The last four years have been a really hard uphill battle. We have had to deal with many obstacles and setbacks. After the ‘unlawful killing’ verdict at the inquest it was unimaginable to us that PC Harwood could be acquitted of the criminal charge of manslaughter. We will never understand that verdict, but at least today’s public admission of unlawful killing by the Metropolitan police is the final verdict, and it is as close as we are going to get to justice.
After everything they have been through in the last four years, I am glad that Ian Tomlinson’s family now finally have an apology from the Metropolitan Police Service, although the fact that it has taken four years for the police to fully acknowledge the events of April 1st 2009 and after says a great deal about how this case has been handled and the attitudes of some of the individuals and institutions involved.
Like many others who were at that ill-fated G20 demo in April 2009 (and who witnessed the behaviour of the TSG first hand), I have been following the progress of this case with much interest and I have been impressed with the quiet determination of Ian’s family in their search for the truth. In an ideal world, many of us would very much have liked to have seen Simon Harwood found guilty in last year’s manslaughter trial, but, as Ian’s widow Julia put it, this apology “is as close as we are going to get to justice”.
They may not have got the kind of justice many of us were hoping for, however, but I wish the Tomlinson family all the best for the future, whatever that brings, and I hope this apology (and the out of court settlement that accompanied it) can go at least some way towards helping them all move on from such a terrible and traumatic experience. I am sure that Ian would be proud of their tenacity, strength and bravery in standing up to the institutionalised violence, incompetence and cover-ups that surrounded his death with such dignity.
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.
After two years of fighting to find out exactly what happened to Ian Tomlinson on the evening of April 1st 2009, today his family came one step closer to justice after an inquest jury unanimously decided that he had been unlawfully killed by PC Simon Harwood, who may now face prosecution.
Here’s the verdict, as quoted on the Tomlinson Family Campaign website:
Time, place and circumstances at or in which injury was sustained:
Mr Tomlinson was on his way home from work on 1st April 2009 during the G20 demonstrations.
He was fatally injured at around 19.20 in Royal Exchange Buildings (the Passage), near to the junction with Cornhill, London EC3. This was as a result of a baton strike from behind and a push in the back by a police officer which caused Mr Tomlinson to fall heavily.
Both the baton strike and the push were excessive and unreasonable.
As a result, Mr Tomlinson suffered internal bleeding which led to his collapse within a few minutes and his subsequent death.
At the time of the strike and the push, Mr Tomlinson was walking away from the police line. He was complying with police instructions to leave Royal Exchange Buildings (the Passage). He posed no threat.
Conclusion of the jury as to the death:
After the appalling behaviour of the Metropolitan Police in recent days and their chaotic policing of both last year’s student protests and the March 26th TUC anti-cuts demo, this verdict must surely come as at least some good news – it is about time the police were truly held accountable for their actions and their treatment of both protesters and bystanders like Ian.
But this is only the beginning. I hope this verdict is a step forward in the long process of gaining justice not just for Ian Tomlinson’s family, but for all those injured by or who have lost loved ones to police brutality.
I wish all the best to Ian’s family – they have faced this horrendous ordeal with a quiet and inspiring dignity. I hope they can now finally begin to find peace.
I haven’t written anything of substance yet about the appalling decision recently taken by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer and the CPS not to prosecute the police officer who was caught on camera at last year’s G20 protests attacking newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson – mainly because I’m still too angry about the whole business, and because much of what I want to say has already been said by more knowledgeable and articulate voices than mine.
Yeah, I know I said that I wouldn’t be blogging again until after my submission date, but what are rules there for if not to be broken? I’ve spent much of the evening following the events at the Pittsburgh G20 protests online, unable to drag myself away from multiple Twitter feeds. Finally, Twitter is really making sense to me, after a long time being very dubious of why I would need to use something that was basically a Facebook status update – but without the other fun and stupid things you can do on the Book of Face (as my sister calls it).
The importance of technology in protest was actually very fiercely brought home to me at the London G20 demos back in April. Stuck in the huge police kettle by the Bank of England on April 1st, the Media Activist and I had no idea what was going on – and the Met police goons surrounding us weren’t exactly communicative. Enter the humble mobile phone, and text updates from people elsewhere (in my case, Leicester!), who were a damn sight closer to a computer and those informative Twitter feeds/news sites than we were. In fact, my mobile was a godsend during those two days; it got me a load of useful photos and it kept me in touch with my friends when we got separated in the chaos of April 2nd. And I wasn’t the only one: the vast majority of the overwhelming evidence for the police brutality inflicted on protesters over that 48-hour period came not from professional media photographers and cameramen, but from the phones and digital cameras of protesters and bystanders. In the days following the London G20 protests, more and more amateur photos and footage were being uploaded onto the internet, shared by individuals and groups, and forwarded to the mainstream television and print media. Indeed, if it wasn’t for such footage, the truth about the death of Ian Tomlinson would have probably never come out – the police had, in fact, been publicly lying about Tomlinson’s tragic death almost from the moment it happened.
The subsequent scandals surrounding the police behaviour at G20 seems to have made them rethink their protest tactics – I’ve been on a number of demos in London since G20, the most recent being an impassioned Disarm DSEi anti-arms trade protest in the City of London earlier this month, and the police have, without exception, very ostentatiously been distinctly hands-off in their approach. Despite the continued presence of the FIT (cops with cameras who seem to enjoy photographing and harassing known activists), and the distinct impression amongst many groups that these new softly-softly police tactics won’t last, I suspect that the Met has been quite severely shaken up by the fact that they’re not the ones in control of the technology any more….
And that’s true in other parts of the world too. The mobile phone footage and pictures that emerged during the protests over the result of the Iranian election earlier this year (and the fact that ‘IranElection’ has been a trending topic on Twitter as recently as this week) showed a face of the Iranian people that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t want the rest of the world to see, for example. The demonstrations in Pittsburgh today were all over Twitter (and you know things have got truly international when you re-tweet a link from London, only to find it being re-re-tweeted by a Pittsburgh TV station a few minutes later, as happened to me earlier!), which gave the protests far more solid coverage than the vague paragraph or so they seem to be getting on the mainstream news websites. Tales of tear gas, rubber bullets and ‘military sound weapons’ being used against the Pittsburgh protesters hit Twitter long before the mainstream media picked up on them, showing just how central citizen journalism can be to the newsgathering process these days.
The power of such technology in the struggle to hold the authorities to account for abuses of position is only growing in strength. The police still have the ability to record and track the movements of activists (although why they bother half the time is a bit beyond me – they’re more of a threat to public order than we are…), but they are beginning to realise that we are fighting back with the same weapons. And they really don’t like that. They can no longer hide behind the anonymity of removing their numbers, or the illusory strength of photographing demonstrators to be put ‘on file’. The files are now on them, as organisations like FITWatch amply prove – and these files grow thicker and thicker with every demonstration, with every cameraphone wielded in anger, with every image or video uploaded to the internet…..
So yesterday I ambled down to Blackheath in south-east London to check out the goings on at Climate Camp. For a variety of reasons (such as not actually owning a tent or sleeping bag, and the horrendous events at the G20 Climate Camp), I hadn’t originally been planning to go, but a friend and fellow activist invited me down, and I decided to take a look….
The idea behind Climate Camp is a simple and effective one – to bring together environmental activists from all over the country in order to give them the information and practical help they need to take direct action on climate issues. In the past, the camps have been at places such as Heathrow airport, and at the Drax and Kingsnorth coal-fired power stations in Yorkshire and Kent respectively. This time round, the site at Blackheath has been chosen, in clear view of London’s financial sector at Canary Wharf. Blackheath is also a highly symbolic site in the history of protest and rebellion, being a rallying point for Wat Tyler’s 1381 Peasants Revolt and for Jack Cade’s 1450 Kentish rebellion, as well as having strong connections to the early 20th century suffragette movement, making it emblematic of past struggles.
Only being there for the afternoon, I confess that I didn’t make it to any of the very effective and practical workshops on various activism-related subjects that were going on all over the camp, or sample any of the food being prepared communally in the regional kitchens across the site. Instead, we spent a very pleasant afternoon sitting drinking cheap cider in the sunshine while watching the world go by, marvelling at the lack of cops anywhere, and discussing the big news issues of the week: how, where and why had the mighty SpaceHijackers managed to get hold of a helicopter (and, more importantly, what are they planning to do with it?), and what on earth was that strange-looking middle-aged man over there in the orange gym slip and green tam o’shanter hat actually doing, because that sure as hell wasn’t Irish dancing (sorry, no photo of the alleged ‘dancing’. It probably would have cracked the lens). In fact, I suspect the heated debate over whether he was actually wearing anything under that skirt is still going on somewhere!
Despite my laziness, I came away with a big pile of helpful and instructive literature on crucial issues for any activist; such as direct action, the law as applied to activism and loads of information about the UN climate talks in Copenhagen later this year. That was useful. And the workshops run on subjects as diverse as economics, carbon trading, photography and media for activists, non-violent direct action, legal observer training and pedal-powered sound systems are all examples of the kind of practical information that can make a difference on many and varied levels. As I wandered round the site, it was clear that there was a lot going on, and that many of the people involved were engaged in and committed to what they were doing (although points are lost for the jugglers I spotted as I was leaving – as the sign says at the gate: ‘this is not a festival’), making the camp a positive and friendly space.
However, I have some reservations (and these, I would like to make clear, are just personal observations, not criticisms of Climate Camp and its structure). It seemed to me that there were an awful lot of those ‘the rules don’t actually apply to me’ types on site – for example, despite the Climate Camp website asking people not to bring their dogs with them, there were hounds of all types everywhere. If people are prepared to ignore such a simple and basic request, I wouldn’t want to be involved in a direct action with them. I have no desire to be arrested or injured because someone else can’t be bothered to follow instructions in a situation where instructions are often needed. Most of the people on site were clearly and genuinely committed to their cause – but I also got the impression of quite a few of the ‘middle class webel’ type (there’s often overlap with the above archetype too). You know the sort, the ones who go all out to shock mummy and daddy (who probably did the same thing back in the late sixties/early seventies, and with whom they probably still live) by wearing daft clothing, getting their hair put in ‘designer dreads’ and talking very loudly about what rebellious anarchists they are and how many times they’ve been arrested, although they still, hypocritically, go to Starbucks for those nasty lattes. These people are usually more of a hindrance than a help, and generally (although not always) are completely ignorant of anything other than the basics of what they are supposed to believe in and be fighting against. Now, I’m not criticising all young activists here (nor all middle class activists); we were all young and relatively politically naive once, whoever we are and whatever our respective backgrounds, and we all matured or are maturing at different rates. The criticism comes when one has to deal with the dilittantes, the ‘lifestyle’ anarchists/socialists/whatevers (and they do exist) who see the whole thing as a fashion statement, as a way to look ‘cool’ and ‘alternative’. The problem is, I feel, that you’re going to get idiots like these in any mass-movement (political or otherwise) that has its core amongst predominantly young (and, admittedly, sometimes also not so young) people – until they grow up and realise that activism isn’t a game.
And the climate crisis certainly isn’t a game either.
Because nature doesn’t do bail-outs.