Hillsborough and Tomlinson

“Please let some good come out of all of this” – the policeman finished his report on the Hillsborough disaster, only to see it heavily redacted for the judicial inquiry in 1989:

David Frost, who as a 21-year-old officer helped to treat fans in the Leppings Lane terraces, told the Lord Justice Stuart-Smith review in 1997 that his superiors made “wholesale changes” to the statements made by him and his fellow officers to “sanitise and protect themselves”.

Mr Frost told the judge how, three days after the tragedy, on 19 April 1989, he and fellow policemen were taken to a pub by a senior officer and warned: “It’s backs to the wall, boys. We’ve all got to say the same thing. Unless we all get our heads together and straighten it out, there are heads going to roll.”
….
The 16-page original testimony from May 1989, which at times reads like a diary from the trenches of the First World War, was cut down to six pages, the most heavily redacted statement out of all the 116 police statements that were altered. Mr Frost told Lord Justice Stuart-Smith he was ordered to sign the new redacted statement but refused. The final document shows what appears to be Mr Frost’s signature, but it is clearly different from his original handwriting, suggesting that someone involved in the cover-up forged his signature.

You'll never walk alone - flowers at the Kop goal

So who will be prosecuted? Someone edited the report. Someone signed the edited report with David Frost’s name.

The chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, Sir Norman Bettison, who was part of the police team managing South Yorkshire Police’s responses to the 1989 inquiry, “encouraged” a police driver to come forward nearly a year afterwards with testimony against Taylor, the high court judge who led the original Hillsborough inquiry. This police driver claimed he had “overheard the judge state that the South Yorkshire force would have to carry the can for the catastrophe”:

But although the alleged conversation took place only three days after the disaster, the driver waited a year to “put the record straight” over the “injustice” suffered by the force. Documents published by the Hillsborough Independent Panel last week show that he only reported the allegations after he was “encouraged” to do so by his colleague Norman Bettison – then a key figure in a South Yorkshire Police unit that attempted to exonerate the force and blame Liverpool fans for the tragedy.

Sir Norman, who was knighted in 2006 and now serves as West Yorkshire’s chief constable, faced calls to resign last week after the panel’s report was published – and he gave an initial response that appeared once more to push some of the blame on to fans. It was announced yesterday that he had been referred to the police watchdog by his own police authority, after it had received a complaint related to Hillsborough.

On 1st April 2009 PC Simon Harwood left the police van he was supposed to be staying with as a driver. Apparently in a fit of frustration, he lashed out with his baton at Ian Tomlinson, who was walking through the protests with his hands in his pockets taking no part in them, just trying to get home. Harwood hit Tomlinson with his baton and pushed him offbalance so that he fell to the ground. This action by Harwood is recorded on three videos, two of them belonging to news organisations. A few minutes later, Tomlinson was dead. The pathologist who claimed that Tomlinson’s death had nothing to do with Harwood’s action has since been struck off for professional incompetence.

At Harwood’s trial earlier this year, greatly delayed by obstruction from the Metropolitan Police against one of their own being up in court, the jury were not allowed to know about the pathologist’s professional incompetence (he had not then been struck off) nor were they allowed to know about Harwood’s work record of violence as a police officer. Harwood was acquitted.

Today, the Metropolitan Police decided there was “no need” to examine Simon Harwood’s responsibility for Ian Tomlinson’s death, because Harwood had already admitted to the charges of striking Ian Tomlinson on his left thigh, and of pushing him to the ground. Those two admissions were enough to let the Metropolitan Police sack Harwood for “gross misconduct”, while allowing him to escape any penalty for the death of Ian Tomlinson and allowing him to claim his police pension when he turns 65, as he has not been convicted of any criminal offence.

Harwood’s crime was recorded on video. The Hillsborough disaster occurred on live TV, as people watched Grandstand that afternoon. What chance do the Hillsborough families have of seeing justice for the 96, when it took so long just to get the truth on record? When Tomlinson’s family are still left where they were three and a half years ago – “no comment” from the Metropolitan Police.

“We came here expecting a disciplinary hearing,” said Mr Tomlison’s son Paul King. “There has been no hearing. We expected the Met to rule on whether its officer killed Ian. The Met has basically gone ‘no comment’. It’s a whitewash. It’s like they have just let PC Harwood resign. The conflicting verdicts of the inquest and criminal court still need to be resolved. We haven’t given up, we will now be looking to the civil courts for the final judgement on who killed our dad”

Asked whether the disciplinary proceedings had achieved anything, he replied: “I think it’s pointless, it hasn’t proved anything to us. We still haven’t got any answer from this. After three and a half years I think it’s diabolical. It’s like we’re back at day one.”

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner said:

“Every police officer is accountable for their actions, whatever the situation. The misconduct process is the forum for holding officers to account when they do not meet the standards expected of them.”

It’s really quite extraordinary that de Brunner should expect this would satisfy anyone except her fellow police officers. The video evidence showing that Simon Harwood had struck Ian Tomlinson and pushed him over came to light over three years ago. Why wasn’t Harwood censured for gross misconduct and sacked in 2009?

Was it because the Metropolitan Police did not wish to believe that anyone would insist on holding their police officers to account?

When will West Yorkshire Police be holding their Chief Constable to account?

Meantime, this magistrate’s summons requires the appearance of two Metropolitan Police officers at Southwark Crown Court on 19th October to discuss the following issues:

“You were on the property as a trespasser and you threatened to smash down a glass-panelled door which the homeowner was holding closed.

“You threatened and used a battering ram to support your threat of violence. The occupants were caused fear for their personal safety.

“You wilfully failed to perform your duty to such a degree that it amounted to an abuse of the public trust which had been placed in you.”

The summons also stated that the officers were alleged to have carried Mr Doherty away without any lawful authority.

“There was no consent from the victim and you used unlawful violence to carry out this kidnap,” the document stated.

It went on: “You were tasked to carry out enquiries into allegations of harassment, however when lawfully refused entry to the home of Mr Doherty you did without lawful authority force entry into their private home.”

The two police officers remain on full duties. The Metropolitan Police object to the private prosecution of two of their officers by Michael Doherty.

But as Deputy Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner said of Simon Harwood:

“I hope that this one officer’s actions in 2009 does not taint the public opinion of officers who have worked tirelessly this year supporting events such as the Jubilee and of course the Olympics.”

Presumably exactly the same statement would be appropriate if these two officers ever get a disciplinary hearing for their actions. Only, you know, grammatically amended for two.

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