Knox/Sollecito appeal: DNA experts granted more time, proceedings unaffected by Rapture

May 21, 2011
Amanda Knox and Maria Del Grosso

Amanda Knox and lawyer Maria Del Grosso in court today. Photo stolen from AP.

Today’s court hearing in the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito seems to have been relatively undramatic. Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann agreed to an extension for the independent review of DNA evidence in the case, so that the court-appointed experts will now submit their findings by 30 June and appear in order to present them on 25 July. This seems like it was a foregone conclusion. Any other decision would very probably have served only as grounds for his castigation in the second appeal – under Italian law, it is almost certain that there will be a second appeal.

A sign of how little to get excited about happened today is Barbie Nadeau’s report for The Daily Beast. She dedicates the first third of her report to Amanda Knox’s understandable concern, expressed in court, that she isn’t left to stew over the summer months whilst everyone working on her case disappears to Capri for an extended period, in the traditional Italian fashion. I think it can safely be presumed that this fell upon deaf ears.

For those interested in the nitty-gritty, though, there were a couple of things that happened today that are worth jotting down. Firstly, the DNA experts, Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti, seem to have made a point of stressing that they have had everything they need and have had full co-operation from the police. Although it also seems that they got some of what they were asking for only recently, I’m interpreting this as a more-or-less direct refutation of comments made recently in the media by Curt Knox, Amanda’s father, in which he has claimed that police are withholding crucial data. It seems that the dog hasn’t eaten anyone’s homework after all.

It also emerged that the additional documentation the experts have asked permission to consider relates to the retrieval and handling of the knife alleged to have been used by Amanda Knox to stab Meredith Kercher. It’s interesting, but not surprising, that they want to look at this information. It would seem they must be interested in establishing whether or not there was a possibility of contamination of this evidence between the time it was first identified and the time it was tested in the lab. It shouldn’t be assumed, though, that this must therefore be a pivotal matter in the review. I think Conti and Vecchiotti will be examining and reporting on a whole range of aspects. Knowing what one of those is doesn’t make anything else old news.

The other noteworthy event today was the agreement that defence lawyers have been granted permission to present testimony from five prisoners, and potentially a sixth, who claim they know the real – “inside”, as it were – story of Meredith Kercher’s murder. The Italian media seem to be finding this highly significant, but I’m not so sure. The trouble is that, between the five potential new witnesses, there seem to be three completely different stories. The first one is what the defence has claimed all along: Knox and Sollecito’s co-accused, Rudy Guede, committed the murder alone. Then there is an alternative version in which Kercher was murdered by a fugitive Mafioso. The third version seems to posit that Kercher was such a monumental drug addict that, within a couple of weeks of her being in Perugia, some as yet unnamed person put a hit out on her for her unpaid debts.

It seems obvious to me that this is the type of evidence that is likely to undermine itself without the prosecution having to say a word. Will these various stories give the judges pause for thought, or will they simply note that convicted criminals may sometimes say all manner of things for who-cares-what reason? Yes, that is a rhetorical question. In fairness, though, I do not get the impression that defence lawyers imagine that these witnesses will change any games. They have already said that they “do not attach particular significance” to one of the witnesses and that the reliability of another “is for the court to decide, not us“.

It is always possible that one of the stories will ring true when it gets its day in court but, for now, I feel I have to wonder whether the defence lawyers are just diligently clutching at straws.

Given that, at the start of the day, it was a real possibility that someone may have been Raptured during the course of proceedings, I’m slightly disappointed that today’s hearing doesn’t seem to have thrown any particular light on the facts of the case. Leave a comment if you know different.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in court 21 May

May 20, 2011
The market at Piazza Grimana, Perugia

The market at Piazza Grimana

There’s another court date tomorrow in the slow-motion appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. There doesn’t seem to be any specific news as to what might be on the agenda in terms of witnesses called etc – I’ll try to update this post if that happens.

There are two things that are likely to come up, although how much time is spent on them is likely to be down to how much lawyers want to comment on them.

Firstly, private detectives hired by the Sollecito family have come up with evidence suggesting that there was no open-air market on Piazza Grimana, near to the scene of the crime, on the day the murder took place, 1 November 2007. My immediate thought about this is that being a private detective seems like easy money. Apart from that, though, the information is relevant to the testimony of rough-sleeper Antonio Curatolo, who said he saw Knox and Sollecito that night on the basketball court adjacent to the Piazza.

There’s already a question mark over his testimony because, although he seems clear that the night in question was 1 November, there are some parts of what he says in which he may be getting confused between that night and the night before. For example, he talks about it being Halloween and says he saw people in Halloween masks and buses, presumed to be buses hired to take students to nightclubs. But defence lawyers previously called witnesses who suggested that these buses were not running on 1 November. The thing about the market is relevant because Curatolo said that the Piazza was really clean on the night he saw Knox and Sollecito, which led him to think that the market must have been held that day, since street cleaners would have been sent in afterwards.

This underlines what is already known: there’s a lack of clarity in Curatolo’s testimony. It doesn’t seem that he can actually be mistaken about what night he saw Knox and Sollecito, since their movements are accounted for on 31 October. Maybe he’s basically telling the truth but is mixed up on some details – it is nearly three and a half years later now. The defence, though, are hoping to convey the idea that he made the whole thing up, or at least that there are good reasons to doubt his reliability.

Curatolo neither makes nor breaks the case against Knox and Sollecito, though. It’s up to the court how credible they find him and how much weight they want to attach to his testimony.

Another thing that is likely to come up tomorrow is a request for a 40-day delay that has been made by Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti, the experts reviewing DNA evidence in the case. There have been contradictory reports, so it’s not clear exactly where this stands. The best interpretation I can offer is that an interim agreement has been made regarding this, but legal arguments will be held tomorrow. Given his past statements on the matter, the presiding judge, Claudio Pratillo Hellmann (I’ve now decided that there are probably two Ns in his last name but, as with everything in this case, I keep an open mind) seems keen to leave no stone unturned, so it would seem unlikely that he will decline the request.

There may also be discussion about some piece of evidence (possibly a particular component of the computer files that would have been created during the DNA tests) which Amanda Knox’s father claims, in an interview with AFP, that the police are refusing to provide. Is this this a fair representation of what’s going on? If they’re not providing it, should they? If the judge doesn’t decide on these questions tomorrow, I’ll organise a premium rate phone vote.

Update: A tweeter tells me that Monica Napoleoni, chief of the homicide squad in Perugia, is being called to give testimony tomorrow (thanks for the info). This could be about a number of things, but a strong possibility is that it might be regarding the police interviews with Knox and Sollecito just prior to their arrest, which Napoleoni was in charge of.

In other news

Literally dozens of people around the world have been transfixed by the recent travails of Frank Sfarzo, former owner of the Perugia Shock blog, deleted by Google following a notice from a Florentine judge. Well, since copying and pasting is a lot of work for one person, the folks behind the Injustice in Perugia website have been working with Frank to resurrect the blog on WordPress.

This is a process I have been following with some interest. The outstanding mystery is what precise content has prompted the deletion, which is something Frank and his colleagues claim to be pretty much in the dark about. Well, notable by its absence from the reconstructed version of the blog is a recent post by Frank in which he made the bizarre claim that the police now suspect him of being involved in the crime. And his most recent post, in which he accused the police of being habitual murderers and having actively fabricated the evidence against Knox and Sollecito appears in a very much abridged form, in which he makes no such accusations whatsoever. I’m not sure whether it’s entirely safe to conclude that this must have been the offending content but, on the other hand, it would not seem entirely illogical to reach that conclusion either. Perhaps these omissions are just oversight and the content in question will be re-included in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Perugia Murder File website has produced an English translation of the full version of a recent interview given to CNN by Guiliano Mignini, lead prosecutor in the first Knox/Sollecito trial. This gives quite a clear indication of how Mignini was systematically misrepresented in a recent CNN special on the case. It is perhaps more interesting, though, for the insight it gives into the thought processes adopted by investigators in the period immediately following the murder.

Lastly, a reminder to all that you should not be wasting your time reading trivia such as this when our Lord and saviour will be returning to Earth within the next 24 hours. You would be much better advised to help an old lady cross the road or something.

Update: here

A tribute to Frank Sfarzo

May 12, 2011
Frank Sfarzo

Frank Sfarzo

The Meredith Kercher murder case has, if nothing else, brought a fascinating cast of characters into the full glare of the Internet. Most prominent is Amanda Knox, our “did-she-didn’t-she” heroine. Then we have the homeless, drug-dealing, anarchist eyewitness, Antonio Curatolo. There’s a host of talking-head sideshow compères, such as the confused Steve Moore, complete with irrepressible wife, and film noir gunboat diplomat Paul Ciolino. Let’s not ignore the chief prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, either “a sincere man and an honest and incorruptible judge” or “a prosecutor who just falls in love with conspiracy theories“, depending on what writer Douglas Preston (himself a leading light in this tragicomedy) has decided to believe today.

Frank Sfarzo certainly has a place in this pantheon. He’s an Italian blogger who first started to write about the Kercher case in 2007, soon after the murder. At first, his blog, Perugia Shock was dedicated to general musings on the case in Italian but, over the next year, he became convinced of the innocence of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito and was blogging exclusively in English. He also became friendly with the Knox family on their visits to Perugia, and so he became a source for inside information.

And not just trivial stuff. You want pictures of the knife? Frank’s your guy. Something about starch? Non c’è problema. A printout of Meredith Kercher’s DNA? Click here.

But it would be incautious to assume that Frank was always nothing more than a passive conduit for leaks favourable to the defence. Back in 2008, he leaked the phonetap transcript where Knox tells her mother “I was there”, a full two years before the mainstream media. He was also the first on the scene with the counter-argument: “there” needn’t mean “at the crime scene” – it could mean anywhere. That was one of the lamest, in quite a competitive field, to be put forward during the trial.

No, I don’t share Frank’s perspective on the case. But his blog, whilst frequently ludicrous and infuriating, was informative. It was also capable of being entertaining. Often intentionally so. Was it journalism? No, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth looking at.

It is fair to say that Frank didn’t always maintain good taste. Picking out a tracklist of love songs for Meredith struck some as a bit creepy, and his offhand comments appearing to defend the morality of grown men having sex with 14 year-old girls raised quite a few eyebrows.

But I digress.

His take on the case became more and more idiosyncratic as time passed. He wasn’t at all in step with the received wisdom amongst Amanda Knox’s supporters on the other side of the Atlantic. For example, he eventually took the view that the DNA testing in the case was sound. Because he had spoken to her himself, he believed that the testimony of Nara Capazeli, which went towards establishing time of death in the case, was reliable. He even began to drift towards the idea that not only Knox and Sollecito, but also their alleged accomplice Rudy Guede, may be innocent, an anathema to most Knox supporters.

This led his blog in an increasingly strange direction. If you are committed to the innocence of Knox and Sollecito but you have faith in the evidence that convicted them, where is there to go?

And so, most recently, Frank has begun to formulate his most bizarre conspiracy theories. Guiliano Mignini and his ever obedient acolytes in the police must have deliberately fabricated and planted the evidence. Why? Well, history tells us that police corruption is not inconceivable, the police in this case had the opportunity if they wanted to, and Amanda and Raffaele are innocent.

Unless you’ve been busy reading the news for the past month, you are probably already aware of how this story develops. According to what Frank is saying, some months ago Mignini filed a defamation lawsuit against him, but he says he is in the dark as to what the substance of the complaint is. One report suggests it may be to do with a claim that Mignini was in cahoots with a drugs gang. Who knows?

Anyway, Mignini’s above-mentioned arch-nemesis (depending on what day it is) Doug Preston seems to have then approached a US-based organisation called the Committee to Protect Journalists, to which he gives a substantial amount of money, asking them to help (do you really think so, Doug?) Frank by posting a character-assassination of Mignini on their website. They duly do so, adding claims of Frank twice being seriously assaulted for no apparent reason by the police. There turns out to be footage on the Internet (still – you might want to look into that, Frank) of one of the incidents, which shows Frank being a bit of dickhead and getting pulled to one side by someone who quite possibly has no idea who he is. The other claim is still unassessed by anyone.

Frank’s blog disappeared yesterday, according to him pulled by Google, who hosted it, as a result of Mignini’s lawsuit. This has been hailed as good riddance to bad rubbish by people who believe Knox and Sollecito to be guilty and, by others, as conclusive proof that the diabolical Mignini is determined to suppress the truth about the case.

So, who wins?

Unless the story gets a lot bigger so he can pick up some celebrity in the long-run, certainly not Frank. Knox’s supporters get some satisfaction in having something new to vainly wave in the faces of citizens of the wrong country. Doug Preston is a tiny step closer to destroying Mignini and may end up with some decent publicity if he’s lucky.

And what of Mignini? Well, there’s little doubt that he would be within his rights to have brought a defamation suit against Frank and, if he’s after more than just putting him temporarily out of action, he may well get it.

But Mignini’s real problem is a campaign against him emanating from the US. Shutting down one blog isn’t going to affect that at all. It’s just going to add more grist to the mill. Not only is Mignini a corrupt, maniacal madman, but he also doesn’t like it when people tell that simple truth in public. I think he’s made a tactical error in pursuing this.

The loss of Perugia Shock will take a little colour out of reading about the Kercher case on the Internet. But, worry not, it won’t stop the leaks. No sooner was Frank’s blog felled than the Seattle-based blogger Candace Dempsey got her first scoop on the case à la Frank (I’ll post thoughts on that soon-ish). Candace will be a safer pair of hands, I think, but given the possibly litigious way things may be headed, someone might wish to note that it may be easier to force an American to reveal her sources than it is a European.

Murder Abroad: The Amanda Knox Story, as told by CNN

May 10, 2011

Edda Mellas in Murder Abroad

Before yesterday’s CNN special on Amanda Knox had been broadcast, the True Justice website and various commenters on the CNN website had made up their minds on the basis of advance publicity. What was on offer was basically an advertorial for the Knox family, who never agree to speak to anyone unless an agreement to throw balance out of the window is arrived at in advance.

Having seen CBS’s 2009 documentary American Girl, Italian Nightmare, in which Knox’s family also participated, I have to admit to sharing this misgiving. Examining and criticising the evidence against Knox is one thing but it should be acknowledged that there is actually a case against her, which wasn’t thrown together by chimpanzees and which led to her conviction after a lengthy trial. Once you go into denial in that regard, what you are doing is possibly something other than journalism.

Our CNN host is Drew Griffin, a sort of boil-in-the bag Patrick Swayze with a talent for imbuing even the most mundane sentences with a sense of drama and intrigue. Wherever he is obliged to mention courtroom evidence, though, he slows down a little and raises his pitch so as to indicate self-evident preposterousness. Fairly early on, he puts to rest any hopes I might have had of a serious analysis. “For the next hour,” he requests, “forget everything you know”.

Drew’s first task is a summary of the case. And what could be more objective than to tell this using a montage of archive footage and interviews with her family?

Then we move on to the period immediately following the murder. The most interesting moment here for me is a comment by Knox’s father Curt regarding her interrogation. A key claim made by Knox’s supporters has consistently been that the false account she gave, which led to her arrest, came at the end of a marathon interviewing session during which she was systematically brutalised and trapped. Curt told the Times in 2008 that this had lasted nine hours, with no interpreter, during which time she was struck and denied food and water (as I mentioned previously, this can’t have been more than two and a quarter hours).

Here, though, Curt claims something different. He says that Amanda had been questioned for 52 hours in total in the three and a half days leading up to her arrest. I doubt that, but let’s go along with it for argument’s sake.

I think it causes a problem for CNN’s version of the story. The way they are telling it, the police tricked Amanda in that last interrogation essentially by asking her to make up a story and then falsely representing that as a partial confession. She is quoted as saying in her statement: “I am very confused, I imagine what could have happened”. Here is the statement. Although it does contain the words “confused” and “imagined” (note CNN’s subtle change of tense), Knox seems quite certain that she went to flat with her boss, Partrick Lumumba, he and Meredith went into her room and Meredith started screaming. She seems to only be confused with regard to what happened after that.

Here’s the problem for CNN, though. We know the final interview was at Amanda’s request. On Curt’s account, this means that, having already been interviewed for nearly 50 hours, there was some reason Amanda wanted to be questioned further. But what could be left to say that hadn’t already been covered? Could it possibly be that Knox went into the interview room already knowing what she was going to say? I’m pretty sure that at least one of either the “52 hours” story or the “sneaky police” story has to be wrong.

Next, Knox’s parents and sister talk about her upbringing as various photos of her as a kid appear on the screen. It turns out she was normal and studious before she went to Italy. She even played football and took extra English classes at school.

So, having forgotten everything I knew, I’m left with the dreadful sense of an improbable juxtaposition. How can a nice young woman from an ordinary family have possibly committed such an awful crime?

Exclusivity is, perhaps, a fair enough excuse for this content, but there’s so much of it and the only sop to balance here is two blink-and-you-miss-it soundbites from Francesco Maresca, lawyer for the Kercher family. And I think this demonstrates a serious problem with what I’m watching. There is nothing wrong per se with allowing the Knoxes to advocate for Amanda. But it does seem to me to be wrong to marginalise – indeed, forget about – the contrasting view held by people who represent the victim of the crime.

We are, however, provided with an interview with the chief prosecutor in the Kercher case, Giuliano Mignini. Griffin tells us: “It was an interview he later appeared to regret”. I wonder if this began to happen as he noticed that, every time he spoke, a disembodied voiceover would interject to explain why his answer made him sinister.

The voiceover tells us that Mignini “admitted even without evidence he knew almost the moment he arrived and laid eyes on Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, they were involved in the murder”. But if you are sharp enough to listen to what Mignini actually says, you’ll notice the difference: “After the first few weeks we were convinced…”.

Later, we are informed by the voiceover that a homeless man called Antonio Curatolo had admitted to being “under investigation by Mignini’s office for heroin dealing at the exact moment he became one of Mignini’s star witnesses”. This seems to be to be a fair summary if by “Mignini’s office” you mean “the police” and by “exact moment” you mean 18 months later. But Mignini is not able to answer the claims of the voiceover, only the question put to him live, unaware of how it would be distorted. Was Curatolo induced to testify? No, says Mignini.

I think it would have been slightly more honest of CNN just to have gone ahead and given Mignini a CGI tail and horns.

There is also some comment from Greg Hampikian, a scientific advisor to the Knox family. We could have done with hearing more from him, I think. He says that he is “appalled” by the scientific evidence in the case, but he is not really given the onscreen time to explain why. He says a couple of thing that are probably edited out context and are a bit confusing. Firstly, he says that none of the DNA evidence matched either Knox or Sollecito, but Griffin has already told us about the DNA on the knife and the bra clasp. Hampikian then goes on to talk about the bra clasp (so clearly he does know about it) suggesting that it’s “all there is”. Again that’s just a bit confusing. What can he mean?

I’m constantly frustrated by how pro-Knox coverage shies away from the detail of the scientific evidence. I guess they think it is too complicated and boring for people, but I think the popularity of CSI shows that this is wrong. For me, the science is where the real talking-points are. If this documentary had allowed itself to go there, then maybe it could have avoided having to distort and misrepresent so much.

(Another obvious question to ask is: why didn’t CNN think to interview any experts not employed by the Knoxes?)

The last segment, just so we can be absolutely sure this is a propaganda piece, is given over to Simon Wiesenthal wanabee Douglas Preston, who talks about an interrogation he once suffered at the hands of Mignini. How long this lasted seems to be disputed, but Preston claims it could have been as long as two hours. Without an intermission, it seems. How Mignini sleeps at night after such brutal treatment is not discussed.

This gives rise to Mignini being given the chance to answer a question without being voiceovered, and he notes an obvious flaw in the Preston-Knox thesis. The idea seems to be that, because Mignini was able to charge Preston with a crime he didn’t commit (although it’s actually far from clear that he didn’t – and in actual fact the documentary skirts round the question of what Preston stood accused of), we can surely see how he might have pulled the same trick on Knox. But Mignini points out that he was not present at the interrogation that led to Knox’s arrest.

Final thoughts are given over to Curt Knox, who talks poignantly about the empty chair at family occasions. Maybe someday, Curt, you’ll get a chance to swap stories about that with the Kercher family.

There’s obviously journalistic value in being able to talk to the Knox family. I can understand why they wouldn’t want to be involved in anything that explores both sides of the case and I can understand the human interest in their perspective. But there’s a really offensive dishonesty to the film CNN have put together.

Amanda Knox: who breaks a butterfly on a cartwheel?

May 7, 2011

Amanda KnoxOne of the many lines of argument deployed by defenders of Amanda Knox is that her conviction was based, in part, on information about her personality and private life which was never really relevant to the question of whether she might have been guilty of murder and which has, in any case, been distorted so as to give a picture which would not be familiar to anyone who knows her.

She was sexually promiscuous. She used drugs. She posted some slightly dark short stories online. People around her were disturbed by her response to the death of her flatmate. She performed cartwheels at the police station. She kissed her boyfriend on TV. She once made an arguably anti-Semitic remark. She kept a vibrator on display in the bathroom. Have I missed anything out?

Up to a point, I can nod understandingly at the dismay that any of these things might be taken to indicate her guilt. After all, what 20 year-old student isn’t interested in sex and drugs? Cartwheels at the police station? Who here can honestly say they have never committed a faux pas unless it had been preceded by a murder? As for her amateur fiction, are we to presume that Stephen King may be a real-life arsonist or axe-wielding maniac? Is JK Rowling a real-life sorceress?

However, although much of this stuff was indeed reported in the media, I don’t think it is very clear at all that it influenced her trial, let alone that it was a basis for her conviction. The prosecution, in a search for some clear motive (elusive in this case), did present evidence that Meredith Kercher and Knox had fallen out over matters to do with the latter’s tidiness and choice of bathroom ornaments. I don’t think that’s the sort of evidence on which anyone will ever be convicted of such a serious crime, and the court was right not to take it into account in reaching its decision.

Along with her two co-accused, Knox was convicted on the basis of footprints, DNA evidence, an apparently staged burglary and her shifting accounts and vague memory as to what happened on the night of the murder.

Any or all of this evidence may conceivably be found wanting upon scrutiny. As far as I can see, that scrutiny is what’s going on right now as she and Raffaele Sollecito exercise their right to an appeal.

Tabloids print all kinds of rubbish. Don’t buy them. But, at the same time, don’t imagine that a courtroom, having spent nearly a year hearing evidence, is likely to have convicted someone of murder because of something they read about something someone may or may not have done on a train.

Knox and Sollecito trial: 40-day delay requested

May 5, 2011

Further to the possible delay to proceedings I posted about last week, Umbria24 is reporting that Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti, the experts reviewing DNA evidence in the case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, have asked for a 40 day extension because they wish to look at certain documents which are not part of the official record and to which they do not currently have access.

What these documents may be isn’t stated. It could be that they are asking to look at preliminary notes or computer records produced by Patrizia Stefanoni, the scientist who originally conducted the DNA tests, if there are any of these they don’t have available. Alternatively, it could be that they are asking to see documents somehow relating to the gathering of evidence at the crime scene. As always, I am speculating. It could also be anything that may be relevant but isn’t amongst material filed with the court.

A decision about whether to grant an extension will be taken by the court at the hearing already scheduled for 21 May. According to Umbria24, if the extension is granted, then the trial may continue into the autumn as a consequence.

Ian Tomlinson – unlawful killing verdict

May 3, 2011
Ian Tomlinson

A protester using a mobile phone captured the moment Tomlinson was pushed.

Today, an inquest in London has determined that Ian Tomlinson was unlawfully killed by a police officer during protests at the time of a G20 meeting in the city two years ago.

Tomlinson was not involved in the protests, but his route home from work took him close to the Bank of England, a focal point for demonstrators. Apparently feeling that he was moving too slowly, a police constable, Simon Harwood, struck Tomlinson with his baton and pushed him to the ground. He got up again, but died a few minutes later from what today’s inquest has determined was internal bleeding caused by the “excessive and unreasonable”, as well as illegal, actions of PC Harwood.

The verdict is important not only because it provides Tomlinson’s family with official recognition of the circumstances of his death, but because it demonstrates that officers policing demonstrations in the UK cannot safely consider themselves able to behave with impunity.

The policing of demonstrations in the UK is not without its controversies. Take, for example, the question of “kettling”, where, apparently on almost any pretext, the police pen demonstrators in a given location for hours at a time, until officers get fed up with the smell of them wetting themselves. But I don’t think that Ian Tomlinson’s case is evidence that the British police are out of control. If we consider the comparable cases of anti-globalisation protests in Seattle in 1999, when police were almost completely unprepared, or Genoa in 2001, where the conduct of some elements within the police can only be described as sinister, it is clear that the UK has learnt a lot and has a lot to teach. I know from my own experience of demonstrations in the UK that policing is, at its best, formidably efficient and generally able to respond to challenges to its authority – this is a key point – without the need for anybody to be hurt.

It would obviously be naive to suppose that occasions do not arise where the police are justified in using force. But I get the impression from talking to serving officers that there is a significant, thuggish minority in the ranks who look forward to demonstrations because, quite apart from the overtime, there is the appealing prospect that the opportunity to mete out some casual violence may arise. “It’s good fun to hit people low down as they move away from you,” one told me before a demonstration a few years ago. “You don’t need any justification and there’s no chance of any comeback.”

And I suspect that there may be some quiet toleration, at a tactical level, towards this attitude. After all, if you want to control a crowd, you need to show it who’s boss, and how are you supposed do that if you follow the rule-book?

Some might see signs of a cover-up in the unusual arrangements made for Tomlinson’s initial post mortem. A doctor, Freddy Patel, was appointed from outside the normal Home Office pool of pathologists, and carried out his work without a representative of the Independent Police Complaints Commission being present and, allegedly, without allowing Tomlinson’s family of their right to send a representative. That post mortem found that Tomlinson had died from a heart attack, in contradiction to the two post mortems carried out since, which have concluded that he died from internal bleeding.

Regardless of whether claims of a cover-up are warranted, I don’t think you have to widen your perspective very much to realise that that “show-em-who’s-boss” isn’t likely to lead anywhere very healthy. No doubt this was in the minds of police officers fighting pitched battles during the 1980s miners’ strike, but I defy any serving officer, regardless of political persuasion, to look back on that period with very much pride. In any event, experience and common sense tells us that if you rile a crowd you can expect it to become more difficult to control, not less.

It may be tempting for some to see Simon Harwood as a victim in this story. It might be said that his actions two years ago were not especially unusual or even, comparatively speaking, very shocking. It may well be that he is now in the process of being offered up on a well-meaning liberal altar of responsible but ultimately unrealistic policing. Perhaps we should instead accept that we cannot expect to be policed by Julie Andrews the whole time.

However, it seems to me that this is about a straight choice. Police officers are either accountable or they are not. If Harwood can’t now be brought to book with an about-face from the Crown Prosecution Service and a decision to charge (which they declined to make last year), then that would seem to mean that Ian Tomlinson is instead an acceptable sacrifice in the name the Old Bill’s right to operate without scrutiny.