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Wednesday, March 31, 2010 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

If, like me, you occasionally find yourself thinking that this is an uncertain world and that there's very little we can be sure of, both in a mental and physical sense, then the last couple of days have provided a wonderful counterpoint. First up turns Tony Blair, as large as life itself and twice as ugly, still performing the same old shtick about how the Tories are vacuous and the Labour party is an intellectual behemoth that continues to be right about everything, then we have Gordon Brown's latest speech on immigration, treading the sensitive line between common sense and racism, telling all those thousands of layabout migrants that they can fuck off (I may have paraphrased this slightly), next there's the usual Britain's gone mad story which doesn't dwell on the finer details, and lastly, we have a police officer acquitted of assaulting a protester, in a turn of events that absolutely everyone predicted.

You could really leave the video itself to do the talking in the versus match which was Sergeant Delroy Smellie against benefits claimant Nicola Fisher, which in terms of fairness was even more unbalanced than Ricky Hatton against Manny Pacquiao. That's never stopped me from spitting out hundreds of words in the past though, so no reason to do that now. The footage really does set the scene: at a protest hastily arranged in the memory of Ian Tomlinson, the police had decided that their actions of the previous day, pushing over people who were daring to walk in front of them with their backs turned and sending in riot cops against an completely peaceful environmental camp hadn't already blackened their name enough, and so they were refusing to let those attending the vigil leave. One man remonstrating with the police for refusing to let him exit their cordon is grabbed and pushed back twice for no apparent reason; meanwhile, the supremely threatening Ms Fisher, not using the most diplomatic of language and not perhaps behaving in a completely helpful manner but nonetheless hardly likely to suddenly slash Smellie's throat is first slapped and then hit twice with a baton for her intransigence.

The prosecution's case, it has to be admitted, was not helped by Fisher herself deciding not to give evidence. Having already sold her to story to, of all papers, the Daily Star, with the help of Max Clifford, as well as claiming that the attack was completely unprovoked, which as the video evidence shows it clearly wasn't, she probably also wouldn't have made the most credible of witnesses. She claims to be suffering from depression, which she might well be, but I think even if I was in the pits of despair I would have made the effort to attend court to try to get someone who had attacked me in such a way convicted. It's also hard not to wonder just how hard they were trying though when the prosecution itself, according to the Graun, called witnesses that were hardly helpful to their case, emphasising that Fisher was "hyperactive", "erratic" and "playing up to the cameras". All probably true, but again, the level of Smellie's reaction is difficult to justify.

The most ridiculous evidence was however given by Smellie himself, which seems to have varied from the embarrassing for a man of his size, claiming that no video or photographs came close to "reflecting the fear" he felt as the crowd got closer to him and the officers, of which there is no indication whatsoever in the video, through to the myopic, having failed to identify that rather than carrying "weapons" she was in fact holding those deadly tools a camera and a carton of orange juice, the utterly fanciful, like his apparent thought that Fisher was deliberately coming at him from his blind spot, and then finally the smugly boastful which was presumably his attempt at showing just how restrained he was, telling the court that he could have broken Fisher's jaw if he'd used an "authorised" elbow strike, or if he'd instead hit her arm rather than her thigh how he could easily have "snapped it".

Ultimately, it's difficult to disagree with the judge when she ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove that Smellie had not used lawful self-defence. It's also equally difficult though to imagine someone who isn't a police officer being acquitted on similar lines when they had been provoked in exactly the same way in a town or city centre on a Friday or Saturday night and responded with a smack in the face and then a couple of kicks or punches. That to me seems the test to which the police in such circumstances should be tested. Smellie acted in the way he did because he was certain, despite the emergence of citizen journalism, that there was no way he would ever be reprimanded for resorting to violence when there was no real need to do so. He's been incredibly unlucky in being prosecuted, as undoubtedly some of his colleagues on the previous day behaved in an even less justifiable way and have completely got away with it. No police officer has even been disciplined for failing to show their badge numbers on last year's G20 protests, something which tells you all you need to know to about the lessons learned and how the police will conduct themselves in the future, safe in the knowledge that they can beat up anyone who steps even slightly out of line while exercising their democratic right to protest and face no consequences whatsoever.

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I read about this today, your blog is a fine companion piece (much needed) to most of the press reportage.

Pretty unbelievable really, esp. to see the grinning idiot strolling from the hearing.

A fine post illustrating exactly how the police are the mercenaries of the system and as such protected by it.

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