What will be the future of policing of protests following the CPS decision not to bring criminal charges against a highly trained Metropolitan police territorial support group officer who struck Ian Tomlinson? Will the policing of political dissent be safer now? Or will the police feel they can act with impunity?
As a journalist, I covered the G20 protests from the ground and watched the unfolding mess of the police operation lead by Commander Bob Broadhurst. I saw the violence of the state first-hand and documented it. What I saw that day was not new to me. It was not new to many of my colleagues and for many of the protesters. Many of us have seen this confrontational and violent policing before and since.
What was different about the G20 protests was that a man died.
Importantly, the attack on Ian Tomlinson was captured on film and a major newspaper – the Guardian – put its full weight behind finding out the truth. Surely this time things would be different? Surely it would be different for the family of Ian Tomlinson than the family of Blair Peach? Surely the weight of evidence and public opinion would lead to truth and justice? Surely?
A new generation of young people will now doubt whether the police will be held accountable by the criminal justice system if a citizen dies in a public order situation. This new generation will also now be aware of how the state seemingly closes ranks to protect one of its own – and, more importantly for the political and economic class, to protect the authority and power of the state machine.
Bottom line: if you or I had behaved in the same way as this officer that day, we would be on trial, especially if our actions had been targeted at a police officer.
The important thing to remember is that the officer was trained to behave like this. From the state’s point of view, he was doing what he was trained to do. The intelligence squad that came across Ian Tomlinson dealt with him in the same way I have seen protesters dealt with before. I have watched the TSG in action time and again. This was normal behaviour for the TSG – and that’s why this police unit should be scrapped.
Senior police officers have said many times that the policing of protests is intelligence-lead. Last year, the Guardian published detailed captions alongside a large picture explaining the role and jobs of the formation of officers standing over Ian Tomlinson just seconds after he was pushed to the ground – including four strategically place forward intelligence team (FIT) officers. It revealed that the TSG was acting as the muscle and Fit as the brain – and that’s why the FIT units should be scrapped as well.
FIT officers also give tactical advice to senior police officers. One wonders what intelligence was leading the actions of officers to strike an innocent man.
The chilling thing is that for anyone who is thinking about protesting against the enforced transfer of billions of pounds from the public sector to the private sector due to the Con-Dem government’s austerity measures will encounter the same police units, training, leadership, methodology and intelligence-lead policing.
So watch your back, folks.