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Laurie Penny: What the Ian Tomlinson case tells us about the police

When it comes to the relationship between law enforcement and citizens, it’s still a one-way street.

When it comes to the relationship between law enforcement and citizens, it’s still a one-way street.

While we're on the subject of Britishness, here's something we can all feel proud of: cops without guns. That we don't yet live in a police state where officers of the law can shoot first and ask questions later, or where innocent people can be killed at random for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because that would be awful, wouldn't it? That would change the entire nature of the contract between state and citizen. Nobody would want that.

By the way, it has just been announced that the police officer responsible for the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests last year will not face any criminal charges. The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, announced this morning that the Metropolitan Police officer who was caught on video attacking the 47-year-old father-of-nine with a baton, and shoving him to the ground, will not face criminal charges, because of conflicting evidence in the post-mortem reports.

You know, those post-mortem reports, the first of which seemed to confirm that Tomlinson had died of a heart attack, as per the initial police account, an allegation that was undermined by the second report, conducted on behalf of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which found that Tomlinson died from internal bleeding.

Tomlinson's family wanted a charge of manslaughter brought against the officer in question, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is adamant that there is not sufficient evidence to conclusively prove

a causal link between the assault on Mr Tomlinson and his death. On that issue, there is disagreement between the medical experts.

Hypothetically speaking, one might imagine that a disagreement between medical experts would be easy to engineer on any matter, given a compliant coroner or two -- even if there were video, CCTV and post-mortem evidence suggesting that, contrary to police reports, a certain innocent bystander was knocked violently to the ground and prevented from receiving proper medical assistance as he collapsed and died of his injuries.

Hypothetically speaking, one might imagine that it would be simple to get your tame experts to disagree about absolutely anything, especially if that disagreement were likely to impede embarrassing and uncomfortable further inquiry, of the sort that might challenge the gradual erosion of innocent citizens' right to feel safe when the police are out on the streets.

The announcement comes five years to the day after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station, south London, on 22 July 2005. Again, in that case, nobody was charged in connection with the death of the innocent Brazilian.

The Tomlinson and de Menezes families are currently gathered outside Scotland Yard -- a building with more CCTV cameras than the whole of Finland -- to stage a protest, along with concerned members of the public. Last night, I spoke to some of the protesters as they were preparing for their demonstration. Even before the announcement had been made, the organisers were firmly convinced that the CPS would "find some technicality or other to make sure that no charges are brought".

No officer of the law has ever been charged in connection with the death in of a civilian in police custody or at a protest in Britain or Ireland. And clearly, even in the digital age, when the public can use technology to hold wrongdoers to account, like the state, there is no reason to interrupt that pattern.

The message is clear: video evidence is the prerogative of the state alone. The police watch us, and our attempts to watch them back are fundamentally suspect, especially when we happen to catch them doing something a bit naughty, like, just by way of example, pummelling an innocent newspaper salesman to death. Let's not rock the boat, eh?