Tomlinson and photography: Cops with nothing to hide will have nothing to fear

Saturday, April 11, 2009 13:30 | Filed in Crime & Policing, Media, Politics

I’ll start with the Daily Mail, which I’d normally take the trouble to disagree with. However, I’m big enough to overcome my innate prejudice against them when they say something I agree with, and in relation to whether or not Ian Tomlinson had been drinking, the Daily Mail hit the nail on the head.

And little by little, the ‘truth’ has dripped out about Ian Tomlinson, the man who died after being struck by police during the G20 riots. He was (wait for it) wearing a Millwall shirt. He was (now steady yourselves) smoking a cigarette. He appeared to be (and I’m sorry but you may need to lie down after this) drunk. Well, stone me guv, he had it coming to him. [...]

It is not a criminal offence to have a few sherbets on your way home. Such an activity is, in fact, precisely the mundane, innocent existence the police are in place to protect. There’s a dangerous misconception about the law enforcement agencies. They are increasingly being perceived as being on the streets to serve the State. They are not. They are there for us. To protect us. To look after us.[...]

Scruffy, potless or a season ticket holder at the New Den, he was the sort of person the police are meant to safeguard: an ordinary guy going about his day. Instead, I would suggest they pretty much killed him.

Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail online

Contrast this with, say, The Sun, who maintained the Tomlinson was drunk approach and then managed to censor their own discussion boards by pulling a thread entitled THE MURDER OF IAN TOMLINSON BY THE LEGALISED THUGS. Of course, not before much of it was cached by Google (if you look hard enough, you can resurrect most of the thread — I found 21 cached pages).

The Sun, fighting for the British public. Or at least that section of the public who are prepared to go along with what they want you to think. But I am encouraged by the Mail, who seem to be lashing back at the police, after realising that if you trust what the Met tell you, you could well end up with egg on your face.

But one of the things that Tomlinson has become is effectively a figurehead; a single person representing the police brutality at the G20 protest. What I am most concerned about are the police lies and the fact that the law serves to protect officers from this misconduct.

Tim from Bloggerheads tells us (as well as showing the video of police blocking the ambulances to Tomlinson — remember: we were initially led to believe that it was the protesters who held up the ambulance. More pro-police lies) that two of the things that specifically concern him were the attempts at a cover up both of police actions and of police identities.

For example, did you know that the ‘Independent’ IPCC called, with the police, and asked The Guardian to remove the video of Tomlinson being shoved to the ground from their website? Yes, the so-called independent police complaints commission seeking to prevent evidence about potential police abuses reaching the public eye. Precisely how independent is this? Can we really have any faith in their investigation?

Secondly, he points out that the police were masked with their badge numbers obscured. That’s why we didn’t know who had struck and shoved Ian Tomlinson until they came forward. Why do the police need to be anonymous, and unidentifiable even to their superiors? In order to protect them from accusations of law-breaking. This should not be allowed.

I am concerned that the righteous indignation about Ian Tomlinson’s death (police brutality, lies, lies, coverup — crap coverup, admittedly — lies, lies, attempted suppression of evidence) is distracting from other elements of police brutality. Was this brutality? Was this? What about this…

Suddenly, a policeman threw a punch at the face of a male man, who raised his right arm to try and block the punch (NO retaliation, merely a block). Immediately, 3 officers threw him up against the scaffolding, knocked him to the ground and beat him with their batons.


We need anyone who feels that they were assaulted by the police, or who witnessed an assault by the police to come forward and report it to the IPCC. I don’t really have any sympathy for anyone who was themselves being violent, but anyone else assaulted needs to report this. Someone with the time and inclination couuld even set up a database to track these reports.

Let’s not allow the police to get away with one scapegoat who was unfortunate enough to strike someone with a heart condition. Let’s ensure that every officer who assaulted someone faces the consequences. Let’s ensure that every officer knows that if they break the law — even if a superior tells them to — that they may face prosecution.

And let’s make it clear that if the officer is not showing their badge number, they aren’t in uniform. And therefore you should not be expected to follow their instructions.

While I’ve mentioned this before, the G20 protest has brought back to the fore exactly where the law stands on taking photos of the police. Graham Linehan demonstrated why they want to make it a crime to take photographs of the police.

There’s a comment on ChickYog which suggests that the legislation isn’t meant to be interpreted this way:

It is clear that it does not prevent people taking photos of the police, and to suggest that it does will either promote paranoia, or make people fearful of taking photos. Neither of which is a good outcome.


However, and this is rather a crucial point, irrespective of what it is supposed to mean, it is quite clear that police are using their authority (whether legally or otherwise) to prevent photos being taken.

people are told to delete photos of officers from their cameras, under the threat of seizure.


The Metropolitan Police is apologising to press photographers covering last week’s G20 protests after BJP questioned why they had been prevented from covering a key incident during clashes outside the Bank of England.

British Journal of Photography

It is irrelevant whether or not the police are supposed to prevent people taking photos. The actuality of it is that they do prevent people taking photos. Apologising after the event is no good — what would have happened if there had been no footage of the police with Ian Tomlinson? They would have got away with it.

That’s why the law on this issue needs to be clearer. Again, kudos to another newspaper I wouldn’t normally recommend…

Campaigners say the fact that the footage is at the centre of the investigation into Mr Tomlinson’s death shows that the public must be free to photograph or film officers on duty. The Government installed the ban in February under a strengthening of the Counter-terrorism Act.

It made it an offence to take photographs of police officers, military personnel or members of the intelligence services “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. Anyone found guilty faces up to 10 years in prison and a heavy fine.


…for not only highlighting the petition to allow people to photo the police on duty (although I think that given the policing at the G20, photographing them on duty shouldn’t just be allowed, it should be mandatory — people seeking to prevent photos of police action being taken should be the ones criminalised) but also pointing out how the official account of events changed over time.

Remember that people want us to carry ID cards. Why should the police not show ID? Remember that when people complain about lots of CCTV, or surveillance, we are told, “those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear”.

So, as the Register points out…

privacy activists will feel that the cops have been hoisted by their own petard this time, with professional and amateur snappers deploying video technology exposing allegedly heavy handed policing. “Cops with nothing to hide will have nothing to fear,” they might argue.

The Register

So take a moment out of your day to sign this petition. If you witnessed unwarranted police violence, take a moment out of your day to make a complaint. And remember, we can no longer believe anything just because the police say so.

For example, the big ‘terrorist threat’ with arrests in the north-west. This may well have been a genuine threat (indeed, I am prepared to actually assume that the intelligence acted on was good, and work from the starting point that it was), but the information fed into the media would seeming have us believe that they simply must be terrorists because…

  • many of them are students,
  • many of them are Pakistani nationals, and
  • they were taking photographs of Manchester locations

And this despite…

Police are not thought to have recovered any explosive devices during their searches and BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said his understanding was that the alleged plot had been at the “aspirational, not operational” stage.

BBC News: Anti terror searches continuing

Sorry? Hadn’t we just been told that…

One Whitehall source said the police feared attacks were planned for the Easter weekend.

The Guardian: student visa terror arrests link

So which is it? Was the intelligence wrong? Heh, it’s a good job we don’t go to war on that sort of basis…

Whether there was, or there was not a terror plot, I don’t know. What I do know is that the story has changed, again. What I do know is that the information which has been put in the public domain was that these people were taking photos of Manchester landmarks. This, so far as I am aware, is not proof that they were engaged in terrorist activity.

In this case I would obviously rather that the police erred on the side of caution; better to temporarily hold a few innocents (assuming you can quickly establish innocence or otherwise) than risk deaths and injuries to hundreds of people. So I’d like to make it clear I’m not critical of the police action, I’m just critical of this continuance of the ‘they must be terrorists because they were taking photographs’ line.

After all, there is no need for any potential terrorists to take photographs in public. They could just use Google Street View

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