Policing Protests: A rethink


Like many people, I was shocked to see the footage obtained by the Guardian of a policeman shoving a protester to the ground at the G20 demonstrations. Absent any evidence to the contrary forthcoming, I suspect the shove was largely unrelated to the heart attack the man tragically suffered a short while later. Despite that, it remains a shocking sight to see a policeman treating an entirely innocent man with such brutality.

I am firmly of the belief, however, that punishing the officer individually would be inappropriate. I think serious questions must be asked about how the police deal with demonstrations, and crowd-management generally. This is not a new issue. The policing of the miners’ strike is seen by many as marking a shift from our traditional community law-enforcement body into a political entity of the state. The sight of hundreds of police in full riot gear is a powerful sight. It would be naïve to argue that their presence was not necessary at the demonstration. Clearly elements among the protesters sought confrontation and it is vital that the police kept London moving during the demonstrations. The police must, however, consider how they train their officers in such situations.

Perversely, for all the force used by the police, they failed in their objective to keep property within the march zone safe. The sight of protesters smashing windows at RBS was particularly frustrating for me. The fact that the bank is primarily owned by the taxpayer, the fact that the bank is now trying to recover the pension paid to [Sir] Fred Goodwin and the fact that most of those throwing the stones had never lost a penny to the bank did not concern the protesters. How the police failed to prevent this mindless vandalism baffles me.

Yet at the same time, in a different part of the Square Mile the police could be seen engaging in a full-scale street brawl with young protesters. I believe the mindset of the officers when attending these protests is the major issue. Clearly the officers are risking their lives in such situations and many are inconvenience by having their leave cancelled. Unless they keep a cool head and an impartial mind, however, failures will keep occurring. Officers on the ground require strong leadership, from senior officers with clear strategic ideas. We can no longer have a situation where protesters and police are forced into a totally unnecessary battle.


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4 Responses to “Policing Protests: A rethink”

  1. Miller 2.0 Says:

    I’m genuinely shocked. He committed a criminal offence which is on the face of things likely to have resulted in a man’s death. Whether he wore a uniform while doing it is totally irrelevant.

    Removing responsibility from individuals, in my view, would be carte blanche for more of the same, but also unjust in itself.

  2. manofkent86 Says:

    I have no intention of defending the policeman’s actions and no doubt he will face some internal disciplinary procedure. It is abundantly clear that his actions look like a criminal offence (battery). The officer would no doubt plead a defence of reasonable excuse and it would be difficult to obtain a conviction IMHO.

    I have no medical training so it is of no value for me to state the basis of my view that the shove did not cause the heart attack. Even if it did, however, I am unclear as to how this would impact upon the charge which could be brought against the officer. Bringing a charge of manslaughter would be utterly doomed in the courts.

    I wholeheartedly dispute your inference that I am proposing favourably treatment as he is a police officer. The simple truth is that the CPS do not consider it in the public interest to prosecute all examples of battery in the country. There is simply no way the police would prosecute a civilian for a shove, even though you rightly observe that this is a battery. My concern is that if a prosecution is brought it would be because of a sense of disapproval at the police actions more generally. It is wrong to make a scapegoat of an individual officer in these circumstances.

  3. afanoffred Says:

    Presumably you’ve changed your mind now that there’s evidence the policeman did not just shove, but battered the man?

  4. manofkent86 Says:

    By ‘battered’ I assume you mean the baton strike to the lower half of Mr Tomlinson’s body. I’m afraid my position in respect of the individual criminal punishment of the officer does not change. I do not see that this makes it any more likely that Mr Tomlinson’s heart attack was caused by the incident. Nor do I think it changes the alleged offence from my original assessment as a battery. In respect of all other points made in my post, the ‘new’ evidence would back up my suggestion that the police are inadequately trained for maintaining order at protests. It adds to the sense that the individual officer was in a mindset that anyone not in uniform was a troublemaker who needed to be crushed with excessive force.

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