G20: Some perspective on Ian Tomlinson

Police tactics over G20 have been widely criticised
Police tactics over the G20 protests have been widely criticised (Photo: chickyog.net)

Imagine you shove someone in the street and they fall to the floor. By the letter of the law this is assault and you should face prosecution for your actions.

Then imagine that the same person has a heart attack over an hour later and dies. You would be incredibly unlucky, but you would not be liable for manslaughter.

As simplistic as it may sound, this simple scenario needs to be kept in mind when assessing the case of Ian Tomlinson. I am not one to pull punches when it comes to criticising the Met police and I was not in favour of the kettling techniques used during the G20 protests. But to compare Tomlinson to Jean Charles De Menezes is simply ridiculous.

I am pleased to see that the Guardian tracked down and published the footage showing the assault on Tomlinson, and as a result the incident has been reported to the IPCC. The following material has come to symbolise the frustration of the thousands of protesters caught in the kettle:

But lets not get carried away. This will not be an albatross around Sir Paul Stephenson’s neck like De Menezes was for Ian Blair. As far as the IPCC is concerned, I find myself thinking cynical thoughts: “If they didn’t take any significant action over shooting an innocent man to death, are they really going to act over a man who was shoved to the floor and died 85 minutes later?” Most likely, this investigation will drag on for months and will be resolved quietly after the public has long forgotten about it.

The media has performed a great service in bringing this evidence to public attention, as Morwenna Coniam argues, but blowing this out of proportion would be a gross disservice to the Metropolitan police, despite their many shortcomings. It seems that many are trying to use this incident as a stick to beat the police with, but it’s just not a big enough stick.

Tomlinson was an innocent man who got caught up in the action, but he is no De Menezes as the police attack cannot be clearly linked to his death and a second post-mortem will surely confirm this. Despite the advances in citizen journalism, it’s a shame that no-one has found a more relevant example to illustrate the full extent of the violence that occurred on the streets of central London last week.

3 thoughts on “G20: Some perspective on Ian Tomlinson

  1. I agree that the police have not yet been incriminated in causing Tomlinson’s death, but the incident itself should not be belittled.

    What the video footage shows is a man being physically assaulted, seemingly as a result of no action of his own.

    I feel some sympathy for the commissioner, for this was not the direct result of operational strategy. Certainly, there was almost an air of doom hanging over the run up to the summit in which it seemed the police were expected to do something wrong.

    But whether it killed Mr Tomlinson or not, there is no getting away from the sheer brutality which has been found to be rife in some members of the police force.

    I would like to think that Sir Paul will be judged on how he responds to the evidence and subsequent inquiry rather than purely on the shameful actions of his staff. But that may require leaving my cynic hat on the peg for a while.

  2. I happen to agree with you Chris (which makes a nice change…!), that this incident has been blown out of all proportion. Yes, someone died, but legally, I don’t think that anyone has yet established any kind of causation between him being pushed by the Police and his death.

    In any event, I think it is important to remember that the police had been taunted and on duty in many cases for hours and hours on end, and if all the thousands of cameras at the event have only caught (so far) two acts of ‘police brutality’ then that seems to me like the police did pretty well. What is the alternative? Have a police force who are unable to use any kind of offensive action to control a crowd? I think this would lead to many more problems that have surfaced so far.

    P.s That wasn’t assault on Ian Tomlinson – it was battery. But never mind…

  3. ‘I think it is important to remember that the police had been taunted and on duty in many cases for hours and hours on end’

    These aren’t just standard bobbies we’re talking about. These guys are trained to withstand torrents of abuse and not take it personally. If one of them gets a bit ‘asp-happy’ they should be relieved of their position – they obviously don’t have the temperament required.

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