Monday, 17 September 2012

PC Harwood sacked for gross misconduct

PC Simon Harwood was today dismissed from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) for gross misconduct for pushing over Ian Tomlinson shortly before he died at the G20 protests in London 2009. However, Ian's family walked out of the hearing, calling it a whitewash, as there was no examination of any of the wider issues involved, such as whether PC Harwood's actions caused Ian's death, and if the MPS should share responsibility as well.

A previous post that I wrote in July 2012 (after PC Harwood was acquitted of Ian's manslaughter) looked at how the use of indiscriminate public order tactics such as 'kettling' could contribute to a generally confrontational atmosphere at large protests. I worry that the very brief nature of today's hearing (PC Harwood admitted the charge of gross misconduct, so it went straight to a judgement) meant that such wider issues could not be investigated, and by scapegoating individual 'rogue' officers, there is a danger that the MPS could be seen as trying to avoid scrutiny of its public order tactics in general.  There were many different allegations of  inappropriate Police behaviour that day, and the footage of PC Harwood pushing Ian to the ground only came to light after a city worker recorded the incident on his phone and gave it to the Guardian newspaper. The MPS had initially tried to deny any involvement in the events leading up to for Ian's death, but this quickly became untenable once the video footage emerged. This short clip shows the fateful push, but also shows the reactions of other officers, who did nothing to reprimand Harwood, or intervene to help Ian as he lay on the floor, leaving it up to other protestors to pick him up. I think this illustrates how in public order situations, the use of indiscriminate public order tactics can result in all those in the immediate vicinity being treated the same by the Police (including uninvolved bystanders), which had tragic consequences for Ian Tomlinson.

I certainly believe that Simon Harwood should be held accountable for his actions, but he was operating  in a wider organisational and social context that needs to be explored as well, and making examples of individuals detracts from the need for a wider discussion of the public order policing strategies that I believe allowed this tragedy to happen.


  1. Chris, I agree with your conclusion. Some wider context is that the level and sort of force used by PC Harwood is used daily in UK policing, lawfully and in line with training. It is a tragedy for so many that someone died in this instance, but are we all to be sacked for gross misconduct? The event must be a catalyst for a change, not just in our training but in our whole approach to the use of force, approach to crowds and individuals within the crowd. Thanks to Stott, Drury, Reicher et al and progressive thinkers within policing, we have won the debate on 'treating the crowd like a community' and crowd engagement. Understanding use of force in this context is our next battleground. Dave Sumner

    1. Thanks for your comment on my post Dave & I too hope that this tragedy will be a catalyst for change. I wasn't suggesting that all police officers who use force should be sacked for misconduct. It was more that taking action against individual officers who get caught using excessive force may not prevent future tragedies happening. I believe that the use of indiscriminate public order tactics can create an atmosphere of opposition between police and the public which means that all those in the vicinty of public order protests are at risk of being equally affected by such tactics.

      Stott & Reicher's work on public order policing has considered situations in which force is used by the police, and they argue that if force is necessary, it should be measured and proportionate to the risk. Furthermore, attempts to de-escalate the situation should be made as soon as the immediate risk has been dealt with. This becomes more difficult to do if large numbers of people are contained by officers in riot gear, and I believe use of the kettling tactic at the G20 protests contributed to greater disorder than would have happened otherwise, and created a situation which resulted in the death of Ian Tomlinson.