Protecting the G20: The untimely death of Ian Tomlinson
08 April 2009. A World to Win News Service. Within a few hours of going to press with yesterday’s News Service edition, the fog surrounding the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests was lifted by a video turned in to the Guardian newspaper by a New York banker, who said he attended the protests “out of curiosity”. The video, together with a growing number of eyewitness reports, now clearly establishes that the police attacked Tomlinson without warning or provocation and threw him brutally to the ground where they left him unattended, and that he died moments later. (The video is widely available on Youtube, with witness statements on the Guardian and other sites.)
The known facts are these: Tomlinson, 47-years-old, had left the stall in London’s financial district where he sells newspapers and headed for the nearby Bank tube station, where at 7 pm he was denied entry by a police cordon. He then tried to make his way home through streets crowded with protestors, police and passersby. At 7:15 pm the video then clearly shows Tomlinson walking away from a group of riot police, his back turned to them, looking downwards, with both hands in his pockets. Suddenly one of the policemen approaches Tomlinson from the rear, seems to whack him with a truncheon in the back of his legs, then shoves him with both hands to the ground. Tomlinson hits hard, in fact, witnesses say so hard that he “bounced off” the pavement. He lay there for a few seconds, remonstrating with the group of police, before a protestor helped him to his feet. Witnesses say Tomlinson then stumbled off, but seemed dazed, his eyes glazed. Moments later, barely 50 metres away, he keeled over and died.
On Wednesday evening, shortly after Tomlinson’s death, police spokesmen gave a briefing to journalists in which they concealed any reference to contact with Tomlinson, said they had offered him medical assistance, and claimed that protestors had interfered with their efforts to save his life. These brazen lies tried to turn reality upside down, as if brave policemen tried to save an innocent bystander threatened by uncaring protestors. Instead the truth is now there for anyone to see: vicious baton-wielding thugs in uniform brutalize someone who they abandon and who is then helped by protestors. An ITV journalist now reports that one of his news team tried to assist Tomlinson after he’d fallen, but was driven away by a police baton charge, and then another news team member reported Tomlinson’s plight to police but was given the brush-off.
Some might think that, given the exposure of how outrageously the police lied following their killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, the young Brazilian who was shot 7 times in the head at point-blank range by the Metropolitan police right after the July 2005 London bombings, they would think twice before lying once again so soon, and so blatantly. But what actually happened in the wake of that killing? What was the result of all the subsequent investigations and hearings held by all the independent commissions and courts into the police murder of de Menezes? Not a single policeman ever spent a day in jail or was even demoted – in fact, the commander of the operation, Cressida Dick, was even rewarded with a promotion. So why shouldn’t they lie again to cover up another of their bloody deeds?
After the video’s release, Peter Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, gave Radio 4 the explanation that, “on a day like that... there is inevitably going to be some physical confrontation. Sometimes it isn’t clear, as a police officer, who is a protestor and who is not. I know it’s a generalisation but anybody in that part of town at that time, the assumption would be that they are part of the protest.” What can this possibly mean other than that if Tomlinson had in fact been a protestor, then it would have been quite reasonable for the police to ambush him from the rear, hurl him to the ground and kill him! And take note: this isn’t some rank-and-file bull caught off-guard, this is the police’s professional spokesman, briefed and ready for a major media presentation. Is it any wonder why to so many people they’re known as “pigs”!?
And what about the media itself? Did they hungrily go after the story, trying to ferret out the truth, chastened by how they’d simply repeated police lies in the de Menezes case, one after another? On the contrary, once again, just like after the murder of de Menezes, the police version of events dominated the airwaves, with the Daily Telegraph claiming rabidly that Tomlinson had died “after being caught among the mob” (which is true enough, if you understand who the real “mob” is).
One reason why the police might have decided to lie so brazenly in circumstances where they could have guessed that they would be caught out is to avoid the explosion of outrage that would have surely followed the next day, the day of the G20 meeting itself. With thousands of demonstrators already in the streets, powerful forces were undoubtedly very determined that this crucial imperialist gathering would proceed in an atmosphere undisturbed by little facts like government thugs killing innocent citizens on the streets. The events surrounding the death of Ian Tomlinson reveal an inescapable truth: what the G20 protests were up against was a ruthless system protected by a state, one that takes a parliamentary democratic form, but which is in essence a dictatorship of a class that will use all the institutions under its control, from the police to the media, to enforce its interests. It says a lot about where this system is headed that the word the British police use to describe their tactic of corralling masses and then running them through a narrow outlet, “kettling”, is the very term that was used by the Nazis in World War 2 to describe this same tactic which they used against the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The media is now filled with calls for calm and the need to be even-handed and to not “rush to judgement”. One of the BBC’s main news presenters worried that, “It is clear that some protestors will use what’s happened as a stick to beat the police with.” Once again, reality is turned upside down: in the eyes of the public broadcaster, which vaunts its “impartiality”, even after the truth has come out about Tomlinson’s death it is not the police beating protestors that’s the problem, but the protestors beating the police!
Like many of his fellow thugs in uniform, the policeman caught on the video attacking Tomlinson had his face and ID badge covered, so his identity is still not known. During the protests, individual police had repeatedly refused to allow themselves to be identified. This builds their sense of impunity and delivers a message to protestors that they should have no illusions that there will be any recourse against police brutality, so watch out! BBC has a weekly programme called Crimewatch that presents unsolved crimes and calls on the public to step forward and help the police catch the criminals. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to recreate this crime scene and call on the public to catch this possible killer!
The police first refused calls for an investigation, but now that the video has come to light, it’s been decided that the City of London police will investigate themselves, with the Independent Police Complaints Commission overseeing. As if having the police investigate themselves weren’t already outrageous enough, this is the same IPCC whose investigations into the de Menezes case wound up with the police being let off free. Already officials are saying it will be difficult to investigate because no evidence was gathered at the scene on the day Tomlinson died. There is every reason to conclude that what will take place will not be an investigation, but a cover-up, just like the cover-up of the murder of de Menezes. Those who want justice for Ian Tomlinson cannot rely on this system, but urgently need to build a movement of resistance that calls out the police for the murderers they are, and exposes any efforts to cover up their crimes.
[ Back to top ]