Thursday, April 09, 2009

a conviction can be a cover-up

The death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests was initially passed off by police as being from natural causes. He collapsed and they gallantly went to his aid, despite being pelted with bottles by protesters.

Rather like the way that Jean Charles de Menezes was supposedly wearing a big bulky jacket on a hot day, running away from officers who shouted to stop, jumped over the barriers and ran on to the train before they shot him, it is so far from the truth that it can only credibly be seen as deliberate cover-up.

The police had attacked Tomlinson, with witnesses saying he hit his head hard on the pavement. Three minutes later he collapsed and died. This was all going to pass by unmarked.

The laughably named Independent Police Complaints Commission was set to issue a statement agreeing with the police that Tomlinson merely had a heart attack whilst walking past the protest, citing a post mortem without any mention of whether there were injuries on the body. They had agreed to have an inquiry, performed by the City of London police. In other news, Alex Ferguson was appointed as referee for Manchester United’s FA Cup semi-final against Everton.

But in the light of the damning footage on the Guardian site showing police assaulting Tomlinson, the IPCC were compelled to make to make it an independent investigation.

With all the CCTV camera covering the area and the plethora of police video operations, no official footage has come out. It fell to a passing member of the public to expose it. This is a triumph for citizen journalism and the tenacity of the Guardian’s reporters. We should be glad that the cameras in question weren’t searched by police so they could delete images showing officers, as happened at the climate camp protest. This case, so nearly brushed under the carpet, has only just begun.

This, though, is far from a guarantee of justice. That is, in part, because the Independent Police Complaints Commission is a misnomer. When the man who helped Tomlinson after the assault contacted the IPCC, he was asked what happened after Tomlinson 'fell' over. The IPCC didn't just parrot the police version of events to the media. When The Guardian published the video footage on their website, the IPCC came to the newspaper's offices witha police officer to demand it be removed. This all speaks of a will to cover up rather than expose unpalatable truths about the police.

But the major risk of injustice comes from the focus on this one incident, of treating it like some aberration.

Look at the video of Ian Tomlinson. Look at the casualness of the officer who attacks him. Look how the colleagues are completely unsurprised.

Do you think this is the only time that officer behaved like that? Do you think the colleagues didn't do the same thing elsewhere? When these officers reached the crowd, what do you think they did?

Already, the officer has come forward and is being set up to take the full blame for this. The chief of the Metropolitan police says how terrible it was and how there needs to be a full investigation. As if his own officers didn't do exactly the same thing to people thousands of times that day, and many many other days.

This was not an officer losing his head in the fury of a riot. It’s calm, slow and premeditated.

This was not one bad officer taking the law into his own hands. This sort of assault was endemic that day. I saw it hundreds of times with my own eyes, and I was at the more peaceful climate camp protest, and left before it got kettled then attacked with dogs and batons in the evening.

This sort of assault is what the police do when they’re deployed on this provocative political mission. The difference here is that it was caught on camera and the victim died.

From the one-on-one incident with Ian Tomlinson, look at the climate camp film. Just as Tomlinson was not threatening and had his hands in his pockets, the crowd here hold their hands in the air to show they're unarmed and chant 'this is not a riot'.

What sort of orders do you think are being given to the group of officers being briefed at the start of the film?

Every single officer is behaving like the one who attacked Ian Tomlinson. It is not them acting on private motivations, they have clearly had orders to do it.

The vast majority of protests pass off without incident. The question is, what's different about these other ones? At the ones that turn nasty that I've been on, without exception, there's been the deployment of riot officers into peaceful protest and an attack on the protesters.

Usually, some of the protesters have responded by chucking stuff. But then, if the police did that anywhere with a large group of people, penned them in with riot police, refused to let anyone leave and attacked those at the edge, then wherever it was - railway station, shopping centre, you name it - they'd get the same response.

It is a strategy. Certain protests get deemed as politically unacceptable and treated like this.

If this were a few bad officers, where are the indictments from their colleagues? How many officers refused to follow these illegal orders to assault people? How many – as is their duty - have turned themselves in or reported their senior officers? The answers tell us that it’s not just the odd officer losing their cool, it's how they work as a body, it's institutional.

As I said elsewhere recently, these tactics will inevitably kill. The officer who pushed Tomlinson was simply the one who drew the short straw. They certainly should be prosecuted for it, but if it leads to anything short of an admission that these assaults are a widespread police tactic against peaceful protesters then the investigation will count as a cover-up.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, and your final two paragraphs nail it - this is not about one tragic accident, or one 'bad apple'; it's the logical product of a strategy, and a strategy which has been refined over time towards achieving a very specific result. Perhaps (from the point of view of the architects of this strategy) an unfortunate product, but certainly a predictable one.

Anyway, this past week has demonstrated to me in stark terms that it is only if we all take it upon ourselves to act as guardians for what is right that we may hope to avoid getting stuck with what is wrong. The IPCC inquiry began in the public light, and yet still failed to challenge the police line on the death of Ian Tomlinson. So I thought I would turn my eyes to the footage of the events on Royal Exchange Buildings, and collated images of all the police officers who were in the immediate vicinity of the incident of 1st April. Hopefully if there is enough external scrutiny and pressure, we might see a more candid investigation, with more eyewitnesses in uniform being required to come forward. The last reports were that four police officers had come forward; the images collected together show that there were at least 18 in the area.

Apologies for the c+p that follows:

"Can you help identify the cops who witnessed the assault of Ian Tomlinson?

"If you were in London that day and took photographs, you may have snapped one or other of the 18+ officers who were in the immediate vicinity of Ian Tomlinson's assault at some other time.

"You may even recognise a regular from your pub, a neighbour, a copper off your local area.

"If you do, please don’t just leave it be.

"If enough people - ordinary people, people like us - take the time and trouble to hold those responsible (through their action or their inaction) for the death of Ian Tomlinson, force them to come forward and be held accountable, then we might - just might - help prevent this happening again, only next time to your father, my mother, our friends, our loved ones. Don’t leave it to the IPCC.

"FITwatch is also working hard to identify any Forward Intelligence Team types there in the events which were shortly followed by Ian Tomlinson's death at the age of 47."

Thanks for the space, and here's to a better future!

PS On a lighter, more personal note, here's a tabloid headline for you that you might like:


I'll tell you that tale in more cheery times ;)

Andy Mabbett said...

The link in "as [a href="" uk="" articles=""]happened[/a]> at the climate camp protest" is not working.

Martin Wisse said...

Glad to see I'm not the only one calling Ian tomlinson's death the logical outcome of police policy of delegitimising the G-20 protests.

punkscience said...

Merrick, did you see this from Craig Murray?

"None of the footage that has proved the police violence, has come from official sources or cameras. Instead we have a series of contradictory lies about whether official camers were not there, not working or had just nipped off to the loo, at the moments police violence was captured by amateurs.

I have no doubt that there are many other instances of criminal police behaviour on the thousands of hours of official video. Those videos are being pored over by police and security services to capture images of individual demonstrators, identify them and add them to their secret security files. In so doing they are deliberately overlooking and most likely deleting evidence of police violence."