The Crown Prosecution Service has decided that no charge will be brought against the policeman who killed newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson as he was passing by the 2009 protests against a G20 meeting in London. Tomlinson was struck from behind by a riot police officer, and pushed to the ground. Tomlinson was helped to his feet by demonstrators, not by his attackers. He recovered and continued walking, but then collapsed after 100 metres and subsequently died.
Though it was the unprovoked assault on him by a policeman that precipitated his death, the British state refuses to accept responsibility for this death. Tomlinson’s death would not have been investigated at all, had it not been for the determined campaigning of his family and of G20 activists who witnessed his killing. We should refuse to let the police off the hook!
The official line is that medical opinion differs as to whether there was a direct causal link between the attack and Tomlinson's death. That is shameful evasion. Controversial medical evidence — the findings of a pathologist who conducted the first post mortem has been criticised — can always be tested in court.
And is a dispute over medical evidence even relevant? Is it okay for a policeman to knock someone down with a baton and then stand by while he struggles to get to his feet? What the state is now in effect saying is that it is.
Six months have elapsed since Tomlinson was killed. It is now too late they say to bring a court case! Ian Tomlinson’s family — who say they have been kept in the dark by the authorities for an entire year — have a good idea of what the real reason is. His stepson Paul King says: “It’s a cover-up”.
Cover-ups happen all the time. Every year, dozens of people in the UK die in police custody (or as a result of other forms of contact with the police). Not one single police officer has ever been charged. Was every single one of those hundreds of death an accident? No. In practice, the police operate beyond the rule of law — violent assault at the hands of the police is always deemed to be “justifiable force.”
But the CPS decision has caused a debate among politicians and in the media. A public enquiry has been announced. The Metropolitan Police have said the riot police officer involved will face disciplinary charges, but these bureaucratic processes may yet be a way, as they have been in the past, for the state to evade responsibility and exonerate the cop. Continued political campaigning could stop that.
Greater control and accountability over the police force is part of the answer, but it is an issue which we need to debate in the labour movement, especially as the government introduces directly elected police and crime commissioners. In the meantime, we should remember how the capitalist state moves to protect its own interests and why we need to fight hard against each and every injustice meted out by the servants of the state.