Friday, April 10, 2009


Even those not present at the G20 protests on 1st April can now reconstruct the events which led to the death of Ian Tomlinson from reading eyewitness testimonies and watching videos filmed by bystanders.

In the weeks leading up to the demos, the Met had whipped up a storm, which was duly parroted by the media, by predicting that packs of violent demonstrators would be baying for blood, and that the the Police must therefore use unprecedented tactics to control them. The public were encouraged to be scared, and the Police have been drilled to respond to protestors with force.

By seven pm, the Police had been trying to manage the demonstrations around the Bank of England for several hours. A large group of protestors, most of whom acted peacefully during the day, were now being "kettled" around the Bank - trapped in a small space without food, water or toilets until they boil. The Police, pumped up with fear and aggression, had stopped differentiating between violent and non-violent members of the public. They had beaten and clubbed many people as the evening set in (as they were instructed to do), and police dogs had been set on people perceived as troublemakers.

Ian Tomlinson left his news-vendor friend just after seven and walked down King William Street. Seeing the kettled protestors blocking his way, he cut through to Cornhill Street. Wearing jeans and a grey long-sleeved top with a purple t-shirt over the top, he didn't present as a well man. He looked vulnerable as he shuffled along with his hands in his pockets, and we now know that Mr Tomlinson was a recovering alcoholic who had recently been living in temporary accommodation in a hostel. He passed a group of police officers. We don't know if words are exchanged, but the video taken by the American fund manager shows that Mr Tomlinson did nothing provocative - he was simply trying to get home.

An officer, who had removed the ID number from his shoulder and had donned a balaclava, suddenly hit Mr Tomlinson with a baton for no apparent reason, and then lunged at him, pushing him forcefully with both hands. Mr Tomlinson fell to the ground, banging his head hard against the concrete. Two bystanders helped Mr Tomlinson to his feet, while a group of policemen looked on. Mr Tomlinson stumbled away, apparently concussed, and collapsed again three minutes later on St Michael's Alley. Some bystanders moved towards Mr Tomlinson to help him, but were pushed away by police. A member of the public phoned the emergency services, but the police refused to get involved. Contrary to a police statement released later that evening, no attempt was made to obstruct the progress of police medics, and the majority of protestors were angry at the few who threw missiles. The second video shows that by this time all police officers in the vicinity had pulled their black masks halfway up their faces to conceal their identity. Very shortly afterwards, Mr Tomlinson had a fatal heart-attack.

The witness statements and videos (another film, shown by Channel 4 news, shows the attack from a different angle) corroborate this account of events. The video evidence, in particular, is unambiguous. But it is an account completely at odds with the insipid police statement released at 11.30pm that evening, four hours after Mr Tomlinson died, in which no mention was made of the police officer throwing Ian Tomlinson to the ground, and in which the obstruction faced by police medics was grossly exaggerated. Why did the Police leave it so long to release a statement? Why did they fail to mention the assault? Why did they lie about protestors throwing bottles?

One supposes that the police had had a rough day - they had been fired up by the situation and by the preparation they had received from their superiors. A policeman assaulted a man who clearly wasn't a city worker (and was therefore, by the police's own dehumanising logic, a possible menace), pushed him to the ground, and then continued to assault him. His colleagues did not try to stop him, and presumably felt more loyalty and compassion for him than for Mr Tomlinson. We don't know if the second group of officers knew that Tomlinson had been assaulted by one of their own, but they refused to let bystanders intervene and waited for the medics to arrive. The cover-up began that evening with a statement which at best was misleading, and at worst contained untruths designed to smear the very protestors who had attempted to help.

There is no need to comment on this story. It speaks for itself. Upwards of 900 comments have been left on this article, but there is no room for debate. We know, either anecdotally or through experience, that the Police use violence against the public. They usually get away with it, and would have done again - but this time, through the clarity of video, we can see this incident from start to finish. All that remains for the individuals concerned is to establish whether there was a link between the assault on Mr Tomlinson and his subsequent. If there is, a manslaughter charge must be brought.

As for the institution, it will be investigated by the Indepedent Police Complaints Commission, whose record for upholding complaints and pressing charges is abysmal. Prior to launching their criminal investigation, the IPCC had virtually given up on the story, telling media outlets that there was nothing in the Guardian's footage. The Police will not be reformed, but at least now we can all watch the reality of Police work.


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