The Boys in Blood

This is the text of a letter sent to The Guardian on the evening of Monday April 6th, 24 hours before video footage emerged of a police officer assaulting Ian Tomlinson

Dear Sir,

I’m increasingly disturbed by the reports emerging about the manner in which last week’s demonstrations in the city of London were policed.

The starting point for any policing operation must be the recognition that in a democracy people have a right to peaceful protest.  Yes city workers were probably inconvenienced by the protesters.  However any inconvenience they may have suffered looks to be pretty small beer compared to the inconvenience the rest of us are suffering as a result of the unrestrained seven year party that they have been having with other people’s money and for which we are collectively now picking up the tab.

I passed through Threadneedle Street before noon having been at a business meeting nearby.  It was clear that the police were already intent on restricting access to the area and were imposing cordons around the crowds.  I left quickly as, having covered numerous demonstrations as a reporter, I have often found myself trapped inside just such a situation and I feared that the police would soon corral both protestors and bystanders.

Sure enough that’s what they did and by denying protestors the freedom to leave, access to water, to toilets and to medical attention inevitably they added stress to a charged situation.

I have yet to hear a clear and rational justification for this.  Far from being about defusing any potentially difficult situation the police response seems, by all accounts, more calculated to provoke one.  I have seen the tactic used elsewhere in the world, generally in authoritarian developing countries.  The only reason a police service anywhere would wish to provoke a confrontation rather than avert one would be to discredit protesters.  It is a political act and not the business of a police force in a mature democracy.

We should also be keenly interested in the circumstances surrounding the death of bystander Ian Tomlinson.  It may be that his death was tragic but entirely accidental however suggestions that he was assaulted by police and that assault may have caused his death should be comprehensively investigated and the police must be proactive and transparent.  In the wake of the de Menezes killing the last thing that the police need to invite now is more suspicion that they may be covering up the truth.

Any cover up or any suspicion that the police are responding politically to dissenting voices in our society would be extremely worrying.  Back in the 80s confrontational and apparently partisan policing produced a toxic ‘them and us’ situation in a country struggling through a difficult economic period.

With the outlook if anything even darker now than then we require enlightened policing that allows worried people to vent their frustrations appropriately.  It’s an important pressure valve in any difficult time.

If there has been a single overriding lesson from the debacle that is the financial crisis it is this; there is ultimately only one true currency in the world and that is trust.  Now more than ever we need a police service we can trust.

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2 Responses to “The Boys in Blood”

  1. Red Jelly Says:

    So, good to see PC Harwood is being prosecuted for manslaughter.

    Wonder how many other countries would have had this result?

    • headstrongclub Says:

      Yes, there are countries where PC Harwood would not have been prosecuted but it has been a long and tortuous route to get thus far. I also share the concerns of those who think that Harwood may be made a scapegoat and that what we really need is for the police to be far readier to address what are in some respect cultural problems. The de Menezes affair, Jody McIntyre investigation &c, &c, all suggest that the police close ranks and absolve themselves when what they need to do is to move purposefully to resolve problems as they arise.

      If there is a positive to be taken from the current state of the police it’s that most British people want to have the best police service in the world and are therefore not inclined to put up with the corruption and thuggery that police forces elsewhere suffer from. Moreover I think those who believe that by holding themselves to a higher standard the police would hobble themselves in the fight against crime are just plain wrong. The higher the standards the police adhere to the greater the respect they command within society and the more ready people are to work with the police to achieve justice.

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