The Independent Police Complaints Commission today cleared police of covering up details of Ian Tomlinson’s death and misleading the media.
However, the IPCC did admit that without the video evidence of Tomlinson being pushed to the ground – which was obtained by The Guardian – there might not have been a criminal investigation into his killing. And it does detail how The Guardian was asked to take damning video footage down from its website and how a police press officer asked journalists not to contact the Tomlinson family, even though this was not something they had asked for.
Deputy chair of the IPCC Deborah Glass said: ‘There is no doubt of the crucial role played by the media in obtaining evidence that has proved to be vital to the IPCC in its investigation into Mr Tomlinson’s death.
‘It may well be the case that, but for this evidence, Mr Tomlinson’s death may not have resulted in the criminal investigation that was launched by the IPCC on 8 April.’
Ian Tomlinson’s wife complained to investigators that: ‘It was only on the 5th April that we started to learn more about what had actually happened on the day Ian died and instead of coming from the police we were hearing things through the papers and [Guardian journalist] Paul Lewis from the Guardian.’
The report concluded that those responsible for the investigation – the IPCC and City of London (CoLP) Police – only obtained the ‘crucial evidence’after the media had actually published it.
The investigation found no evidence any press officer or police officer was responsible for agreeing media lines set out to mislead anyone. It also found no evidence the police tried covering up the circumstances of Tomlinson’s death.
However, new evidence brought to light by The Guardian today is set to prompt a new inquiry. It found that evidence from three police officers who witnessed the fatal shove of Ian Tomlinson was witheld.
Press officer ‘wrong and uncaring’
Shortly after Tomlinson died an agreement was reached between the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and CoLP that the latter would take the lead role in investigating the death.
Today’s report states that on 2 April, the day after the incident, CoLP media liaison officer Rebecca Sandles took over control of media handling.
It reveals that in a call with a Guardian reporter, Sandles said that Tomlinson had ‘health issues’and that, in the circumstances, the family ‘were not surprised’by his death.
The report said she acknowledged this ‘sounded wrong and uncaring”, and that she ‘clarified to say they were of course shocked, as anyone would be at death of family member, but were not surprised, given the history of health issues”.
Later in the day a reporter from the Daily Mirror called the IPCC press office questioning the involvement of the IPCC and asking if it meant ‘something dodgy’was going on.
Press officer Trish Keville responded: ‘Don’t read into things. It doesn’t indicate anything of the sort. We are currently carrying out an assessment of the CCTV and will be in a better place to say after the PM -post-mortem] as to whether we need to get involved any further.”
On the morning of 2 April, Guardian journalist Paul Lewis, who had attended the protest, obtained photographs of Ian Tomlinson lying at the feet of police officers.
Journalists told not to contact Tomlinson family
On 3 April the Tomlinson family visited the spot where Ian Tomlinson had died. Sandles was also in attendance and gave the following account to investigators:
‘The family had just paid a visit to the site of Mr Tomlinson’s death and seen the shrine. His wife had got emotional and angry at scene and apparently pulled down some of the comments left by others.
‘At that time, I judged that the family were extremely wary of media coverage of the case. They had of course been footage and images of Mr Tomlinson being treated by police and medics plastered across the web/rolling news.’
Following the meeting, Sandles prepared a draft ‘if asked’ line relating to Tomlinson’s post-mortem that said: ‘The family paid a private visit to the Bank Junction area today, Friday 3rd April.
‘They were upset that Mr Tomlinson continues to be linked to the G20 protest. The result of the post mortem is unlikely to be released until Saturday. The family do not wish to be contacted by the media.”
The lines were cleared and given to journalists contacting the CoLP press office.
The report described another incident in which IPCC deputy senior investigator Chris Mahaffey and a family liaison officer visited the Guardian after it published video footage of Tomlinson being shoved to the ground by a police officer.
The report says Mahaffey went to explain why ‘broadcasting the evidence could be prejudicial to the investigation, in that it may impact on a future criminal prosecution, and it would inhibit his ability to test the truthfulness of an account during any criminal interview with a suspect police officer”.
The paper said it had had no intention of removing the footage and disagreed that publication was prejudicial. Mahaffey was then handed a cd containing the footage.
‘No police attempt to mislead’
Today’s report concludes: ‘This investigation has found no evidence that any of the officers in command of the operation on 1 April, who were responsible for agreeing the police’s media lines, knew of any physical contact between Mr Tomlinson and police, other than the first aid administered by MPS medics following his collapse on Cornhill, on the evening of 1 April.”
It also found that there was no evidence to ‘support the allegation that the publication of the post mortem findings was a deliberate attempt to mislead”, and that the results of the first post-mortem – which found Tomlinson died of a heart attack – played a crucial role in the ‘alleged misinformation”.
It added: ‘This investigation found no evidence that any police or press officer set out to mislead anyone.’
The report makes two recommendation for the CoLP press office:
‘By comparison to communications staff within the MPS, CoLP press office staff had fewer, less experienced personnel and no computerised media logging system. In this case they were ill-prepared for dealing with a major incident.
‘CoLP should consider the need for a computerised system, which should be accessible away from the office and allow the press officer to check all of the media enquiries received.
‘CoLP should also consider the need for a written protocol on the handling of incoming information by their press office, particularly that which relates to an ongoing major investigation. Information such as the existence of photographs should be passed directly to the SIO for their attention and any further action.”
Responding to the recommendations, a spokesperson at the CoLP press office said: “As a result of an internal review into media handling, City of London Police’s media office introduced a computerised system for logging media calls in January 2010.
“The media office is considering how best to implement the IPCC’s recommendation for a formal system to handle information about crimes or incidents which come directly to the media office.”
They added: “City of London Police has fully supported and co-operated with the independent IPCC investigations into the circumstances surrounding the death of Ian Tomlinson and media handling. The force welcomes the publication of the reports and will consider any identified organisational learning.”
Met Police welcomes report findings
A statement from the Met said: ‘The Met welcomes the IPCC findings which include that there was no evidence concerning complaints that officers failed to protect Mr Tomlinson from assault and subsequently no case to answer in relation to misconduct.
‘In addition, complaints about the conduct of MPS officers around Royal Exchange Buildings and alleged failures in first aid were not upheld and the report rightly acknowledges that broader lessons following G20 have been addressed by the MPS.
“The IPCC has also found today that there was no evidence any MPS police or press officer attempted to mislead.
“Since the incident there have been claims that the MPS denied there was prior police contact with Mr Tomlinson. The report finds there is no evidence of this.
“The report concerning information supplied to the pathologists by an MPS officer found that although incorrect information was given this was an honestly held belief and there was no evidence of intent to mislead and no lasting damage to the investigation.
“These are important findings for the MPS. These investigations have dealt with a series of complaints in a thorough and fair process, which we have fully supported.”
The IPCC investigation was led by Alex Louis, a ‘communications specialist’ and former acting director at the IPCC.