The G20 summit brought with it the usual concerns – would the day be hijacked by anarchists? Would those groups wanting to ‘hang the bankers’ really do it? How would the disparate groups be kept in one place safely? Would the protests really have much resonance across the world? But many of the press before the event nervously questioned the police’s insistence that they would turn violent. Yes, there were elements in any anti-globalisation demonstration that would be bound to hijack it for their own skewed means, but the talk up to the event seemed like it was a self-fulfilling prophecy: violence would need strong-handed police, which would result in trouble, justifying their actions.
No one would’ve guessed the events of that day would turn out as they had. While violence did erupt sporadically, and the symbolic destruction of a branch of RBS (bailout money to fix the windows, how poetic, and pointless) fed the news frenzy, one tragedy appeared almost a footnote to the day’s events. Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper seller, had died of a heart attack in the early evening in the backstreets around the Bank Of England. Seemingly unconnected to events, statements from the police called it a ‘tragic accident’.
But over the last 24 hours, as eyewitness reports of the events started to tell a different story. And a video shows most of the attack as it happened, pouring cold water on the police’s version of events. The man – not even a protester, and on his way home, and came across the remnants of a police line ‘kettling’ protesters away from the Bank of England. Walking away from a line of police, hands in his pockets and quietly, he appeared to be struck, first by a baton, then pushed from behind by the same man, falling and apparently hitting his head on the pavement. Dazed, he appears to talk to the police, who do nothing to aid him, before being helped up by bystanders. Three minutes after walking away groggily, he dies on a pavement of a heart attack.
The storm that’s been played out today, with the IPCC’s enquiry mercifully having the City of London police removed from it (would we face more ‘inquiries’ the like of which have seen no policeman from the capital convicted of any violent offence against a protester in the last 50 years?) we may yet see justice for a man whose only crime was to head home, through an area he used daily, and walk away from a line of over-zealous police. It’s hardly the scandal from Genoa, but it’s the final straw in a city and country where we should pride ourselves in our democracy and our civil protectors, but we face an ever eroding set of liberties, sacrificed to the ‘war on terror’ and the police with ever-increasing reign to ‘protect’ us. We have a right to protest, and yet even that seems to be diminished now. From Stockwell to Forest Gate, I have little faith in their ability to deal with truth any more, and the skewed statements, denying any contact with Ian Tomlinson before his death, sounded like the echo of Sir Ian Blair all over again. We haven’t learnt, it seems, a single thing.
Indeed new footage uncovered by Channel 4 news tonight gives further evidence that the officer struck Tomlinson forcefully before he was pushed to the ground. And the officer who was involved has gone to the IPCC – no doubt to tell them of his provocation. There are glimpses of hope, that process can be followed, and that the police can be held accountable, but we’ve heard it many times before, only for it to ebb away in a sea of misadventure, of ‘cannot recall who was at the scene’ or ‘details have been lost’. I hope for once they can do the right thing. If the protester had struck the policeman, we all know he would be in court before his feet had touched the ground, and it’s high time the police were treated with the same ‘respect’ we are by them.