17 Sep 2012

Scotland Yard’s disciplinary system opens its doors

Senior Home Affairs Correspondent

PC Simon Harwood faces a misconduct panel over the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests.

PC Simon Harwood (Reuters)

Today will see a first, a Metropolitan Police misconduct hearing held in public. Well almost.

Fifteen seats have been set aside for those keen to witness police judging police. There are 10 allocated for the family of Ian Tomlinson, whose death has already been the subject of two public hearings, an inquest and a trial.

Finally there are four seats which have been allocated to journalists and another 14 in an annex where they will be able to view proceedings on a screen. But public access is not simply walking through a door and into a lift.

The inquiry’s being held in a dedicated room of the 14th floor of a secure office block in west London which houses much of the Met’s core business. So identities will be checked against a list which due to demand was closed some time ago.

Public access is, to say the least, limited.

Not a rerun of the trial

It is only the second time in the UK a police disciplinary hearing has opened its doors to public scrutiny. It has come about because the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has used its powers to compel the Met to hold the hearing in public. The force itself has no powers to do this.

What the selected audience will see will be unique, something of a cross between a General Medical Council hearing and a court martial.

The three-man panel will be chaired by a police commander, who will decide firstly on the facts of PC Harwood’s case before deciding if his baton swipe at Mr Tomlinson and his shove to the ground amounted to unreasonable force. PC Harwood’s behaviour that fateful day at the G20 demonstrations in 2009, including violent confrontations with other demonstrators, will also be examined in detail.

An inquest jury ruled Mr Tomlinson’s death was unlawful but a criminal trial jury declared the police constable not guilty of manslaughter. They were not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt the evidence stacked up.

Very similar evidence will be put before the misconduct panel. The bar for proof is lower but what must be proved is whether the officer’s actions “seriously undermine public confidence in policing.”

This is not a rerun of the trial. The Tomlinson family will be allowed through their lawyer to propose questions the panel may put to PC Harwood. It is almost the last throw of the dice for the family in their quest for justice.

If the panel decide that PC Harwood’s actions amounted to gross misconduct then there are a range of penalties from reprimand, to written warning to dismissal.

In the past year (Aug 2011- Aug 2012) 50 of 79 Met officers brought up before a gross misconduct board have been sacked, 14 given final warnings, four written warnings, and 10 where the case was found not proven. There was no further action taken in the one remaining.

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