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When the State Kills

On the day of the G20 demonstration in the City of London, April 1 2009, PC Stephen Harwood wore full riot gear, wielded a long baton, held a shield, had a balaclava over his face and a helmet on, and his police identification number obscured.

Ian Tomlinson was wearing two sweatshirts and had his hands in his pockets. PC Harwood struck Tomlinson from behind, on the back of his leg, and then pushed him over so that he fell face-first onto the ground. Tomlinson was helped up by a demonstrator, said something to the police and started to walk on, but shortly afterwards collapsed and died.

Imagine if the roles were reversed – if Tomlinson had struck a police officer and then pushed him over, he’d have been arrested on the spot and charged with a serious offence.

It is worth remembering the obfuscations that the police and other state authorities immediately engaged in after Tomlinson died.

On the night of Tomlinson’s death the Met issued an official statement. It did not say anything about Tomlinson having any contact with police officers. It stated that police officers and ambulance crews had tried to save his life after he had collapsed and that their efforts were marred by demonstrators throwing bottles.

The next day Dr Freddy Patel was commissioned by the coroner, Professor Paul Matthews, to carry out a postmortem. Dr Patel advised that Tomlinson had died from a heart attack. The coroner refused a request from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to attend the postmortem and is said not to have told the Tomlinson family when and where the postmortem was to take place, nor to have advised them that they or a representative could attend.

By April 7 2009 witnesses had come forward giving accounts of PC Harwood attacking Tomlinson. Crucially, an amateur photographer had sent the now-notorious footage of the assault to the Guardian which published it on its website. Two days later the Guardian published another video showing Tomlinson collapsing. Contrary to the Met’s official statement, police officers can be seen pushing away demonstrators who are trying to help Tomlinson. There is no barrage of missiles as had been claimed by the police.

Shortly afterwards the Tomlinson family were able to obtain a second autopsy by Dr Nat Carey. He concluded, as did a third pathologist, that Tomlinson had died as a result of serious internal bleeding, presumably caused by the attack. Dr Carey has said: “He sustained quite a large area of bruising. Such injuries are consistent with a baton strike.” Dr Carey and the third pathologist had to rely on Dr Patel’s records of the first postmortem and both of them condemned those records as inadequate.

All this information was known by the IPCC, the police, the family and their legal representative and, most importantly, by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) by the end of April 2009. The CPS then took another fifteen months to decide that it would not prosecute PC Harwood.

When the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) announced that manslaughter charges would not be brought, he also said that there could be no charge of common assault because that lesser charge had to be brought within six months of the offence, ie by October 1 2009, and the CPS had not met that deadline.

The DPP’s decision doesn’t stand up, except when put in the context of the history of cover-ups ever since Tomlinson died.

The decision not to bring manslaughter charges is said to have been because the medical evidence as to the cause of death is not conclusive. The short answer to that is “let the jury decide.”

There are two pathologists who do attribute the cause of the death to injuries from the assault. One pathologist, Dr Patel, thinks Tomlinson died from a heart attack. Dr Patel is currently suspended from the Home Office’s approval list of pathologists because he is subject to disciplinary proceedings from the General Medical Council for allegedly conducting four different autopsies incompetently. Which of these three doctors would the jury believe?

Having excluded the possibility of manslaughter, the DPP jumped straight to the alternative of common assault. Common assault is the lowest level of criminal offence involving violence. It can only be tried in a magistrates’ court and, because it is relatively unimportant, the charge must be brought within six months of the offence. It tends to be used where the victim has had some bruising or a black eye. It seems extraordinary that the DPP considered a low-level charge of common assault might be appropriate.

But if the CPS was seriously thinking of a common assault charge, why didn’t it lay the charge during the six-month period just in case?

More importantly, what about the intermediate offences? Grievous bodily harm (GBH) and actual bodily harm (ABH) are not charges confined to the magistrates’ courts. That means there would not have been a six-month time limit and PC Harwood would have had the right to be tried by a jury. He could quite easily be charged with ABH.

On Tuesday it was announced that PC Harwood will now face gross misconduct charges and a disciplinary hearing, and the Tomlinson family have called for those proceedings to be held in public.

The parallels with the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes are all too many. In both cases, the police lied – blaming de Menezes for suspicious behaviour, blaming the demonstrators for impeding medical assistance. In both cases the police sought to delay an investigation by the IPCC. In both cases the CPS decided not to prosecute. In short, in both cases all the arms of the state – the police, the CPS, the coroners – have obfuscated and, in the case of the police, have told downright lies.

In the case of de Menezes there is one silver lining. Two juries had the opportunity to scrutinise the evidence and both disbelieved the police. One jury convicted the Met of health and safety violations – the inquest jury rejected the police evidence that they had shouted warnings and rejected the argument that the shooting was lawful. De Menezes shows us that, while official agencies are keen to protect the police, the truth comes out when ordinary people get the chance to decide.

The Tomlinson family and their lawyers are now left in the invidious position that the Lawrences, the de Menezes family and others have all been through. But they shouldn’t have been left in this position by the state. A bereaved family has enough to cope with, dealing with loss and grief. Nobody wants to be in the extraordinary position of having to employ cutting-edge legal tactics that might take years and years in order to get to the truth.

The Tomlinson family has launched a fighting fund. Further information and details of how to donate here. This article also appeared in the Morning Star.

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