One year after Ian Tomlinson was killed by police officers on his way home from work during the G20 protests [1 | 2 | 3 ] the Ian Tomlinson Family Campaign laid down flowers at the spot where he died. The protests were marked by excessively aggressive policing, and only recently victims of a raid on an occupied convergence centre were awarded compensation, while the officer who was caught on tape assaulting a woman was cleared of the charges. One year later we are looking back in sadness and anger. And we do remember Ian Tomlinson who should have been with his family .
One year ago, Ian Tomlinson died after baing assaulted by a police officer. 1 4 010, the people remembered him.
Arriving at the scene, I saw people huddled together on the sidewalk and spilling onto the street, cars going slow or having stopped entirely. Two police officers tried to get people on the sidewalk, but soon had to give up. On getting closer it was hard to move into the crowd. The inner circle was lacked with people. Sadly it wasn’t people remembering Ian Tomlinson. The inner sircle was comprised entirely from camera persons and photographers. It was packed, so much so that noone else had a chance to see anything of the flowers being laid down. (And they were probably mostly getting images of the backs of each others heads). While it is obvious that media attention for police brutality is mostly a good thing, this was disgraceful. This was a vigil, an event to remember a man’s life. But the people who had come for Ian Tomlinson were expelled to the margins of the crowd.
No wonder that the media missed it, when some people took the street and stopped traffic for a little while. Officers hurried to declare they would block the street and to let the last cars go on their way. So traffic was redirected, and it was finally possible to hear some of what was said beyond the barrier of cameras. Barely. (If anyone thinks the people in the street shouldn’t have kicked up a fuss, because the cops where blocking the road anyway, the cops decided to block the streets after people moved into it, and had not already done so).
A group of people, I assume Ian Tomlinson’s family came, and the cameras rushed on them like starving vultures. The crowd split before them so they could lay down their flowers. Sadly it was not possible to show them sympathy as they remained hidden behind the wall of lenses. I’m sure we will find out in the evening news. But if this was supposed to be a moment for contemplation, it was spoiled. The family didn’t stay long and when they left, again were followed by the camera people running after them. I imagine it must have been somewhat like running the gauntlet, at least that’s what it looked like from the outside.
With the family, a lot of the media left, (some couldn’t wait and left during the minute of silence and a prayer that was spoken) and the atmosphere immediately changed. Several people went up to the lamppost holding flowers and letters, some lighting candles, laying down flowers, others just sitting for a minute. The crowd had spread out across the street and everyone was milling in small groups and talking. At this point I remembered why I had come, it is only a bit sad that his family couldn’t be there with us, and remember Ian Tomlinson in a more tranquil and dignified atmosphere.
Sergeant Smellie’s acquittal
At the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court, whilst disappointing, is hardly surprising. Many Fitwatchers know Smellie from his days as AB42 when he was often deployed in a FIT capacity and was frequently nasty, smug and aggressive, and whilst his attack upon Nicky Fisher wasn’t pleasant or justifiable, it was far from the worst of the G20 assaults.
However, the reality is the court was never going to believe Nicky Fisher over Smellie when she didn’t bother turning up for court. Under these circumstances it is surprising the trial even went ahead – if I was facing charges of assaulting a police officer and the cop didn’t show up, I would expect the case to be dropped, and I suspect only political expediency ensured the case’s progression.
Smellie’s defence, whilst smattered with bullshit, was credible enough to pass the beyond reasonable doubt test of British justice especially when two prosecution witnesses testified unfavourably reagarding Fisher’s behaviour. There may be conspiracy theories as to why the prosecution called witnesses who undermined their case, but I suspect it may be nothing more than an inept, lazy Crown Prosecution Service to blame.
Unfortunately, this case has acted as a smokescreen meaning the important questions were not asked and the right people not challenged. Smellie was following orders to clear the road and was doing so in the manner he was trained. Only following orders is not a defence under any circumstances, but attempting to prosecute Smellie without seeking to blame the officers who gave the orders is meaningless. Equally, prosecuting him for following his training in acting like a violent thug is meaningless without questioning his training and deployment.
Meanwhile there has been no justice for Ian Tomlinson.
The identity of the police officer who attacked him is still unknown, and the FIT officers involved, Discombe and Palfry are still policing our protests. Of the 212 complaints forwarded to the IPCC none have had any kind of meaningful resolution.
Perhaps the only good which can come out of this debacle is lack of faith in the system. Real change will only occur when we stop relying on public/political bodies to fight our battles for us. It is down to ordinary people everywhere to hold the police to account, and this will only happen when we stop playing the victim and start fighting back.
They are known as the “Muscle of the Met”,.
Accused of being an untouchable elite who cover their badge numbers, treat the public with disdain and, most concerning of all, are virtually never held to account for their actions. Senior officers at Scotland Yard acknowledge that the 730 officers in their territorial support group (TSG) have an image problem, but say it is cosmetic. They may have found themselves the subject of unflattering footage at the G20 protests, but their supporters point out they are deployed on the most volatile and potentially controversial operations, from stop and search to drug raids and demonstrations.
The Metropolitan police may be tempted to treat the acquittal of Sergeant Delroy Smellie as vindication of a unit whose battered reputation is, finally, on the mend. Last week the force launched a series of TSG “goodwill tours” which allow the public to meet riot officers, and see policing from their perspective and – literally – try on their boots. But police reform campaigners argue these will do nothing to change the confrontational and inflammatory way the unit has been known to treat the public.
The ruling by judge Daphne Wickham, for example, found Smellie acted within the law when he struck Nicola Fisher. But parts of the judge’s 20-minute narrative verdict asked serious questions of the tactics deployed by his seniors. The crowd that gathered on 2 April for a vigil for Ian Tomlinson, who died the previous day after being struck by another TSG officer, was “probably anti-police”, but “did not present as public disorder”, the judge said. She noted how the mood changed with the arrival of the TSG in a “convoy of tank-like vehicles, marked police”. During the four-day trial, the prosecution was explicit that the “atmosphere” at the Tomlinson vigil switched when TSG officers arrived to replace City of London police counterparts, who had been managing a cordon around the crowd, known as a “kettle”.
The incident that sparked the altercation between Smellie and Fisher involved a man being prevented from leaving the kettle. He was pushed back, and apparently stumbled and dropped his newspaper, Wickham, said. “I am satisfied this empowered Ms Fisher to get involved in a strongly exhibitionist and aggressive way,” she added.
The Met’s statement after the verdict did not address how the TSG handled the protests. This is not the first time that the group of officers once known as the “commissioner’s reserve” have been the centre of controversy.
But it has not been this bad since 1979, when the then special patrol group was accused of killing the anti-fascist protester Blair Peach. No officer was charged over that incident and then, as now, the Met was criticised for failing to hold the unit to account. His widow has said the difference today is that police cannot escape the gaze of mobile phone or digital camera which record their every move. The reality is that cameras do not seem to be making that much difference. In the four years leading up to the G20 protests, for example, the TSG, the specialist unit of 730 officers at the centre of controversy after the G20, received more than 5,000 complaints, mostly for “oppressive behaviour”. Of those, only nine – less than 0.18% – were substantiated after an investigation by the Met’s internal complaints unit.
The Smellie trial was, however, only a precursor to a far more high-profile TSG case. The Met’s silence over TSG reform may have to change if, in the coming days, the Crown Prosecution Service decides that the officer who struck Ian Tomlinson should be tried for manslaughter.
Police officers must face trial by jury
I don’t think I’m the only one gawping in disbelief at the acquittal of Delroy Smellie, a sergeant in the Territorial Support Group of the Metropolitan Police. He was accused of assault after hitting Nicola Fisher at a protest in London on 2 April last year. She had gathered with others to commemorate Ian Tomlinson, who had died after being pushed over by police at the G20 protests the day before. Sgt Smellie hit Fisher across the face with the back of his hand, then twice on her legs with his baton, knocking her to the ground.
The judge, Daphne Wickham, 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.” There was no jury.
In other words, Smellie was acquitted on the grounds that he was acting in self-defence. All I have to go on is the video evidence, but, having watched it several times, I find this verdict amazing.
Smellie argued that he had mistaken the drinks carton in Nicola Fisher’s hand for a weapon. I wasn’t in court to hear all the evidence, but however many times I watch the incident, I cannot see how he formed that impression. When he hit her on the legs, she was holding the carton at arm’s length, far away from him, while using the same hand to point to something away to her right. The carton was clearly in view, and she was wasn’t making any threatening gesture with it.
Smellie said: “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.'”
But when he hit her on the legs, she wasn’t coming from anywhere. She was standing still and pointing. And the idea that this huge, well-armed man could have felt, as he claimed, threatened by that tiny woman seems laughable to me. It certainly isn’t the impression the footage creates. He very calmly, almost casually, draws his baton and knocks her down, then immediately switches his attention to someone else.
Perhaps the prosecution put together a lousy case (it can’t have helped that Fisher wouldn’t testify), or perhaps the judge is right to maintain there was “no evidence that his use of the baton was not approved, correct or measured”, though if that’s true it suggests there’s something gravely wrong with the Met’s procedures. As I argued in my column this week, the force’s handling of protests is abysmal. In this case, the aggro to which Smellie was responding was manufactured by the Met’s decision to kettle (encircle) the demonstrators, transforming a peaceful vigil into a tense encounter.
But the obvious question is: where the hell was the jury? The courts and prosecutors are renowned for their lenient treatment of police officers. The need for a jury trial in these cases is even more pressing than in others. Watch the video and see what you think.
And, to see how differently such charges are prosecuted when the suspect isn’t a police officer, check out this case, in which a busker appears to have been assaulted by police, then charged with – and, last week, convicted of – assault. If the account here can be believed, it’s a gross miscarriage of justice.