Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Reasonable use of reasonable force

I don't intend going into my own feelings over the Tomlinson Inquest verdict beyond a couple of observations as an old fart (albeit one who can still run a good few miles, if he so chooses and wishes to damage his knees, which he doesn't any more and so cycles instead) especially as the blogosphere will have far more places for folks to feast their eyes on and seek opinions far more interesting than mine.

Most of the country's `eyes on the police pulse` seem to go here for starters. I've read this post and seem to recall a slightly different stance from when the incident first came to light, which is understandable with the benefit of hindsight and other more relevant circumstantial and other grades of evidence. Gadget makes a valid point about this country not being a police state. Ironically it is actually only the police itself who makes it so. When one sees the type, scope and weight of legislation that has been heaped upon us over almost a decade and a half  one cannot point the finger of blame on creating a police state at the poor bloody infantry.

As for the push/ shove/ baton blow to poor Ian Tomlinson, Gadget points out that he was five times over the legal limit, had a diseased liver and a heart complaint. Well unless Nu Labour slipped a few more statutes under my radar whilst I was abroad or looking the other way, being in possession of a dicky heart and knackered liver are not criminal offences and, as the late Mr Tomlinson was walking and not driving at the time, he was crime free on the blood/alcohol count too. I know that all of that is used to mitigate the outcome and, from my own sight of the videos, a push/shove or baton strike to the legs would not be likely to result in the death of a reasonably fit and healthy man, even of my age, but nobody knew he was in poor shape and he certainly wasn't giving off signs that he was a handful of trouble. What Inspector G was arguing was, I think, that the outcome was out of proportion to the perceived necessary action. So what does it boil down to? The question of necessary and reasonable force. Ian Tomlinson did not appear to present such a threat to public order or safety that would justify more than the mildest of reasonable force ie; "Move along now, nothing to see here, keep moving, there's a nice old intoxicated liver-diseased chap with a dicky ticker - off you go, that way". The officer responsible has that to work on for his defence, plus the fact that he did not know the frail state of the deceased at the time. He did not intend to kill, of that I'm sure, but death was the outcome and although death could have been brought about in a variety of ways, it happened the way it did, it doesn't look right and it doesn't look nice.

And this is where I make my final comment. I was once given the job of reporting on the most suitable baton to replace the traditional police truncheon. I was presenting my findings to a group of officers of ACPO (very senior) ranks and during my presentation I demonstrated the telescopic baton, sometimes referred to by the name of one of the first manufacturers `ASP`(Armament Systems and Procedures). As the innocuous looking device in its closed state was suddenly racked up to reveal a shiny 21" of aircraft grade aluminium Jedi Sword, an assistant chief constable gasped, "Jesus, if you hit someone on the head with that you'll kill him". My reply was, "We are not supposed to aim for heads with truncheons, even the old ones could kill with a head strike". I then demonstrated OC (pepper) spray. The same ACC then said, "Well if you spray someone with a bad heart or asthma with that you could kill them". My reply to that was simply this, "People with bad hearts or asthma shouldn't take on the police then, should they"? My point being that if someone is combatative, beligerent or obstructive then hands-on force or greater, reasonable and proportionate, is usually justifiable. Ian Tomlinson maybe thought he was `taking on` the police in his own way, but from what we've all seen, neither ASP, Taser or chemical munitions should appear on the list of force options, whether he had a diseased liver, dicky ticker or been drunk in charge of a pair of old legs - or not.

Addendum after a night's sleep: I see a conviction coming, but one of common assault. But maybe I was dreaming


jaljen said...

My interpretation of events, based solely on a casual look at the news footage, is that Tomlinson didn't seem to pose any kind of a physical threat (is he reported to have been verbally abusive?) and looked an unlikely candidate for any kind of strike against him. It also seems to me that Harwood was the only officer even remotely "up for it" in terms of making a dart at him.

Not even a heat of the moment kinda thing. As for Gadget - he's closed comments on the post. I don't think you can make much excuse for Harwood and I'd rather see the majority of officers distance themselves from him. Nobody believes this is a police state and I support (finally and reluctantly) arming the police. Harwood however looks like one of the less admirable apples in the barrel.

TonyF said...

Unfortunately, or more importantly, fortunately, I wasn't there. I saw the edited video the same as many others, but unlike them I accept it shows no context. I don't really agree with arming the police. Arming them is only admitting the total failure of our judicial system to actually support officers by handing out appropriate punishments, up to and including execution.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Jaljen: Hi and thanks for looking in to the occasional nuthouse and commenting. Good people like us try to look for the good because we hope it's there, don't we? You made a good observation that I will develop slightly; good officers need to do more than just distance themselves. Thanks again for taking the trouble to comment.

TonyF: Yup.

JuliaM said...

"You made a good observation that I will develop slightly; good officers need to do more than just distance themselves. "

Agreed, but that's harder than it sounds, isn't it, in the close, team-working environment of the police?

Look at how 'whistleblowers' are treated in the NHS! It'd be a brave cop indeed who decided to front up someone like Harwood to his bosses.

Hogdayafternoon said...

JuliaM: That's true, but today's team is nowhere near the `close team-working environment` that I used to work in - progress of sorts. The peer pressure is still there and is not dissimilar to that which prevents ordinary people from coming forward and giving statements about criminal behaviour in their neighbourhoods.

Anonymous said...

I think the incident in its wide sense is very important. The wide sense involves the use of Patel, the cover-up and fact it's taken 2 years to go round back to zero.
Harwood was just a punk and should have been dealt with as such. Strip him of the uniform (he'd covered up relevant bits in my dim memory) and he's not different from the yobs who killed a old Asian man as they ran past him. He should have been dealt with like them.
I'd have expected any crew of mine to spot Ian Tomlinson as vulnerable and help him to a place of safety. Bull about police states is red herring dropping - and as Hog points out, our cops are one reason we ain't got one. Harwood-types are less of a threat to us generally than stuffed ACPOs.

Hogdayafternoon said...

ACO: Yes, it IS important for the reasons you cite. It's a crying shame that a man died to make it so, because it would be important even if he'd just picked himself up, dusted himself down and sloped off for a few more pints - and lived to file a complaint, which would probably have been informally resolved.

sparkflash said...

It's a very old, very primal instinct to both protect and be seen to protect your own. In such situations, I always ask myself if that was me I was seeing, would I be proud of my actions? - but I'm not going to pretend that you don't need to be courageous in voicing your opinion. Every group has its own form of omerta.

Anonymous said...

I think we touched on the ground of your comment nearly 2 years ago Hog. I agree entirely. I used people like Harwood and Andrews - and could play the role myself - hopefully not as wrongly. I also lied to protect a fellow officer in a complaint situation. I'm still sure I was right, if I prefer honesty. Dirty old world, but there are limits.

Some of the roughest, toughest I worked with would have been the very officers who would have broken ranks to get Ian Tomlinson home, or at least on his way. This might have involved taking him by the scruff of the neck - and I could see a discipline charge arising from that in this increasingly jobsworth world.

Hogdayafternoon said...

How true. I was priviledged to have been tutored by men who were WW2 Royal Marines Commandos and `Suez Paras` and who joined the Met in the post war de-mob slump. Literally as hard as nails, which is precisely why we rarely saw that side of them surface as they performed their duty. The generation that followed had the tough-talking spineless in their midst, with nothing to fall back on.

This `jobsworth world` seems to have by-the-book `experts` running things, accelerated past the learning ranks to the top (NPIA as an eg - don't get me started or I'll start naming names), where they fly on instruments-only. Situational awareness is missing. Without looking out of the cockpit your instruments can tell you you're flying straight and level but they won't tell you you're heading straight into a mountain.

I agree with you also, In my supervisory years I always made it clear that I would back my officers to the hilt if they tried their honest best but in so doing got it wrong. Strangely enough, on the one occasion that I had to take formal disciplinary action I received absolutely no backing from the upper echelons. Not surprisingly, the subject in my case was a `senior` officer and it was the ACPO ranks who neglected their duty.

Blue Eyes said...

There are two things that stand out to me.

1) People like Harwood seem to be able to find their own niche in the police service while good people are getting ousted for relatively minor transgressions. Is the complaints system rigorous and fair?

2) Episodes like this enable lots of left-thinkers to believe that the police service is inherently corrupt which undermines the work of all the good officers and the whole police/public relationship to the detriment of everyone.

I am bold enough to admit that my initial reading straight after the event was "there must be something more to this that we aren't seeing in the phonecam footage" but that I was wrong and that Harwood was probably not up to the job.

The whole thing does raise serious questions as to the capability of those at the top of the organisation to carry out their duties properly.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Hi Blue ltns.
I too wanted to believe that we just saw the pernicious clip. I think we were both right to do that and to wait and see because, on so many occasions, I've had direct experience of what I'll call `complaints out of context`. I can name a few people like the accused who `found their own niche`. I DID name one in particular. It did neither me nor the force I worked for any good whatsoever. The fault then lay firmly on the desk of the local spineless and corrupt acpo ranks. The system may have the ability to deal with these things, but the people don't seem to.