Ian Tomlinson – incident, investigations, implications

Posted: September 30, 2011 by jeffield in Ian Tomlinson

The death of Ian Tomlinson in the spring of 2009 is a widely studied and well-known case of alleged police misconduct, in which the victim died moments after being in contact with police. The incident occurred in London during the G20 summit protests, and was captured from different angles on both video and still photographs, and was seen by multiple eyewitnesses. Not only were the violent actions of the police officer apparently unwarranted, but the events following both immediately and as a part of the resulting investigation have all seen allegations of police misconduct.

Ian Tomlinson was a middle-aged white male employed casually at a newsstand in London, having been separated from his second wife for several years as a result of alcoholism. His health was deteriorated as a result of alcohol abuse and extended periods of homelessness, and he was living at a shelter at the time. He was uninvolved in the protests happening at the G20 meetings, and was merely on his way home from work at the time of the incident.

Police Constable Simon Harwood, the police officer who was allegedly involved in the events just before Tomlinson’s death, reportedly has faced two previous misconduct hearings. The first, happening over a decade prior to the Tomlinson incident, involved allegations from a motorist claiming Harwood used excessive force.

The video of the initial incident is readily available online on YouTube, with many hundreds of thousands of views. Uploaded by The Guardian news outlet, it clearly depicts a police constable, Simon Harwood, first striking Tomlinson across the legs before lunging at the man and shoving him, sending him flying into the concrete. Ian Tomlinson can be seen having been walking in front of the police officers with his hands in his pockets, posing no threat whatsoever. The comments on the video are active to this day, and people continue to debate the extent to which the officers’ actions were inappropriate.

At the scene upon Tomlinson’s collapse, officers reportedly denied help from onlookers including those qualified in emergency medical aid, and waited for the arrival of their own medics. It was in their hands that the still-breathing man died. The police force has been accused of attempting to negate the impact of the story, releasing scant information of the events surrounding the death, and appointing a coroner well known for inaccurate and often understated results. The initial postmortem examination declared the death to be the result of a heart attack – three postmortems following it were in agreement that this was incorrect and the death was in fact the result of trauma.

The Guardian, appears to take a particularly acute interest to the case, having been involved in the initial bringing to light of the situation surrounding the apparently mysterious death of an individual during the protests. It maintains an updated webpage containing the latest stories, graphics, videos, and even an interactive timeline of Tomlinson’s death and the events which followed.

An internet search quickly reveals not only a rather well-developed Wikipedia article, but also a number of insightful news articles predominantly from British media sources such as the BBC, The IndependentThe Telegraph, and The Times, among many others.  Alongside the numerous public blogs and social media pages declaring their outrage at the case, there is a dedicated website set up by Ian Tomlinson’s family and friends which detail their personal grief and their fight for justice with regards to his death.

There appears to be a great deal of both mass and social media interest in the death of Ian Tomlinson and the allegations surrounding it. The accompanying videos and graphics which can be found online present interested researchers with primary information. In particular, the material compiled by The Guardian provides excellent insight into the details and recent events regarding the case, and the Wikipedia article is well written and very well sourced. This is a case which is indeed quite interesting to read and follow in the news, and is sufficiently well-documented for any casual reader to find a great deal of information regarding its specifics.

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    An excellent overview of the event and the readily-available public information resources.

    One question:

    How does the death of Ian Tomlinson fit into the broader picture of the public order policing of protests in the UK? In other words, what were the features of the context (if any) that shaped the encounter between Mr. Tomlinson and the police?

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