Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Police brutality?

For a modern police force, in the last 10 years the police have had a few major incidents which have very seriously affected their public image. There was the Steven Lawrence case and subsequent inquiries which highlighted institutional racism, and the De Menezes case in 2007 showed up a whole raft of problems- not least, the tendency to cover up problems.

Will the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests prove to be a similar case? Charon QC posted this link today. The video is pretty shocking. It seems Tomlinson died minutes after being pushed about by the police. Earlier police reports made no reference to this incident.
I find the video quite shocking. I lean towards a natural suspicion of all authority figures, especially the police, but essentially I think that our Police force probably does a better job than most. However, we keep being told how they've moved on from the bad old days however, and act proportionately and according to the PACE codes of practice. Has there been a cover up?

Have the police learned nothing from the spate of enquiries in recent years - most crucially the De Menezes case?

If the Police did push Tomlinson unnecessarily, as the video seems to suggest, and this is shown to later have caused his death (I believe he died of a heart attack) what would that mean? Did the stress of that encounter cause that heart attack? The Guardian are pushing for an inquiry, but is there a question of civil or criminal liability? The eggshell skull rule comes to mind.

We've just covered abuse of process on the Advanced Criminal Litigation option on the BVC. I wonder what practitioners would say about Police ethics today.


Lost said...

Doesn't abuse of process cover normally whether the proceedings should be stayed, normally in the investigative stages, not at the actual offence? Tell me if I am wrong currently revising evidence!

It did look brutal and I agree with the rest of your post ;)

Mel said...

Yes it does. It covers the situations where it would be unfair to carry on a trial, or where an fair trial cannot be ensured. I wrote the post badly - it's all the same part of my brain! Police misbehaviour in general, that is.

My lecturer was telling stories of some of the things that he encountered in practice. I wondered whether criminal practitioners have a different attitude to the police, than members of the public and lay people who generally have no involvement with the police. I imagine most people will take police accounts at face value- as the media certainly did at first when reporting this death. But when you work with, or against, the Police do you start to read between the lines of the stock phrases they use?

Lost said...

well the second ground I assume is the narrow version and the former is governed by ex parte Bennett?

I think its always a potential stock argument when thinking about trying to get your client off isnt it?

Police ethics hmmm not all of them are brutes but sometimes I do wonder whether the police realise that they serve the public and not the other way round..

Charon has some good discussion of this...

Mel said...

I think you'd quickly lose credibility if you tried to run an abuse of process argument in every case!

I don't think the police are all brutes, not by a long shot. But does the desire keep control in situations like protest become an end in itself? Keeping control of the crowds is only desirable to prevent injury and damage. If acting in such a reactionary way incites injury, anger and violence, surely that tactic has failed?

I'm totally jumping on the Charon led bandwagon myself!

Michael said...

Yeah, the footage doesn't look great - at least for the officer who shoved the guy to the ground.

As my GF noted earlier, that's rule no. 1 of police brutality management: never hit the bad guy when his back is to you. It doesn't look good. She helpfully added: you should always 'get him' when he's facing you...

Love it.

Law Minx said...

While This footage is completely DISGUSTING, and deserves nothing but Ire and CONTEMPT, I cannot help but feel that it might be quite difficult to demonstrate a straight causal link between Mr Tomlinson's tragic passing and the push; perhaps the second post mortem will be of help in this respect but who can say?
Similar problems in the past have presented many thorny and difficult issues, as per a recent Court of Appeal decision regarding Mr Ernest Norton where the safety of a manslaughter conviction was challenged on the basis that it could not be established which sort of allegedly "unlawful or dangerous" actions, if any of those that had taken place ( two boys had been throwing stones) had contributed to Mr Norton's heart attack.

Given that poor Mr Tomlinson was not just pushed, but struck, according to other eyewitnesses, three further times, It will unfortunately take some considerable force of argument with respect to causation in order to ram home any criminal charges that may soon come to lay.......

Swiss Tony said...

If you are liable to have a heart attack, and not being medically inclined I assume that your heart must be on dodgy ground to have an attack, surely being caught up in the middle of a riot, surrounded by police and chanting protesters, is cause for concern to the old ticker.

Being an alcoholic, living rough, or at least in a hostel, living the lifestyle that seems to be associated with that, is not healthy.

Not defending the rozzers, just thinking out loud.


lawminx said...

... In my capacity as a Cardiac ITU Nurse Specialist, Swiss, I can assure you that your heart need not be falling to pieces to sustain a coronary; in fact it can be quite healthy, until its genes get the better of it.
Am I wrong, but did a second autopsy in this case reveal the presence of some internal bleeding ?-

Mel said...

Yup, it's now thought he died of internal bleeding and not a heart attack.

We'll be fine, Max Clifford's on the case!