As Mad Max wrote: “The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual, crime.” This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest…
The Metropolitan police attempted to keep the disciplinary record of PC Simon Harwood secret from the family of Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper seller he struck with a baton and pushed to the ground at G20 protests, it can now be reported.
Lawyers for the force tried and failed to argue that disclosing the litany of complaints about Harwood’s conduct would have breached his privacy, saying the officer’s disciplinary history did not have “any relevance” to Tomlinson’s death.
Harwood, 45, who was found not guilty of Tomlinson’s manslaughter on Thursday, had repeatedly been accused of using excessive force during his career, including claims he punched, throttled, kneed and unlawfully arrested people.
The jury in the trial were not told about the history of complaints, despite a submission from the Crown Prosecution Service, which argued that in two of the disciplinary matters he was accused of using heavy-handed tactics against the public “when they presented no threat”.
The application was rejected by the judge, Mr Justice Fulford, who said: “The jury, in effect, would have to conduct three trials.”
The inquest jury – which concluded last year that Tomlinson was “unlawfully killed” by the police officer – was also prevented from hearing the details of the complaints.
The conclusion of the trial means it is now possible to report details of a pre-inquest hearing in February last year at London‘s Old Bailey.
The Met, represented by Samantha Leek QC, played down the significance of Harwood’s disciplinary files, and argued they should not be shown to lawyers for the family, who at the time suspected they might be of relevance to his inquest.
Arguing the files should be kept secret, the force said: “Disciplinary records concern the private employment data of an individual.”
Eventually, the Met was instructed to share the files with interested parties. When lawyers from Tomlinson’s family were able to inspect the disciplinary records – which filled five lever-arch folders – they discovered detailed complaints containing several allegations of physical assaults.
In one case, a fellow police officer complained that Harwood grabbed a suspect by the throat, punched him twice in the face and pushed him into a table, causing it to break.
In another, Harwood was accused of assaulting a driver after a road rage incident, and then altering his notes afterwards. In a third, a member of the public reported seeing Harwood kneeing a man in the kidney while he was handcuffed to the ground.
Nine of the complaints were dismissed or unproven, but one, in which Harwood admitted he had gone into “red mist mode” before unlawfully accessing the police national computer, was upheld.
Harwood was able to avoid disciplinary action by retiring from the Met, rejoining the force three days later in a civilian role and then reapplying to enter uniformed ranks – a move the police watchdog has said was “staggering”.
Jules Carey of Tuckers solicitors said: “The Metropolitan police and PC Harwood’s lawyers argued that the Tomlinson family should not be able to see PC Harwood’s records as they said that they were not relevant ‘to any issue to be investigated by the inquest’ and that they were private.
“It was surreal being forced to argue about the potential relevance of records without being permitted sight of them. When Ian’s family did finally learn of the content of the records, they were shocked at the number of allegations and complaints that had been made about this officer.”
He added: “Their view remains, that if the disciplinary and vetting procedures actually worked in the forces that employed Harwood he would not have been on duty at the G20.”
The Met said in a statement: “At the pre-inquest hearing into the death of Mr Tomlinson, the MPS was invited by the Coroner to offer a submission on the issue of disclosure of PC Harwood’s disciplinary record. The MPS expressed a view that this should not be disclosed as it was not relevant to determining the cause of Mr Tomlinson’s death and could potentially impact on any future criminal proceedings. The MPS further submitted, however, that the balance would lie in favour of disclosure if the Coroner determined that it was of relevance to establishing the cause of death.”