Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Ian Tomlinson verdict

Most people who had been following the case knew it already. Watching the footage from the G20 protests in 2009, and of the shove that preceded his death, it was difficult to draw any other conclusion. But now it's official: Ian Tomlinson was unlawfully killed the police.

This verdict doesn't, as yet, guarantee that his family will see justice. The verdict of the inquest could lead to the officer who shoved him, PC Simon Harwood, facing manslaughter charges. But this is not guaranteed. All we know at present is that the Crown Prosecution Service will "review" its original decision. Whether this leads to formal charges, and whether anything comes of them, remains to be seen. As Tomlinson's family themselves acknowledge, they have "a long way to go in the search for justice."

However, it does now seem likely that as a result of the pressure brought to bear by the family's campaign, Harwood will at least face trial. Politically, the Metropolitan Police must know that anything less would be dangerous. Likewise, there will be uproar if said trial doesn't return a guilty verdict.

There is a possibility that the Met will hang Harwood out to dry. He could be offered as a necessary sacrifice in order to be seen rooting out the "bad apples" from an otherwise commendable force. There would be voices reminding people of Blair Peach, of Jean Charles de Menezes, and of the other victims who prove that police violence is not an abberation but the norm, but there are always such voices. Far more important is closing the lid on wider public disillusionment with the police and restoring a sense of normalcy.

Even this isn't guaranteed, however, as the sharp escalation of the class struggle that we are seeing at present has allowed the mask of liberalism to slip. Clearly, with actions such as the pre-emptive rounding up of people who might be so bold as to not be entirely positive about a state occasion, there is a growing tendency to not give a shit about civil liberties pretences and just get the job done.

Whatever the case, it remains true that the police have to face a degree of accountability that they wouldn't have in the past. This is nothing to do with enlightened attitudes within the institution itself and everything to do with the ability of activists to make them a focus of ever more intense scrutiny and expose their crimes to the world. Both so that the families of people like Ian Tomlinson can have justice and so that there are less people who suffer his fate in the future, that must never let up.