This bit of George Monbiot’s column today is pretty well spot on:
Hundreds of thousands of us have now seen the footage of the newspaper-seller shambling peacefully home from work. We’ve seen how, without warning or provocation, PC Simon Harwood attacked him from behind, hitting him with a baton then shoving him to the ground. We know that the officer had unlawfully removed his badge, and that his face was obscured by a balaclava. We know that, a few minutes afterwards, Ian Tomlinson collapsed and died. We also know that the Metropolitan police lied about his death to the media and to Tomlinson’s family.
This is a moment in which the pomp and majesty of the law falls away to reveal a squalid little stitch-up. In years to come you will hear Keir Starmer’s decision mentioned alongside the Widgery report, the Hutton report and the failure to prosecute the killers of Blair Peach and Jean Charles de Menezes. The Tomlinson whitewash will be seen as one of British officialdom’s most notorious swindles.
Ian Tomlinson ruling: we must all fight this whitewash
The CPS’s decision not to prosecute for manslaughter is hard, but at least understandable (read their published explanation here). A substantive dispute about medical evidence may reduce the likelihood of successful prosecution, and make a lower charge more realistic. The same cannot be said of its decision not to prosecute for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, where the available facts suggest that the CPS has usurped a jury’s right to test the credibility of the respective medical experts.
As for the fact that the CPS cannot prosecute for common assault – solely because of the time it is has taken to reaching its decision – this raises substantive questions about its conduct in this matter.
Personally, I find the general manner in which the CPS has behaved astonishing, more for the lingering air of institutional incompetence than for any whiff conspiracy. Frankly, the CPS just doesn’t seem smart enough to manage conspiracy.
By way of example, the Guardian reports that the lawyer who reviewed the circumstances surrounding Ian Tomlinson’s death (separately identified in the CPS statement as Stephen O’Doherty, a Deputy Director of the CPS Special Crime Division) also reviewed the police killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.
I’m sure nobody is going to make that a feature of future conspiracy theories.
Are we really saying that nobody in the CPS hierarchy has the basic common sense to see that this might not be a good idea? Did the Director of Public Prosecutions himself not pause to wonder if it might be best to give the file to someone else?
And what of the time taken to reach a charging decision? Ian Tomlinson died on 1 April 2009, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission passed the results of its enquiry to the CPS on 4 August. That was just four months after Tomlinson died, and well within the deadline for charging officers with common assault.
How, then, did it take the CPS eleven months to review the evidence?
Their statement makes it painfully obvious they know this is a problem, but also makes it clear they offer no credible excuse:
The CPS is aware that comment has been made about the time taken to reach a decision. We understand the anxiety that this has caused to the family of Mr Tomlinson and the DPP discussed it with them. He is satisfied that the CPS acted as quickly as was consistent with the thorough and careful review of the evidence that was necessary. The review entailed not only the painstaking exercise of mapping the movements of all concerned, over many hours, but also the extensive exercise of seeking to resolve the complex and difficult areas of disagreement between the medical experts.
This is no explanation for the delay, and one must be given. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, must account for that delay, in detail and in public. It is woefully inadequate for him to simply offer asserted assurances about the situation. At best, the delay exposes a serious flaw in the charging decision process and procedural criminal law – if the time necessary to review files means certain charges cannot be brought – and at worst it suggests that the CPS machinery is fundamentally broken.
No, strike that – at worst, the delay could seriously undermine public confidence in the CPS by giving the appearance that senior state employees deliberately allowed the deadline to time out in order to avoid charging a police officer. I don’t believe that is the case, but I have no doubt that many do – just this week I’ve already encountered people who believe exactly that.
This failure to offer (or apparently to properly understand the need for) a detailed and public explanation of the delay is an indictment of the institutional competence of the CPS, and of its senior management.
George Monbiot suggests that a fund be established for a private prosecution. What the CPS statement makes abundantly clear is that prosecution of the officer concerned for assault occasioning actual bodily harm is entirely possible, and that the CPS decision not to pursue that charge is based not on a lack of evidential support, nor really upon the dispute in the medical evidence, but upon the fact that the CPS generally charges such incidents as common assault, not ABH. A private prosecution has no such constraints.
What happens next as regards the CPS will determine whether George Monbiot is right, and this becomes yet another in a litany of state failures to deal with police misconduct. A private prosecution will do nothing to remediate the self-inflicted damage the CPS has wrought. Any repair must now be imposed from outside.
The Home Secretary should, as a matter of urgency, direct an independent review of the process leading to the charging decision, with particular regard to the length of time taken. That review should publish a detailed timeline, showing the public exactly how the CPS spent eleven months reviewing the matter.
This is what that the Director of Public Prosecutions could and should have done when he released his statement. That he did not do so is sufficient grounds to suggest he should now consider his position.
Sometimes I have to read a news story twice, just to make sure I really have read what I think I have.
Often this is because the story is surreal or silly, but occasionally it’s because it is simply horrific.
One of the latter such is this article on the BBC:
A 13-year-old Yemeni girl has died of internal bleeding three days after being married, rights groups say.
The report comes amid ongoing debate on setting a minimum age for brides in Yemen, where more than a quarter of girls are married before the age of 15.
Yemen child bride ‘bleeds to death’
The detail of what happened is exactly what you’d expect.
This is happening in 2010 – which is officially The Future – and not in some undiscovered corner of a rainforest somewhere. That this kind of behaviour continues, let alone is justified on quasi-religious grounds, puts our petty quinnenial snout counting into perspective. It certainly puts the silly debate about whether having or not having opt outs from sex education violates human rights in its place.
If you’re a
fucking idiot cultural relativist, why don’t you try telling me why this is acceptable?