G20 death: Where error is irreparable, repentance is useless
Reading of the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision over the death of Ian Tomlinson at last years G20 protest, I’m reminded of Edward Gibbon’s memorable phrase: “Where error is irreparable, repentance is useless”. I pray that this does not become the leitmotif of this tragedy.
The announcement by CPS that they will not be bringing criminal charges against the officer who struck Mr Tomlinson, is deeply dispiriting. Having earlier accepted that Tomlinson appeared to be the subject of an “unlawful assault”, the Director of Public Prosecutions this morning said a “sharp disagreement” in medical evidence has rendered a prosecution impossible.
This “sharp disagreement” refers to the conflicting pathology reports submitted by the coroner who carried out the initial autopsy- and who was appointed by the City of London- and the two subsequent reports commissioned by the IPCC and the Metropolitan Police Directorate of Professional Standards. Whilst the first suggested the cause of death was heart failure, the two subsequent reports cited “abdominal haemorrhaging from blunt force trauma” as the primary cause.
As the only the first pathologist, Dr Freddy Patel, had access to the body in its original state, one would normally be minded to prefer his opinion. In this case, however, no such certainty exists: Dr Patel’s judgement has in the past been called into question. On two separate occasions his handlings of suspicious deaths have raised eyebrows and now the disparity between his report and the other two has stymied hopes of a prosecution.
It appears then, we find ourselves in a situation in which a man lies dead, there is a multitude of evidence that suggests he was at the very least assaulted, and yet the perpetrator walks away- presumable straight back to his desk at New Scotland Yard- his name free of the stain which is rightly due him. It appears, in short, to be an “error of impunity”, to use Brian Forst’s phrase; a lapse on the part of the authorities which has allowed the guilty to walk free.
But whose lapse is this? On whom should we turn our ire? It would be easy to lay the blame at the door of the CPS; however, to do so would be a facile and would fail the cause of justice. For while the CPS may have been laggardly in pace, they have at least been transparent (releasing a detailed explanation of the decision not to prosecute). In fact, this appears to be a miscarriage bought about by mal-administration, which may or may not prove to be a deliberate act, on the part of the City of London Authority. As it currently appears that the CPS’s case has been hamstrung by the Authority’s choice of pathologist.
It appears bizarre in the extreme that the City of London Authority chose Dr Patel in the circumstances. Especially given that the more usual procedure would have been to refer the case to the Forensic Pathology Service, a body of nine independent forensic pathologists, tasked with dealing with such occurrences. One cannot help but wonder if this signals a dangerous level of incompetence and insensitivity on the part of the City of London Authority or something more insidious. It is imperative that we know one way or the other all details of the case, if trust in the police and the City of London Authority is to be maintained. As I see it, the fundamental question that needs answering is: who chose the first pathologist and by what means?
Until this question is answered Londoners and the Tomlinson family have every reason to feel aggrieved. Justice has been thwarted, the CPS’s case has collapsed and no one seems to be to blame for the death of an innocent man. With no criminal prosecution in the pipeline, it is essential that we find out as much as we can about the procedural failings subsequent to the event. At least then Mr Tomlinson may be afforded some justice, no matter how slight it may be.
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