Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Ian Tomlinson death: has the Met moved on from Menezes?

The Guardian today has footage of the attack on Ian Tomlinson, who died from a heart attack shortly after being bludgeoned to the floor by a police officer as he tried to walk home from work during the G20 protests.

The news is shocking. I sincerely hope that whichever officer did it is hauled before a court. Depending on what evidence is available, it may be possible to charge him with manslaughter, and perhaps even murder. It's harder, though, to work out what this case tells us about the police. For example, what about the other police officers that went to help Tomlinson when he collapsed? They formed a human shield to protect him from bottle-throwing protesters. With examples of the very good and the appallingly bad within the space of minutes, what do we learn about the Met?

The answer, perhaps, can be found in the Met's own response on the night of Tomlinson's death. Their spokesman appeared to gloss over the avoidable death of an innocent man, preferring to talk about the professionalism of those officers who went to his aid. We need to be cautious - the true extent of the story, including the damaging footage, has only just emerged, and the police may not have had time to formulate a proper response yet. But if they choose to brush this one off, it will tell us something very sinister: that whilst there may be a great deal of bravery and dedication to service on the front line, there is a very cavalier attitude amonst the top brass.

When Jean Charles de Menezes was shot, the upper echelons of the police, together with Ken Livingstone, closed ranks to pretend that it wasn't their fault, and that we should blame the terrorists who created an atmosphere of fear - conveniently forgetting the criminally negligent series of intelligence screw-ups that led to an innocent man being mistaken for a suicide bomber. They compounded that failure by telling lies, and claiming that Menezes had behaved suspiciously: he hadn't. The Menezes case illustrated the gulf of responsibility between front-line officers and policy-makers. You couldn't really blame the men who shot Menezes, because they had been told comprehensively that he was a bomber. Responsibility had to lie with those in the command chain who made grave mistakes, and then lied to protect themselves.

The real test of how the police has moved on from Menezes will be how they handle these shocking events. If we see an open and cooperative attitude towards finding the truth, something vaguely good might have come out of all this. If we see a repeat, where the Met ducks justice, hiding behind the immunity of being a public servant, then we will have got precisely nowhere.

5 comments:

. said...

Whilst agreeing with you regarding the attitude of Senior Officers and the "spin" that comes from the Met's press office you just cannot compare these two tragedy's side by side?

Menezes was shot seven times in the head by Special terrorist unit. Tomlinson died from a heart attack following a disturbance at a riot. The behaviour of the police may prove to be a determining factor in his death but linking the two events is still nothing but lazy journalism.

Yes the Police still need to be called to answer for what happened to Ian Tomlinson but comparing the situation to that of Menezes isn't helpful

Jonny Wright said...

I wasn't trying to draw too many parallels between the G20 protests and Menezes - I was just observing that both cases, despite their differences, show serious weaknesses in the police's handling of their own mistakes, and potentially a serious double standard.

. said...

Jonny,

If you want an example of police weakness and inability to tell the truth and cover their own arses then just turn the clock back 20 years ago today,

The 96 dead of Hillsborough are still waiting for justice but their case is rarely aird in the press

Jonny Wright said...

I think that is a valid point, and it shows that things haven't improved a great deal in the past two decades. I hadn't thought of that when I wrote this article, but the comparison makes sense looking at all the coverage of the Hillsborough Disaster that's been in the press over the past few days.

Tor Hershman said...

Geeeee, I think if gang members came to protect me after beatin' me into a heart attack I'd be AWFULYYYYYYYYYYY thankful.