In April 2009, a police officer assaulted a man at a protest in London. Within minutes, the victim was dead. Today, at Southwark Crown Court, a jury cleared him of manslaughter.
This afternoon at Southwark Crown Court, the privilege that money can't buy struck again when PC Simon Harwood was cleared of the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson.
Mr Justice Fulford sent out the jury on Monday morning, so no one could accuse them of rushing to judgment.
This is a sad story as well as both a tragic and a duplicitous one. Sad for the victim; duplicitous for the people who tried to prevent it from coming to court, the same people - men and women - who take an oath to serve and protect us in the name of the Queen.
Ian Tomlinson was not only an alcoholic but a very sick man; estranged from his family, he was living in a hostel for homeless men, and whatever his interest in politics he was not part of the demonstration in the City of London where he died. If anything, he was annoyed or at least frustrated by the protesters because he wanted to get back to his hostel, and they were making that difficult.
Normally when a police officer is in the dock charged with a criminal offence committed "in the line of duty", the prosecution goes the extra mile to sabotage the case, and if the judge doesn't actually dismiss the charges at the first opportunity, he will make it absolutely clear what verdict he expects the jury to return.
That did not happen here, Mark Dennis QC presented a vigorous case for the prosecution, but sadly and rather typically, he was the exception to the rule. Nowadays, when most of the population walk around with cameras in their pockets that are capable of transmitting fair and at times exceptional quality video instantaneously to the wide world, it is difficult for the police to cover up gratuitous brutality. In the United States, they don't even bother to try, but in Britain where there is no gun culture and at least some semblance of the rule of law, they can't get away with it quite so easily, although the cases of Sergeant Mark Andrews and Mark Duggan, show this is only a semblance.
When it was clear the assault couldn't be covered up, the police tried to obfuscate the cause of death by bringing in a discredited pathologist to perform the autopsy. When that didn't work, they delayed the proceedings as long as possible. Finally, with the perpetrator having been suspended on full pay, they could delay no longer, and in the dock, what did he say?
Unlike in the United States, a jury will almost always draw an adverse inference from a defendant's failure to testify, so Simon Harwood took the stand, where he attempted first to justify the assault, claiming the victim was being obstructive, that a man standing with his back towards him, hands in pockets, was almost inviting physical confrontation, and then like the brave lad he is, burst into tears. Let's be clear who and what these tears were for though. They were not for Ian Tomlinson, rather they were for himself, in particular the potential gaol time he was facing, and perhaps even more, for the prospect of losing that fat police pension.
Finally, after attempting both to blame the victim and to garner unwarranted sympathy for himself, he accepted that he should neither have assaulted nor pushed Mr Tomlinson.
The only part of his evidence that was truthful, apart from this belated admission, is that if he had realised Ian Tomlinson was a sick man, he wouldn't have done what he did. But of course, by then it was too late.
A further report from this correspondent tomorrow.