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Much ink’s been spilt on the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson. Some of the most pressing questions haven’t yet been posed by the mainstream media, let alone answered. The footage aired on C4 News on 8 April clearly shows the officer who struck and pushed Mr Tomlinson subsequently approach a member of the FIT, several of whom are shown in the film. The FIT, a number of whom are public order tactical advisers, are among the most highly trained public order officers in the Met. Questions about Mr Tomlinson’s fate must, therefore, involve questions about the FIT.
The FIT are ostensibly there to establish a rapport with demonstrators. Their remit frequently involves assisting senior officers in the handling of public order situations. They provide intelligence briefings which influence the policing of demonstrations. They are meant to identify potential troublemakers. By implication, this means they are also in a position to identify people who pose no risk, and – presumably – to leave them alone. These are the official reasons for the maintenance of the Met’s Forward Intelligence Teams.
But none of the FIT shown on videos on the Guardian website or C4 News seem to think there’s anything wrong with the vicious assault on Mr Tomlinson. None of them remonstrate with the TSG officer who struck and pushed Mr Tomlinson. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the FIT present colluded in a conspiracy of silence during the week it took the officer who attacked Mr Tomlinson to work up the guts to approach the IPCC.
None of the FIT present seem to have been able to work out that a middle-aged man with his hands in his pockets, a man walking away from the police, was no threat. If a specialist team tasked with identifying troublemakers – according to the police themselves – cannot determine that Mr Tomlinson is not a troublemaker, then they are in trouble. What is the point in a team supposed to tell the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protesters when they so clearly can’t?
If the FIT are prepared to tolerate and even become complicit in assaults on random members of the public, what part can they play in advising senior officers on conducting public order operations? The FIT seem to have become core to the Met’s policing of demonstrations, important out of all relation to their numbers – or abilities. The intelligence briefings they issued prior to April 1 almost certainly determined the way Bob Broadhurst and David Hartshorn decided to police the event. They therefore bear a great deal of the responsibility for the injuries dealt out by the police and for the death of Ian Tomlinson. Certainly, they did nothing to prevent the City of London becoming essentially a ‘free-fire’ zone for the police, in which people posing no possible threat to public order or police safety were assaulted in a systematic fashion.
A Metropolitan Police Authority committee is due to discuss the future of public order policing in London in June. Part of this must include the future of the Forward Intelligence Team. Beside the death of Ian Tomlinson, their long-term campaign to deter people from protesting may appear insignificant. But the death of Mr Tomlinson is a logical result of creating and maintaining a team like the FIT, an unaccountable cabal of self-serving officers who manipulate the policing of demonstrations to further their own careers. Many of the more lurid stories published in the run-up to the G20 protests probably emanated from the FIT, the people who claim to gather intelligence on protesters’ intentions.
Their commanding officer, Superintendent Hartshorn, set the tone with his comments about a ‘summer of rage’; there’s little doubt that with leadership like that, his subordinates were happy to create a climate in which the TSG and Level 2 officers out in the City on 1 April felt able to assault demonstrators, journalists and passers-by without much fear of any come-back.
The FIT have carved out a niche for themselves whereby they profit from protest, and can orchestrate events to ensure their prophecies of disorder come true, keeping them in a job. Post-Tomlinson, can there be a place for such a unit within the Met?