Two weeks after Ian Tomlinson’s death during the G20 protests, there are some very disturbing questions to be answered.
A video on the Guardian website taken by an independent passer-by shows him with his back to several police officers. Some are in riot gear, while others have police dogs. He has his hands in his pockets and appears to be ambling.
A police officer with no visible shoulder number and most of his face covered by a balaclava appears to strike him with a baton, hitting him from behind on his upper thigh. Tomlinson starts to fall.
The same policeman then rushes forward and, using both hands, pushes Tomlinson in the back and sends him flying to the ground.
As Tomlinson is on the ground, apparently remonstrating with the police, no officer comes to help him up. The police talk to each other and pat their dogs.
Tomlinson is helped up by a protester. As we know, some minutes later, Tomlinson collapsed and died.
Why was the policeman hiding his identity? Why was he allowed to? Why did he – or anyone else – think that hitting an unarmed man with a baton and then pushing him over was appropriate? Why didn’t anyone from the police help Tomlinson?
The police statement made no mention of Tomlinson’s earlier assault by the police. Nor did it mention that the riot squad had been involved. It tried to shift the blame onto the protesters. Who was responsible for that statement? Why were attempts by protesters to help Tomlinson obstructed?
What else happened at the demonstration?
Statements given to the Guardian by protesters recount police using batons to club individuals, setting dogs on people, smashing a protester’s head against a door during an arrest and allowing their dogs to bite.
As has been widely reported, the demonstrators (and several bystanders including Tomlinson) were “kettled” by the police – corralled, penned into a small space and kept there for several hours.
This tactic was held to be lawful by the House of Lords in January.
All these allegations of police behaving violently and abusively should be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
“Kettling,” despite the House of Lords ruling, is a very dangerous technique. It inhibits the right to peaceful protest and treats everyone as though they are dangerous, whether they are violent protesters, peaceful protesters or bystanders. The health risks are obvious.
Questions have however been raised about just how independent the IPCC itself is. It was informed about the death on Wednesday April 1, but did not start a criminal investigation until Tuesday April 7, when the Guardian sent it the footage of the assault on Tomlinson.
Even now, the IPCC appears to be using City of London police to collect evidence and interview witnesses, apparently under the supervision of the IPCC.
The organisation has not recommended disciplinary action against police officers in any of its inquiries into recent controversial deaths: Jean Charles de Menezes, Harry Stanley or the shooting of barrister Mark Saunders.
Nor have any criminal prosecutions resulted from these investigations. Its inquiry into the de Menezes shooting was delayed for seven days by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair and its investigations were initially kept from the de Menezes family and the public.
There are many unhappy parallels between Tomlinson’s case and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.
The initial police reports said that de Menezes had behaved suspiciously by wearing a heavy jacket in July and vaulting over the barriers to the Tube station. Both statements were false.
At the inquest, the jury unanimously rejected the police evidence and found that a warning had not been shouted, de Menezes had not behaved suspiciously and he had not moved forward in a manner suggesting that he might be about to detonate a bomb.
Despite the jury’s findings, there has been no disciplinary action, let alone any criminal prosecution, against the police who shot de Menezes, those who ordered them to and all the police officers who assisted with the dissemination of false information.
In Tomlinson’s case the police officer directly responsible, a member of the Met’s Territorial Support Group, has been suspended but has still not been interviewed by the IPCC, let alone
arrested or charged with any criminal offence.
Any member of the public who attacked an unarmed person in that way would by now have been arrested for assault at the very least and could face manslaughter charges if the assault caused or contributed to Tomlinson’s death.
Why hasn’t this police officer been arrested and interviewed under caution?
Who gave the orders that led the police to believe that they could commit criminal offences with impunity?
If the IPCC is to be seen as truly independent, it must investigate Mr Tomlinson’s death itself, not use the City of London police.
Will it investigate all the way up the chain of command?
The events at G20
Ian Tomlinson died around 7.30pm. In a statement released four hours later, the Metropolitan Police said that a member of the public had told them that a man had collapsed, he had been examined by two police medics and an ambulance had been called. Police had decided to move Tomlinson, who had stopped breathing, because protesters were throwing missiles at them.
Witnesses have said that only one bottle was thrown and that protesters immediately remonstrated against the throwing of any more. One protester told others through a loudhailer that a man had been injured. Protesters tried to give Tomlinson first aid. One man rang 999 and got through to the ambulance service. When the police arrived, they ignored his requests to speak to the ambulance service on the phone.
The medical story
A post-mortem was carried out on Friday April 3 and concluded that the cause of death was a heart attack. A second post-mortem was arranged by the Tomlinson family.
Its results have yet to be released. The pathologist who carried out the first post-mortem, Dr Freddy Patel, has previously been reprimanded by the General Medical Council for falsely stating that Roger Sylvester (a 30-year-old black man who died in police custody), was a crack cocaine user.
Surely this raises questions about Dr Patel’s independence from the police?
Lawyers from the Police Action Lawyers Group, whose members represent clients who have complaints about police behaviour, voted to withdraw from participation in the IPCC Advisory Board in February 2008.
Their press release said “Urgent action is needed if the IPCC is not to become another obstacle on the road to police accountability.”
How protest became terrorism
Back in 2000, the Terrorism Act began to conflate terrorism and legitimate peaceful protest.
It defined terrorism as including action that threatened serious damage to property, thus turning the Greenham Common women, the suffragettes and many other peaceful protesters into “terrorists.”
Since September 11 and the “war on terror,” legislation and the policing of demonstrations continue to treat peaceful protest as akin to terrorism.
Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, giving the police stop and search powers to search for articles connected with terrorism, was used against peace protesters at the DSEi arms fair and RAF Fairford, and can potentially be used against anyone in the London area.
The Serious Organised Crime and Policing Act 2005 restricted demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament Square and criminalised anti-war activists Maya Evans and Milan Rai for reading the names of the dead in the Iraq war at the Cenotaph.
Most recently, section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 criminalises the taking of photographs on demonstrations.
This article appeared in the Morning Star newspaper on 16th April 2009.
Liz Davies is a barrister, long-standing labour and peace movement activist and chairwoman of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers.
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This post was written by Liz Davies