One of the new measures introduced with the creation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) on April Fools Day in 2004 was the ability of the Commission to allow the public to witness, in certain cases, internal police disciplinary hearings. This was included within section 30(5) of The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2004, which says:
In September 2006, the IPCC published criteria for holding hearings in public [PDF] and it sets out circumstances where any decision "not to hold the hearing in public is likely to have an adverse effect on public confidence in the transparency and effectiveness of the complaints system". These include "the extent and nature of the media coverage of the incident/issues at stake", as well as "a substantial expression of interest in the case... by public representatives, community groups [and] public bodies" and "evidence of the need to sustain and enhance public confidence in the complaints system by a significant section of the local, regional or national community".
"Where... the Commission considers that because of its gravity or other exceptional circumstances it would be in the public interest to do so, the Commission may, having consulted the appropriate authority, the officer concerned, the complainant and any witnesses, direct that the whole or part of the hearing will be held in public."
Every factor applies comprehensively to the death of Ian Tomlinson. The failures of the coroner, the pathologist, the IPCC, the Met and City of London police and most recently the Director of Public Prosecutions have attracted huge media coverage and intense interest from public organisations. The failure to bring any charges has once again called into question the ability of state institutions to hold the police to account and the IPCC has an unenviable task in trying to "sustain and enhance public confidence".
The disciplinary hearing for Simon Harwood, the Territorial Support Group officer that the DPP Keir Starmer refused to prosecute, is therefore one of the most obvious instances in recent memory where a public hearing is essential.
The Tomlinson family has called for open proceedings and now the the IPCC has to throw off its usual timidity and make a decision - carry out whatever consultation you need to conduct with interested parties and then make an announcement sooner rather than later.
Oh, and try not to screw up yet again. The Tomlinsons have been let down enough times already.
In a tweet in response to my request for clarification, the IPCC press office says that the Commission is "awaiting Met's formal letter with proposed course of action. We'll examine these before deciding how misconduct should proceed."
Seriously. Sooner rather than later.