Will Police Be Brought To Book Over Death Of Ian Tomlinson?

10/05/2011 12:02 | Updated 22 May 2015

Ian Tomlinson was a 47-year-old father of nine who sold newspapers for a living. Two years ago, on 1 April 2009, he was trying to make his way home through the G20 protests in the City of London when a police officer struck him with a baton and pushed him to the ground. Tomlinson collapsed a few minutes later and died from internal bleeding.

Last week, a jury at the inquest into his death concluded that Tomlinson had been "unlawfully killed". Since it is not the job of an inquest to apportion blame, they did not name the officer responsible – police constable Simon Harwood. But they did say that "excessive and unreasonable" force was used against Tomlinson, who "posed no threat".

It is the verdict Tomlinson's family have been waiting for. Last year, the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was "insufficient evidence" to prosecute PC Harwood. In light of the verdict, and new evidence which came to light at the inquest, the director of public prosecutions must now review that decision.

There are many shocking things about this case, not least that a police officer saw fit to strike down – from behind - a member of the public who was doing nothing more suspicious or threatening than walking along the street.

But while PC Harwood's actions could be dismissed as those of a "bad apple", the subsequent behaviour of his bosses cannot. Far from treating Tomlinson's death seriously and launching an immediate investigation, the Metropolitan Police Service initially denied that the newspaper seller had had any contact with police prior to his death. Statements from three police constables "adamant" that they had seen an officer strike and push Tomlinson were buried.

It was not until mobile phone footage of Tomlinson being struck was released that the Independent Police Complaints Commission launched a criminal inquiry – a week after Tomlinson's death. Official statements even went so far as to claim that police were prevented from giving medical attention to Tomlinson by a baying mob of protestors. Were it not for the footage, the force may well have succeeded in this whitewash of the real events.

Over the years I have interviewed people whose brothers, sons, daughters or friends have died during or following contact with the state. They face unimaginable hurdles in trying to establish what happened and achieve some form of justice: a culture of delay, misinformation and cover-up coupled with an apparent institutional unwillingness to prosecute police or prison officers, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they have done wrong.

Were PC Simon Harwood a member of the public and not an officer of the law, it is highly unlikely that he would not already have faced criminal proceedings in relation to Tomlinson's death.

As things stand, thanks to the inquest jury's unlawful killing verdict, he may now face charges of manslaughter. But it is far from guaranteed. Case after case has confirmed that police officers can and do break the law with impunity. Ian Tomlinson is dead. His family grieves. They will be hoping that, in his case at least, it won't be the same old story.


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