Friday, July 20, 2012

simon harwood: typical

As is clear in the footage, PC Simon Harwood's baton strike and push on Ian Tomlinson were unreasonable force. As a result, Tomlinson suffered internal bleeding which led to his collapse within a few minutes and his subsequent death. His death was therefore unlawful.

That's not me talking, that's the inquest jury's findings. And, as the judge in this week's trial told the jury, if Harwood's actions were unreasonable and led directly to Tomlinson's death, it was manslaughter. The judge also pointed out that Tomlinson had a medical condition, but nonetheless if Harwood's actions shortened Tomlinson's life 'even by one day' then it was still manslaughter. But yesterday Harwood was acquitted.

For all the talk of Harwood's record of violence, we need to be clear that he is not exceptional. If Harwood was, as the prosecution alleged, someone with his 'blood up' compared to other officers, why do his colleagues show no surprise at any of the assaults, whether on Tomlinson or the earlier ones on the BBC cameraman and the guy he hits with the jacket? Why is there footage of hundreds of officers making thousands of similar assaults that day? Why weren't there queues of officers at Scotland Yard the next morning, as is their sworn duty, making statements reporting this unlawful behaviour?

Harwood was a typical officer, just unlucky to get the guy with the pre-existing medical condition. He told the trial if he had known of Ian Tomlinson's condition he would not have hit him, but the unfortunately vulnerability wasn't visible. Yet other officers are happy to drag people out of their wheelchairs and along the road.

Even then, Harwood nearly got away with it. The crime was systematically covered up by the police, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and the compliant media.

Really, let's remind ourselves of the timeline. Everything in it contains outright lies by the police and their associated bodies.

- Police issue a statement saying they had 'no contact' with Tomlinson before his collapse.

- They said their medics tried to help him but were pelted with missiles including bottles.

- They had a dodgy autopsy done to say he died of a heart attack. (The later one found no sign of heart attack and pointed out that such people collapse quickly whereas those dying from internal bleeding collapse, as Tomlinson did, by staggering then crumpling.)

- When the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) started investigating, police witheld evidence from three officers who'd witnessed the attack.

- The IPCC said there was no CCTV in the area. When this was shown to be untrue, they said the cameras weren't working.

- When the Guardian put the citizen footage of the assault online, the police and IPCC went to the newspaper's offices and demanded it be taken down. A copper in your workplace telling you what to do isn't an easy thing to say no to.

- A senior police officer then told the Tomlinson family the assailant may have been a protester disguised in a police uniform. The IPCC said the idea was credible and needed investigating.

- The CPS decided not to prosecute Harwood. Only a year later after the inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing were they compelled to change their minds.

Maybe, just maybe, we can believe the cameras weren't working at Stockwell tube station when the police killed Jean Charles de Menezes (even though the company operating the cameras and tube workers say otherwise). Who knows how many cameras are kept in full working order?

But the G20 was different. Ian Tomlinson died at the centre of an area in a demonstration that the police had months to plan the surveillance of. There was a dedicated control room with over a hundred officers monitoring the feeds. Those cameras were working.


Three days ago, the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient chance of success to bring charges against three G4S guards who smothered a man to death during a deportation flight. Former barrister Frances Webber responded

The prosecutor says that "given Mubenga's physiological condition" he cannot rule out that factors such as "adrenaline, muscle exhaustion or isometric exercise" might have helped cause his death because he was in an "agitated state" before he died.

The general application of this extraordinary reasoning would mean that no murderer whose victim struggled could be charged, because of the adrenaline, muscle exhaustion and isometric exercise involved in resisting attack.

And even if (as is implied) Mubenga was somehow uniquely vulnerable because of a pre-existing condition, every rookie lawyer learns the "eggshell skull" doctrine, which states that an assailant bears legal responsibility for a death even if his victim has a pre-existing condition making for extra vulnerability.

The parallels are obvious with the Tomlinson case, both in apportioning culpability and in the response to authority killing the people it should protect.

Not only is there a problem with the police protecting their culture of impunity but, as the contradiction in the Tomlinson juries' findings proves, even when the police are held to account there is a problem with our attitudes. The Tomlinson inquest jury decided about events and their legality. Harwood's trial decided a police officer's fate.

We have a jury system that is as good as anything in the world, but it is clear that juries quite often find it difficult to convict police officers.
- Len Jackson, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission

Chico Marx could have been a police officer under oath when he said 'who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?'.


In 1998, Christopher Alder was knocked out in an argument outside a Hull nightclub. Police arrived, made no examination and decided he was just drunk. In hospital he regained consciousness and, as is common with people who suffer a hard blow to the head, he became disorientated and aggressive, volubly asking what happened and where he was. The same police took him away and by the time he arrived at the station he was unconscious. They dragged him into the lobby, his trousers trailing round his knees. There they dropped him face down on the floor.

His hands cuffed behind his back, he can be heard on the film rasping through blood and vomit for eleven minutes whilst the officers stand round joking about him and - Alder was a black man - making monkey noises. He died there at their feet.

As with Harwood, it was all caught clearly on camera. As with Harwood the CPS initially decided not to prosecute. As with Harwood, the inquest said it was unlawful killing, forcing the CPS to relent and charge them with manslaughter. As with Harwood, the police were acquitted.

A report last year found that, of 333 deaths in police custody in an 11 year period, not one had led to an officer's conviction. There are then many more deaths, such as Ian Tomlinson's, outside of custody. Inquest report that since 1990, 1,433 people have died following contact with the police, leading to 23 officers going on trial. Not one conviction.

The subsequent internal police investigation cleared the officers who taunted Christopher Alder while he died of any wrongdoing. After that the men - in their late 30s and early 40s - were given early retirement to clear them out of the way. We'll be paying their pensions for decades to come.

Simon Harwood can look forward to the same fat payoff. As can the officer who killed Mark Duggan. As can the next officer who kills someone.


Standing Stone said...

Great post. It's an absolute disgrace that Harwood and others are getting away with this. Some police are absolute thugs.

Just last week at the counter-demo against the EDL in Bristol, the police were nearly as bad as they were, threatening innocent people with truncheons and dogs just for standing in a safe location. Dog bites and beatings were reported by protesters. Fortunately there were several hundred mobile phone cameras and a large presence by NetPol recording all incidences of violence used by the police and the EDL.

It's one rule for us and an entirely different one for them. Their job is to protect, not beat up and intimidate people. There needs to be a public outcry over this one. Keep up the good work!

merrick said...

thanks for your kind words. I think it's important to stress that it's *not* that some police are thugs. Much is made of Harwood's record of violence, but he also saved five people from a fire one time, an act far braver and more heroic than anything I've ever done.

When they're sent in to police a demonstration that is politically unacceptable they are sent in as thugs and they all behave that way. It happened to be Harwood that killed Tomlinson. It could have been any of the officers there that day.

They beat people on the ground, people with their hands in the air chanting 'this is not a riot'

The thuggery is in the role and time-honoured tactics, not the individual officers.

Anonymous said...

Superb post! But why do you think juries acquit the police on the rare occasions they are prosecuted?