to combat the lockdown’s adverse effect on physical and mental health.
Now the 34-year-old has released footage showing him handcuffed and being kicked by police before being tackled to the ground and pepper-sprayed.
Further footage shows one officer producing a baton and taking a swipe at a gym-goer attempting to leave the scene.
Deasha, an IFBB pro bodybuilder, said: “You can then see one officer lining up to knee me in the stomach or lower chest.
“I proceed to tilt forward and stagger back. I stagger in shock then a bunch of officers proceed to tackle me onto the floor. Whilst I’m on the floor I am sprayed numerous times with mace.
“I am then kneed and kicked to the head by these officers and my ankles stamped on whilst a officer is also hitting my legs with his cosh.
“I believe the onslaught would have carried on only if the officer I now know to believe to be walking over at the end didn’t point out that the building had cameras on.
“I posed no threat whilst in cuffs. Not all police officers act in this way, and most do stick to their oath, but what happened here is not acceptable to anyone.
“I have lost several friends to suicide during lockdown and the gym being their outlet.
“I have many people who depend on my facility for their mental health, and if one of them was to take their life, how could I live with that on my conscience?”
Witness Jack Richardson, 23, said he was shocked to see that many of the officers restraining Deasha were not wearing masks.
Online coach Richardson from Stoke on Trent, said: “A guy in a white T-shirt that was standing there not provoking anyone with his hands down was then attacked by two officers.
“One officer using a baton and another using pepper spray. Many more were treated this way as I saw it with my eyes.”
Merseyside Police, which issued 52 fixed penalty notices, described the use of force as “necessary”.
Deputy Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said: “At Merseyside Police, extensive training is given to officers around the importance of using force lawfully and proportionately, and thankfully, for the vast majority of interactions with the public, force is not required.
“The decision to use force is never taken lightly, and in cases where it is appropriate, officers must often make quick, split-second judgements where there is a risk of harm.
“During this incident, the use of force was judged necessary by officers in response to people’s behaviour.
“Officers should not be confronted with abuse and violence when attempting to uphold the law which most people are rightly abiding by.”
A police statement issued on 10 February said reports on social media suggesting a man suffered a broken leg were unsubstantiated.
“We can confirm there was no information to suggest that anyone had suffered a broken leg, or needed medical treatment, during the incident,” it said.
“No-one came forward to police at the time to indicate they had sustained a broken leg, and no-one has contacted us since.”
Merseyside Police’s initial statement said: “While patrols were outside, a 34-year-old man became aggressive, swearing at officers and refused to co-operate with attempts to engage with him.
“Police subsequently received reports from a member of the public that up to 50 people were being held against their will at the rear of the gym, in an effort to prevent them from being detected by police.
“At around 7.05pm around 40 people attempted to leave the scene via the previously locked fire doors, with some driving away at speed and further patrols attended.
“Several of those attempting to make off from the scene behaved aggressively towards officers. Police detained a number of them.”