Alex Massie

Ian Tomlinson

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The appalling thing - apart from his death, of course - about the death of Ian Tomlinson after he was assaulted by the Metropolitan Police during the G20 protests last week is that if it weren't for the fact that Tomlinson collapsed from a fatal heart attack moments after he was attacked by the police, there'd be very little fuss about the incident. It would just be another example of heavy-handed police thuggery and, consequently, of no news value whatsoever. (incidentally, it also shows why it is important that the public be allowed to take photographs of the police.)

The policeman who attacked Tomlinson who was, as the video footage obtained by the Guardian clearly shows, minding his own business as he walked home from work, wasn't to know that the newspaper vendor was going to die moments later of course, but that's not the issue either. Unless - as may be possible - some other evidence arises to exculpate the police, what we have here is a grotesque abuse of authority. Or, to put it another way, if an "ordinary" member of the public had assaulted Tomlinson in this fashion they would, quite rightly be facing criminal charges.

Needless to say the police are taking all this "very seriously". So seriously that Peter Smyth chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation appeared on Today to suggest that it was, alas and regrettably and all that, Tomlinson's fault for being in the vicinity of the protests in the first place:

"On a day like that, where there are some protesters who are quite clearly hell-bent on causing as much trouble as they can, there is inevitably going to be some physical confrontation.

"Sometimes it isn't clear, as a police officer, who is a protester and who is not.

"I know it's a generalisation but anybody in that part of the town at that time, the assumption would be that they are part of the protest.

"I accept that's perhaps not a clever assumption but it's a natural one."



The police have  difficult job, but that's why we expect them to do it well. Mistakes happen and Tomlinson's death was obviously something unforessen, but the attack on Tomlinson is suggestive, nonetheless, of a police mentality that undermines, rather than protects, public confidence in the constabulary.

Of course, the police enjoy protest days just as much as the protestors do. It's a time to go out there and crack a few heads, innit? It's all about the adrenaline and the chance to "win" one for the "good guys". Blue Team Will Prevail!

True, matters have moved on since the 1970s and there's less chance of you being beaten up in police custody or fitted up for a crime you didn't commit (one of the many ways in which Britain is a better, more decent place now than it was 30 years ago) but on days like these you might sometimes be forgiven for thinking so.

Then again, this government has encouraged the militarisation of the police - a policy which can only lead to more deaths at police hands and compromise public safety and public confidence in the police. More policemen are carrying guns and the Home Office continues to roll out the use of Tasers. It is merely a matter of time before someone is killed by these things.

These developments are unwelcome. They reinforce the notion of antagonistic policing, rather than the consensual, even contractual law enforcement that has, at least notionally, been the traditional mark of the copper on his beat. Maybe some of this is necessary, but it might also go some way towards explaining why public confidence in the police is lower than it might be. A militarised constabulary is precisely the wrong road to follow. No wonder we're rattling down that route as fast we possibly can.

Here, incidentally, is the video in question:

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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