CPS reviews decision not to prosecute PC Simon Harwood over the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests two years ago
PC Simon Harwood’s first public account of what happened to Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests two years ago came at the beginning of last month, at the inquest into the newspaper vendor’s death.
Told by the judge that he did not have to answer questions if he believed doing so would incriminate himself, Harwood replied: “I was very aware of that. I’m here as a witness to help the inquest and also to give some sort of answers to help the family.”
Hearing this, Tomlinson’s wife Julia and two of her sons walked out of the hearing room, apparently in disbelief.
During the course of three days of evidence, the 43-year-old police officer was repeatedly accused by the barrister for the Tomlinson family of lying to jurors for his own ends and giving a version of events that clearly conflicted with the video footage.
Judge Peter Thornton QC directed the jury to consider whether Harwood was “honestly mistaken given that events happened quickly” or had “lied for his own ends”, creating an untruthful account of events to excuse his actions.
Harwood told the inquest jurors that an ambulance had to be called to his house after he watched footage, a week after the protest, showing he was the officer who had struck Tomlinson. He now faces a nervous wait as the Crown Prosecution Service reviews its decision not to bring criminal proceedings against him. He could now be prosecuted for manslaughter, which can carry a life sentence.
A statement released by Harwood’s lawyers after the verdict that Tomlinson was unlawfully killed said he had answered questions “truthfully”.
“PC Harwood would like to repeat how sorry he is that Mr Tomlinson died,” the statement said. “The mass of video and other evidence gathered by the Independent Police Complaints Commission now presents a picture very different from the one which PC Harwood had on the day.”
It added: “PC Harwood did not intend, or foresee at the time, that his push would cause Mr Tomlinson to fall over, let alone that it would result in any injury.”
Harwood, who is married with children and lives in south-west London, had been a police constable for 14 years when he was assigned to be a van driver at the G20 demonstrations in April 2009.
He remains suspended from the Met police on full pay although he will be sacked if found guilty before a police misconduct panel of “inadvertently causing or contributing to” Tomlinson’s death.
Harwood joined the Met in 1995, but was later medically retired after a road accident. He rejoined neighbouring Surrey police, before transferring back to the Met in 2004.
He successfully applied to join the Territorial Support Group and was based in Catford, south-east London. The force is a special unit of 730 officers specially trained to deal with raids, stop and search and public order.
Harwood appeared to repeatedly change his evidence during three days of testimony at the inquest, at which he was accompanied by his wife.
After being appointed as a van driver for the G20 demonstration, he missed one of the briefings given in advance of the event. He claimed to not have heard a second briefing given by his sergeant.
He was forced to admit that the notes he wrote up on the day of the protests as well as statements he subsequently made to investigators were, on reflection, misleading or inaccurate. However, he said they accorded with his perception at the time.
He said he had a balaclava pulled over his face to protect him from possible fires in the area and suggested that his badge number, which was missing from one shoulder when he struck Tomlinson, was inadvertently dislodged as he tried to apprehend another man minutes earlier.
The officer appeared unsure and confused over his powers that allowed him to use force. When Harwood said that his training taught him that he could baton a person, even if they do not pose a threat, he was directly challenged by counsel for the Met.
He also appeared to confuse the duty for police officers to justify their use of force, seemingly telling jurors that he – the officer – was arbiter of appropriate force.
“It is up to the police officer to justify the use of force and it is for me to say, or for the officer to say, whether the force was reasonable or not,” he said. “If I say it is reasonable, it is reasonable. I have been a police officer for 14 years and that is my understanding.”
Harwood described the violent shove against Tomlinson as a “glancing” push that was intended as a “gesture” to “encourage” the newspaper seller to move. “I did not have the impression that he fell hard,” Harwood said. “I didn’t intend that he should fall.”
He also claimed to be in fear for his life minutes before encountering Tomlinson on Royal Exchange Buildings – another part of his evidence which upset the dead man’s family.
After first saying that Tomlinson was obstructing police and refusing to move away when he “engaged”, Harwood eventually conceded that footage showed Tomlinson was obeying officers and had his back turned when Harwood struck him.
Harwood did make a partial apology towards the end of his testimony. “From what I have now seen from video evidence, and obviously I perceive it [now] at a different angle, the evidence of what has been shown to some of the people here, if it is the case that I have in any way caused Mr Tomlinson’s death, I am very sorry,” he said.