Friday, July 20, 2012

Freed, the 'thug in police uniform': What jury weren't told about the British cop cleared of G20 killing

Background checks on police recruits to Scotland Yard? Zero, apparently

A riot squad officer was denounced as a `thug in uniform' yesterday as he was cleared of killing an innocent bystander. Ian Tomlinson died after PC Simon Harwood lashed him with a baton and shoved him to the ground.

The 45-year-old officer had an appalling record of complaints against him for violence in the years before the incident. Yet such `prejudicial' details were kept from the jury, who cleared him of manslaughter in a verdict described as a `joke'.family of Ian Tomlinson who died during the London G20 protests has vowed to seek 'justice' in the civil courts after the PC accused of his manslaughter was cleared today.

Last night the dead man's family vowed to sue as it was revealed that staggering vetting lapses allowed the PC to be on the front line at the G20 protest in April 2009.

Mr Tomlinson, 47, a father of nine and an alcoholic, was accidentally caught up in the protest as he walked home drunk from work as a newspaper seller in the City of London.

After the incident with Harwood, caught on film, he staggered away from police lines before collapsing and dying of massive internal bleeding.

The officer was cleared by a majority verdict at Southwark Crown Court, just 14 months after an inquest jury said Mr Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed.

Neither of those juries were told about the shameful career of the PC who managed to avoid no fewer than ten complaints by simply moving between two forces.

The allegations include a road-rage attack; racially abusing and punching a 14-year-old girl repeatedly in the back of the neck and threatening to burn down her father's home; punching, throttling, kneeing or threatening suspects in heavy-handed arrests; and unlawfully accessing the police national computer database.

Yet PC Harwood, who admitted he was liable to go into `red mist mode', kept his job after retiring from the Met on medical grounds on the eve of a disciplinary hearing.

He rejoined the same force on its civilian staff three days later and subsequently moved on to Surrey Police, before returning to serve with the Met in 2004. The revelations raise serious questions about the practice of officers going off sick and changing forces to sidestep disciplinary proceedings.

Yesterday the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it was simply `staggering' that he had been able to remain a police officer and called for an overhaul of Scotland Yard's vetting procedures.

Mr Tomlinson's widow Julia and nine children sobbed as the jury delivered their verdict after almost 19 hours of deliberation. His stepson Paul King said: `It's a joke. In April 2009, along with everyone else, we saw the shocking video of Ian being violently assaulted by PC Harwood, just minutes before he died.

`After the unlawful killing verdict at the inquest last year we expected to hear a guilty verdict. This really hurts. But it's not the end. We are not giving up on justice for Ian. `There has to be one more formal and final answer to the question of who killed Ian Tomlinson and that we will now pursue in the civil courts.'

The family have already launched a civil suit in the High Court, although their solicitor indicated that all they wanted was an apology from the Metropolitan Police for allowing Harwood to remain in uniform and an admission that he killed Mr Tomlinson.

Yesterday the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it was simply `staggering' that he had been able to remain a police officer and called for an overhaul of Scotland Yard's vetting procedures.

Yesterday London Assembly member Jenny Jones said: `The family have got to feel that they have been cheated by this verdict. `It's hard to see how it is fair. Quite honestly, looking at his record, he comes across as a thug in uniform. `It's time that the Commissioner looked at procedures for re-entry and took more care in examining potential officer's records.'

PC Harwood will now face a disciplinary hearing in public, scheduled to last for four weeks, after which he is expected to be sacked for misconduct.

The case began when previously unseen footage of Mr Tomlinson being shoved to the ground was released to a newspaper.

In May last year an inquest concluded that he was unlawfully killed after jurors decided he died of abdominal haemorrhage due to blunt force trauma to the abdomen, in association with alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.

The fiercely disputed cause of Ian Tomlinson's death lay at the heart of the trial.

The 47-year-old alcoholic, who had spent almost a decade living on the street, had a history of serious health problems.

An initial post-mortem by pathologist Dr Freddy Patel concluded his death was caused by a heart attack, despite the discovery of around three litres of `fluid blood' in the abdominal cavity.

The pathologist, currently suspended from practice by the General Medical Council, said he took a small sample of bloody fluids found within Mr Tomlinson's stomach cavity but poured the remaining three litres down a sink.

The smaller sample was itself later mislaid and presumed destroyed. But two further post- mortems concluded Mr Tomlinson died as a result of internal bleeding brought on by injuries suffered in the assault.

Dr Nat Cary, a Home Office-registered pathologist who carried out a second post-mortem, said he believed Dr Patel's conclusions were wrong, and Mr Tomlinson's heart failed because of internal bleeding, caused by `the impact to the ground immediately following a shove, immediately following a baton strike'.

He said Mr Tomlinson's cirrhosis of the liver, caused by years of alcoholism, meant he was `very sensitive to any blood loss'.

The ruling paved the way for a criminal trial in which prosecutor Mark Dennis QC said of PC Harwood: `It was a rush of blood to the head. It was unnecessary aggression more akin to thuggish behaviour than proper reasonable policing.

`The display of force has all the hallmarks of a gratuitous act of aggression by a lone officer whose blood was up having lost the self-control to be expected of a police officer in such circumstances and who was going to stand no truck from anyone who appeared to him to be a protester and to be getting in his way.'

But the officer, part of the Met's elite public order unit, the Territorial Support Group, said he believed Mr Tomlinson, who was drunk at the time, was being deliberately obstructive and that his use of force was reasonable.

Earlier that day, Harwood had abandoned his post as a riot squad van driver to tackle a yob scrawling `All cops are bastards' on a police van.

After the graffiti artist managed to get away, in the space of 20 minutes Harwood pulled a cameraman to the floor, pushed a demonstrator and attacked Mr Tomlinson.

He told the jury he was `absolutely terrified' and trying to protect himself and other officers.

Yesterday the father of two wept silently in the dock as he was cleared. His wife Helen, a GP surgery manager, burst into tears and threw her arms around him as they left court together without comment.

Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner admitted that the force had got it wrong when it re-employed him and said it was reviewing its vetting procedures.

The dossier of complaints against PC Simon Harwood that the jury never saw takes up no fewer than five ring-binder files. It shows how he managed to sidestep a series of disciplinary hearings to end up on the G20 front line.

Harwood, 45, started his career at the Metropolitan Police in 1995 and quickly established a reputation for aggression.

On April 7, 2000 he was accused of a road rage assault after a minor collision with a motorist while off duty. Harwood was said to have run at the other driver, slamming him back over the car door in front of horrified witnesses. He then announced that he was a police officer and arrested the driver for common assault.

Another officer noticed Harwood had doctored his notes to justify the arrest, saying the motorist had refused to give his details.

Chief Inspector Les Jones concluded that his behaviour had `fallen well below that expected by a police officer' and Harwood was charged with misconduct for unlawful arrest, abuse of authority and discreditable behaviour. Scotland Yard paid out compensation to the victim, who complained of unnecessary force.

But on August 22, 2001 - three weeks after he was charged - a note was placed in Harwood's file saying he was to be medically retired owing to a shoulder injury sustained in an off-duty motorbike accident in 1998.He left with a full pension on September 14, 2001, and the case was closed days before disciplinary proceedings would have begun.

Three days later he was apparently well enough to rejoin the same force as a civilian computer worker in Croydon.

The list of complaints against PC Harwood stretches back 12 years. His superiors there say they were not informed of the unresolved disciplinary issue and neither were Surrey Police when he transferred there in April 2003.

It was not long before he was accused of violence again, this time by a fellow officer. In January 2004, while carrying out an arrest at a flat, PC Harwood was accused of grabbing the suspect by the throat and pushing him into a wooden table so hard that it broke.

More here

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