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Policeman gives evidence in G20 death inquest

Relatives of the newspaper-seller who died after he was pushed to the ground during the G20 protests walked out of his inquest yesterday after the police officer responsible for the shove said he wanted to provide answers to "help the family".

Speaking publicly for the first time about the death of Ian Tomlinson on 1 April 2009, PC Simon Harwood said he had been in fear of his life when a hostile crowd turned on him earlier in the day, as he tried to make an arrest during the demonstrations in central London targeting financial institutions.

The 43-year-old police officer, who was told last year that he will not face prosecution for the death of Mr Tomlinson, but is awaiting disciplinary proceedings which could lead to his dismissal, was warned at the start of his evidence to the inquest that he did not have to answer any questions which might lead to him incriminating himself.

But PC Harwood, who has been suspended from duty with the Metropolitan Police since the incident, replied: "I'm very aware of that. I'm here as a witness to help with the inquest and also to give some sort of answers to help the family. So I'm here to answer questions, just to help."

At this point several members of Mr Tomlinson's family, including his stepson Paul King, walked out of the hearing at International Dispute Resolution Centre in Fleet Street. They later returned to the proceedings.

The newspaper-seller collapsed shortly after he was pushed to ground while walking away from a group of riot officers on the fringes of the demonstrations in the City. The case achieved notoriety when amateur video footage emerged which challenged the original version of events and showed an officer, later identified as PC Harwood, striking Mr Tomlinson with a baton before placing two hands on his back and pushing him to the floor.

The inquest heard that the constable had rejoined the Metropolitan Police in November 2004 and become a member of the Territorial Support Group (TSG), based in Catford, south-east London. The TSG is the rapid response force used by Scotland Yard to respond to or control public order incidents.

PC Harwood, dressed in a grey suit and yellow tie, said that during his four and a half years with the TSG he had attended a large number of demonstrations, and on the day of the G20 demonstrations he had been assigned to drive a police van carrying colleagues, a job which he accepted would not normally require him to leave his vehicle.

But he said he had become the centre of attention for a hostile crowd when he moved in to arrest a man writing on another carrier, leading the suspect away towards a line of police horses. The officer said: "At the time he was becoming more aggressive, more hostile, I was starting to believe that this was getting out of control. I was aware there was a crowd and I was actually in fear for my life then from what was coming towards me."

PC Harwood, who was filmed without his police numbers attached to his uniform when he pushed Mr Tomlinson, said he had made sure they were on display when he went on duty. Asked about expectations prior to the demonstration, he added: "There was a general feeling that it would be robust policing, not just going and picking on people, but robust as in keeping the demonstration where it should be."