- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

LONDON (AP) - London’s police chief ordered an investigation Wednesday into crowd control tactics following the release of videos and photographs apparently showing aggressive treatment of a demonstrator and a bystander during G-20 protests earlier this month.

London’s police have suspended two officers amid criticism backed by Internet footage and pictures shot by The Associated Press that appear to show police lashing out at unarmed people.

“Did they go out to prevent trouble or to start it?” asked Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty. “Policing the capital is too important to leave these questions hanging.”

One officer was suspended after the death of Ian Tomlinson, a 47-year-old man who collapsed after being caught up in April 1 protests that converged on the Bank of England. The U.K. police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said Tomlinson _ a news vendor reportedly trying to make his way home _ had “contact” with police before he collapsed and died, apparently of a heart attack.

Footage later emerged that appeared to show him being shoved to the ground from behind by an officer in riot gear. The officer was later suspended.

On Tuesday, a second officer, a sergeant, was suspended after footage posted on YouTube appeared to show him striking a female demonstrator with a baton at a protest called to mark Tomlinson’s death the following day. AP photos published Wednesday corroborate the footage.

London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson, saying some of the video was “clearly disturbing,” has promised an investigation and a review of Scotland Yard’s crowd control tactics. But he says police acted proportionately to control the protests, which turned violent at times.

Demonstrators at the bank pelted officers with paint, food and other projectiles. Masked rioters tried to beat and punch their way across police cordons behind the neighboring Royal Exchange, and at one point broke into a nearby branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, smashing windows and damaging office equipment. Some demonstrators yanked helmets from officers’ heads, tossing them back and forth like beach balls.

But some protesters and politicians said the aggressive crowd control tactics were to blame for stirring up violence. Officers surrounded the thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the bank, effectively trapping them in a small area for hours. Unlucky bystanders were barred from passing through police lines.

The practice, colloquially known as “kettling,” avoids having to send officers into restive crowds to snatch violent troublemakers, according to former Scotland Yard Commander John O’Connor, who wrote an editorial backing the tactics on the Web site of The Guardian newspaper earlier this month. But activists have challenged the tactic, saying it amounts to unlawful detention.

Britain’s highest court endorsed the legality of kettling in 2005, but it remains contentious. In a statement Wednesday, Stephenson said the practice would be reviewed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary, which works to uphold standards and practice in police forces in England and Wales.

“I want to be reassured that the use of this tactic remains appropriate and proportionate,” he said.

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