PC Harwood – are previous accusations relevant?

23 July 2012

On 19 July 2012, PC Harwood was acquitted of the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in 2009.  The judgment at Southwark Crown Court was at odds with the Coroner’s verdict of unlawful killing, returned at the Old Bailey in May 2011. 

Press coverage of the story over the weekend has lighted on the existence of five lever arch personnel files held by the Metropolitan police, documenting a “litany of complaints” recorded against PC Harwood, many involving accusations of excessive force and violent behaviour.  The jury in the criminal trial had not seen this material after the judge ruled it inadmissible under the bad character provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

In light of the existence of these complaints, Deborah Glass of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has criticised the Metropolitan Police Force for their "simply staggering" decision to re-employ PC Harwood.  It emerged that he had retired from the force as a method of avoiding a disciplinary hearing in relation to one of these complaints, but he had been subsequently re-employed in a civilian role before his successful application for a uniformed role specialising in public order.

From an employer’s point of view, it is apparent that the Metropolitan Police Force was less than diligent in checking PC Harwood’s disciplinary records and they have acknowledged the same in response to the IPCC’s criticism.  Where someone retires immediately prior to a disciplinary hearing, this would seem to be worthy of further inquiry before re-employing them.

However, although as mentioned, the acquittal of PC Harwood was at odds with the Coroner’s verdict of unlawful killing, on the issue of whether “the personnel file” was disclosable to the jury, the Coroner and Mr Justice Fulford were in agreement.  Both ruled that the material was not admissible.  Whilst perplexing and agonising for the family of the Mr Tomlinson, their decision was surely right.  For if reports in the press are accurate, of the ten complaints documented against PC Harwood, only one was upheld.  The juries’ opinion of PC Harwood would have been coloured by what remained only as unfounded allegations and accusation.

The information is now in the public domain but in any case, the question of what part the material will play in PC Harwoods’ upcoming misconduct hearing before the Metropolitan police service will likely have a different answer.

Mary Page and Sian Jones 

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On September 17th 2012 Mary Page commented:

UPDATE: PC Harwood has today been found guilty of gross misconduct by a Metropolitan police disciplinary panel, resulting in dismissal with summary effect. PC Harwood made admissions in respect of hitting Mr Tomlinson on the thigh with a baton and pushing him which caused him to fall to the ground. He also accepted the discredit his actions had brought to the MPS and that this amounted to gross misconduct. Reports in the press suggest that the family will seek judicial review of the disciplinary panel's decision NOT to consider whether those acts admitted caused or contributed to Mr Tomlinson's death, or alternatively to pursue a civil case in order to get a judgment on that question. With the recent reports of a police cover up in respect of the Hillsborough disaster, Mr Tomlinson's family are likely to feel that they have a fair wind for continuing to press the issue.

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