Since 1969, three thousand one hundred and eighty people have died in police, prison, psychiatric or immigration custody.
Think about that for a moment.
That’s three thousand one hundred and eighty people – all of whom were someone’s son or someone’s daughter – who died unnecessarily and often in deeply suspicious circumstances. Three thousand one hundred and eighty people who arbitrarily and tragically lost their right to live their lives, their right to a future, their right to spend time with their friends and families.
And very, very few of those families have ever had justice.
That is why the United Families and Friends Campaign remembers each and every one of these men and women, each and every year – and you can see some of my photographs from the 2011 march for justice above.
(Click on an image to enlarge it)
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.