3rd May 2011

 

The jury at the inquest into the death of 47 year old Ian Tomlinson, who died on 1 April 2009 in the context of a heavily-policed and high profile G20 demonstration, have today returned a verdict of unlawful killing. They found that:

Time, place and circumstances at or in which injury was sustained:

 

Mr Tomlinson was on his way home from work on 1st April 2009 during the G20 demonstrations.

He was fatally injured at around 19.20 in Royal Exchange Buildings (the Passage), near to the junction with Cornhill, London EC3. This was as a result of a baton strike from behind and a push in the back by a police officer which caused Mr Tomlinson to fall heavily.

Both the baton strike and the push were excessive and unreasonable.

As a result, Mr Tomlinson suffered internal bleeding which led to his collapse within a few minutes and his subsequent death.

 

 

At the time of the strike and the push, Mr Tomlinson was walking away from the police line. He was complying with police instructions to leave Royal Exchange Buildings (the Passage). He posed no threat.

 

Conclusion of the jury as to the death:

 

Unlawful killing.

They found that the cause of death was “abdominal haemorrhage due to blunt force trauma to the abdomen in association with alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.

Paul King, Ian’s son said:

After two years we are really grateful that the inquest process has made such a strong statement about how Ian died. We are grateful to the coroner and the jury and we think that the jury finding speaks for itself. We hope that the DPP will consider what the jury has said and the evidence that has come out and we are looking forward to the next stage in our search for justice for Ian.

Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

The damning finding of the jury that excessive and unreasonable force unlawfully killed Ian Tomlinson must result in an urgent review by the DPP of the new evidence that has emerged. For too long there has been a pattern of cases where inquest juries have found overwhelming evidence of unlawful and excessive use of force or gross neglect and yet no police officer has been held responsible. It is vital that the rule of law is upheld and applies equally to all, including police officers, and that they do not believe that they can act with impunity. This jury’s findings in this case demonstrate the vital importance of a properly conducted and resourced inquest process.

 

Family solicitor Jules Carey of Tuckers Solicitors said:

Today’s decision is a huge relief to Mr Tomlinson’s family. To many, today’s verdict will seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious; however this fails to take account of the significant and many obstacles faced by the family over the last two years to get to this decision. The CPS will now review whether a prosecution will be brought following today’s verdict and the way in which the evidence has been clarified during the inquest process.

The inquest was held before HM Assistant Deputy Coroner for City of London, Judge Peter Thornton QC, sitting at the International Dispute Resolution Centre in London. It opened on 28 March 2011 and concluded after five weeks, and has heard damning evidence which raises fundamental questions about:

  • The failure of the state to prosecute in contentious death cases.
  • Serious practice and culture problems within the Territorial Support Group (TSG).
  • The lack of transparency in the relationship between coroners, police and pathologists.

The failure of the state to prosecute in contentious death cases

INQUEST’s monitoring has shown how the state uses the inquest rather than criminal prosecution and trial for the public examination of deaths in custody. It is extremely rare for there to be a prosecution after a death in custody even where there has been an inquest verdict of unlawful killing.[1]

Since 1990 unlawful killing verdicts have been returned in eleven death in custody cases, none of which has resulted in a successful prosecution. The verdict of unlawful killing can only be returned on the criminal standard of proof where a jury is sure beyond reasonable doubt that the death was the result of gross negligence manslaughter or murder. Despite a pattern of cases where inquest juries have rejected the official version of events and found overwhelming evidence of unlawful and excessive use of force or gross neglect, no police or prison officer or nurse has been held responsible, either at an individual or senior management level, for institutional and systemic failures to improve training and other policies.

Our monitoring has revealed an institutional unwillingness to approach these deaths as potential homicides or manslaughter, which affects the whole process from the investigation carried out by the police (who may not even define the place of death as a crime scene) through to the considerations by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). This encourages a culture of impunity and sends a clear message to police and prison officers and other detaining agents that when deaths occur as a result of their acts or omissions they will not be called to account.  Through this process the perception is created that state agents are above the law. This is one of the most contentious issues in relation to the approach of the criminal justice system to all deaths in custody.

Serious practice and culture problems within the TSG

There are considerable problems with the constitution, role, training and management of the TSG and the culture within it that fostered and supported an officer with the views held by PC Simon Harwood and that allowed him to act with impunity. The London Evening Standard reported on 13 May 2009 that a total of 283 TSG officers had been investigated over 547 allegations of misconduct during the last year. Of these, 159 allegations were of assault.

The lack of transparency in the relationship between coroners, police and pathologists

 

The lack of regulatory oversight in the working relationship between coroners, the police and pathologists resulted in systemic problems with the investigation of this death from the very beginning and with its subsequent consideration by the CPS. The failure in this case to instruct an appropriate expert and to ensure that the expert was fully briefed about the circumstances of Ian Tomlinson’s death was deeply damaging to the proper investigation of his death from the outset.

The family of Ian Tomlinson was represented at the inquest by members of INQUEST Lawyers Group, counsel Matthew Ryder QC and Alison Macdonald, both of Matrix Chambers, instructed by Jules Carey of Tuckers Solicitors.

Further Information

Details of unlawful killing verdicts and prosecutions in cases of deaths in custody since 1990

INQUEST’s briefing on the death of Ian Tomlinson

Ian Tomlinson Family Campaign

[1] Response To Consultation Paper On Attorney General’s Review Of The Role And Practices Of The CPS In Cases Of Deaths In Custody, 2002