The whole episode of the killing of Ian Tomlinson brings into stark relief the deep doubts about the criminal justice system in its treatment of the police.
First, the IPCC whose role is to hold the police to account resisted calls to open an investigation for 7 days after Tomlinson’s death. They only reversed this decision when the Guardian released video footage taken by a visiting US fund manager showing Tomlinson hit by a baton and pushed to the ground by a policeman. Had those pictures not been taken and had the Guardian not made them public, the whole matter would have been swept under the carpet from the start because the City of London police detective superintendent put in charge of the inquiry because of the IPCC’s passivity told the family that Tomlinson had simply “run out of batteries” and may have had a heart attack because of the demo.
Second, the IPCC’s failure to respond allowed the police and the coroner to take the crucial decision to invite a controversial pathologist, Dr. Freddy Patel, to carry out the autopsy (at which the police were present, but from which the IPCC was barred). Patel had already twice been suspended by the General Medical Council after being found guilty of botched post-mortems and falsifying his CV, and he was no longer registered on the Home Office list of forensic pathologists. The deliberate choice of Patel by the polic and the coroner therefore looks very suspicious. He concluded that Tomlinson had died of a heart attack. Subsequently 3 other forensic pathologists also carried out an investigation, and all took the same view that he had died from internal bleeding in the abdomen, where three litres of bloody fluid were found. But the discredited pathologist Patel had carried out the first and most important autopsy, and as the key witness his evidence may have swayed the verdict.
Third, the signs of cover-up are manifest throught the whole process. The family was not told that 3 police witnesses confirmed 2 days after Tomlinson’s death that they had seen a colleague strike him with a baton and push him to the ground. Instead the police superintendent told them that Tomlinson’s attacker may have been a member of the public who had stolen a police uniform! After the Guardian released the video footage, both the police and the IPCC visited the Guardian’s office to request the video be removed from the website on the grounds that it might compromise any future inquiry and that it was upsetting the family – both of which turned out to be false. At the trial the jury were not told that the accused PC Harwood had been investigated several times before for violence and misconduct. And of course there had already been a coroner jury verdict reached in 3 hours, on virtually the same evidence, that Tomlinson had been “unlawfully killed” by a police officer.
Fourth the conclusion has to be that it is next to impossible to convict a police officer of manslaughter. Despite 1,433 deaths in police custody of involving police officers since 1990, not one police officer has been convicted. What this latest dreadful case indicates is that the IPCC is not fit for purpose, the police should never be allowed to carry out the inquiry into any such case or be present at the autopsy, and that any evidence given by a forensic pathologist who is not on the Home Office approved list should be automatically disregarded. We still have a long way to go before justice is seen to apply to the police in the same way as to everyone else.