Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 09/04/09

Beyond All Conscience, Beyond All Control

I've not remarked upon the killing of an innocent man by the Metropolitan Police during the protests against the G20 last week, partly because:

  1. There's nothing I could say which hasn't been said better elsewhere
  2. I wanted as much information to come out as possible before I stuck my neck out
  3. I was too fucking angry to think straight.

For category 1, see (amongst others) here and here.

In category 2, see (again inter alia), here, here and here.

As for category 3...well, words still continue almost to fail me.

I'm not shocked, however, as some commentators have claimed to be.

You see, I was introduced to the reality of the Police via--vis peaceful protest nearly thirty years ago when I was on the wrong end of some jollies on the part of the South Wales mob when we were protesting against Prince Big-Ears and Princess Clothes-Horse in Swansea. It was quite an eye-opener for a well-brought-up lad, that. And then, of course, we had the calculated thuggishness demonstrated (if you'll pardon the pun) during both the Miners' Strike and the Battle Of The Beanfield, in which the Police seemed to take the greatest delight in their role as heavies for the government of the day - a politicised paramilitary in all but name.

Of course, this was no news to anyone who was black, anti-Fascist, Irish or just young and working class. Those groups had already had many years experience of what it was like to live under a form of occupation force; Notting Hill, Blair Peach, Brixton and Toxteth, the fit-ups of those deemed to be "Irish in the wrong place and at the wrong time". But, because this was all happening to people who - in the minds of the 'law-abiding' public - didn't matter, it was dismissed in so far as it was thought of at all. It was only wogs, Commies, Micks and punks - no-one we know, m'dear.

(Which is why there were such howls of anger from Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells when the political wing of the Country Landowners' Association had one or two potato-heads cracked by the Met a few years ago - it wasn't supposed to happen to people who own things (like Gloucestershire), dammit! How very dare they!)

And so it continued; the Police asking for - and almost invariably getting - more and more power, and showing an increased willingness not only to use those powers, but to go one step or more beyond what was in theory permitted, or what those powers were ostensibly to be used against. Thus we have 'kettling', we have the threatening even of accredited press photographers, we have the automatic assumption of guilt.

All this was on show last week. One would have to have been nave in the extreme to have been surprised by any of it; after all, a senior Met officer had gone on record saying that we should expect a 'Summer Of Rage', and that they - the Met - were ready for action.

They were, too. Whether there was any excuse for it or not, as you can see from the articles I linked to at the top of this piece. When peaceful protestors (and let's not be distracted by the suspiciously stage-managed-looking trashing of the RBS offices, where the 'demonstrators' and Police were outnumbered by the media crews) can be subjected to that sort of treatment and the perpetrators fully expect not only to be able to get away with it but be applauded for it by the 'right-minded', something is seriously wrong with the ethos of those who are supposed to be upholding the peace.

This time, however, was different. In the same way that governments have had grave difficulty catching up with technology, so it seems have the Police. The ease of use of still and video cameras has meant that The Watchers can become The Watched. The irony being, of course, that the Police and other State bodies insist that we must be photographed and filmed for our own safety, whereas a recently effected law means that turning the cameras back on the Police can leave you open to the possibility of a ten-year prison sentence. One can't help but wonder why such a law might be deemed necessary if those with 'nothing to hide' have 'nothing to fear'.

What - apart from the death of an innocent man, of course - really offends about the Met's conduct is that they were so instantly ready to lie about just about everything that happened. The man was 'a demonstrator', who died of 'natural causes', the Police being hampered in their attempts to save his life by protestors 'throwing bottles and bricks' and 'preventing an ambulance from reaching him'.

This was all bollocks, as became apparent in very short order. Ian Tomlinson was not part of the demonstration - he was trying to get home from work and was being prevented from doing so by Police blockades. Although a heart attack may be described as 'natural causes', one wonders how they were so certain of the cause of death after a cursory examination by a police pathologist. There was one (1) plastic bottle thrown at the Police, and the thrower was told to cut it out by all the other demonstrators. It was the demonstrators who tried to help Mr Tomlinson and who called the ambulance, and it was the Police who refused to speak to the ambulance control officer who was on the phone to one of the protestors and it was the Police who prevented the ambulance reaching the victim in a timely fashion. This much is now all in the realm of observed, verifiable fact. The Met's case - as it did in their murder of Jean Charles de Menezes nearly four years ago - unravelled in a matter of hours.

But that still doesn't seem to have prevented them from pushing their story in the first place. Did they really think - silly question, really; they quite obviously did - that the public would be so unutterably dumb as to fall for it?

If so, one can think why they might believe so. For, as with Brixton and Toxteth, as with the Miners' Strike and The Beanfield, as with de Menezes, they could be confident of having willing allies in the media. And so it has been shown (with a very few honourable exceptions).

All the major rags not only printed the police version of events verbatim but, as that version of events unravelled, we saw the same attempts at post mortem assassination of the character of the victim as we saw in the de Menezes case. So, we've had the "he was a protestor!" smear, we've had the "he was a drunk/alcoholic!" line, and we've even had the "he was being obstructive because he was walking slowly with his hands in his pocket!" gambit. All of this reminds me so much of the famous Constable Savage sketch from Not The Nine O'Clock News, but the brazen-ness of the Met, the media, and the various right-wing and pro-government trolls on the blogs gives even that piece of classic comedy a much darker and more sinister hue. Savage is now probably of Assistant Commissioner rank.

Just to allay any doubts on this - whether he was a demonstrator or not, whether he was an alcoholic or not, whether he was walking slowly with his hands in his pockets or not does not fricking matter!. Unless, of course, you believe that the Police should be allowed to use any force, however lethal, on people who are demonstrators, or alcoholic, or just nonchalant (or - as Mr Tomlinson had already been attacked once by the Met a few minutes before - stunned) simply on any of those grounds alone. In which case, I don't think I want to be on the same land-mass as you.

The great sorrow in all this is that we know - as certainly as we know that the sun will rise tomorrow and The Sun will stink for evermore - that nothing of any substance will come of this. The so-called 'Independent' Police Complaints Commission has already had to back-pedal frantically from its own original parroting of the Met's line, back to asking the City of London Police Force (some of whose officers were actually involved in policing the protests, albeit under Met command, and some of whose senior officers seem to be rather cosy with the dangerous crooks of the Hubbardite cult) to investigate, back further to saying that they (that is the IPCC) will investigate it themselves (although, no doubt, with the help of some police force or another).

A file may be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions, who may decide to bring a case (unless a government minister interferes to prevent this). But what charges? And against whom? An inquest may be held. But when? In what circumstances? Will a jury be allowed to hear the evidence? Will they be allowed to hear all the evidence? And if they are, will the coroner allow them to make up their own minds, or will he/she tell them that the one verdict they cannot be permitted to return is the one verdict which fits the evidence? In short, are we looking at de Menezes II?

No doubt when it is all over, it will be found to have been the result of 'operational failures', 'no one individual' will be held to be at fault, and so no-one will ever be punished, and - naturally - 'lessons will be learned'.

Thirty years ago this month, Blair Peach was murdered by the Metropolitan Police's Special Patrol Group (SPG). Despite all the evidence, Peach was declared to have died by 'misadventure', the brutal weaponry and Nazi regalia found in the SPG members' lockers was disregarded, and no officer was ever prosecuted. We must not allow Ian Tomlinson's killing at the hands of the SPG's heirs and successors to be yet another collective arse-covering exercise.

It should also lead us to be increasingly wary of the official media. In the Miners' Strike, the BBC re-edited film of the disorder at Orgreave to deliberately make it look as though the miners attacked the police first; at the Beanfield, ITN removed their reporter's piece to camera describing the brutality he had witnessed and replaced it with an anodyne voice-over; in both cases, the press willingly carried out campaigns of misrepresentation and outright smears against the actual victims. In the Tomlinson case, BBC News (which, since the Hutton whitewash, has become nothing more than a collection of twittering eunuchs) refused The Guardian's offer of its film footage for its main news programme, saying that they weren't going to cover it because it might only be of interest to London viewers (ITN's Channel Four News, to its credit, covered the story in detail); and the scum press, such as the Evening Standard and The Sun, acted either as willing stenographers for the police, or concentrated on maligning the victim (although it must be said that even some right-wing rags expressed unease or even horror at what had happened).

I'm sorry if this piece appears to be disjointed. I've written it over a period of about four hours, and I'm still angry. And yet there are people who deny that we are living in what is - or what is moving precipitously towards - a police state in the historically-accepted meaning of the term; one where the supposed agents of law and order can break the former and ignore the latter and get away with it. If we listen to the soothing tones of those ostriches then we are really screwed.

Update (10/04/09): The above has been beautifully summarised in this letter in The Independent today:

"May I save the IPCC time and money in its inquiry into the death of Ian Tomlinson by providing in advance a summary of the police evidence?

"1. The officers policing the G20 summit were operating under conditions of great stress.

"2. By avoiding eye contact with the officers, Mr Tomlinson acted in a suspicious manner.

"3. The fact that Mr Tomlinson's hands were in his pockets suggested that he was texting other protesters concerning police operations and/or concealing weapons.

"4. The fact that Mr Tomlinson was walking away from the officers caused them to fear that he might suddenly turn and attack them with the concealed weapons.

"5. Throughout, the police acted in good faith.

"6. What happened is deeply regretted.

"7. Lessons have been learned."

Gordon Whitehead

Copt Hewick, North Yorkshire