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Rene Kinzett

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

July 27th, 2010 by René Kinzett

The case of Pc Harwood and Ian Tomlinson makes this Liberal Conservative very unhappy indeed. Since the days of regular “police brutality” cases in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the standards of policing, the professionalisation of the constabularies and the improved level of official and media accountability, we have come to expect certain levels of behaviour from those we pay to hold the office of a fully attested constable.

Since the Damian Green arrest at the end of 2007 and the G20 protests of 2009, many questions have been raised about the nature of policing in Britain. The scenes at both the incident which preceded the death of Mr Tomlinson and the subsequent handling of a memorial gathering, were reminiscent of police behaviour in a Cold War Eastern European dictatorship. It may seem like a small matter, but even the dress of the modern police constable in the UK seems to be getting more paramilitary, even when not in full “riot gear”. The traditional form of British policing seems, as in previous depatures from the founding principles of a civial police force, to have been broken on the baton of a new breed of rather exuberant officers keen to demonstrate rather too literally the strong arm of the law.

The unravelling details of the case now point to the Pc who struck Mr Tomlinson to the ground, Pc Simon Harwood, had a rather less than exemplary record. The pathologist the CPS cited as having given them cause to believe that a successful prosecution against Pc Harwood would be unlikely is, himself, under investigation relating to serious complaints about his findings in other cases. Dr Julian Lewis, the Conservative MP, challenged the Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, on this latter point in the Commons yesterday. Whichever way one cuts this chain of events, the rubber stamp given by Grieve to the CPS for having acted with “complete propriety in investigating this matter” appears a little generous.

At least now there is the prospect of a disciplinary investigation by the Met against Pc Harwood. The Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, seemed rather more than sympathetic with the public concern about the lack of action against Pc Harwood when he told the Home Affairs Select Committee this morning, that:

“I do fully understand the Tomlinson family and public sense of anger having seen the video of the incident prior to the death of Ian Tomlinson.”

These may be trying and difficult times for those charged with maintaining the Queen’s Peace, but if this is being done in such a way as to alienate the Bobbies from the public, then these efforts will be counter-productive. The concept of British policing is based on one of “policing by consent” and systems of accountability and regulation have been well developed since the Metropolitan Police were created by Peel in 1829. However, increased powers given to police under anti-terrorism laws, the potential for misuse and abuse becomes heightened and attitudes and cultures from senior officers through to the rank and file will be seriously affected.
As a committed conservative, I am sceptical of the state and suspicious of the exercise of power. It has sometimes been seen that the duty of the “conservative”-minded citizen to support the police, right or wrong. All good conservatives must now stand back and re-examine our attitudes towards policing in the UK, to ensure that we create a constabulary that is more professional, more accountable and more in-touch with its founding principles.

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