PC Simon Harwood: Not guilty. But no innocent

Policeman cleared of death of G20 protester had been subject of repeated complaints about violent behaviour

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The Independent Online

A police officer who was yesterday cleared of the manslaughter of a homeless man had been allowed to serve in a specialist riots unit despite a string of previous complaints about heavy-handed tactics, it can be revealed.

PC Simon Harwood, 45, is now facing a public misconduct hearing and civil action from the victim Ian Tomlinson's family, who described the not guilty verdict as a "joke". The highly trained officer had admitted hitting the newspaper seller with a baton and shoving him to the ground, but insisted his conduct was justifiable in the context of the G20 riots.

The jury, which took four days to reach its verdict, was not told that PC Harwood had been the subject of 10 disciplinary complaints in 12 years as an officer. He only avoided facing serious disciplinary charges in 2001 over a road-rage attack after quitting his job on health grounds – but later rejoined the force without ever having to face a hearing. Last night the Independent Police Complaints Commission condemned the "alarming" ease with which PC Harwood had escaped earlier disciplinary action.

The Tomlinson family stormed out of Southwark Crown Court moments after the jury returned its verdict. Speaking afterwards, Mr Tomlinson's stepson Paul King said his family would continue its fight for justice. "It's not the end, we are not giving up," he said.

The family had expected a guilty verdict after an inquest last year found Mr Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed, Mr King said.

Mr Tomlinson's death has become a focus for concerns about aggressive policing in the capital.

The court heard that PC Harwood had been publicly humiliated by his failure to arrest a protester during anti-G20 demonstrations on 1 April 2009 and his "blood was up" when he struck Mr Tomlinson, 47, who was trying to get through police lines to reach his hostel after a day spent drinking with friends.

Video footage showed Mr Tomlinson sent sprawling then remonstrating with police officers before being helped to his feet. He had been ambling away from the police lines with his hands in his pockets. He collapsed on the street about 75 yards away and was dead within an hour of the incident, having suffered severe internal injuries.

Mr Tomlinson's family last night said it would pursue civil action over his death after it emerged that PC Harwood resigned as a constable at the Metropolitan Police in 2001 and avoided disciplinary charges over the road-rage attack that could have seen him drummed out of the service. He had been accused of unlawful arrest, abuse of authority and discreditable conduct but the case against him was never heard.

After resigning, he started work as a Scotland Yard civilian worker before returning to uniform for Surrey Police in 2003. He rejoined the Met in 2004 and trained to become part of the Territorial Support Group (TSG) – the public order team that is at the frontline of clashes between protesters and police.

The complaints commission warned of damage to public confidence over the case and demanded that the country's biggest force tighten its vetting procedures. It said it was "alarming" the officer was able to avoid a disciplinary hearing and return to the service without penalty.

Tomlinson's family: this is not the end

The family of Ian Tomlinson plan to launch a civil case after yesterday's verdict. The verdict was "a joke", Mr Tomlinson's stepson said. Speaking outside court, Paul King said: "In April 2009, we saw the shocking video of Ian being violently assaulted by PC Harwood, just minutes before he died. After the unlawful killing verdict at the inquest, we were expecting to hear a guilty verdict. It really hurts. But it's not the end, we're not giving up on justice for Ian. It's been very hard to keep going."

Margaret Davis

Unlawfully killed: Other police victims

The verdict on PC Simon Harwood is the latest instance where an officer has been cleared of manslaughter.

Robin Goodenough

Three police officers were cleared of killing the 26-year-old after he was stopped in 2003 in Oxford. Mr Goodenough, who was disqualified from driving, was punched in the face and left with a broken jaw. He swallowed so much blood that he could not breathe.

Christopher Alder

Five officers were charged with manslaughter after the black former paratrooper died face down in police custody in 1998. A coroner recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. The 2002 trial was stopped when the judge ruled there was conflicting medical evidence.

Richard O'Brien

Died in 1994 after he was pinned to the ground by three officers and suffocated during an arrest for drunken disorder. An inquest jury found he had been "unlawfully killed". Three officers were put on trial for his manslaughter in 1999 but acquitted.

Joy Gardner

Died at her flat in north London in 1995 after police wound sticking tape round her head to stop her biting them as she resisted a deportation order. No verdict was reached at the inquest. Three officers were cleared of manslaughter.