Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Police battery of Ian Tomlinson: letter to my MP

I just sent a letter to my MP about the police battery of Ian Tomlinson. I should include an immediate caveat that I'm not a lawyer or legally trained, and my perceptions of criminal acts are just that, perceptions, informed by readings of the relevant laws. (I've inserted footnotes of the relevant definitions and descriptions, and links for other references.)
I'm sure you are aware of the Guardian video [and ITN video] and Today interview, but I would just like to register how appalled I am by the police officer's battery(1), his colleagues' tolerance and the force's deception.

As the BBC reported,
Peter Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said some physical confrontation was inevitable during a large protest.

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "On a day like that, where there are some protesters who are quite clearly hell-bent on causing as much trouble as they can, there is inevitably going to be some physical confrontation.

"Sometimes it isn't clear, as a police officer, who is a protester and who is not.

"I know it's a generalisation but anybody in that part of the town at that time, the assumption would be that they are part of the protest.

"I accept that's perhaps not a clever assumption but it's a natural one."
Aside from what he said, it's worrying that Smyth felt confident and comfortable saying it. Knowing that Tomlinson had been battered (and surely aware of the eggshell skull rule(2)), he was not just unrepentant and uncritical; he implicitly excused it by suggesting that the police didn't know Tomlinson wasn't a protester, as if, had he been a (perfectly legal) protester, an unprovoked surprise attack would have been acceptable and justifiable. Particularly in light of previous incidents, it's difficult to discuss this without drawing parallels with the culture of police in, for example, Greece.

Apart from the individual officer's battery of a bystander, there are also the matters of the officer's colleagues' inaction and the force's deception. The colleagues witnessed a clearly criminal act and did not even reprimand the person who committed it, let alone arrest them, which would appear to be a dereliction of duty; it could even be construed to make the colleagues accessories(3), because they did not "report" the crime or otherwise act (and, obviously, them being police themselves makes that all the more serious and inexcusable). By actively lying, or lying by omission, afterwards, the colleagues would also appear to be liable for prosecution for obstruction of justice(4), or even perverting the course of justice(5).

The force must have known what had happened; even if every single lower officer lied to every senior one about every single detail of the case, it is inconceivable that there was no official photographic or video evidence of the events. As others have commented, the police have not learned the lessons of the de Menezes case; but it is not good enough to expect them to learn lessons like this. (It is also unrealistic to expect them to learn like that, because they have no incentive. They go wholly unpunished, or are only punished with internal disciplinary procedures far more lenient than the punishments that would be meted out to citizens who committed similar crimes but were not police.) The force's deliberate deception, too, would appear to amount to obstructing or perverting the course of justice.

As someone who studies criminal matters like the illicit antiquities trade and the destruction of cultural heritage, and who would like to work to combat them, I am forced to consider my options, because I don't know if I could bear to work in such an environment.
See the Guardian for others' outrage online; and see Next Left for an interesting study of the kettling that Tomlinson was caught up in.
  1. According to the British Crown Prosecution Service, 'battery is committed when a person intentionally and recklessly applies unlawful force to another; but it may have been actual bodily harm, 'any hurt calculated to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim'.
  2. British Lord Justice Longmore noted the 'eggshell skull principle' that 'the tortfeasor [the committer of a civil wrong, like battery] takes his[/her] victim as he finds [him/]her'; that is to say, even if the police officer was unaware of Ian Tomlinson's vulnerability, he is still responsible for the consequences of his actions (even if, had he battered someone who was not vulnerable, he would have caused less harm).
  3. The Criminal Law Lawyers' Source identified an accessory after the fact as 'an individual who knowingly shelters or aids a criminal after they commit a crime. The accessory does so in order to help the felon evade arrest or criminal prosecution'.
  4. The U.S. Congressional Research Service noted Black's definition of obstruction of justice as 'any "interference with the orderly
    administration of law and justice"', and the CRS itself described obstruction as 'the frustration of governmental purposes by violence, corruption, destruction of evidence, or deceit....; destruction or concealment of evidence or attempts to do so'; and, crucially, it included '(A) knowingly making a false statement; (B) intentionally omitting information from a statement and thereby causing a portion of such statement to be misleading, or intentionally concealing a material fact, and thereby creating a false impression by such statement; (C) with intent to mislead, knowingly submitting or inviting reliance on a writing or recording that is false, forged, altered, or otherwise lacking in authenticity; (D) with intent to mislead, knowingly submitting or inviting reliance on a sample, specimen, map, photograph, boundary mark, or other object that is misleading in a material respect; or (E) knowingly using a trick, scheme, or device with intent to mislead'.
  5. Professor of Law and Social Theory, Susan Edwards described perverting the course of justice as working to 'undermine' or otherwise 'thwart due process of prosecution and conviction'.
[This was also posted over on Human Rights Archaeology, but I removed it because it was not related to my research.]

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