Statewatch article: RefNo# 29441
UK: Shock and anger at the violent policing tactics used at the G20 Summit: Part 2, by Trevor Hemmings.
Statewatch Bulletin; vol 19 no 3 July-September 2009
In the aftermath of the violent policing of the G20 summit in London in April 2009 community organisations highlight longstanding problems of police indiscipline while official inquiries develop strategies for future protests.

The Inquest report [1] is critical of the role of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in failing to immediately launch an independent investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson, an omission that has seriously undermined: “public and family confidence in the IPCC and the police complaints system more generally.” Instead, within hours of the death the IPCC had sanctioned a misleading Metropolitan police press release that omitted to mention that there had been repeated police contacts with Ian Tomlinson before his death. It focussed on a version of an alleged bottle throwing incident as police administered first aid to the dying man. These allegations are strenuously denied by protesters who had gone to Mr Tomlinson’s aid and called an ambulance (which the police may have prevented from reaching the scene). The IPCC’s prevarication meant that Metropolitan police assumed responsibility for forensic analysis and initially conducted the investigation. On 2 April Scotland Yard referred the investigation to the City of London police which played a key role in evidence gathering but “completely failed to persuade the Tomlinson family of its impartiality”. This bias was typified by the force’s assertion that that the assailant may not have been a police officer at all, but “a member of the public dressed in police uniform.”

Police mistreatment of the Tomlinson family

The casual mistreatment of bereaved families of police victims over the years has been well documented by Inquest. [2] In the case of the Tomlinson family it can be encapsulated by the failure to even inform them of the death for over nine hours. Moreover, the City of London coroner neglected to tell the family that a post mortem examination was to be carried out on 2 April 2009 and of their right to attend; the IPCC was also refused access although a City of London police sergeant was present. The pathologist instructed by the coroner was Dr Freddie Patel, a questionable choice given that he had been discredited by his conduct in another police restraint death, that of Roger Sylvester [3], for speculating to the press about the victim’s possible drug use (an act for which Patel was reprimanded by the General Medical Council).

The findings of the first post mortem, that Ian Tomlinson had died as a result of a heart attack, and the failure to mention other injuries, reinforced the police narrative of death by natural causes. After this finding was released on 3 April the IPCC reported that the Metropolitan police maintained that there had been no police contact with Ian Tomlinson and they failed to correct this false information. A subsequent post-mortem examination conducted by pathologist, Dr Nat Carey, instructed by the IPCC and by solicitors acting for the family, found that Mr Tomlinson had died of abdominal bleeding, raising the possibility of a manslaughter charge against a police officer. The IPCC said:

Following the initial results of the second post mortem, a Metropolitan police officer has been interviewed under caution for the offence of manslaughter as part of an ongoing inquiry into the death of Ian Tomlinson.

Despite these disturbing signs it was not until 8 April that the IPCC launched an independent investigation [4]. Inquest concludes that this failure to investigate police conduct is not only detrimental to the IPCC’s claims of independence, but led to the “potential for the loss, suppression and/or distortion of crucial forensic evidence in the ‘golden hours’ following Mr Tomlinson’s death”. Through these delays the:

clear impression that emerged was that the IPCC and the Metropolitan police sought to avoid an investigation into Mr Tomlinson’s death by incorrectly suggesting that he had died of natural causes.

In many earlier contentious deaths there was also a concerted attempt by the authorities to deflect attention away from official criminality or incompetence. In this light, it was hardly surprising that the initial reports of the death of Ian Tomlinson were “at best partial and at worst an attempt to deflect attention from the potential wrongdoing of police officers.” Mr Tomlinson’s family has also expressed its concern over what has appeared in the media, much of which appears to have been given to the press by public authorities. These attempts to control the narrative development of events by smearing the reputation of the deceased, serve to deflect attention away from those at fault. It also underlines “the importance of a robust and immediate independent investigation” because:

there is an obvious risk that if police officers (who may be motivated towards protecting their own) have control of the early stages of an investigation their approach may taint this process.

The issue of police misinformation regarding Mr Tomlinson’s death is now the subject of a formal complaint by his family and an IPCC inquiry into media handling by the Metropolitan police and the City of London force.

Inquest’s investigation concludes:

The task for the IPCC in the aftermath of a contentious death following police contact is clear: to immediately begin an independent, effective, accountable, prompt, public and inclusive investigation so that the rule of law is seen to be upheld and applied equally to all citizens including those in police uniform. Without this there can be no hope of public confidence, not least in the aftermath of a heavily-policed protest and the abundance of camera and CCTV evidence of excessive force by police officers....The fact that the IPCC was unable to take immediate control of the potential crime scene or indeed to have any input at all during the golden hours and early days of the investigation means that the suspicion of a cover-up will always linger.

Operation Glencoe part 2

The second day of “Operation Glencoe” (as the police operation was called) began, as complaints began to emerge about the police excesses of the previous day, with midday raids on two squats housing demonstrators (many of whom had been compelled to stay after being kettled by police until the early hours the previous night). Superintendent Roger Evans said that intelligence squads had the squats under surveillance for two days and that police were hoping to match some of the occupants with photographs of “troublemakers” and “ringleaders” from the previous day. He told The Metro free newspaper:

We have had officers keeping this building under overt surveillance. Our intelligence teams have been watching this [premises] for the last two days. I don’t know exactly how many people were inside but it’s around 70 so far. There are all sorts of people inside. People with piercings, people without piercings, people with dogs – the sort of people you might expect to find at a pop festival. [5]

The Rampart Street Community Arts Centre, which has existed for about five years, was widely publicised on the internet as a place where people attending the G20 protests could meet and sleep. An early open meeting at the centre was “infiltrated” by the Evening Standard newspaper resulting in a report entitled “Anarchists planning to storm city banks.” [6] It said: “At the meeting, held in a three-storey squat called rampart in Whitechapel, anarchists discussed plans to “swoop” on the area in “swarms of two or three” and break through police lines by any means necessary”. It continued: “Groups who attended the meeting include the Whitechapel Anarchists Group, Class war and the Wombles. The Met has warned that anarchists from the 1990 Poll Tax riots have been lured out of retirement by the prospect of violent clashes.” The vision of a “dad’s army” of anarchists launching a re-run of the UK’s largest riot of the twentieth century may seem ludicrous, but this kind of hyperbole is fairly typical of the tabloid coverage.

Film from the Earl Street raid [7] shows occupants appealing for negotiations with riot police before the building was stormed. An officer can be observed beating at least one man with a baton as riot police forced their way inside and another officer, armed with a laser-sighted Taser, forced people to lie face down on the floor with their limbs outspread. Many were taken outside and questioned some were restrained with plastic handcuffs. Four people were arrested at the Rampart centre and two people at Earl Street.

Outside the ExCel conference centre 1,500 police officers formed a “ring of steel” in a military-style operation, surrounding the venue and outnumbering peaceful demonstrators by three to one as the summit began. Three DLR stations were closed and police turned away anyone within a half mile radius who did not have accreditation. When the G20 leaders arrived helicopters surrounded the area, marine police units were put on standby and snipers were positioned on top of flats.

Further evidence of systematic police violence towards protestors came when Nicola Fisher [8], from Brighton, was filmed being struck by TSG sergeant Delroy Smellie as she made her way to a peaceful vigil in commemoration of Ian Tomlinson. The footage shows the officer smacking her across the face with the back of his hand and ordering her to “Go away”. Ms Fisher is seen remonstrating with him as he draws his baton and strikes the woman on her legs. Fisher later said: “If he wanted me to move he could have asked me politely.” Smellie, another officer with no visible identification number, was suspended from duty pending an IPCC inquiry into the assault.[9] “People were there for the vigil out of respect to remember Ian Tomlinson,” said Tristan Woodwards (25) who captured the attack on film. Fisher said that a number of men witnessed the incident and scuffles broke out between them and some of the police officers when they remonstrated about the abuse of a woman.

The Labour MP, David Winnick, a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said that Nicola Fisher’s beating was “totally unacceptable” behaviour by a police officer:

The home secretary should make a statement about events at the G20 protests. That statement should include first and foremost Ian Tomlinson’s death and explain why police made a totally misleading statement about their contact with him. [10]

After footage of the Fisher assault came to light the Metropolitan police issued a statement saying that the actions of the police officer had raised “immediate concerns”. In September the IPCC passed its investigation into Smellie, who is currently suspended from duty, to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which decided that there was sufficient evidence for him appear at Westminster magistrates court in October charged with assault. [11]

The Met should also have been concerned at a similar incident that occurred the previous day at Climate Camp, when a 23-year old unnamed female graduate was injured by police officers. The incident, in which the woman was struck violently with police shields and truncheons and kicked by officers, was the subject of the first IPCC report published in August [12]. The attack left her with bruising to the arms and legs and heavy vaginal bleeding, which her GP told her could have been indicative of a miscarriage. The woman does not know if she was pregnant. Despite her injuries police officers had refused permission for her to leave Bishopsgate for five hours, a situation that the IPCC described as difficult to justify. Nonetheless, the IPCC has decided not to refer this case to the CPS.

A campaign is born as the police narrative unravels

Over the next weeks, as more blogs, tweets, photographs and mobile phone films from protesters and independent journalists entered the public domain, the credibility of the police narrative of events was firstly undermined and then overturned. Senior officers, defending the policing of the Summit at City Hall, were greeted with jeers and heckled throughout, resulting in the Conservative Party Mayor, Boris Johnson, threatening to suspend the meeting. Members of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) criticised the kettling tactic and the violence used by officers while clearing the Climate Camp. The Police Federation, however, raised fears of an “anti-police bandwagon”, while Police Review ran a story entitled “Brain Storm” asking: “Did Airwave radios trigger officers’ behaviour at the G20 protests?” [13] It cited independent research suggesting that the radio frequency had interfered with officers’ brainwaves possibly causing unintended “violent behaviour, aggression, sleeplessness, irritability or agitation.” One former Scotland Yard commissioner, David Gilbertson, was probably nearer the mark when he suggested there was a “frightening new mindset – officers see the public as the enemy and protest as illegitimate”. [14]

On 11 April, hundreds of people marched in silence through the streets of London in commemoration of Ian Tomlinson. In a letter read out beforehand Mr Tomlinson’s stepson, Paul King, said it had been very painful to watch the images of his stepfather being violently assaulted. He made a plea for justice: “We are hopeful that the IPCC will fulfil their duty to carry out a full investigation into his death and that action will be taken against any police officer who contributed to Ian’s death through his conduct.” Mr Tomlinson’s father, Jim, also spoke, demanding an explanation and accusing the police of giving his son a beating. He said:

I’ve seen film of police pushing Ian over. They need to explain why they did that. Were their actions justified? He was never a troublemaker. He might have been gobby [loud], but is that what you get for being gobby now – a good beating?

On 17 April the London Coroners court published the results of the second post-mortem which revealed that Ian Tomlinson had died of internal bleeding.

A few days later a coalition of trade unionists, anti-war activists, campaigners against deaths in custody and others who oppose police violence and want to defend civil liberties launched the United Campaign Against Police Violence (UCAPV). [15] Supporters are comprised of campaigners from the United Friends and Families Campaign, RMT (London Region), the Public and Commercial Services Union, Labour MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Stop the War/Gaza coalition, the Green Party and G20 Meltdown. Speaking about Ian Tomlinson, Paul King, on behalf of the family, said:

First we were told that there had been no contact with the police, then we were told that he died of a heart attack; now we know that he was violently assaulted by a police officer and died from internal bleeding. As time goes on we hope that the full truth about how Ian died will be made known.

A “remarkably successful” police operation

As the growing controversy over the policing of the G20 protests intensified, calls for a parliamentary inquiry became louder after House of Commons speaker, Michael Martin, blocked an attempt to force an emergency parliamentary statement on the allegations of brutality by the Labour MP, David Winnick. Scotland Yard is not releasing the contents of the investigation by Ian Johnston, head of the British Transport police, into the policing of the protests and the death of Mr Tomlinson. However, at the beginning of May an official report setting out the police version of events, by assistant commissioner Chris Allison, was submitted to a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority. It was described as “full of serious inaccuracies” by the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, David Howarth MP, and Scotland Yard was accused of “misleading its own watchdog.” [16] Allison defended the report and the kettling of demonstrators; the MPA unanimously agreed to examine this and other public order tactics in its civil liberties panel.

On 23 June, the Home Affairs Committee (HAC) [17] published its report on the G20 policing strategy [18] which it described as “a remarkably successful operation” that “aside from a few high profile incidents...passed without drama”. This operational “success” balances precariously with the evidence of excessive police force used against the “extremely peaceful and successful” protests. A caveat acknowledges that the operation’s success was “partly down to luck” and that:

These incidents and the tactics...caused considerable adverse comment and have the potential to seriously damage the public’s faith in the police.

The report also expresses wider concerns over the policing of the G20, and other large-scale, public protests. In particular it highlights:

Kettling: The Committee found that the use of close containment and distraction tactics (the controlled use of force), “while legitimate according to the police rule-book, shocked the public”. The report states that: “It is not acceptable for a blanket ban on movement to be imposed”. It calls for a review of this tactic and questions whether kettling can “continue to be used”, arguing that it should “form the basis of a wide-ranging discussion on the future policing of public protests.” Above all, the report concludes, “the police must constantly remember that those who protest on Britain’s streets are not criminals but citizens motivated by moral principles, exercising their democratic rights.” However, kettling has already been through the UK courts and on appeal to the House of Lords, in relation to Lois Austin (in the 2001 'May Day Detainee Case'), and it supported the Court of Appeal’s finding that the Metropolitan police acted correctly by detaining Lois and several thousand peaceful anti-capitalist protesters in Oxford Circus on May Day, 2001. The case is likely to go to the European Court. [19]

Communications between police and media: David Howarth MP, who acted as an observer at the G20 protests, told the Committee: “I was increasingly concerned about the hyping up of the possibility of violence...What we were doing there was as a result of what was happening in the previous weeks in the media and concern about the police apparently...raising the spectre of major violence.” The Committee expressed bewilderment that “the police would use language which would only serve to create a “them and us” attitude and antagonise the most violent elements within the protesters. We feel that such statements essentially become a self-fulfilling prophecy and they should be avoided in future.”

Refusing to display identification numbers: This longstanding issue was frequently raised as a serious problem by protestors as long ago as the 1980s. [20] The report states that there are still “no circumstances in which it is acceptable for officers not to wear identification numbers” and calls for “urgent action” to be taken “to ensure that officers have the resources to display identification at all times”. Those officers deliberately removing their identification numbers “must face the strongest possible disciplinary measures.” Despite the strong words the Met chose milder action, disciplining most officers who refused to display their numbers with “words of advice.”

In September the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) criticised police chiefs for failing to even discipline officers who failed to wear their ID numbers with Dee Dooley, stating that it was “extraordinary” that officers caught without ID should escape with a slap on the wrist [21]. However, Dooley’s observations grossly underestimated the situation, as was exposed in a leaked Metropolitan police email instructing staff to cull photographs of officers at G20 who were not displaying identity numbers. The revisionist email, published by the Evening Standard newspaper (6.11.09.), says:

As of now, any still or moving photography or images of police officers must show them wearing their correct shoulder numbers / markings and name badges if these areas of uniform are included in the shot.

If any of these items are missing the photography or images must not be used.

As a precaution, if you hold any photography or images that do not meet this instruction they should be culled from your libraries or other systems you may have for their storage.”

Untrained and inexperienced officers:
The report was “deeply concerned that untrained and inexperienced officers were placed in such a highly combustible atmosphere.” The members said: “We cannot condone the use of untrained, inexperienced officers on the frontline of a public protest and feel that an element of luck must be attributed to the success of the operation. This HAC conclusion was rejected by the Met’s Assistant Commissioner, Chris Allison, who said: “It is wrong to suggest that our officers are not trained. They are. To suggest otherwise can only serve to damage public confidence in us.” [21]

“A National Overhaul” for police tactics?

On 7 July, HM Inspector of Constabulary, Denis O’Connor, published his review of the handling of the G20 demonstrations which called for reform of the way in which such protests are handled. [22] The review identifies a number of “genuine concerns”: kettling and the dispersal of peaceful demonstrators, the absence of police identification numbers and the effectiveness of communication between police, public and protesters. However, O’Connor manages to overcome these “concerns” and the report cannot be called critical, focussing on the public’s perceptions of the police rather than issues of policing.

O’Connor supports the continued police use of kettling, stating that there was a "clear rationale for the use of containment" at the Bank of England. His criticism is merely that it was inconsistently applied elsewhere at G20. Given the frequency with which the tactic was – and still is - used it is unlikely that his suggestion that officers on the ground be given greater discretion to allow people to leave will make a great deal of difference. This is particularly the case if, as the report says, senior Metropolitan police commanders do not understand human rights law and their legal duties regarding containment.

O’Connor is also silent on the role of the Territorial Support Group, the “force within the force” responsible for public order policing and the subject of numerous complaints made at G20. It should be recalled that investigations into its predecessor, the Special Patrol Group, only resulted in a cosmetic name change.

The HMIC review describes the police planning for the G20 protests as “inadequate”. It found that although “intelligence briefings indicated that there was no specific intelligence which suggested any planned intention to engage in co-ordinated and organised public disorder and/or violence” the Metropolitan police had not planned for facilitating a peaceful demonstration. Its preparations were directed at dealing “robustly” with any form of protest or demonstration that was not lawful. This is a remarkable admission, given the outcome of Operation Glencoe, in which one man died, well over 100 people were arrested and dozens were injured by “robust” policing. In light of this, to call for a human rights-based approach to the policing of protests that focuses on an individual’s criminal behaviour rather than criminalisation of the protest as a whole misses the point.

O’Connor’s recognition that the police have a duty to facilitate peaceful protest is welcome, but meagre. The same is true of his acknowledgement that it should become a legal requirement for police to display their identification numerals, something as necessary today as it was when it first became a serious problem some 30 years ago. The need for a review of police training and tactics, including the use of shields and batons, is self-evident, as footage of G20 shows.

It is common practice on demonstrations for police to disrupt journalists filming controversial police tactics and the expanding role of Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) in harassing reporters has been an integral component of this policy. The practice has been criticised by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the union’s secretary, Jeremy Dear, has said that:

The routine and deliberate targeting of photographers and other journalists by the FIT undermines media freedom and can serve to intimidate photographers trying to carry out their lawful work. The rights of photographers to work free from threat, harassment and intimidation must be upheld. [23]

The increasingly proactive role of the FIT is the formalisation of a process to ensure the coverage of the official narrative of events.

Given the success of independent media outlets in challenging this narrative, O’Connor discusses limiting independent journalistic activity by embedding reporters with the police to “facilitate communication” and avoid confrontational situations. Embedded journalists would be discredited as neutral observers. In the immediate future the battleground will be less over the nature of public order strategy and practice but over strategic control of the information that is allowed into the public domain.

Footnotes

1. Inquest “Briefing on the death of Ian Tomlinson” (2009), Appendix 1. The briefing is available as a free download:
http://inquest.gn.apc.org/pdf/INQUEST_ian_tomlinson_briefing_jun_2009.pdf

2. See the Inquest website for numerous well documented cases of the abuse of families bereaved in police custody. http://inquest.gn.apc.org/

3. For background on Roger Sylvester the Inquest website. See akso Statewatch Vol. 9 no. 1; Vol. 10 no. 5, 6; Vol. 11 nos. 3/4, 5; Vol. 13, no 5 and Vol. 17 nos. 3 and 4

4. IPCC press release. http://www.ipcc.gov.uk/news/pr080409_iantomlinsoninvestigation.htm

5. The Metro. http://www.metro.co.uk/news/article.html?Police_raid_squats_linked_to_G20_violence&in_article_id=607262&in_page_id=34

6. Evening Standard 31.3.09.

7 See Panorama “Whatever Happened to People Power” BBC-1 6.7.09. for film of the Earl Street raid.

8. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FppDEJUG7fE

9. Guardian 15.4.09.

10. IPCC press release “G20 update: Met officer summoned” 28.9.09.

11. See the IPCC report “Commissioner’s Report following the IPCC Independent Investigation into a Complaint that Officers used Excessive Force against a Woman during the G20 protests”
http://www.ipcc.gov.uk/bishopsgate_report.pdf
The woman also gave an interview recounting events to BBC’s Newsnight programme

12. Police Review 5.6.09. In what appears to be a developing theme, another Police Review article, “Short Fuse” by Sarah Bebbington, asked whether working long hours affected police “tolerance levels” at the G20 protests (17.7.09).

13. Guardian 20.4.09

14. See http://againstpoliceviolence.blogspot.com/

15. Guardian 1.5.09

16. The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Home Office and its associated public bodies. Its current chair is the Labour MP, Keith Vaz.

17. “Policing of the G20 Protests” 23.6.09. http://www.statewatch.org/news/2009/jun/uk-hasc-g20-policing-report.pdf

18. Opinions of the Lords of Appeal for judgment in the cause Austin (FC) (Appellant) & another v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Respondent). http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldjudgmt/jd090128/austin-1.htm

19. The concealing of police identification numbers was raised by the IPCC at the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance demonstration in September 2004 and was an issue of great concern at Tamil protests earlier this year. Despite repeated complaints that the practice makes police unaccountable and encourages violent behaviour there has been little enthusiasm by the authorities to resolve the problem.

20. Cited on BBC News 17.9.09.

21. BBC News 29.6.09

22. Denis O’Connor Adapting to Protest 1.7.09.
http://inspectorates.homeoffice.gov.uk/hmic/docs/ap/G20-final-report.pdf?view=Binary

23. See “Home Secretary told “end police surveillance of journalists” NUJ website: http://www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=816

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