A POLICE officer has been cleared of the manslaughter of a newspaper seller during the G20 protests in London in 2009, at the conclusion of a court case that has raised serious questions about the Met’s recruitment
PC Simon Hardwood had said he used reasonable force when he hit Ian Tomlinson, 47, with a baton and shoved him to the ground as the vendor tried to find his way out of a cordon put up to contain protests in central London.
Mr Tomlinson, an alcoholic who had slept rough for a number of years, collapsed and died afterwards. Footage of the incident helped to turn his case into a rallying point for those who alleged that police brutalised demonstrators.
PC Harwood, 45, wept when a jury at London’s Southwark Crown Court acquitted him yesterday. Mr Tomlinson’s family was also reduced to tears, later giving an emotional statement outside the courthouse, saying the verdict “really hurts” and promising to pursue a civil
“It’s not the end, we are not giving up on justice for Ian,” said his stepson, Paul King, who had attended every day of the trial with other relatives.
Last night, demonstrators gathered outside Scotland Yard in a peaceful protest against the verdict.
During the trial, the jury was not told that there had been concerns expressed about PC Harwood’s past behaviour and the fact he had faced a number of complaints over the years.
Yesterday, the Independent Police Complaints Commission expressed concerns about the Metropolitan Police’s vetting procedures after details of PC Harwood’s disciplinary record were published following the verdict. The IPCC has said the officer will face internal disciplinary proceedings from the Met later this year.
One of the complaints made against PC Harwood concerned his involvement in a road-rage incident when he was off duty. Those details had been ruled
inadmissible as part of the trial.
The jury of seven women and five men took 18 hours and 45 minutes to clear PC Harwood at the end of a four-week trial. Had he been convicted, he would have become the first police
officer to be found guilty of such a crime while on duty since 1986.
Giving evidence, PC Harwood, from Carshalton, Surrey, admitted he was “wrong” to hit and push the father of nine, but he did not realise that at the time.
He told the jury: “Now I’ve seen all the evidence and I know how poorly Mr Tomlinson was, I’m sorry that I got involved. I shouldn’t have hit him with a baton and pushed him.”
He said he believed Mr Tomlinson, who was drunk at the time, was being deliberately
obstructive and that his use of force was reasonable.
“I believed he was doing it on purpose. From what I saw, he looked like he wasn’t going to move and was looking at the
police as though he wanted them to move him away.”
PC Harwood had tried to arrest a man for writing ACAB – short for “all cops are b******s” – on a police van moments before coming across Mr Tomlinson.
The graffiti culprit managed to wriggle free in front of a jeering crowd, leaving PC Harwood allegedly “terrified” and in fear for his safety.
He also shoved another protester and pulled a TV cameraman to the ground.
In the immediate aftermath of Mr Tomlinson’s death in April 2009, police said that a post-mortem examination had showed that he died of natural causes. Shortly afterwards, video footage emerged of Mr Tomlinson being pushed to the ground by the police officer.
A further post-mortem examination found that the cause of death was abdominal bleeding caused by a blow.
At first, prosecutors said there would be no charges, because the cause of death was not agreed. But in May last year, an inquest recorded a verdict of unlawful killing and PC Harwood was charged the following month.
PC Harwood made no comment as he left the crown court yesterday.
London Assembly member Jenny Jones said: “My heart goes out to the Tomlinson
family, who must feel as if they have been denied justice by this verdict.
“I hope the Met will reflect on this case, the damage that has been done to its reputation, and now start to rebuild the trust that has been lost by this case.”
Deborah Coles, co-director of justice charity Inquest, said: “This verdict is a damning reflection of the systemic problems inherent in the current investigation system, where deaths following police use of force are not treated as potential crimes.
“This failure has profound consequences on the proper functioning of the justice system in relation to such deaths.
“It is vital that the rule of law is upheld and applies equally to all, including police officers, and that they do not believe that they can act with impunity.
“For too long, there has been a pattern of cases where inquest juries have found overwhelming evidence of unlawful and excessive use of force or gross neglect and yet no police officer … has been held responsible.”
Jules Carey, solicitor for the Tomlinson family, said: “This is one of the hardest days for the family.
“There have been many: the morning an officer told them Ian was dead, the day they first saw that video, the day an investigator said it might be a protester in a policeman’s uniform, the day the pathologist changed his evidence about finding three litres of blood, the day the
CPS said they wouldn’t charge the officer with any offence,” Mr Carey went on.
“PC Harwood may have been acquitted of manslaughter by this jury, but another jury, at the inquest a year ago, found that Ian Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed.
“It is impossible for this family to understand these two, apparently contradictory, verdicts.
“Ian Tomlinson’s family have not given up on justice. They will now look to the civil courts to reconcile these verdicts, deliver justice and formally answer the question, ‘Who killed Ian Tomlinson?’
“It is a terrible truth that in the last 30 years there have been over 1,000 deaths in custody and after contact,” said Mr Carey. “There have been many unlawful killing verdicts, but there is not one case of an officer convicted of manslaughter.”