|Written by Michael Grieve|
|24 Aug 2010|
The camera's strength is its ability to fix a spontaneous moment but with that apparent freedom comes a host of difficult decisions and responsibilties that can transport the photograph and its author into alien contexts . The portability of the camera can make the medium appear deceptively easy and yet the potential power of visual documentation can be incredibly vital to any given notion of the ‘truth’. However, the ‘truth’ is often the hardest thing to prove and photographs are possessed of limitations in this regard. Those photographers who are on the ground - photojournalists, press, documentary - are always faced with moral and ethical issues, and probably more now than at any other time, as the very act of photographing can be deemed anti social and threatening in a paranoid society based on fear.
I found myself photographing the G20 demonstrations in London last year. My reason to be there was mainly curiosity and also to supply images for Agence VU in Paris. I am not a press photographer but having worked in the distant past for newspapers it was nothing new for me to be at yet another demonstration. I had the luxury of using a medium format camera and really just wanted to do my own thing, to represent the G20 without any pressing editorial concerns. I was fully aware of the significance of this demonstration, that here was a major global event of world leaders, coming together in London to determine our futures at a time of major recession brought on by a culture of easy temptation and perpetual debt and the greed of incompetent bankers in a consumer world gone mad. The symbolic nature of a political demonstration in one of the world’s two financial centres was uniquely poignant. Protected in the buildings above were those very bankers, enjoying the fruits of their self awarded bonuses.
Entering the City of London amidst the noise and energy of demonstrators felt oddly disconcerting. An unusual juxtaposition between the steely modern architecture and imperium of London’s past clashed with the ragtag protestors temporarily laying claim to the streets. Helicopters hovered overhead. Here was a concentration of frustration, a vain gesture of protest, still endured in our regressive democracy. City workers navigated their way through the riot police; defiant Saville Row suits with red faces strutted through the crowds. Divisions rubbed shoulders in a tense atmosphere of expectation.
I wandered the streets, looking for meaning. I walked down Cornhill where I stumbled into a movie scene reminiscent of rebelling ancient Roman citizens attempting to storm the emperor’s palace. Demonstrators were halted from their goal, the Bank of England, temptingly a stones throw away. The police had enacted the usual tactic of containment. A few, so called Anarchists, provoked the line of shields with taunts, empty slogans and pointed fingers. The odd shove into the gritted teeth of police officers, eager to utilise their training, was the signal for ‘counter’ attack. The police scratched their itch and advanced in a blur of batons hitting indiscriminately into the crowd, blood splats forming patterns mid air. The press photographers snapped, eagerly capturing the drama, pictures instantly being sent to picture desks around the globe. The fury stops. Further away from their destination the motley demonstrators provoke again, fuelled by adrenalin and utter contempt for the uniforms. Same happens again. More blood, more reasons to hate. And then again.
To the right of me the police confidently cordoned off the approach pulling, yet goading their snarling German Shepherds eager to be released, barking their way down Royal Exchange Passage. No taunts from the cheeky protesters against these dog loving coppers, just a wide berth. The Metropolitan Police’s Territorial Support Group backed up the dog patrol. At this point my attention was diverted towards a scene of demonstrators who were arguing with two men in pinstripes though it turned out the suited men were protestors in disguise. At the periphery of my vision I was aware of a scuffle and went to investigate. An unusual scene presented itself that demanded to be photographed, a middle aged man sitting on the pavement looking up to the police and obviously verbalising his disdain. The police ignored him as two demonstrators attempted to help him to his feet. I took one photograph and moved on. I took another one of the Territorial Support Group to the right of this incident to get a full picture of the scene. In amongst them was a police officer who had hidden his facial identity skulking in the back. I thought nothing of it.
PC Simon Horwood stands in the back center of the frame above, with two hands holding a club and the lower part of his face covered. The two frames above were made moments apart.
About five minutes later, farther up Cornhill, the man who had been remonstrating with the police was now lying on the pavement on his back, eyes fixated, with police paramedics, at this point, fighting to save his life. Moments before the paramedics arrived, an ITV news photographer had been prevented from giving first aid by police as was a third year medical student and a social support worker who had called the ambulance service (who requested to speak to the police). The life saving request was consequently ignored. My observations were that demonstrators were not impeding the police paramedics; certainly no missiles were being thrown as was initially stated by the police. I took more photographs of the scene as dusk set in before moving on.
I heard from friends a few days later that I could be seen in some footage, obtained by the Guardian and shot by an investment fund manager on business from New York. I could be seen taking a photograph of Ian Tomlinson as he sat on the pavement protesting against the unflinching police. This incredible piece of citizen journalism revealed the reason why Tomlinson was sitting on the pavement, and was to be crucial in contradicting the original police post-mortem that Tomlinson had died of a heart attack - and therefore ‘natural causes’. It clearly shows that he was the victim of an unprovoked attack from PC Simon Horwood.
The footage speaks for itself, but making the connection between the attack and subsequent fall to the conclusion that Tomlinson died from internal bleeding - as determined by the second post-mortem demanded by the Tomlinson family - was to prove the major issue. The discrepancy between the two post-mortems was enough for the CPS to decide that there was not enough conclusive evidence against PC Horwood. Despite the fact that a third post-mortem agreed with the second - that Tomlinson did not die of a heart attack but of internal bleeding as a result of blunt force trauma to the abdomen - due to him falling on his elbow - as the pathologist Dr Nathaniel Cary concluded this had ‘impacted in the area of his liver causing an internal bleed which led to his death a few minutes later.’
It was Gigi Giannuzzi from Trolley Books who suggested I contact the solicitors representing the Tomlinson family and as a result the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), who were investigating the incident, eventually contacted me and requested a statement and the use of my photographs in building a case. The investigating officers told me that they only had the power to ask me to volunteer information. Technically independent, the IPCC have been under attack for sympathies towards the police. Indeed, some of those within the IPCC were police officers. The history of the IPCC is not great. Since its inception it has failed to convict a police officer of murder or manslaughter for a death following police contact despite there having been more than 400 such deaths in the past 10 years. This figure also involves deaths in road traffic collisions, where the deceased was a driver being pursued by the police. Also, the Police Action Lawyers Group, consisting of over 100 lawyers who specialise in handling police complaints, resigned from the IPCC’s advisory body, complaining that the IPCC acted favourably towards the police and that complaints were being rejected despite powerful evidence in their support.
Given this knowledge and the total absence of any other legal body dealing with the case, I decided to volunteer my photographs and provide a statement in support of the photographs. The investigating officers told me that they had collated a huge archive of photographs and footage that built up a picture of events before, during and after the attack on Tomlinson. They also told me they had CCTV footage. It should be noted that the IPCC initially claimed, back in April 2009, that there was no CCTV footage of the assault on as there were no CCTV cameras in the area. The Evening Standard who showed photographs of at least six CCTV cameras in the area proved this wrong. The IPCC were forced to reverse its position and footage was indeed found.
I had photographed with film, and the images that the IPCC felt were relevant to the investigation were chosen from the contact sheets clearly showing the chronology of events without any possible digital intervention. These included some 35mm black and white images that I took when Tomlinson was dying (I took these with flash with my point and shoot as it was getting dark). The interview took place in June 2009 at the IPCC offices in central London in the presence of the two investigating officers. They recorded the interview and asked me to recall the day’s events as I remembered them. On a map I marked out areas from where I had took each photograph. The interview was made into a statement that I was asked to read through, amend if necessary, and then sign. They told me that once a case had been made, my presence would probably be required at the Old Bailey to give evidence in accordance with my photographs. I then went home and made high-res scans of the relevant photographs and burned them onto a CD which I then handed in to the IPCC a few days later. At this point I sent my negatives to Agence VU in Paris for extra safe keeping, a little paranoid perhaps that the police would demand them from me.
One of the photographs clearly shows, when blown up, that PC Horwood was not wearing his serial number. Apparently the IPCC did not have sufficient visual material to reach this conclusion, as the numbers are silver against the yellow fluorescent jackets. Photographs with fill-in flash obliterate this detail and photographs from phones obviously do not have the quality. Other clues they were looking for included evidence of blood coming from Tomlinson and whether he had any marks on his skin.
I made the decision to supply the IPCC with my images as I felt it was the only possible avenue available to convict PC Horwood. My complicity with the IPCC was entirely necessary despite my reservations about their loyalties and ultimate effectiveness. Having seen the Guardian footage it was clear in my mind that this abuse of power and vicious attack killed Tomlinson; this surely was the commonsense conclusion. The effectiveness of my photographs in newspapers and magazines was dampened by the speedy publication of press pictures representing the same scenes, and I wanted my photographs to be used in some positive way. Even if my pictures had been published I still would have supplied them to the IPCC. The decision was mine to take and I felt that this particular situation was beyond the independence of the photographer and was serious enough to cast such ideals aside to achieve a higher aim. Much to my disgust, this higher aim did not occur.
My role in this, what has become a farce, is relatively minor. My photographs were part of a jigsaw that probably shed little light on events. But due to my minor involvement, the decision made by the CPS has angered me more than it perhaps would have otherwise. I always understood that it was going to be difficult to charge PC Horwood with manslaughter but I did not expect that he would be charged with nothing. I am not naive to the power and interests of authority, and you could almost imagine the high-level phone calls being made to handicap the proceedings made against PC Horwood. A conviction against Horwood would have had huge consequences on the role and actions of the police in England, working against their interests and current practice. It is obvious that we are not all equal under the law. Imagine if Tomlinson had been a banker making his way home, or if a protestor had attacked a police officer immediately before his death?
But photography did not fail that day. It recorded evidence as best it could from professionals, amateurs, to the unauthored CCTV. All photographers acted with total professionalism, doing their job, and not, as the police may these days accuse us, acting like potential terrorists or paedophiles, or whatever they decide to pull out of the hat. It goes with out saying that the only individual who unleashed terror this particular day at G20 was wearing a police uniform with his face partially obscured and failing to wear his serial number. And though he may be reprimanded internally by the police force he has, in effect, got away with it. And we citizens have to fight our corner and watch our backs.
Michael Grieve is deputy editor of 1000 Words Contemporary Photography Magazine
All images above © Michael Grieve
Inside the Kettle. G20 Demonstration, London. April 2009. © Andrew Testa
Andrew Testa, whose image from the G20 protests, above, is in the Foto8 Summershow, will donate his proceeds from the sale of the Summershow print to the Ian Tomlinson Family Campaign.