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How far can we trust the police?

The evidence coming out of the Tomlinson trial is a serious challenge to police integrity. We now know that two days after Ian Tomlinson died, three Met constables admitted they had seen a colleague hit him with a baton and push him to the ground. Yet senior officers at City of London police failed to pass this crucial information on to the Independent Police Complaints Commission or to the coroner or to the family. Why not? Why did the City of London police instead release a press statement the day after the information supplied by the police witnesses saying that the cause of death was a ‘sudden’ heart attack? And why in the light of the evidence of the police witnesses did the City of London Police then tell the family there was ‘no evidence’ that police in the area were involved in the death?

This would be bad enough if it was an isolated example of police disinformation. But it isn’t. PC Harwood explained his behaviour to the inquest by saying he fell to the floor, was hit on the head and was involved in violent and dangerous confrontations; later he admitted none of this had happened. Yates, Deputy Met Commissioner, told a parliamentary committee there was no evidence that MPs’ phones had been hacked, and that the police had contacted everyone targeted by the News of the World and had ensured the phone companies had warned all the suspected victims; it is now admitted that noen of this is true. When Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by the police, the Met Commissioner claimed he was challenged and refused to obey police instructions, and a later police statement added that he was wearing a heavy jacket, fled from the police when challenged, and vaulted over the ticket barrier at the tube station; it is now known that none of this is true.

There are at least a dozen other killings by police officers where similar misleading stories abound, from Kevin Gateley and Blair Peach in the 1970s to Ian Tomlinson in April 2009. No democratic society can tolerate this. Where police officers are found to have lied to escape culpability after a fatal or very serious incident, it makes a mockery of justice. It should be made clear without equivocation that any such police officer will be sacked and where appropriate charged with perjury. Only that will restore public trust in the police.

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