Justice at last for Ian Tomlinson

Today is a good day for British justice. The Crown Prosecution Service has finally changed its deeply flawed decision not to prosecute PC Simon Harwood for any offence in connection with the death of Ian Tomlinson. PC Harwood will now be charged with manslaughter.

This decision by Keir Starmer belatedly corrects a series of highly questionable decisions made by the CPS in this case. (Quite apart from the Metropolitan Police’s inexplicable decision to ask Dr Freddy Patel to conduct the post-mortem despite a long history of incompetence or worse.)

Before the inquest into Mr Tomlinson’s death, the CPS considered whether to bring charges. The possible charges were manslaughter, assault (either common assault or assault occasioning actual bodily harm) or misconduct in public office. But in its report the CPS rejected all of these options, relying heavily on the conflict between the evidence of Dr Patel and more competent pathologists who had carried out further post-mortems.

However, this decision was flawed. The CPS clearly didn’t consider that the most appropriate course of action would have been to charge PC Harwood with manslaughter and let the conflicting medical evidence be examined in court under cross-examination. The excuse of conflicting medical evidence also allowed the CPS to discount the idea of bringing charges for assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The CPS also rejected the charge of misconduct in public office, in spite of it being a highly appropriate charge on the face of it. David Allen Green demolished their arguments in an excellent blog post at the time which is well worth a read. Finally, the charge of common assault was not possible because the six-month time limit had passed while the CPS was still considering what to do.

As Christine Berry points out, the verdict of unlawful killing returned by the inquest makes the CPS’ pussyfooting around the conflicting medical evidence look indefensible.

Thus Keir Starmer is right to change the CPS’ position and charge PC Harwood with manslaughter. His statement is however less self-critical than it should be. (Incidentally the fact that the inquest was able to force this u-turn is a perfect demonstration of why England is lucky to have inquests, one common law quirk that should perhaps be introduced to European legal systems.)

Nevertheless the right decision has finally been made. It is now up to the courts to try PC Harwood fairly. Now that the hurdle of bringing charges has finally been crossed I am sure they will.

Please note that as charges have been brought I will delete any comments that might be prejudicial to the trial.

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