Some four years after their legal battle began, the family of Ian Tomlinson have finally received an apology from the Metropolitan Police in relation to the newspaper seller’s death. Ian Tomlinson was pushed to the ground by Police officer Simon Harwood as he tried to make his way home during the G20 protests in London. The actions of the Police officer were found to have caused Mr Tomlinson’s death, despite his family being informed that Ian had died as the result of a heart attack.
After criminal proceedings found the responsible Police officer Simon Harwood ‘not guilty’ of manslaughter, despite an earlier inquest ruling that Mr Tomlinson’s death had been caused by ‘unlawful killing’, the final avenue in the pursuit of justice was civil proceedings against the Metropolitan Police. The was finally concluded this month with an out of court settlement reached and a full written apology issued by the force’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner.
Of course part of the problem surrounding this case is the length of time it has taken to arrive at this point and the mistruths and coverups instigated by the Met Police.
When Dame Anne Owers became chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) she said “it was neither right nor acceptable that the police should investigate themselves when there were allegations of serious wrongdoing”. This is clearly evident by the scandalous pseudo-investigation launched into the death of Ian Tomlinson in April 2009 by the city of London police.
Within 48 hours of Mr Tomlinson’s death, the City of London police’s major incident room had received significant evidence that indicated Ian had been violently assaulted by a police officer, and that these injuries could have caused or contributed to his death. Three Metropolitan police officers had come forward by that time to say that they recognised press pictures of Ian as the man who had been struck and pushed by a police officer in the Royal Exchange Passage. A member of the public provided a statement describing how the crowd gasped at the horrific sound of Ian hitting the ground. Also there was significant evidence of injury marks on Ian, including a baton mark on his thigh, dog bite on his calf, bruise on his head and a huge internal bleed.
Despite this, Julia Tomlinson, Ian’s widow, was phoned on the morning of 4 April and read a statement by the police family liaison officer that she was asked to agree for public release. The statement said there was no evidence that the police had caused Ian’s sudden and untimely death and that he had been caught in a crowd of marauding protesters. They also told Julia that Ian had died of a heart attack and that he had no other injuries that could have contributed to his death.
The reason for these lies is due to the lead investigator’s decision to “ensure that attention of media is managed in a positive and appropriate way ‘¦ Safeguarding the position of the force in relation to the level of information released”. It is incomprehensible that the police investigation into a violent death has priority to safeguard the reputation of the suspect at the expense of the truth; just because the suspect is a police officer.
As a result of this the investigator withheld critical information from the coroner, IPCC, FLO, pathologist and, most importantly, the family. A clear example can be seen when the investigator recorded that he did not want the family to know about the marks on Ian’s body because he could not “offer a realistic explanation” which would not cause them alarm. Keeping the family quiet was more important to the investigation.
All of this only came to light much later, when Chris La Jaunie’s footage of the assault by PC Simon Harwood on Ian was released by the Guardian.
This case highlights the problematic nature of investigations by the police into the conduct of their own officers. There are clearly issues regarding impartiality, as clearly evident in the case of Ian Tomlinson, in which it was only a bystander’s video that led to the truth and justice for the family.
Farleys has a team of solicitors specialising in claims against the police. For more information or to obtain legal advice or representation at an inquest or police complaint, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
By Kelly Darlington, Civil Action Against the Police Solicitor