New Scotland Yard

Harwood acquittal shows police can’t be reformed


The killer of Ian Tomlinson, PC Simon Harwood, has been acquitted of manslaughter. Tomlinson was killed during the G20 protests in 2009 and the acquittal comes despite overwhelming video evidence showing PC Harwood carrying out an unprovoked attack.

Harwood had spent the day of Tomlinson’s death lashing out at demonstrators and even attacked a TV cameraman. This ruling represents a real victory for the state in keeping its security forces safe from prosecution as their powers are slowly increased, and the militarisation of the police and crackdown on those that dissent continues. It is also a bitter blow for the Tomlinson family and all the other families campaigning for justice for those killed by the police.

The G20 protests saw state violence, police intimidation of activists and the suspension of basic democratic rights. For example, the Climate Camp in Bishopgate was set up by ecological activists. They were given permission by the police to stay, only to be attacked by riot police during the night. The main demonstration on April 1 2009 saw widespread use of kettling, agents provocateur and police attacks on protesters. In the middle of this Tomlinson attempted to walk home from work, ending up on the receiving end of a baton strike and a shove to the floor. This caused internal bleeding and after walking a few steps Tomlinson collapsed and died.

Following Tomlinson’s murder, the media and the police went into overdrive, trying to make out that protesters stopped medical care getting to Tomlinson. This is despite protesters being the first to come to Tomlinson’s aid. The media tried to make out that Tomlinson had died of a heart attack and made public the fact that he suffered from alcoholism to further muddy the waters. Some, like the Daily Mail’s Amanda Platell, went on to accuse his grieving family of relishing the limelight and overplaying their grief.

The police attempted to cover up what had happened, even at one point claiming there was no CCTV evidence available in one of the most heavily surveilled areas. They were later to be embarrassed by the then IPCC chair Nick Hardwick, who publicly contradicted nearly everything the police released in the aftermath of the killing. The police constantly feed false information to the media who generally repeat these lies verbatim. The police claimed Mark Duggan had a gun and was therefore legitimately shot dead. This was found to be a complete lie, though no police officer has faced charges. Maybe the officer responsible will get a promotion like Jean Charles de Meneze’s killer did.

We must note that the judiciary, in league with the police, kept information about PC Harwood’s violent police career away from jurors and the public. What is clear is that we can’t trust the IPCC or the judiciary, and the police can’t simply be reformed. The police are an instrument of reaction against the working class and those deemed a threat by the capitalist state. The Association of Chief Police Officers is responsible for the organisation of agents provocateur in social movements, where police officers not only urged criminal acts but also engaged in rape by deception.

It is not enough to bring to justice the one or two officers who lashed out, pulled the trigger or committed rape. We have numerous populist documentaries condemning last year’s summer riots and whenever they are talked about they are almost always in isolation from the murder of Mark Duggan and the rampant harassment of black working class youth by the police. As we have seen in the killings of Smiley Culture, Mark Duggan, Mikey Powell and Anthony Grainger, the police are able to carry out murders and get away with it. Just remember that Alan Murray, the officer who admits responsibility for the attack that led to death of teacher Blair Peach in 1979 on an antifascist demonstration has never been charged and works freely in Higher Education. From 2000 to 2010, 5,998 people died in police custody yet no officer has ever been sent to prison because of these deaths. It is not just one or two bad apples, the police are a force to ensure the position of the ruling class and defend its property relations. State sponsored murderers are never brought to justice.

And it is not just the in-house state security apparatus that oversees killing and death. The security contractor G4S has been in the news recently because it is unable to fulfil its Olympic security contract. This has featured heavily in the agenda of the media and political establishment, even warranting a special session of the Home Affairs Select Committee. What many people will not have heard about is the death of Jimmy Mubenga after being assaulted in the custody of G4S, who were tasked with his deportation to Angola. Just like their public sector counterparts the private security guards and the company will face no charges.

This disregard for life goes hand in hand with the anti-democratic measures successive governments have been so keen to introduce. The right to protest simply doesn’t exist in the UK; it is managed and controlled by the state. For example, the Terrorism Act 2006, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 and other recent legislation all serve to limit protest. When people try to protest where they want and when they want, they are attacked.

In the long term we have to aim for the dissolution of the police: not just the riot squads, the armed gangs or the political infiltration units, but all of it, root and branch. It is an anti-democratic institution devised to keep the masses in their place, to deliver terror to communities on the receiving end of racist bigotry and, like we saw during the Great Miners Strike of 1984/1985, to be ready to crush those who stand up against the bosses and their governments. In the immediate period we must seek to strengthen campaigns against police violence and murder.


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