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PC Simon Harwood’s Prosecution…A Cause for Celebration?

May 25, 2011

The news that Pc Simon Harwood is to be charged with the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson is a welcomed one, especially for those who like the victim’s family, seeks justice and an example to be set that the Police are not above the law. However what are the wider consequences of focusing the attention of this unlawful act upon one officer? The director of prosecutions has decided that there is now a ‘realistic prospect’ of convicting Simon Harwood, something that at the last time of asking before the independent inquiry into the death of Mr. Ian Tomlinson was presumably not the case.

Mr. Tomlinson died after being struck by Simon Harwood, a police officer on duty at the G20 protests in London on the 1st April 2009, with a baton and then pushed to the ground. The original medical report on the cause of Mr. Tomlinson’s death deemed him to have died of natural causes of which could not have been directly connected with the baton strike and push that Simon Harwood inflicted upon him. However during the public inquiry, which was called for after the prosecution service failed to charge Harwood, this medical evidence was called into question when several other physicians after taking into account the evidence declared that internal bleeding was the cause of Mr. Tomlinson’s death, internal bleeding caused by the blow he had received from Simon Harwood.

The public enquiry found that Mr. Tomlinson’s death due to the actions of the Police officer was ‘unlawful’ and as a result of that and the ‘new’ medical evidence Simon Harwood is to be now charged and prosecuted with the manslaughter of Mr. Ian Tomlinson. As already asked however, what are the wider implications of these charges being brought on Simon Harwood and the focus of media attention on his individual actions? It can and would be argued by many, especially those who have attended demonstrations such as the G20, the education and public sector cuts protests and others, that the actions of the police officer in question is not an isolated case, with myself and many others having witnessed such brutal and violent force being carried out on a far wider scale than being suggested both in the media reports and it would seem within the justice system. Whilst deaths of this kind can be seen as rare, injuries and a feeling of intimidation can be found to be reported by many who express their democratic right to protest, as a result of Police violence at public demonstrations.

This article does not seek to condemn all Police officers nor does it attempt to tar all Police officers with the same brush. However the regularity of random violence directed at anyone who happens to be in reach of a Police line at demonstrations, as seen in the video evidence provided at the public inquiry into Mr. Tomlinson’s death, does suggest that at some level there is either an institutional disregard for the law regarding physical violence and intimidation or that there is some sort of feeling of non consequence, a sense of that no matter what sort of actions they take their will be no repercussions. It will be argued by many in the police and others that such claims are sensationalism, however the evidence would suggest not. The first call for Simon Harwood to be prosecuted was refused on the grounds of the medical evidence suggesting he died of natural causes, medical evidence provided by one man, however evidence that has since been very severely called into question. It took the insistence and determination of Mr. Tomlinson’s family and their supporters in order for a public enquiry to take place. Other Police tactics on the day have also been called into question, as undercover officers were deployed amongst the demonstrators effectively taking part in the protest, a claim that the Met originally denied but where forced to admit when contrary evidence was presented.

In order to witness the sporadic and what would seem random acts of violence on any who happens to be in reach of a Police line, one would only need to attend a demonstration, more so in London and Manchester. I myself have witnessed Police officers after being ‘pumped up’ after a huddle, consisting of a very aggressive banging together of shields and then the airy sound of the police war cry (a collective ‘Huuuugggh’ if you will), proceeding to push any who stand in their way with shield and swiping of batons towards individuals or crowds, regardless of whether they may or may not be part of the demonstration. Which brings me to another issue regarding the coverage of the case, throughout the medias reporting of the incident much of the outrage has been focused (maybe rightly) at the fact that Mr. Tomlinson was not part of the demonstration, but was just trying to make his way home from work. This is a very important point in the injustice of the actions carried out upon him, however it does also seem to attempt to add more credence to the apparent view of the Police and media outlets that anyone who is not part of a demonstration should not be a target of state violence but those who do are in some way ‘fair game’.

Countless acts of state violence towards un-armed members of the public who engage in their democratic right to demonstrate have been witnessed, reported and felt by many, whether that be being pushed by shields, hit with batons or sexually attacked be it verbally or physically. Activists however would argue that little has improved in how public demonstrations are policed, with many possibly arguing that in recent years it has become worse. Simon Harwood prosecution may provide the platform in which the tactics and attitudes of Police when dealing with public demonstrations can be discussed, however I and I am sure many others will fear that instead (as is often the case when the actions of any powerful institution are called into question) the result will be the man who was stupid/unfortunate enough to be the one who got caught will be hung out to dry and the brutal actions of many in the Met will live to intimidate and brutalise demonstrators another day, being swept under the carpet in exchange for the prosecution of Simon Harwood.

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From → Politics, UK

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