3 August 2011

Officer acquitted of assault on Nicola Fischer

The Nicola Fisher case established the precedent that police can beat protesters with impunity.

Nicola Fisher, aged 38, was a participant in a small vigil held on 2 April 2009 to commemorate the police killing of the newspaper vendor, Ian Tomlinson, the previous day. Tomlinson had been attempting to make his way home during the G20 demonstrations when he was bitten by police dogs, truncheoned and hurled to the ground. He died from his injuries minutes later.

From a policing point of view Nicola Fisher was at most irritating and perhaps in the way. Officer Smellie saw fit to give her a back-hand across the face; he then calmly removed his baton to administer two hard strokes on her thighs before turning his attention to other things. His misfortune was that everything he did was filmed.

To dispel the view that gratuitous police violence was tolerated, and to assuage the concerns of Daily Mail readers, the authorities needed to throw a police officer to the wolves. Of the recorded police violence against demonstrators in April 2009, the Fisher incident was not the most serious, but it was the most suitable for prosecution. Officer Smellie made the ideal fall guy; he looked like a thug, and he had hit a woman.

Yet Fisher didn’t play ball and failed to turn up to the trial. But, surprisingly, despite the evidence against him Smellie was acquitted.

Thus a precedent was set: arbitrary violence against demonstrators was to be tolerated and unpunished police behaviour; this is not what the authorities had wanted. While, of course, police had often beaten left-wing and ‘alternative’ protesters, it was another matter to be seen to be giving it official sanction.

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