The horribly depressing case of Ian Tomlinson

“Everyone knows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. But no one accepts the implications of this, everyone takes it for granted that the law, such as it is, will be respected, and feels a sense of outrage when it is not.” – George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn

Ian Tomlinson was a newspaper seller trying to make his way home through the G20 protests on April 1st, 2009. Then this happened:

Ian Tomlinson was not involved with the G20 protests. When Harwood pushed him over, he was walking away from the police officers with his hands in his pockets, not a threat to anyone. Two weeks ago, on July 22nd, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to prosecute police officer Simon Harwood with any offence connected with the death of Ian Tomlinson. This is despite the fact that they acknowledge that his actions could be unlawful:

Whilst the officer was entitled to require Mr Tomlinson to move out of Royal Exchange, there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of proving that his actions were disproportionate and unjustified.

Having concluded that the officer’s actions could constitute an assault, the CPS then considered the possible criminal charges.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this whole sorry episode is that I’m not surprised in the least at this. A prosecution seemed as remote as me being able to speak Swedish fluently at some point in the future. Admittedly, this might say more about my cynicism then the British justice system. I would love there to be a chance for a jury to decide on the actual cause of Ian Tomlinson’s death, but it’s impossible to argue against the grim logic of the CPS when they argue not to prosecute for Unlawful Act Manslaughter:

In order to proceed with this charge [of unlawful act manslaughter], the CPS would have to prove a causal link between the alleged assault on Mr Tomlinson and his death.

On that issue, the medical experts were and remain fundamentally divided. Dr Patel’s opinion is that Mr Tomlinson’s death was “consistent with natural causes” and that the cause of death was “coronary artery disease”. The opinion of Dr Cary and Dr Shorrock is that Mr Tomlinson’s death was the result of abdominal haemorrhage (internal bleeding) caused by blunt force trauma to the abdomen.

A conflict between medical experts inevitably makes a prosecution very difficult, but the CPS proceeded on the basis that such a conflict need not automatically mean that a prosecution must fail. For that reason, we explored at some length the possibility of proceeding without relying on the evidence of Dr Patel. However, we were ultimately driven to conclude that, as the sole medical expert who conducted the first post mortem, Dr Patel would have to be called at trial as a prosecution witness as to the primary facts. His evidence would be that there was no internal rupture and that the fluid consisted of blood stained ascites and not blood alone. Even leaving out of account the stark disagreement between him and the other experts as to the cause of death, the CPS concluded that the evidence of those primary facts undermined the basis upon which the other experts reached their conclusions about the cause of death. As a result, the CPS would simply not be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there was a causal link between Mr Tomlinson’s death and the alleged assault upon him. 

That being the case, there is no realistic prospect of a conviction for unlawful act manslaughter.

The CPS are probably right, but that Freddie Patel, given his track record, was appointed to conduct the first post mortem unsupervised makes me incredibly angry. At the time he was appointed to the case by the coroner, he was already under investigation by the GMC “for a series of allegedly botched postmortem examinations between 2002 and 2004” (the latest Private Eye, p27). George Monbiot has more:

He is facing a disciplinary hearing before the General Medical Council for alleged incompetence in 26 cases.

This isn’t the first run-in he has had with the council. In 1999 he was reprimanded by the GMC for speaking to reporters about the death of a man in police custody that he was investigating, and making an unsupported allegation against him. It looked like an unwarranted attempt to help the police out of a tricky situation.

Patel decided that Tomlinson died naturally. But he found three litres of fluid in Tomlinson’s abdominal cavity. His notes initially suggest that this was blood. He disposed of the fluid. Then he changed his notes to suggest that it wasn’t blood but something else. Two subsequent postmortems, conducted by far more eminent pathologists, both concluded that Tomlinson died of internal bleeding consistent with his body hitting the pavement.

We don’t yet know why Patel was chosen to conduct the first autopsy, but it is widely believed he was recommended to the coroner by the City of London police. The police have refused to comment. Why could a jury not have been allowed to decide which autopsy, and which pathologists, it trusted?

Why indeed. The sucker punch of all this is that, because the CPS waited a year before annoucing they could not charge PC Harwood with manslaughter, they cannot now charge him with assault, because too much time has elapsed. Assault charges have to be filed within six months of the incident. As Private Eye says:

The detailed file recommending a manslaughter prosecution from the IPCC was sent to the Cps on 4 August (2009), some four months after the death – and two months before the deadline.

This is hardly the first case of probable police misconduct, and wasn’t the last either, as we shall see. I do apologise for linking to this article, because it’s incredibly depressing, but it’s one that ought to be read. It is about a film from nine years ago, about the 1000 deaths in police custody over the previous three decades; only one officer has ever been convicted as a result of these deaths. It includes incidents like these:

In December 1995 Wayne Douglas was arrested for suspected burglary. He collapsed and died while detained at Brixton police station. In March 1996 Gambian asylum seeker Ibrahima Sey was forced to the ground, sprayed repeatedly with CS gas, and then held face down for 15 minutes. When he went totally limp and stopped breathing, an ambulance was called. He was dead by the time they reached the hospital.

More recently, I came across this incident via the excellent Jack of Kent – who has also blogged on the Ian Tomlinson case.

One officer was later found guilty of assault. It seems that:

The court heard claims the ex-soldier, who had drunk about nine pints of beer, had interfered with a paramedic who was trying to treat a woman and racially abused an Asian doorman.

But this hardly merits the brutal reaction from these police officers.

Of course, the vast majority of police officers perform their tough jobs impeccably. But why should this mean that the hot-headed minority seem to be above the law? The Ian Tomlinson case is merely the well-publicised tip of the iceberg. Please try and persuade your MP to sign the Early Day Motion calling for an inquest into his death.

This entry was posted in Legal mumbo jumbo, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The horribly depressing case of Ian Tomlinson

  1. Never mind the ‘appalling’ police behaviour towards murdering psycho Raoul Moat, this is just WRONG. A tragic accident, yes (if we are to believe that the officer didn’t hurt ‘im that much, yrhonour) but a man upholding the law avoiding it? What a stupid world.

  2. Pingback: Late reflections on Coulson-gate « Paperback Rioter

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