A Scotland Yard officer struck a bewildered homeless man with a police baton and shoved him to the ground in a “gratuitous act of aggression” that left him dead on a London street less than an hour later, a court heard today.
Pc Simon Harwood attacked the innocent man during a “rush of blood” after he was publicly humiliated when a graffiti writer managed to elude his grasp during protests against leaders from G20 nations three years ago, a jury was told.
Ian Tomlinson, an alcoholic apparently oblivious to events around him, was ambling away from police lines with his hands in his pockets when Pc Harwood, 45, struck him with a powerful blow to his thigh and then sent him flying with a hard shove to the back, Southwark Crown Court heard today.
Mr Tomlinson, 47, was helped to his feet by passers-by, while Pc Harwood and other officers disregarded his plight, the court heard. However the homeless man suffered major internal bleeding from the attack and collapsed just 70 metres away. He died within 50 minutes of the blows despite frantic attempts to save his life, said Mark Dennis, QC, opening the trial for the prosecution.
A pathologist initially found that he died from a heart attack but further tests were carried out when an American tourist came forward with a film recording of the incident. They showed that he initially sustained a serious injury to his liver, the court heard.
“The display of force has all the hallmarks of a gratuitous act of aggression by a lone officer whose blood was up having lost the self control to be expected of a police officer in such circumstances and was going to stand no truck from anyone who appeared to him to be a protestor and to be getting in his way,” said Mr Dennis.
He added that the attack on April 1, 2009, was “more akin to thuggish behaviour than proper, reasonable” policing.
In his statement made at his police station on the same night, Pc Harwood made no reference to the assault on Ian Tomlinson, but said: “I do not remember how many persons I struck, but done so in order to prevent any further RIOTING and preserve my safety”.
The court heard that the confrontation came just a few minutes after Pc Harwood had tried to arrest a protester he saw scrawling “All cops are bastards” on the side of a police van.
However, during a struggle the protester managed to wriggle out of his jacket and escape leaving Pc Harwood with just the garment in his hands. “The protester ran off to the cheers of others, leaving the defendant no doubt rather embarrassed, if not humiliated, that his attempt to arrest the protester had ended in such failure,” said Mr Dennis.
Pc Harwood – whose sole duty that day was as a driver to take other officers to police the protest - did not return to his own police van but took up a position “ready to take on the protesters” with his baton resting on his shoulder for “immediate use”, the court heard. He wore a balaclava mask up to his nose and a helmet.
Mr Tomlinson, 47, who had been drinking for much of the day and was not part of the protests, encountered Pc Harwood two to three minutes later when he was trying to make his way to the hostel where he lived but could not get through police lines.
Police officers and passers-by he encountered said that he appeared “out of it” and told one officer that he wanted to go home to bed “that they (the protesters) were bastards”. At one point, he had to be moved out of the way of a police van that was trying to get past him. He then tried to cut through a passageway in the City of London but it was being cleared by police officers including Pc Harwood.
CCTV footage showed him walking slowly “simply minding his own business, somewhat oblivious to what was going on around or near him,” said Mr Dennis. He was posing no threat to the officers and would have been taken completely by surprise and had little opportunity to protect himself from a heavy fall, a jury heard.
The court heard that an inquiry was carried out by the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and on three separate occasions, Pc Harwood declined to answer questions about the matter. In statements he maintained that his actions had been “necessary, proportionate and reasonable.”
Pc Harwood a father-of-two from Carshalton, Surrey, first joined the Metropolitan police for the first of two stints in 1995. He also served with the Surrey force. He denies manslaughter.
The trial continues.