No whitewash this time, thanks to mobile phone cameras

An article relating to the aftermath of the death of the innocent bystander Ian Tomlinson at the April 2009 G20 protests in London.

A still from video footage obtained by the Guardian showing the aftermath of what appears to be a police assault of Ian Tomlinson on April 1, 2009. The video was shot by an investment fund manager from New York, who passed it to the Guardian. He has relinquished his copyright and wants it to be distributed freely.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (its actual name) has now published its full report into the death of Ian Tomlinson at the anti-G20 demonstration in London, April 2009. The IPCC’s conclusion with regard to the way the police acted in the wake of the tragedy is that: “our investigation found no evidence that any press officer, or any police officer responsible for agreeing media lines, set out to mislead anyone. Nor have we seen any evidence that the police attempted to cover up the circumstances of Mr Tomlinson’s death.”

If this is true, then it is a first in history, because the police, the British police in particular, and the Metropolitan Police most of all, have a long and shameful history of doing precisely that, but over the past few years they have realised that the total surveillance society is indeed total, and that we are now watching them just as much as they are watching us, and at times more so.

With the advent of cheap videophones capable both of recording reasonable quality film and transmitting it virtually instantaneously anywhere in the world, the era of police beatings of peaceful protesters is as good as over, in the West at least. Anytime there is a crowd and a copper gets out his truncheon, someone is sure to point a mobile phone in his direction. Even police officers engaged in routine arrests and confrontations can no longer be totally sure their strong arm or bully boy tactics will go unnoticed, unrecorded and unpunished. The proof of that pudding is in the eating; log onto the Youtube website, key in a phrase like “police beat woman” or “police beat kid” and see how many (shocking) videos come up.

All this is in stark contrast to what was one of the most shocking police beatings ever recorded, that of Rodney King in the small hours of March 3, 1991. King was struck 56 times in 81 seconds by four uniformed thugs, whose acquittal by a predominantly white jury sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots. There can be no doubt whatsoever that but for chance – the amateur video of George Holliday – this beating would have gone unnoticed and possibly unreported. King’s injuries would have been explained away, and any protests to the contrary would have been dismissed as the unsubstantiated self-serving whinings of a convicted felon.

Of course, there is no real comparison between the methodical and sustained beating meted out to Rodney King and the gratuitous shove in the back – a moment of madness - delivered to the hapless Ian Tomlinson by PC Simon Harwood. Ian Tomlinson was not a well man, and could have literally dropped dead at any time, but the fact remains that it was Harwood’s unwarranted assault that led to this innocent bystander’s death. A murder charge would of course always have been out of the question; clearly there was no mens rea, it may even be argued that a charge of manslaughter would be excessive, but he will now have to be charged with something, and his internal police misconduct hearing will be heard in public. But did the police attempt to cover up the facts of Mr Tomlinson’s death? You bet they did!

One thing they did was engage an incompetent pathologist – or maybe Dr Patel was accommodating rather than incompetent – in spite of falsifying his CV and being found guilty of 29 counts of professional misconduct. Then they put out that Mr Tomlinson had fallen over of his own volition, and that he had died of natural causes. No, of course there was no cover up, but there was an attempted cover up. Fortunately, it was doomed to failure, and as more and more of our citizens carry video cameras in their pockets, there will be fewer and fewer successful attempts.

Video of police assault on Ian Tomlinson, who died at the London G20 protest.

[The above article was published originally May 10, 2011 with the photograph reproduced here and the linked video (now archived). The photograph was not uploaded by me, ditto its caption].


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