LONDON (Reuters) - A police officer accused of killing a newspaper seller at anti-capitalist G20 protests in London in 2009 was cleared by a jury on Thursday in a case that raised wider questions about recruitment policies at the capital’s police force.
Police Constable Simon Harwood had been charged with the manslaughter of 47-year-old Ian Tomlinson who collapsed and died on the fringes of the demonstrations in central London.
At the end of a four-week trial at Southwark Crown Court the jury found Harwood not guilty.
Tomlinson had become caught up in the protests near the Bank of England as he tried to make his way home.
Video footage taken by an American tourist showed Harwood, wearing a riot helmet, pushing Tomlinson over shortly before he collapsed on a nearby street.
The case attracted widespread public interest, with critics condemning an original decision not to prosecute Harwood.
An initial post-mortem recorded that Tomlinson had died from a heart attack, but two further autopsies showed the cause of death to be internal bleeding.
Prosecutors finally charged Harwood after an inquest jury in May 2011 found that Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed. That jury had found that Harwood used “excessive and unreasonable” force in hitting Tomlinson with a baton and that he had posed no threat at the time.
Despite his acquittal, Harwood will now face a public misconduct hearing in September, the Independent Police Complaints Commission watchdog (IPCC) said.
“It is clear that significant questions remain in connection with his actions on the day Ian Tomlinson died,” said IPCC deputy chair Deborah Glass.
London’s Metropolitan Police in addition had questions to answer over its employment of Harwood, who had also worked for Surrey Police, she added.
“PC Harwood was able to retire from the Metropolitan Police while facing disciplinary proceedings for previous alleged misconduct towards a member of the public,” she said.
“That he was then re-employed by the force, first in a civilian role and later as a constable, is simply staggering and raises considerable concerns about their vetting procedures,” Glass added.
The Met Police said it had made “huge changes” to its vetting process following the case.
“It is clear that insufficient recording and checks meant that detailed information regarding the officer’s misconduct history was not shared at key points. We got that wrong,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner.
Tomlinson’s stepson Paul King described Thursday’s verdict as a “joke” and said the family would continue to seek justice through the civil courts.
“In April 2009, along with everyone else, we saw the shocking video of Ian being violently assaulted by PC Harwood, just minutes before he died,” he told reporters.
“After the unlawful killing verdict at the inquest last year we expected to hear a guilty verdict, not a not-guilty verdict. It really hurts,” King added in an emotional statement outside the court.
Reporting by Tim Castle