Alex Massie

Were the G20 protestors also to blame for the attack on Ian Tomlinson?

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Iain Martin suggests that amidst the justified hoopla over the death of Ian Tomlinson we shouldn't forget the role the G20 protestors played too. They, he says, are "just as much to blame as the police". And for the police it was a long and stressful day, mistakes happen you know, they'd been insulted and taunted all day, everything was very confusing, etc etc.

I'm afraid this won't quite do. As I argued yesterday, the only reason anyone is paying any attention to this assault is that poor Mr Tomlinson subsequently collapsed and died from a heart attack. That and the fact it was filmed. It is the very ordinary nature of the incident that is appalling. No-one can be surprised by it and no-one would have made much of a fuss if he hadn't had his heart attack.

Were the G20 protestors annoying and provocative? Surely. But that's not the issue. Nor, the footage suggests, is this a matter of a single officer "snapping" at the end of a long day. No, it would seem to be a thuggish officer taking the chance to vent some frustration upon an innocent - and clearly, obviously, innocent - chap shambling along the road on his way home from work. Ian Tomlinson was bullied because the police felt like bullying someone.

Yes, mistakes happen. But the police are, rightly, supposed to be held to a higher standard. Yes, they have a difficult job. That's why we expect them to do it well. The assault on Ian Tomlinson can't be excused simply because the police were fed up.

I can imagine that people in other countries might wonder what the fuss is. I mean, Tomlinson was hit with a baton once and then shoved, albeit violently, to the ground. There are plenty of places on earth where this wouldn't cause the batting of a single eyelid. But one of the good things about Britain is that this case should cause such a rumpus. It's a question of standards. As the police themselves might acknowledge, it's important to adopt a "broken windows" strategy when it comes to policing the police.

UPDATE: Henry Porter, as you might expect, has more on this and the story of another entirely unexceptional but objectionable incident.

UPDATE 2: Typos fixed, I hope. Thanks WH.

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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