G20 police sergeant cleared of baton charge
Delroy Smellie ruled to have acted lawfully when striking G20 protester Nicola Fisher on legs during Ian Tomlinson vigil
Delroy Smellie, who was standing in the dock for the verdict, smiled widely and gave two thumbs up to his supporters as he was cleared.
Nodding to the judge, he said: “Thank you very much.” Smellie then hugged his brother and left the courtroom, joking and laughing with lawyers.
The 47-year-old sergeant refused to talk to reporters, saying: “I don’t think so, I’ve got a reputation to protect.”
Smellie was suspended last year after video footage was posted on the YouTube website showing him back-handing a protester and striking her twice on the legs with his metal baton.
He was acquitted of assault by beating after a four-day trial in which his alleged victim, protester Nicola Fisher, declined to give evidence.
The judgment is a major setback for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which received almost 300 complaints about police behaviour at the G20 protests. Figures released last week revealed that despite numerous IPCC investigations no officer has faced serious disciplinary action and none have been successfully prosecuted.
The district judge, Daphne Wickham, said there was no evidence that his use of the baton was not approved, correct or measured, adding that Smellie had a “mere seven seconds” to act, and other witnesses had feared for his safety.
She said: “It was for the prosecution to prove this defendant was not acting in lawful self-defence. I have found the prosecution has failed in this respect and the defendant has raised the issue of lawful self-defence and as such is entitled to be acquitted.”
Wickham, who heard the case without a jury, watched video footage of the incident and looked at dozens of photographs. Nicholas Paul, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said Smellie lost his self-control because of Fisher’s irritating, aggressive and confrontational actions.
He said the officer was justified when he shouted at her, pushed her back and struck her with the back of his hand, knocking off her sunglasses. But Paul said the officer went too far when he struck Fisher across the thigh with the extendable metal weapon, known as an asp.
The clash attracted worldwide attention when amateur footage of it was posted on YouTube. Fisher, of Brighton, suffered two bruises to her leg and enlisted the publicist Max Clifford to sell her story to a national newspaper for around £26,000. She failed to attend the trial, claiming she was depressed and did not want to be in the public spotlight again.
Clifford said she would be disappointed but not surprised by the outcome.
“He is a police officer, she’s a protester so she’s obviously very disappointed,” Clifford said. “She sees it as a total miscarriage of justice. She was convinced that she wouldn’t get justice.”
Smellie, from the Met’s territorial support group (TSG), a specialist public order unit, argued during his trial that he believed Fisher posed a threat to himself and fellow officers. He said he repeatedly struck Fisher, who was considerably smaller than him, after mistaking a carton of orange juice and digital camera she was carrying for weapons.
The incident took place on 2 April at a memorial vigil for Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper vendor who had died the previous day after being attacked by another officer, also from the TSG.
Defending the force he used against Fisher, Smellie, who is originally from Bolton, suggested widely publicised video footage and photographs of the incident did not convey the threat he felt she posed.
“Not one photograph or piece of footage comes close to reflecting the fear as I turned around to see this crowd and its proximity, both to myself and my officers,” he told the court. “At the time I thought, this is it. She is deliberately coming from a blind spot. The reason she is coming from a blind spot is to hide her intention so she can approach and attack her target – me.”
Bystanders told the court they had seen Fisher acting in an aggressive and erratic way, waving her arms and screaming at police. One officer said she “looked like trouble” from the outset, and was seeking to provoke police.
After Fisher repeatedly pushed toward the police line, Smellie struck. The prosecution said footage of the incident formed the “core” of its case. The video showed Smellie initially strike Fisher with the back of his hand in what the prosecution accepted was a legal “clearance-swipe”.
When Fisher again returned, shouting “you hit a fucking woman”, the sergeant took out his baton and hit her twice on the legs. These final two blows were what the prosecution claimed were unlawful.
In his defence, Smellie said he back-handed Fisher because another tactic could have seriously injured her. Talking about the back-handed strike, he said: “Does it really need a broken jaw, which could easily have happened if I struck her with my left elbow in her face? I thought that the most reasonable level of force would be a flick with the hand as a distraction clearance.”
Smellie said that he chose to strike her legs with a baton – rather than her arm – for a similar reason. “The force of the strike, the differential in size – I could easily have snapped that arm.”
He said that, after striking her: “I hoped that she would either fall to the ground, drop the weapons or go away and get back, either one of those things she had been asked to do on many occasions. But certainly to ensure that she was not able to use those weapons or that the weapons were not able to be used.”