Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Long Road To Justice Continues For Tomlinson Family

Today's decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to charge PC Simon Harwood with the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper seller who died during the G20 protests in 2009, is hugely significant precisely because it is so unusual.

Statistics from the custody-death campaigners INQUEST show that in the last twenty years, there have been nine 'unlawful killing' verdicts reached at coroner's court inquests concerning deaths in police custody and one 'narrative' verdict that placed the spotlight firmly on police conduct. Of these, three decisions were later quashed. Having seen evidence tested in front of a jury, there has nevertheless been only three criminal trials following inquests: two led to acquittals and one collapsed. The two families I got to know well in the 1990s - the relatives of Shiji Lapite and Ibrahima Sey, who both lived and died in east London - were denied even that opportunity.

And no officer has been convicted since the trial in 1971 - forty years ago - of those responsible for the death of David Oluwale (and even then, manslaughter charges were dropped).

The trial that collapsed in 2002 involved officers accused of standing by and watching Christopher Alder die on the floor of a police station in Hull. I attended part of that trial and remember well the prosecution's disastrous and disorganised performance, after the CPS had to be reluctantly dragged into a manslaughter prosecution. The CPS' failings are outlined in this INQUEST briefing [PDF]. I mention this only because the Tomlinson family still has a long way to go before they see justice delivered. The next steps remain out of their control and in the hands of CPS prosecutors - and the probable lead Counsel in the forthcoming trial is the same barrister who advised the DPP, Keir Starmer, in July 2010 that there was insufficient evidence to charge Harwood.

If it wants some of its credibility restored, the CPS really does have a great deal to prove after reaching that ludicrous decision.

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