In April 2009, the G20 group, the leaders of 20 of the most economically powerful nations met in London. On April 1st, the day before the summit proper began, protestors gathered around the Bank of England to demonstrate. For a decade and more the various summits of these leading nations had been the focus of protests, demos, lobbies and so, on by groups varying from anti-capitalist movement to campaigners around developing world poverty. Several thousand came to demonstrate; both protestors and police knew that some folk would try to escalate a demonstration into a riot. Some police always also have the same interests…
On the day, pretty much as soon as most of the various marches converging on the Bank of England area arrived, police kettled us all in; barring the way to anyone wanting to get in – or out. This tactic was a favourite of large-scale public order ‘incidents’ at least since Mayday 2001 (though under other names, the tactic had been in vogue at other times). From the police viewpoint hemming everyone in limits people’s ability to move around, disrupt possible targets, and if kept up for hours, wears angry defiance down into hungry passivity.
The disadvantage for police in Public Relations terms is that you not only piss off the demonstrators still under the impression the boys and girls in blue should be helping them across the road, but that you also often kettle passers-by and random non-demonstrators.
On April 1st the police kettling was to lead to death. Murder, if you like. Newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson collapsed and died in the City of London after being hit from behind by PC Simon Harwood, while being pushed through the area kettle by police, as they were moving people away from certain areas and forcing them into the main group.
On 1 April 2009 there were dealing with six protests in London: a security operation at ExCeL London, a Stop the War march, a Free Tibet protest outside the Chinese Embassy, a People & Planet protest, a Climate Camp protest, and a protest outside the Bank of England. Some 4,000–5,000 protesters were at the Climate Camp in Bishopsgate, and the same number at the Bank of England. Over 5,500 Metropolitan police officers were deployed on 1 April and 2,800 on 2 April, The G20 Bank of England protest was kettled from 12.30 pm until 7.00 pm. At 7 pm police began to disperse the protesters around the bank, and senior officers made a decision that “reasonable force” could be used. Between 7:10 and 7:40 pm the crowd surged toward the police, missiles were thrown, and police responded by using their shields to push the crowd back. Scuffles broke out and arrests were made.
Ian Tomlinson hadn’t been on the protest, he’d finished work and was trying to get back to the homeless hostel where he was living. but wasn’t being allowed to get through any police cordons. Video footage which emerged later showed him in various places around the City, being pushed or forced to move on several times by police, nudged by a police van; at one point a police dog was wet on him and bit his hand.
A week after the incident, the Guardian newspaper was passed footage shot by an investment fund manager from New York who was in London on business. The video shows a group of officers who had already hassled him several times, and were following him down the street, approach Tomlinson at the southern end of Royal Exchange Passage, near the junction with Cornhill. Tomlinson was walking slowly with his hands in his pockets. An eyewitness said Tomlinson was saying that he was trying to get home. No footage showed no provocation on Tomlinson’s part – however, he had a long history of alcoholism and homelessness; automatically bracketing him in one of the groups that police enjoy targeting regardless of whether they get involved in any aggro at a particular time.
The footage showed one officer lunge at Tomlinson from behind, then strike him across the legs with a baton the officer was holding in his left hand. The same officer pushed Tomlinson’s back, causing him to fall. On 8 April Channel 4 News released their own footage of the scene, which showed the officer’s arm swing back to head height before bringing it down to hit Tomlinson on the legs with the baton. A different video obtained by The Guardian on 21 April showed Tomlinson standing by a bicycle rack, hands in his pockets, appearing to offer no resistance, when the police approach him. After he is hit, he can be seen scraping along the ground on the right side of his forehead; eyewitnesses spoke of hearing a noise as his head hit the ground.
In the Guardian video, Tomlinson could be seen briefly remonstrating with police as he sat on the ground. None of the officers tried to help him. After being helped to his feet by a protester, Tomlinson walked 200 feet (60 m) along Cornhill, where he collapsed at around 7:25 pm outside 77 Cornhill. Witnesses say he appeared dazed, eyes rolling, skin grey. They also said he smelled of alcohol. An ITV News photographer tried to give medical aid, but was forced away by police, as was a medical student. Police medics attended to Tomlinson, who was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.
The first autopsy had concluded that Tomlinson died of natural causes after suffering a heart attack. His death became controversial a week later when The Guardian published video that showed Harwood striking Tomlinson on the leg with a baton, then pushing him to the ground. Second and third autopsies concluded the push to the ground had caused internal bleeding to his liver, which had killed him. Later, Fredy Patel, the Home Office pathologist who at first exonerated the police violence of having caused Ian’s death was struck off the medical register; he had a long history of ballsing up or covering up evidence, this being only the latest.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) began a criminal inquiry, and further autopsies indicated that Tomlinson had died from internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma to the abdomen, in association with cirrhosis of the liver. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to charge Harwood, because the disagreement between the first and later pathologists meant they could not show a causal link between the death and alleged assault.
After an inquest in 2011 found that he had been unlawfully killed by the officer, Simon Harwood, a constable with London’s Metropolitan Police Service, the CPS suffered one its about-turns (sometimes known as BPRD, or Bad Publicity Reversal Decisions) and charged Harwood with manslaughter. On the day of the incident, he appeared to have removed his shoulder number and had covered the bottom of his face with his balaclava: a tactic favoured when officers want to conceal their identity. For completely legit reasons. Harwood had a blurry history with some allegations of using unnecessary force in the past; he later lied about having been knocked over during the G20 protest and ‘feared for his life’. He was seen getting heavy with protestors and press on the day before he attacked Ian Tomlinson.
He was found not guilty in 2012, but was dismissed from the police service for gross misconduct, in September 2012 after a disciplinary hearing found that he had acted with “gross misconduct” in his actions towards Tomlinson. Slight understatement. Tomlinson’s family filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police, which paid the family an undisclosed sum in August 2013. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner also issued a formal apology for “Simon Harwood’s use of excessive and unlawful force, which caused Mr Tomlinson’s death, and for the suffering and distress caused to his family as a result.”
From the first, police had obstructed the family in their attempt to find out what had happened, lied to them and to the press about the sequence of events; the Independent Police Complaints Commission (a kind of bumbling glove puppet which is supposed to examine possible police malpractice, but ends up usually parroting cop lies and making ineffectual rulings) lurched between incompetence and misleading the family. The zig-zagging by the Crown Prosecution Service just added icing to the cake of general mis-justice.
Harwood’s acquittal left Ian Tomlinson’s family where all other relatives of victims of police violence and deaths in custody (or out of it) usually end up. Ie, with everything left unresolved and a sense that the so-called justice system is not really there to work for them.
One day, you would hope, there will be a day of reckoning.
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online