Catriona Murdoch writes on the recent findings in the PC Harwood disciplinary tribunal.

PC Simon Harwood, the officer who struck Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests was found to have committed gross misconduct and was dismissed with immediate effect. The panel, sitting in public, found PC Harwood’s use of force could not have been justified.

The decision of the panel comes after two previous investigations into PC Harwood’s conduct. The first was the inquest in 2011, which returned on 3 May 2011 a verdict of unlawful killing. The second was the trial in 2012. On 19 July 2012, the jury after four days of deliberations acquitted PC Harwood of manslaughter. The family of Ian Tomlinson say they will now pursue a civil claim, it is unclear whether this will be against PC Harwood or the Metropolitan Police.

The apparent contradiction between the inquest and the trial has been ardently debated. The most recent decision of the disciplinary panel, which further inculpates PC Harwood, no doubt adds another layer of confusion for the family.

The disciplinary panel was initially tasked with investigating whether PC Harwood’s actions led to Tomlinson’s death in an attempt to reconcile the contradiction between the results of trial and the inquest. After submissions from Patrick Gibbs QC representing PC Harwood, this line of investigation was removed from the panel’s mandate.

In Hornal v Neuberger Products Ltd [1957] 1 QB 247, the then Denning LJ identified the contemptible position in which the law would find itself, from the point of view of public perception, if two different conclusions could be reached on the same evidence in two different forums. Arguably, this is the position in which the matter of the death of Tomlinson now finds itself.

It is significant though in the case of Tomlinson that the inquest and the trial used the same standard of proof, the criminal standard, when considering whether there had been an unlawful killing.

Due to the nature of the different hearings, there are of course varying rules of admissibility of evidence. Notably, this resulted in a different body of evidence being placed before each tribunal. At trial, the jury did not hear of PC Harwood’s previous disciplinary hearings. Neither did they hear that Dr Patel the pathologist, who maintained at trial that Tomlinson had died of heart failure, had been suspended twice by medical authorities for mistakes made in post-mortems.

Whilst prima facie the three decisions of the tribunals who have considered the case to date may give cause for contempt among some elements of the public, it is important to note the diverse evidential rules and mandates under which they operate. Notwithstanding that, any family who wishes, and is entitled, to know the causes of a loved one’s death, and is faced with inconsistent conclusions, is unlikely to be consoled by such legal nuances. So for the family of Ian Tomlinson, the most recent finding of gross misconduct against PC Harwood once again changes the direction of the Tomlinson case.