Thursday, 19 July 2012

Death of Mr Ian Tomlinson ~ P.C. Harwood acquitted

Almost 3 years and 4 months after the event, Police Constable Simon Harwood has been acquitted on a charge of manslaughter arising from the death of Mr Ian Tomlinson on 1st April 2009.  In an article in The Guardian 19th July, the Tomlinson family have indicated that they may bring a civil action against the Police - read their comment here.  A Coroner's Court, on 3rd May 2011, decided that Mr Tomlinson's death was unlawful killing.  However, in law, that is not a finding of legal liability against any particular individual.  Statutory Rules applicable to inquests prevent Coroners from framing a verdict in such a way as to appear to determine any question of - (a) criminal liability on the part of a named person, or (b) civil liability.*

See the article by David Allen Green - New Statesman 19th July.

At the time of  the incident, the G20 conference was taking place in London and was being met with vehement protests.  The Police were out in considerable strength and their number included several dog handlers.   Mr Tomlinson was not a protester - merely a man going about his lawful business.  PC Harwood was one of a group of officers.  He came behind Mr Tomlinson and struck him with a baton and then, immediately afterwards, pushed Mr Tomlinson in the back causing him to fall to the ground.   Mr Tomlinson fell
on his right side.  He was helped to his feet (by another person - not by the Police) and then walked away a short distance before collapsing and dying.  An inquest jury held that Mr Tomlinson's death was unlawful killing - Tomlinson Inquest.

Youtube shows the incident

Ian Tomlinson being assisted as Police watch
The Tomlinson case has been considered on this blog at 22nd July 2010, 27th July 2010, 4th October 2010, 15th April 2011, and 3rd May 2011.

There were considerable problems with the medical evidence as to cause of death since the first post mortem was badly conducted - Telegraph 19th July 2012.

A decision made by the CPS not to prosecute was reversed after the inquest returned an unlawful killing verdict - see discussion here.

According to data published by The Guardian, over 1400 people in England and Wales have died in police custody or following police contact since 1990.  Also, writing in The Guardian, Duncan Campbell argues that the case still holds many lessons for the Police.  The trial judge's stance on information about the case published in the media is also raising concerns about reporting of cases - Guardian 19th July.

The twists and turns of this matter may be read on Wikipedia.  There are many disturbing features particularly relating to the length of time it took to get the case to trial and the post mortem process.  Also, given the "patterned bruising" on Mr Tomlinson's leg, I remain critical of the failure of the CPS to add a charge of "actual bodily harm" to the indictment - see here.  (A charge of "common assault" could not be brought once 6 months had elapsed from the incident).

Inevitably, we will all have a personal view about this case and also about the conduct of the officers who merely stood by and did not help Mr Tomlinson when he was on the ground.  However, we should guard against coming to the conclusion that the jury ought to have found PC Harwood guilty.  The jury heard all the evidence presented to them.  (We know that the judge - Fulford J - ruled that Harwood's disciplinary record - see here - was not to be disclosed to the jury).  We cannot know the reasoning of the jury since juries do not give reasoned decisions.  However, it may be that the jury was not satisfied - so that it could be sure - that Harwood's actions were the cause in law of Mr Tomlinson's death.  However that may be, if we believe in jury trial - (and I do) - then we cannot pick and choose which verdicts we accept.

A Police Misconduct hearing is scheduled to take place in September and will be held in public (as argued for here) - see Independent Police Complaints Commission statement of 19th July.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

"This verdict is a damning reflection of the systemic problems inherent in the current investigation system where deaths following police use of force are not treated as potential crimes. This failure has profound consequences on the proper functioning of the justice system in relation to such deaths.

"It is vital that the rule of law is upheld and applies equally to all, including police officers, and that they do not believe that they can act with impunity.

"For too long there has been a pattern of cases where inquest juries have found overwhelming evidence of unlawful and excessive use of force or gross neglect and yet no police officer either at an individual or senior management level has been held responsible."

Judicial ruling:

The ruling of Fulford J relating to publication by the Mail Online of alleged earlier incidents of violence on the part of PC Harwood is here.


* (The Criminal Law Act 1977 s.56 altered the law so that at a coroner's inquest touching the death of a person who came by his death by murder, manslaughter or infanticide, the purpose of the proceedings shall not include the finding of any person guilty of the murder, manslaughter or infanticide; and accordingly a coroner's inquisition shall in no case charge a person with any of those offences.)


  1. I don't know what to say about this really. He pushed him, when he had his back turned, hands in his pockets and when he was walking away (albeit slowly). Pathologists have found that he died from injuries resulting from the fall. This is textbook manslaughter.

    1. I'm not sure it's textbook manslaughter. When you look at the cases of Dawson and Carey, I would argue that this case doesn't satisfy the requirements for illegal act manslaughter.

  2. City of London police say Ian Tomlinson was on his way home from work when he collapsed

    Look how the story morphed...

    1. Evening Standard double-page spread headline on the evening of the G20 demo in London, 2009:

      "Police pelted with bottles as the help dying man"

      The Press and the IPCC are too quick to trust our police force - god knows what they got away with before the emergence of camera phones.

      I suppose we can comfort ourselves with the thought that AT LEAST a copper stood trial.

  3. "However that may be, if we believe in jury trial - (and I do)"

    So for you it is a matter of faith. So might a belief be in flying saucers or virgin births or life after death. Is there a limit to your faith in the current system of juries and jury selection? Is there a point at which you would cease to believe?

    1. I do believe that the jury system is preferable to trial by judges alone. I also prefer trial by a bench of magistrates to DJ(MC) alone.

      As a JP you will be well aware that a decision can only be properly criticised by those who have heard all the evidence. We have not seen or heard it all. This was a majority decision but the majority must have entertained doubt for some reason.

      I am far from saying that all is perfect with juries but, overall, I believe it is a system which has stood us in good stead and in which the public, generally speaking, appear to have confidence. One of the problem areas relates to selection of jurors but that's a subject for another day.

      Have a good weekend - don't look at the sky too much and beware of things that go bump in the night!!

  4. Not a legal expert speaking, but I agree with ObiterJ. We haven't heard all the evidence; the jury did. I concur with "bran deditems" that it LOOKS like manslaughter. That video is fairly damning as to Harwood's actions, but it doesn't prove that they caused his death.

    The CPS is cretainly at fault for not adding the ABH charge, as well as any other that might have stuck on the video evidence alone.

    IMO we need (but will never get) a change in legal procedure to allow (or even compel?) juries to deliver narrative verdicts in certain special cases, such as this one, where one highly prejudicial piece of evidence is in the public domain. When such damning evidence is available to all, the public need some explanation of a contrary verdict.

    Harwood is clearly guilty of SOMETHING, but perhaps not manslaughter. Let's hope that justice was done in that regard, at least. But in a wider context, justice has not been SEEN to be done. In the modern world that's as least as important.

    1. Thank you. I would need to consider the pros and cons of narrative verdicts in criminal cases. I think that's also a topic for another time! Our present system has one clear advantage - simplicity - Guilty or Not Guilty. (Scotland - in solemn procedure - has the rarely used "not proven" verdict).

    2. Just over a year ago I wrote on this blog about juries - here.

  5. Professor Cheryl Thomas - UCL Faculty of Law - argues for more research and information to be available about judges and juries:

    See here and here

  6. well jury research is currently illegal - so any research would be better than the current situation

    1. Conducting research into juries is not illegal and a number of studies have been conducted.

      Some of the better studies have either run complete mock trials and monitored the deliberations or have set up second juries in real criminal trials and monitored the second juries deliberations.

  7. See the article:
    Tomlinson case: Met police tried to hide PC Harwood's disciplinary record
    Files contained multiple assault allegations but police lawyers said disclosing them would have breached officer's privacy

    'Harwood had repeatedly been accused of using excessive force during his career, including claims he punched, throttled, kneed and unlawfully arrested people.
    The jury in the trial were not told about the history of complaints

    1. Ed (not Bystander)23 July 2012 at 16:37

      The article says:

      The jury in the trial were not told about the history of complaints, despite a submission from the Crown Prosecution Service, which argued that in two of the disciplinary matters he was accused of using heavy-handed tactics against the public 'when they presented no threat'. The application was rejected by the judge"

      The judge will have rejected the application because it would have been prejudicial more than probative.

      Let's not forget the allegations were not upheld. Do you imagine that no spurious complaints are ever made against the police?

    2. Ed, from reading the article, let’s remember that nine of the previous complaints/allegations against Harwood were not upheld (no pattern there – move along now please!), but one complaint, in which Harwood admitted he had gone into "red mist mode" before unlawfully accessing the police national computer, was upheld.

      On that occasion, Harwood was able to avoid disciplinary action by retiring from the Met, rejoining the force three days later in a civilian role and then reapplying to enter uniformed ranks – a move the police watchdog has said was "staggering".

      Staggering indeed!

      I imagine that there are more valid complaints against the police that are dismissed, than there are spurious complaints made against them.

  8. I have now closed comments on this particular post.