Friday, July 23, 2010

making killing invisible

I wrote yesterday's post about the decision not to charge Ian Tomlinson's attacker pretty soon after the news broke. Later in the day the Crown Prosecution Service published their reasons for not prosecuting

Basically, they weren't charging with Manslaughter because the dodgy first autopsy said death was from was natural causes, and this would be enough to cast doubt on the subsequent two autopsies that place the blame for the death on the assault. A charge of Assault has a time limit of six months, which has passed.

Their explanation for not charging with Actual Bodily Harm and/or Misconduct in Public Office is less clear. They say that they can't prove the officer's push caused any harm. But in this part they don't mention the baton strike - wholly unnecessary and disproportionate for a man walking slowly away with his hands in his pockets - which left patterned bruising. This, then, is surely ABH. It also appears to meet their stated criteria for Misconduct in Public Office.

Today, Dr Nat Cary, who carried out the second autopsy, said the same thing

The injuries were not relatively minor. He sustained quite a large area of bruising. Such injuries are consistent with a baton strike, which could amount to ABH. It's extraordinary. If that's not ABH I would like to know what is.

Even the Independent Police Complaints Commission had said there was enough evidence for a Manslaughter charge. Deciding which one of the conflicting versions is true is supposed to be one of the main reasons to have a trial. Sarah McSherry, a partner at Christian Khan Solicitors, said

The evidence they refer to ought to have been tested in open court in the context of a normal criminal prosecution as with any ordinary member of the public. The court would then have decided on which, if any, of the expert's oral evidence was more convincing. It would also have considered the pathologists' professional reputations.

This last line refers to Freddy Patel. He did the first autopsy, the one that the CPS says casts too much doubt on the other two autopsies. Patel has been officially reprimanded, suspended from carrying out any work for the Home Office, and is facing 26 further charges of sub-standard practices including incompetently carrying out four other autopsies, including questionably ascribing deaths to non-suspicious causes.

My friend David said yesterday,

My new parlour game is to dream up scenarios so extreme a cop would actually get charged with something. I'm thinking sawing off the Queen's head live on TV during her Christmas message wearing a shit-eating grin and a T-Shirt bearing the slogan 'I'm Guilty'. What do you reckon - I reckon its borderline.

I think this would definitely get a charge, though. The queen isn't an ordinary member of the public like Ian Tomlinson, Blair Peach, Liddle Towers, Christopher Alder or any of the other hundreds of people whose deaths at the hands of police have gone unprosecuted. It's all about hierarchy. Police are above us, the queen is above police.

Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur it is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
- Derrick Jensen

So even when there's the clearest evidence of police violence for all to see, done in the middle of our biggest city in broad daylight on a busy day and clearly filmed, they have to find a way to make it be invisible.

The Birmingham Six were innocent people wrongly accused and convicted of an IRA bomb in the 1970s. They were severely beaten by prison officers and police, confessions and other evidence against them was fabricated, evidence that exonerated them was suppressed. They sued West Midlands Police but in 1980 the Master of the Rolls struck out their case, saying

If they won, it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous. That would mean that the Home Secretary would have either to recommend that they be pardoned or to remit the case to the Court of Appeal. That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, 'It cannot be right that these actions should go any further.'

In other words, we cannot bear to even think about the police acting in that way, so we deem it impossible.

Even though the Six's convictions were eventually quashed, no police or prison officers were ever convicted of the documented torture and lies that led to the convictions.

Protection of their power and position takes supreme precedence and makes a foul mockery of any claim to being agents of justice.

As Marc Vallee said, the Ian Tomlinson case teaches this fact to a new generation.

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