July 20th, 2012
A policeman has been acquitted of killing Ian Tomlinson during G20 protests in London by striking the 47-year-old bystander with a baton and pushing him to the ground as he walked away from police lines.
The jury at Southwark crown court on Thursday cleared PC Simon Harwood, 45, a member of the Metropolitan police’s elite public order unit, the Territorial Support Group, of manslaughter following one of the most high-profile cases of alleged police misconduct in recent years.
Harwood told the court that while in retrospect he “got it wrong” in seeing Tomlinson as a potentially threatening obstruction as police cleared a pedestrian passageway in the City on the evening of 1 April 2009, his actions were justifiable within the context of the widespread disorder of that day.
Speaking outside the court, the Tomlinson family said: “It’s not the end, we are not giving up for justice for Ian.” They said they would now pursue a civil case.
It remains hard to convict a copper of anything, especially things done “in the line of duty”, even when said copper has previous form:
The jury at Southwark crown court, who took four days to clear PC Simon Harwood of manslaughter on a majority verdict, was not told that the officer had been investigated a number of other times for alleged violence and misconduct.
Harwood quit the Metropolitan police on health grounds in 2001, shortly before a planned disciplinary hearing into claims that while off-duty he illegally tried to arrest a man in a road rage incident, altering notes retrospectively to justify his actions.
He was nonetheless able to join another force, Surrey, returning to the Met in 2005. In a string of other alleged incidents Harwood was accused of having punched, throttled, kneed or threatened other suspects while in uniform, although only one complaint was upheld.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission described the chain of events around Harwood’s rejoining his old force before becoming part of its elite Territorial Support Group as “simply staggering”.
Emphasis mine. You wonder if the verdict had been the same if the jury had known Harwood had been investigated for assault previously, and was allowed to escape prosecution for it. But of course they were not allowed to know this:
The Metropolitan police attempted to keep the disciplinary record of PC Simon Harwood secret from the family of Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper seller he struck with a baton and pushed to the ground at G20 protests, it can now be reported.
Lawyers for the force tried and failed to argue that disclosing the litany of complaints about Harwood’s conduct would have breached his privacy, saying the officer’s disciplinary history did not have “any relevance” to Tomlinson’s death.
Harwood, 45, who was found not guilty of Tomlinson’s manslaughter on Thursday, had repeatedly been accused of using excessive force during his career, including claims he punched, throttled, kneed and unlawfully arrested people.
The jury in the trial were not told about the history of complaints, despite a submission from the Crown Prosecution Service, which argued that in two of the disciplinary matters he was accused of using heavy-handed tactics against the public “when they presented no threat”.
The application was rejected by the judge, Mr Justice Fulford, who said: “The jury, in effect, would have to conduct three trials.”
The establishment takes care of its own. If this had been an ordinary murder and the suspect had previous form, wouldn’t that have been admitted to court as relevant information? You would think so. Then again, a civilian who had been accused of assault and abuse would not have been allowed to escape prosecution in the first place…