Ian Tomlinson: Syntheis and Commentary

Posted: December 6, 2011 by pha2tie in Cases - Individuals, Ian Tomlinson

Ian Tomlinson’ s death became a controversy because it was believed that the family was misled about his death by the police. On April 1,2009, Ian Tomlinson was walking to go home when he collapsed and died on a London street, at the periphery of a G20 protest. Moments earlier he had been struck from behind by a police officer’s baton on a leg and pushed down on the ground.

Simon Harwood was the Metropolitan Police that struck and shoved Tomlinson to the ground. The decision not to charge Simon Harwood for the death of Ian Tomlinson was overturned primarily because it turned into a scandal when a video footage of the attack was released and it was only then, it was investigated as a criminal inquiry. The death of Ian Tomlinson was very controversial because many facts were not released to the public or to Mr. Tomlinson’s family in a timely fashion. Simon Harwood, charged with manslaughter for the death of Ian Tomlinson, has pleaded not guilty.

According to the first investigation report of Tomlinson’s death -which was released by the police – Mr. Tomlinson died of a sudden heart attack. The findings of a different pathologist for the second post-mortem stated that Tomlinson died as a result of bleeding caused by a blunt force trauma in the abdomen. There were discrepancies in post mortem reports and multiple autopsies needed to be conducted.

Tomlinson case is a well-known example of police deviance and attempt to evade accountability. Their initial failure to respond promptly rises a serious question of accountability. The governing and investigative body that ensures police are using reasonable force during protests have failed. Their failure to respond earnestly, in addition to some misleading information given by the police suggests that the organization is to blame for such corruption. Corrupt practices seemed to surround the organization, as seen in Tomlinson case through misleading reports and delayed information release. Police present that time of incident refused to cooperate and etc. In short, if formal accountability has failed to be delivered in this particular case, then cultural and organizational changes must be made

Punch (2009) states : “Yet a wealth of material- in academic publications, historical accounts, public inquiries, documentaries and media exposures, court cases, biographies of officers and films- reveals that police officers frequently if not routinely bend and break the disciplinary rules and the law. This is a recurring and persistent theme since the commencement of ‘modern’ public policing early in the nineteenth century. The combined historical and contemporary evidence indicates that the police can be venal and violent and can behave irresponsibly while evading accountability. For accountability is not something an agency can claim to possess simply because it meets the certain criteria or has procedures in place; rather it is something an agency convincingly delivers to the satisfaction of the stakeholders- both routinely but especially at critical moments.”

What made this story controversial is not only the use of force that led to Tomlinson’s death, but also the evasion of accountability . It is evident in this situation that the role of the police in protests is strategically coercive in nature, and it raises the question ” who are they protecting by exercising unnecessary force or violence?” Kettling is one of the tactics used in protests that raises questions of ethics and widely criticised as one of the inappropriate use of police force. Kettling is containment strategy and the police use their bodies (cordon) as a fence to stripped off any human rights. Police prevent people from getting in and getting out and sometimes police can deprive them of food and water for long periods of time. Often, after a group of protesters has been kettled in, the police tighten the cordon, and push the protesters into a smaller and smaller space until they are packed very closely together; if the protesters push back, the police retaliate by hitting them with their shields, their batons, or their hands. Sometimes police officers go inside the kettle and roughly pull out someone they suspect of having committed a crime — or someone who is shouting, or holding a sign, or taking photographs.

The Ian Tomlinson case showed issues surrounding police violence, direct action for accountability and mass media. The development of information taken by camera phones and digital cameras by bystanders, and shared or released to a networking sites is a new capability or power that captures the real image of policing. According to Goldsmith (2010), the concept of new visibility and Ian Tomlinson case are used to illustrate the unprecedented power of this new capability and the challenges that it poses for police image management. Following Tomlinson’s death, this ‘new visibility’ has put the police image under scrutiny and it also pushes the police organization to take some action of some kind. After the footage of the attack was released, some facts became more transparent to the public’s eye and supported the idea of the police misleading the public and the family of the victim: (1) The family was not told that they had a legal right to attend the autopsy, and (2) The first pathologist who examined Tomlinson, Freddy Patel, also conducted the autopsies for the Home Office and the police. Patel found that he had died of coronary artery disease. The second post-mortem was ordered by the family’s legal team and the IPCC after the footage was broadcast. (3) The second post-mortem was conducted by Dr. Nat Cary, who stated that Tomlinson died of internal bleeding. (4) The first pathologist did not mention if there were additional injuries and also omitted to mention blood volume found in the abdomen.(5) Before the officer was identified (Simon Harwood), an image was published showing his ID badge number was missing on his shoulder and his face covered with a balaclava.

The police are given their own judgement to decide to use force that is appropriate, necessary and reasonable according to the situation. If there is no set guidelines to the appropriateness, reasonableness and what is necessary use of force, how is there going to be a formal accountability in terms of dealing with police violence? Concealing these problems and as long as it is hidden from the public, it will not be dealt with. It only means that the organization itself is to blame. As Punch ( 2009) points out that there is no individual in an organization so therefore it makes no sense to deal with police corruption in a bad apple level. If police corruption is universal, present at some point in time and in every level of the organization, therefore, it should be dealt with as “rotten barrels” level and approaching it in a level of “ bad apples”, will simply NOT WORK. It only means that police corruption is formed within the institution.

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