Ian Tomlinson’s death caused by police kettling

Outrage over non-prosecution of PC Harwood puts establishment on the defensive, notes Jim Gilbert

Last week’s decision by the director of public prosecutions not to charge police officer Simon Harwood with the death of Ian Tomlinson – caught up in the heavily-policed G20 Meltdown demonstration in London on April 1 2009 – came despite clear video evidence showing the uniformed thug wantonly knocking Mr Tomlinson to the ground. No-one in officialdom can feign ignorance, of course, as the images of the attack have been available online for some time.[1]

What may have been shocking to the general public was the fact that Ian Tomlinson, who was apolitical, was simply making his way home from work when he was fatally attacked near the Bank of England. His death from abdominal haemorrhage was a direct result of a political decision from on high to intimidate everyone demonstrating on that day. It is pretty obvious that the police were following the orders to ‘Clear the scum from City streets’. Out came the batons to kettle, contain, and repress demonstrators – and anyone else unfortunate enough to be in striking distance.

When a vigil was held the day after Tomlinson’s death, the actions of sergeant Delroy Smellie in brutalising a woman protester were also caught on video, leading to his prosecution for common assault. He was unsurprisingly found not guilty at a magistrates court in March this year, reinforcing the message that illegal demonstrators and anyone in the vicinity of an illegal demonstration are fair game for the filth.

A week after the Tomlinson killing, even The Daily Telegraph headlined an article ‘G20 death: we want a police force, not brute force’.[2] Although claiming there was “a sizeable minority bent on violence” at a largely peaceful demonstration, its writer did state, “But even if Tomlinson had been carrying a placard, it cannot be justified that he was treated in this way when he had, so far as we know, done nothing wrong.”

However, no manslaughter trial awaits Harwood because of conflicting evidence (an initial inquest claimed he had died of natural causes). Despite the announcement that the PC faces the sack from the police force, he will not face prosecution for assault due to a six months’ limit on prosecutions for ‘minor’ offences. Clearly within the higher echelons of the police service and government the Tomlinson killing is deeply embarrassing and the failure to prosecute leaves a bad smell.

Just as they have done frequently since the 1960s when on the rampage, some police officers at the G20 demonstration in 2009 covered up their badge numbers. Under cover of anonymity, much is possible. Why would they do this unless they intended (even hoped) to commit acts for which they might otherwise be brought to account later?

As anyone who has attended demonstrations over the last four decades can attest, police agents provocateurs are commonly deployed. From the anti-Vietnam war demos to the miners’ Great Strike of the 1980s, this ostensibly illegal method of policing was once again used at G20 Meltdown in 2009 several times. Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington was there and witnessed clearly one such instance. The Observer reported Brake’s observations the following month: “‘When I was in the middle of the crowd, two people came over to me and said, ‘There are people over there who we believe are policemen and who have been encouraging the crowd to throw things at the police.’ But when the crowd became suspicious of the men and accused them of being police officers, the pair approached the police line and passed through after showing some form of identification.”[3] In addition, the photo-op breaking of bank windows that day looked suspiciously as if it had been staged; whether it was contrived with Special Branch connivance we shall probably never know.

In the past fortnight we have also seen another blow to the right to demonstrate: Democracy Village in Parliament Square, London was uprooted on July 20. While long-term protester Brian Haw, Maria Gallastegui and hunger-striker Len Miskulin have for the moment been left undisturbed on the pavement nearby, the whole grassed area of the square has now been fenced off, leaving serious questions about its future use by demonstrators. Undeterred, however, some of those who were evicted have set up tents on the adjacent pavements. There have been ill-advised suggestions that Tory mayor of London Boris Johnson might try to recoup from demonstrators the estimated cost of £300,000 for eviction legal fees and cleaning.

No doubt politicians across the way in the Houses of Parliament found the Democracy Village too much to stomach, since one prominent theme espoused by its inhabitants has been opposition to the war on Afghanistan. They had intended to stay there until Britain got out. The fact that polling shows 77% of the UK’s population wants troops brought home at the most “within a year or so”[4] seems continually to escape most parliamentarians as well as the mayor; their gung-ho opinions on Afghanistan are shared by less than a quarter of electors. According to film-maker Rikki Blue, “Protesting in Parliament Square is not a party, it’s not a joke – it’s a hard-won, heart-felt struggle in the face of draconian laws put in place by arrogant and so-far untouchable politicians (who) are seeking any excuse to clear the square of the protest that daily reminds them what war criminals most of them are.”[5]

From the Blair and Brown New Labour governments into the first months of the present Con-Lib Dem one we have witnessed these sporadic, but cumulative attempts to deny the people of Britain the right to freely demonstrate. At least the ruling class and its state is consistent on this question, regardless of which parties happen to be in office. Our class response needs to be not only consistent, too, but also united and vigorous.

While we favour the prosecution of Simon Harwood, we oppose the scapegoating of individual police officers. The police force as a whole were responsible for brutally attacking the whole G20 protest which resulted in many injuries (if only one death). We do not support calls for the police to be ‘democratised’ or otherwise made accountable, however, since this merely provides a pseudo-democratic fig leaf for their continued class actions. No, we want the police disbanded, just as we call for the abolition of the armed forces. They all need to be gone and in their place must be established a militia in which all adults will participate. A disciplined, well-regulated and democratically controlled militia must become the goal of all extreme democrats.

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  1. See video footage passed to The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2009/apr/07/g20-police-assault-video ;and www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2009/apr/21/g20-ian-tomlinson-new-video
  2. www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/philipjohnston/5126464/G20-death-How-can-we-trust-the-police-now.html
  3. The Observer Sunday May 10: www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/10/g20-policing-agent-provacateurs
  4. The Independent on Sunday April 18: www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/afghanistan-a-conspiracy-of-silence-1947857.html
  5. Quoted on the New Statesman blog: www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/06/democracy-protest-freedom


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