Ian Tomlinson death: verdict tomorrow on whether police will be charged

Guardian
21.07.2010
By Vikram Dodd and Paul Lewis

G20 riot officer was caught on video striking down newspaper seller, who collapsed and died soon afterwards

The Crown Prosecution Service will tomorrow make its long-awaited announcement about whether a police officer will face criminal charges over the death of Ian Tomlinson.

After Tomlinson died at the G20 protests in London last year, video obtained by the Guardian showed that an officer had attacked him, undermining the authorities’ initial version of events.

His family will be informed on Thursday morning if criminal charges will be brought over the death, the CPS has confirmed.

The possible charges include manslaughter, assault and misconduct in public office. Or, the CPS may decide not to bring any charges.

Tomlinson, a 47-year-old newspaper seller, had been walking home from work through the protests in the City on 1 April 2009 when he was struck from behind by a member of the Metropolitan police’s territorial support group (TSG).

In deciding whether the officer should face trial, CPS lawyers have examined the video footage along with other documents and witness statements. The high-profile nature of the case means the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, is believed to have been involved in deciding whether charges should be brought.

Starmer is expected to announce personally whether any charges will be brought.

If the CPS successfully prosecutes the officer over Tomlinson’s death he would become the first British police officer ever convicted for manslaughter committed while on duty. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

The Tomlinson family have been critical of the time taken for the CPS to reach its decision. A criminal investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission was completed in August 2009. The CPS has been asking investigators for extra work and inquiries to be carried out since the IPCC handed over its file of evidence.

The officer struck Tomlinson with a baton and shoved him to the ground shortly before the newspaper seller collapsed and died. The officer’s badge numbers were covered and his face concealed beneath a balaclava.

Tomlinson had his hands in his pockets and his back to the officer when he was struck. No police officer went to his aid and it was left to a bystander to lift him to his feet. He stumbled about 100 metres down Cornhill, clutching his side, before collapsing a second time.

Police initially led Tomlinson’s wife and nine children to believe he died of a heart attack after being caught up in the protest. In statements to the press, police claimed attempts by officers to save his life by resuscitation were impeded by protesters.

The IPCC did not launch its criminal inquiry until six days after Tomlinson’s death, when the Guardian gave the watchdog a dossier of evidence including video footage and witness statements that contradicted the police version of events.

Before then, City of London police were allowed to run the inquiry with some supervision from IPCC investigators. After watching the video of the attack a senior City of London investigator told the family that Tomlinson’s assailant could be a member of the public “dressed in police uniform”.

The Tomlinson family say they were led by the CPS to believe that a decision would be reached by Christmas 2009.

They fear a cover-up and in March Tomlinson’s widow, Julia, attacked Starmer’s handling of the case. “Why did he say there would be a decision around Christmas? Why are we still waiting? My kids need to move on from this. They’re left without a dad now and their lives have been turned upside down over the last year, especially the four girls. He doesn’t seem to realise the pain we’re going through.

“We feel like there was a cover-up from day one and we didn’t see it because we were nervous about the police. Now a year on it still feels like all of that is still going on. If it had been someone on the street, a civilian, who had pushed and hit Ian just before he died and it was all caught on video, surely something would have happened by now. The officer needs to go before a jury. Let them decide what should happen to him.”

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