Monday saw the start of the inquest into the death of Ian Tomlinson. Detailed updates of the hearing as witnessed by journalist Paul Lewis for The Guardian can be found here.
There are a couple of points I’d like to highlight.
The Chief Coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC, told the jury their task was to find the cause of death of Tomlinson. He also said the officer who struck Tomlinson before he died is “not on trial”. He also stated that the inquest would consider some broader issues, but would not be as wide-reaching as a public inquiry. “Nobody is on trial. No organisation is on trial. You as the jury will not decide any question of civil or criminal liability.”
Now it’s early days, but I have a few thoughts and questions. If the task is to find the cause of death of Tomlinson, why is Harwood ‘not on trial’? Is it that the actual cause of death has to be determined ‘beyond reasonable doubt’? There I quote the words of the Crown Prosecution Service who last year stated that despite there being sufficient evidence to lay a charge of assault against PC Harwood, it could not bring a manslaughter charge because the conflicting medical evidence meant prosecutors “would simply not be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there was a causal link between Mr Tomlinson’s death and the alleged assault on him”.
Now this would be because the initial pathologist report by Dr Freddy Patel upheld the initial police claim that Tomlinson had died of natural causes, a heart attack. Subsequent reports from pathologists Dr Nat Cary and Dr Kenneth Shorrock said he died of internal bleeding.
Hmm, Dr Freddy Patel…surely not the same Dr Freddy Patel whose reports on the death of Sally White – the first victim of Anthony Hardy, “the Camden Ripper” – in 2002, the General Medical Council disciplinary panel found “irresponsible, not of the standard expected of a competent forensic pathologist and liable to bring the medical profession into disrepute”.
Patel decided White, a 31-year-old sex worker, had died of natural causes despite blood staining on her clothing, her bedding and on a wall in a locked room in Hardy’s north London flat. Patel concluded she had died from a heart attack during consensual sex.
The fact is, it is the same Freddy Patel, who incidentally has been suspended since September last year for misconduct relating to two other postmortems, and whom the GPC are currently considering whether to strike off. Which makes the Tomlinson diagnosis a disturbing de ja vu diagnosis, wouldn’t you agree?
Moving swiftly along…
Thornton also warned the jury to avoid researching the abundance of material about his death available on the internet, as well as press reports from the inquest.
This is a curious statement, given that Keith Tagg, an investigator at the Independent Police Complaints Commission, described investigators trawling the internet for footage uploaded to YouTube and other websites. They found more than 5,000 instances of images put online. from a variety of types of footage: street CCTV, images recorded by a helicopter, “handheld footage” shot by bystanders on camcorders, cameras and mobile phones, and footage obtained by news organisations.
It also shows PC Harwood, officer with the Territorial Support Group (TSG),whose identity number was covered up and a scarf across the lower part of his face, clearly approaching Tomlinson from behind, striking his left thigh with a baton, and pushing him in the back. Tomlinson has his back to Harwood and his hands in his pockets. He is propelled forward and hits the ground.
Despite that, and the other footage that shows other incidents of Harwood acting aggressively and abusively to members of the public, he’s not on trial? I think I understand. It’s an inquest to determine the cause of death, which the jury has to do because three trained pathologist don’t agree. Forget an independent, unbiased (unbought) autopsy, they’ll see amalgamated still and video footage, visit the scene of the crime…ahem, incident, listen to eyewitness testimony and then be able to determine the cause of death. Ridiculous! Outrageous! And yet another circus.
Perhaps they think ‘the public’ so stupid and gullible that they’ll see something is being done and be satisfied. Perhaps they are, stupid, gullible, and short on memory.
Perhaps they don’t remember, for example, Blair Peach. One name in many on the list of those who have died at the hands of the police, but one example that stands out as eerily similar to Ian Tomlinson’s case.
Blair Peach had been attending a demonstration against the far-right National Front, which had staged a controversial meeting in the heart of Southall’s Sikh community, the night he died. Like Tomlinson, he was trying to get home when clashes broke out between police and protesters. Peach was alone after being separated from his friends at the moment he is thought to have been attacked by a member of Special Patrol Group (SPG), whose officers had spilled out on to the streets from parked vans. Eleven witnesses said they saw Peach hit by at least one officer, and gave consistent accounts of the attacks.
Peach’s family have campaigned to see the crucial report for more than 30 years. The 130-page report was produced by Commander John Cass, who ran the Met’s internal complaints bureau and led the investigation into Peach’s death. It reveals:
• Peach was almost certainly killed by an officer from its elite riot squad, known as the Special Patrol Group (SPG). A number of witnesses said they saw him being struck by a police officer, and the report found that “there is no evidence to show he received the injury to the side of his head in any other way”.
• Despite concluding Peach was killed by a police officer, Cass said there was insufficient evidence to charge any officer over the death, a decision echoed by the director of public prosecutions, to whom his report was delivered. An inquest into the death later returned a verdict of death by misadventure.
Peach and Tomlinson died after being confronted by police forming cordons, or “kettles”, before nightfall. In both cases, police left their victims on the floor.
Ian Tomlinson was cremated at the same cemetery where Blair Peach was buried.
Now here’s a thought, courtesy of the Dáithaí C blog; Let us think how it would have happened if it was the other way around? If a police officer had been assaulted by a protestor and died minutes later. Would there have been “mistakes” in collecting evidence which meant charges were time expired? Would they have waited 16 months to decide not to prosecute?
I also found this little tidbit on the Dáithaí C blog: But another entirely strange aspect of this tragic case emerged today. Pc Simon Harwood, 43, retired from the Met a decade ago on ill health grounds while facing a misconduct hearing for an alleged road rage incident. The officer was working for the Met during the 1990s when he was accused of a road rage incident while off duty, but retired on health grounds. He then rejoined the force as a civilian computer worker, before moving to Surrey Police as a Pc after passing a medical and vetting process, during which it is understood that he made a full disclosure of his background. He moved back to the Met in November 2004 and later given a place in the force’s controversial Territorial Support Group (TSG) unit. The TSG are referred to by other police officers by their nickname “The Filth” as they have a fearsome reputation as “hardmen” even within the police service and officers who have “aggression issues” are often taken off front line policing and assigned to the TSG. One commentator asked why PC Harwood was facilitated in rejoining the service, a very good question which deserves a very good answer. Was he a brother Mason, perhaps?
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Going back to the inquest then and the coroner’s statement that Harwood was not on trial. Even were he, so what? Even if the cause of death is decided by the jury to have been caused by the assault, then what? According to the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s own research in the past thirteen years 333 people have died in police custody, while no police officers have been convicted for the deaths. The IPCC admit “it is clear that juries quite often find it difficult to convict police officers.”
So even when the evidence doesn’t get suppressed of tampered with or falsified, the officers involved are aquitted. This correlates with research done by INQUEST. INQUEST is a charity that provides a free advice service to bereaved people on contentious deaths and their investigation with a particular focus on deaths in custody. Casework also informs our research, parliamentary, campaigning and policy work. They are currently aided the Tomlinson family in their search for justice.
One only need look at the statistics gathered by the organisation over the last twenty years to see what could be seen as an unspoken assurance within the police force, that it doesn’t matter if they kill someone whilst on duty because they’ll never be convicted for it.
I do hope, for the sake of Ian Tomlinson’s family and friends that this inquest is the start of justice being done. Personally, I don’t hold out much hope, and feel there is no justice, just us.