- The Guardian, Saturday 11 April 2009
The Metropolitan police faces claims amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds if video and photographic evidence now under examination shows that officers launched unprovoked assaults on protesters during the G20 demonstrations.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission said it had received 120 complaints relating to police actions at the demonstrations. Any civil action through the courts must be preceded by complaints lodged with the IPCC.
Leading human rights lawyers are collating videos and photographs of alleged attacks by police on demonstrators, as well as hospital records, witness statements and testimony from legal observers who attended the protests and noted the badge numbers of officers who they claim were acting inappropriately.
Lawyers said many people had come forward after seeing a video obtained by the Guardian which showed newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson, 47, being knocked to the ground by a police officer moments before he died.
Stephen Cragg, a barrister at Doughty Street chambers, said yesterday: "If you come out of a protest with a serious injury then the police have to explain how that came about. Injured protesters might also be able to claim punitive damages, which will inflate the claims enormously if they can show there were serious levels of malpractice."
The Met said 124 people had been arrested over the three days of protests. It would not give details of the number charged, although only a handful of charges - relating to the incident in which a small group of protesters smashed windows and ransacked an RBS branch - have been announced publicly.
Anna Mazzola, a solicitor with the firm Hickman & Rose, said there had been a "considerable amount" of police violence at the protests, adding that the IPCC had to be seen to "investigate properly" any claims against officers.
Lawyers also warned that scrutiny over the IPCC's handling of complaints brought by injured protesters was likely to intensify because of the widespread criticism of its handling of the independent inquiry into the death of Tomlinson.
There is concern among some in the legal community that the IPCC will fail to assume responsibility for the investigations itself, allowing the Met or other police forces (the British transport police and the City of London police also face claims against their officers) to conduct the inquiries.
Cragg said: "If the IPCC decide to let the Metropolitan police conduct the investigations into complaints by other protesters, that would clearly be unsatisfactory and may well lead to judicial review challenges."
As the growing numbers of allegations of police brutality come to light, public interest in the cases could force the government to extend legal aid assistance to protesters, lawyers also said.
"The Legal Services Commission has a discretion to provide funding for cases where public interest in cases being litigated, even if costs disproportionately outweigh likely damages", said Paul Bowen, another barrister at Doughty Street chambers.
"The LSC might take the view that there is a public interest in litigation where allegations have been made against police forces."
Lawyers said still camera and video footage would be submitted as evidence. "The police and the IPCC will struggle to extricate officers if there is photographic evidence of assaults," Mazzola said.
There have also been serious complaints about the treatment of journalists by police at the G20 protests, including an agency photographer whose arm was allegedly broken by a truncheon swung by an officer.
The National Union of Journalists said last night that in six cases journalists had come forward with serious allegations against police, including unlawful detention and assault.
"I believe police will face significant payouts because of mistreatment and unprovoked assaults of journalists," said the NUJ's general secretary, Jeremy Dear. "Our lawyers are collecting statements and evidence in a bid to start drawing up cases."
The Met this week apologised to press photographers who were prevented from covering clashes between protesters and riot officers on 1 April.
Journalists claim the police used a part of the public order act designed to prevent "serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community" to force them to leave key areas of the protests or face arrest. Photographers felt they were being deliberately stopped from gathering potential evidence of police behaviour.
Judicial guidelines on injury damages
Loss of teeth: £700 to £7,250
Neck injuries (including whiplash): £850 to £5,000
Broken nose: £1,100 to £14,750
Minor head injury: £1,400 to £8,100
Fractured cheekbones: £1,500 to £10,100
Facial scarring: £1,100 to £62,000
Shoulder injuries: £3,250 to £30,750
The police response
The City of London police, the force in charge of the areas where the demonstrations took place, is carrying out an investigation into the 124 people arrested during the protests, a Scotland Yard spokesman said last night.
"Where, through viewing material this investigation highlights what is believed to be excessive force by officers, the [Metropolitan police's] directorate of professional standards will be made aware," he said. "Every officer is accountable under law, and fully aware of the scrutiny that their actions can be held open to. The decision to use force is made by the individual police officer, and they must account for that. If anybody wishes to complain about their treatment it is important that they do so to the most appropriate body so that the exact nature of what took place can be factually established. This is important for the confidence of Londoners but also for our officers."