Wednesday 4 May 2011

The Metropolitan Police, G20 and Ian Tomlinson: the culture of policing

So Ian Tomlinson was unlawfully killed. From what I have seen of the evidence, that was the right decision to come to. The officer who struck him changed his version of events during the inquest, and accepted under examination that what he saw on video of himself and Tomlinson was not as he had recounted it himself. He may or may not be telling the truth, he may or may not be deluding himself. His case is now under consideration by the CPS, as it should be. He is also to be subject to a gross misconduct hearing, which will be held in public. Whatever conclusion either the CPS or the IPCC come to, it would not be sufficient for the matter to end there.

While PC Harwood is responsible for his actions, it would not be right for him to take the blame for events individually and outside a deep examination of the culture of the Metropolitan Police that allowed things to get to this point. The whole attitude of the Metropolitan Police towards the citizens of London, particularly those exercising their lawful right to demonstrate peacefully, really needs to be examined and put right.

In a nutshell, it appears from the evidence we have that PC Harwood became over excited and liable to over-react precisely when he needed to exercise great self restraint. Although he was at some points isolated, he was also with his colleagues at other times, and it appears that their influence on him did not restraint him either. That is a cause for great concern, not just in terms of one man's reaction, but the tenor of the overall police presence.

A particular example is the hiding of badge numbers, for instance, was a common practice up to that point. Since then the Commissioner has issued an instruction that badges must be visible, but that is not enough. It was the case beforehand that they were supposed to be visible. An instruction does not necessarily change the behaviour of individual officers while on duty. It ought to be a matter of pride to every police officer that their badge is visible at all times. It clearly wasn't, and as far as I can see, still isn't. That's not about instructions, that's about culture, and it's been drifting for far too long.

The Metropolitan Police have been re-examining their tactics in the wake of criticism about their handling of the G20 demonstrations, and other events like the G20 Climate Camp and the anti cuts demonstrations. The report “Adapting To Protest” contains many significant recommendations, but in my view, they do not go far enough. They appear to be discussing how to make their tactics work better, rather than examining the culture behind the tactics, one which assumes an opposition between police and demonstrators that gives an aggressive officer free rein to lose his temper. That needs to be brought to a full stop, a shuddering one if necessary, if the police are not to imperil the consent which gives them their mandate to control the streets.


Richard T said...

I can only dissent from your posting on one point I think PC Harwood should be prosecuted. From his previous record, he was a loose cannon who seemed unable to control himself and the public needs protection from the likes of him. His evasiveness (euphemism) under oath should be fully exposed in a criminal trial.

In the general conduct of the police, I think it noteworthy that althogh Ian Tomlinson tried three different places to get out of the kettle, not one police officer had the intelligence or indeed the deceny to let him through. It was patently obvious (except according to the variable testimony of PC Harwood) that he was no threat to society or the capitalsit system just someone, maybe a bit the worse for wear, trying to get home. WHY did not one PC let him through? Were their instructions so rigid and clear? If so we should know and this should be investigated.

Rob Parsons said...

I'm not saying he "shouldn't" be prosecuted. I'm just being cautious about saying he should without having all the detailed evidence to hand for myself. I'm content to let the CPS come to that decision. I'm more wary about the gross misconduct hearing. There's a risk there that he will be made a scapegoat and the wider issues of policing lawful demonstrations, which you rightly point to, will be swept under the carpet.