Guilty Yet Somehow Not

On 1st April 2009, during the G20 demonstrations held in the City of London, Ian Tomlinson died after being assaulted and pushed violently to the ground by a police officer. At an inquest last year by the Crown Prosecution Service, the jury ruled that Tomlinson was “unlawfully killed” by that police officer. Video evidence, eye witness testimony and medical facts had proved beyond reasonable doubt that this was the case. However, last week a jury at Southwark Crown court in London found the police officer not guilty of manslaughter and the case was dismissed leaving Ian Tomlinson’s family to pursue a civil case and the police officer in question left to face only the possibility of disciplinary action from the Metropolitan Police.

Ian Tomlinson lies collapsed on the pavement in Cornhill

Deborah Coles, from the charity Inquest, called the verdict “a damning reflection of the systemic problems inherent in the current investigation system where deaths following police use of force are not treated as potential crimes”. It’s not the first time (and won’t be the last) that no action has been taken against excessive use of police force or against the police due a death either at their hands or in their custody.

CLICK HERE to view all my images from the day

Riot police officers clash with protesters during the G20 demonstration in the City of London

Whether fortunate or not, I was there that day covering the demonstration and like many others both witnessed and was on the receiving end of the excessive use of force by the police. At times it was a volatile, tense and chaotic situation to be in. I actually arrived late in the day at about 4pm and all was relatively peaceful as several thousand protesters were ‘kettled’ in the bank area and several thousand more were kept quietly in the surrounding streets. My press pass was of no interest to the police who were clearly under strict instructions to ignore all media judging by what we have learnt since that day. I found myself at the front of the police lines at the top of Cornhill by the Bank of England and proceeded to wait for something to happen! As the day wore on the crowd started to get more and more agitated at being kept under virtual lockdown by lines of police at every street corner and at about 7pm after several minor skirmishes with protesters at the top of Cornhill there seemed to have been an order given by those in command as the police lines started to move and clearing the City of London of protesters with use of force was clearly the order of the day.

A City of London police officer (who had struck me in the face with his baton moments earlier) bears down on me during the G20 demonstration

The next 25 minutes or so were turbulent to say the least. Excessive police force, hostility in the crowd who had been kept under lockdown for hours and an innocent passer-by would lose his life. I was caught up in it all and whilst I missed the actual moment Ian Tomlinson was pushed to the ground by PC Simon Harwood, I was one of the first to be there when he collapsed further down the road in Cornhill – the spot where he would be pronounced dead some moments later (see photo at top). The special report video below from Channel 4 News gives a good indication of the situation on the ground as well as summarising the movements of the officer who allegedly caused the death of Ian Tomlinson. The officer who is guilty yet somehow not.

It was as the crowd surged in to Royal Exchange Buildings (approx 3:00 in to the above video) that the police seemed to lose control and chaos broke out temporarily. The police made little to no distinction between those of us reporting, those who were peacefully protesting and the few who were hellbent on causing a riot. Everyone was fair game as after all the police had been told by their commanding officers ‘To be up for it’. The photo sequence below (reproduced by kind permission of TwoThumbsFresh) shows the moment I was caught square in the face by a police baton for no other reason that for trying to take photos of the ensuing chaos as the police wantonly struck out at anyone in their vicinity. I actually managed to get a good shot of this officer several moments later (see above image where he bears down on me with baton raised once again!). The action against the police and this officer that followed for 2 years left me somewhat annoyed by the outcome, but that’s another story.

It was now about 7:15 and a temporary lull in the proceedings as the police re-grouped and took control of Royal Exchange passage once more. The crowd of protesters had retreated back into Cornhill and small group of us found ourselves in Threadneedle street as the police dog handlers came out and proceeded to take two protesters hostage with their firm canine grips. With the Royal Exchange passage firmly in police control the only way back to join the main protesters on Cornhill was a quick run around the block…

As I ran back up Cornhill towards the front line I passed a small commotion on the pavement with several people calling for help as Ian Tomlinson lay prone on the ground not moving and stone cold grey as the pavement itself. The police soon arrived and formed a protective ring whilst police paramedics tried in vain to resuscitate him, but to no avail. It was not a pleasant situation to find oneself in and the first time for me to be faced with such an unfolding event right before my very eyes. I stopped taking photos and retreated, in part in shock at the severity of the situation with a man dieing right in front of me. It was suddenly quiet but still tense as word somehow spread that a serious incident was unfolding. Within moments the police forced the crowds further down the road and once again hostilities resumed, although perhaps with greater vigour than before as many had just witnessed what they thought was a man dieing (allegedly) due to excessive police force. And of course they were right, but at the time were not to know how right they were.

Over the next hour or so what seemed like an army of riot police officers menacingly clad in black overalls, batons and shields forcibly manoeuvred the protesters and throngs of photographers and TV camera crews away from the City of London and over London Bridge. Running battles broke out as protesters regrouped after each time the police charged forward before stopping to hold their lines – enabling me to venture up close to take the picture above! Several blows from a riot shield later and I found myself harried over London Bridge with hundreds of others as the police formed a thin blue impenetrable line across the bridge leaving no option other than to disperse into the night.

Two hours later as I finally got home, I was able to view the images of the incident on Cornhill where I was sure something serious had occurred. By midnight the news channels were already reporting of a man dieing during the protests and I filed my images like many others did who were there to capture that moment. The rest as you now know is history. Yet hopefully history can still be made if there is to be any justice for Ian Tomlinson.