Police Scotland is at the centre of a human rights storm after a woman was assaulted during a women’s rights event in Aberdeen.

Julie Marshall said she was punched in the arm and head at a rally organised by Women Won’t Wheesht in the city's Duthie Park on Sunday.

The man responsible received a recorded police warning, sparking anger from campaigners about the leniency of the punishment.

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In a letter to Sir Iain Livingstone, Police Scotland’s Chief Constable, the policy analysis collective Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, expressed concerns over the caution.

They warned that not taking incidents of assault seriously could infringe on the right to free expression and freedom of assembly.

They also warned questioned how the warning aligned with Police Scotland's Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy launched in March.

Police defended the decision, saying they were acting ”in line with the Lord Advocate’s guidelines.”

Those guidelines are not public.

Women Won’t Wheesht are critical of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament last December to simplify the process for a trans person to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

Crucially, the legislation, which has been blocked by the UK Government, removes the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Women Won’t Wheesht are one of a number of groups opposed to this so-called self-ID, expressing concerns that could it have implications for women’s rights and single sex spaces.

However, supporters of the legislation have long argued that it is trans rights that are under threat and that the current system for obtaining a GRC is often demeaning, intrusive and traumatic.

After news of the rally became public, a counter-protest was organised by activists in the city.

When members of Women Won’t Wheesht turned up at the bandstand in the park at noon to set up, protesters were already there.

They then moved to a different part of the open space.

Ms Marshall said one of the protesters then ran over and tried to take one of the group’s banners. When she and one of her fellow activists tried to take it back, she says the man swung round and hit her on the arm and head.

She said she feared he would have hit her again had a passerby not intervened.

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Police were then called, with the force saying they were “made aware of an assault of a 54-year-old woman during the event” and that “an individual, aged 26, has received a recorded police warning in connection with the incident.”

The Herald:

Ms Marshall, who said she was in “excruciating pain” after the attack, told The Herald: “I'm really, really angry at Police Scotland.

“I feel that giving this man a caution after an unprovoked attack, they're just saying you can punch these women that you don't agree with and steal their property with impunity and all you are going to get is a slap on the wrist.”

Ms Marshall said the police had not contacted her since she gave them a statement in Duthie Park.

“They didn't call me to let me know that they've given the person a caution. They have had absolutely no contact with me at all.

“And I find that absolutely shameful. Women, or any person regardless of what sex they are, who have suffered an episode of violence should be treated with more bloody respect to be quite honest.”

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In their letter to the police, Murray Blackburn Mackenzie pointed out that section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 states that "It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right."

They then referred to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights which protects freedom of expression and Article 11 which includes protection for freedom of peaceful assembly.

“We note that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission states that the Act requires all public bodies (like courts, police, local authorities, hospitals and publicly funded schools) and other bodies carrying out public functions to respect and protect your human rights.

“How seriously the police take incidents of assault and attempted assault on women meeting peacefully to express certain lawful views will affect whether their rights under Articles 10 and 11 can be safely exercised in practice.”

They asked the force if they had “made any assessment of its obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998, before deciding how to treat this incident?”

Responding, a spokesperson for Police Scotland told The Herald: “As a result of an allegation of assault at the WWW rally on Sunday, a male suspect was identified and received a recorded police warning, which is in line with the Lord Advocate’s guidelines.

“Correspondence has been received by Police Scotland in relation to the outcome of this incident which is being assessed and will be responded to in due course."

Dr Kath Murray, from Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, said there were still many questions over the force's response to Sunday's incident.

"It is difficult to understand how the use of a Recorded Police Warning in this context aligns with the Police Scotland VAWG strategy, or with its operational guidance, which states warnings should not be issued for any offence involving alarming conduct that makes individuals scared for their safety.

"Police Scotland should now make clear that the organisation take seriously the right of women, under articles 10 and 11 ECHR, to hold lawful peaceful meetings to discuss public policy and the law without suffering intimidation or violence, and understands its duty to protect women in such situations. 

"These events also raise important questions about what training officers on the ground receive in relation to rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

"Previous information released by Police Scotland suggests that formal training here has been very limited.”

Tess White, the Conservative MSP for the North East said: "Discussion around gender reform and women's rights can be highly emotive, and points of view often polarise.

“Women should be able to express their views without the threat of physical violence or verbal abuse, and they should be able to gather without fear.

“Intimidation of any kind should not be used to shut down debate.”