Yesterday’s news brought with it a real and welcome surprise. After the inquest jury earlier this month unanimously decided that newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson was unlawfully killed by TSG PC Simon Harwood at the G20 protests in April 2009, the Director of Public Prosecutions has executed a very public u-turn and announced that Harwood will now face a criminal prosecution for manslaughter.
Ian’s family are naturally relieved by this turn of events, as are those who have helped the campaign to get justice for them in his memory. His son, Paul King, released a statement on behalf of the family:
We welcome today’s decision to bring a charge of manslaughter against the officer. We believe this is the right decision. What we have always wanted is to achieve justice for Ian and to show that police officers are not above the law.
And they have appeared to be above the law for far too long. As far as I am aware, this is the first time (certainly in living memory) that a police officer will be called to account in the criminal courts for something like this – and I believe that it is also unusual for the DPP to change his mind so publicly on such a high profile case.
Having previously declined to prosecute due to what he saw as conflicting and problematic medical evidence, the DPP Keir Starmer has had to reassess last year’s decision in the light of what was revealed at the recent inquest, as he pointed out in yesterday’s statement:
We have considered the new evidence adduced at the inquest and the final positions adopted by the medical experts very carefully indeed. We have also taken the advice of leading counsel, Mr Tim Owen QC, on the critical medical issues that remain.
Having done so, we are satisfied that the position in relation to the medical evidence about the cause of death has clearly changed. The difficulties that would now confront any prosecution have changed in nature and scale from last year when a decision was taken not to prosecute, although it is clear that real difficulties remain.
Taking the evidence as it now stands, we have concluded that, even with those remaining difficulties, there is now sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of successfully prosecuting PC Simon Harwood for the manslaughter of Mr Tomlinson. That being the case, it is clearly in the public interest that criminal proceedings be brought.
Accordingly, a summons charging PC Harwood with the manslaughter of Mr Tomlinson has been obtained from the City of Westminster magistrates court. He will appear before that court on 20 June 2011.
Personally, I was expecting the DPP to attempt to wriggle out of it again (and succeed), as previous holders of the officer have done over equally high-profile cases of police brutality in the past. But yesterday’s decision is a huge step forward, and I can only hope that the prosecution of PC Simon Harwood will set a much-needed precedent – and give Ian’s family the justice they deserve.