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The Met experiences panopticon blowback

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Last week's damp squib G20 protests have finally thrust an issue into the spotlight - just not the one the organizers or the state might have expected.

Videos of the moments preceding the death of 47-year-old Ian Tomlinson on his way home from work emerged in quick succession this week. The Guardian was the first to publish video from an American fund manager which appeared to show a police officer shoving Tomlinson to the ground. Moments later, Tomlinson had a heart attack and died. ITN followed up last night with another view of the incident, which appeared to show the same officer striking Tomlinson with his baton before Tomlinson hit the ground.

This morning, further pictures emerged in The Sun of Tomlinson being shoved out of the way by riot police 85 minutes before his collapse.

The emergence of the The Guardian and ITN vids has prompted a ramping up of the investigation into Tomlinson's death. Originally, this was being carried out by City of London police, but it has now been taken over by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Last night the commission issued a statement saying it had the details of the Metropolitan Police officer "who we believe appears in the footage we recovered last night, and who appears to make contact with Ian Tomlinson."

The statement quoted IPCC Commissioner and deputy Chair Deborah Glass saying, "We are pleased that we now have what appears to be valuable information relating to this incident. Several police officers, including the officer himself have come forward. It is our intention to interview this officer as soon as possible."

The Sun's pictures were accompanied by claims that Tomlinson was drunk, had been pushed aside after refusing to move out of the path of a police van, and did not seem to be intent on heading home.

Police forces have regularly been slammed for intrusive filming of protesters, and even just unwitting citizens going about their everyday business. At the same time, the Reg has highlighted growing concern about Police and Community Support Officers harassing professional and hobbyist photographers, usually on the grounds of stopping paedophiles snapping children or preventing terrorist reconnaissance.

So privacy activists will feel that the cops have been hoisted by their own petard this time, with professional and amateur snappers deploying video technology exposing allegedly heavy handed policing. "Cops with nothing to hide will have nothing to fear," they might argue.

For their part, the authorities will argue that they have a duty to keep tabs on suspicious characters pointing cameras at sensitive buildings, and still need CCTV and cam-toting cops to prevent public disorder and bring those responsible for justice.

That's a perfectly fair point, and their argument will be strengthened if and when they produce their own footage of the events leading up to Tomlinson's death. So far they haven't. In the meantime, no-one is laying down their cameras. ®

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