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Brutality or reasonable force?

Peter Barron | 10:08 UK time, Thursday, 8 March 2007

Wednesday's piece about the case of Toni Comer. a young Sheffield woman shown on CCTV being repeatedly punched by a policeman, polarised viewers.

Newsnight logoSome, like Andrew F, thought it was "a terrible piece of story, no controversy, no evidence" Others, like Pauline Campbell, thought it was "one of the most disturbing reports I have ever watched on Newsnight."

The CCTV footage, which showed how South Yorkshire policemen handled a drunk and aggressive 19-year-old during a nightclub fracas, split opinion in our office too.

To reflect both views we introduced the item by asking if the footage was evidence of police brutality or the reasonable use of force, and while we heard from Toni Comer and her supporters, we also heard from the policeman and force in question and the former Flying Squad commander John O'Connor who believed the policeman's actions could be explained.

The item provoked a lively debate - that's what Newsnight does. The alternative suggestion is that we should have viewed the pictures and concluded that there was no issue to pursue. That would I think have constituted bad journalism.

What do you think? (You can watch the piece here.)


  • 1.
  • At 11:17 AM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Sam wrote:

At the end of the day nobody can really say a policeman punching someone is justified, you really can't no situation requires that.

However in the real world the police don't play by the rules ie: in my town if your drunk and you give the police a hard time they will take you in the back of the van and give you a good kicking. Sure they shouldn't do it but if you didn't deserve it then it wouldn't of happened.

In this instance it just happened to be caught on camera. She was drunk abusive and obnoxious and got what she deserved.

So yeah the police broke the rules but frankly who cares?

  • 2.
  • At 11:34 AM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Philip Croft wrote:

DISGRACEFUL !!!! IN NO circumstances, should the police use fists.Is this yet another sign of the 'Police' decending into the enemy of the people? What were the others doing treating the incident as spectator sport? There was more than adequate muscle there to restrain the woman in a traditional and acceptable way. Listening to that retired Metro officer responding to the footage, held no surprises, he was reading from the standard--'how to cover up a transgression' script was'nt he. If the rolls had been reversed, with an officer being 'restrained' by a group of drunks, would I have been just a spectator? I'm no longer sure!

  • 3.
  • At 11:46 AM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • mike montane wrote:

Saw the CCtv. Can't say if reasonable force but it appears not to be excessive if only hit on arm to get cuffs on. Prisoner showed no sign of injury. The problem I think is the rigid cuffs used. When on they give more control of prisoner but are much more difficult to get on compared to the older, flexible cuffs, against resistance. I think you were a bit selective in only showing part of cctv, the sensational bit which creates a one sided impression of the incident.

  • 4.
  • At 12:12 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • dicky wrote:

If newsnight believes it is there to just 'provoke Ambridge England' then i guezz we are in for a long spell of immigration, multiculturalism and car tax reports? And if you really want to poke a stick into the ants nest then men are from mars women are from venus reports.

this police thing was so clearly a storm in a teacup i began looking for the biscuits.

jaffa cakes would do


  • 5.
  • At 12:13 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Peter wrote:


what evidence do you have there is a racial element to this? why is the bbc automatically assuming this? why, on earth, are race relations groups asked for their view of it.

racism only comes into it if she was hit because she is coloured

  • 6.
  • At 12:13 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Alan Murphy wrote:

If a person other than a policeman were to use such force when restraining a violent person he/she would be suspended with immediate effect: with a high probability of dismissal to follow. Imagine if a care worker, teacher, nurse, doctor or even shop assistant were to behave in a similar manner and have the event recorded what the consequences for each would be. It is also unlikely that any one of their bosses would be willing to appear on the national media to defend them.

  • 7.
  • At 12:30 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Mike White wrote:

Dear Sir/ Madam

This story reminds me of footage on Sky News around Christmas when they showed police dragging a male suspect from his car, he was laying outstretched on his stomach with empty hands face up. The policeman kneeling on his shoulder punched him EIGHT times in the HEAD.

Toady's reported situation is also outrageous. On Sky News the interviewer talking to the family was way off the mark. He kept on about whether she was on medication, drunk etc. The circumstances whether she had a fit, or drink or was guilty of a crime is irrelevant.

The facts of the matter are the policeman brutally hit her when his two colleagues standing immediately above the girl could easily have helped move her arms for cuffing.

The senior policeman commenting on the event kept saying she didn't need medical attention. This of course is not the point. Being slapped, pinched and punched without needing medical attention hurts greatly, is abuse and is still criminal assault.

I propose he and numerous other policeman lose control or assault people as "punishment". The uniform is not a right to meter out punishment as they see fit. Corporal punishment is not allowed by the court, in the Army or school and so should not be allowed to be given out out by the Police.

The excuses given out are an insult to us all. Please help stop this regular abuse of power by condemning it and pointing the above when interviewing the police.

Mike White

  • 8.
  • At 12:33 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Mr Burns wrote:

I don't think we can assume that there is no issue to pursue - I think it is right that this was brought into the public focus so that valid questions can be asked about what happened and how it was dealt with.

I have to say, though, that it is bad journalism in one of the most extreme examples I have seen in recent times. How can the public be expected to form suitable opinions about what happened when not all the information is presented?

Anyone would argue that watching someone punch someone else in the face is unreasonable violence. Would they still argue that if, moments before, they could see the person about to be punched biting, spitting and attempting to injure the person about to do the punching???

Out of context, the whole meaning of any evidence presented can be twisted so that its true meaning is open to misinterpretation.

The CCTV clip is inconclusive at best as it does not show where the blows landed and it does not show the behaviour of the defendant up to that point, which may or may not warrant those blows in the first place.

I do not accept the argument that four or more officers holding the defendant down was inappropriate either - comments like that clearly come from people with no experience whatsoever of dealing with aggressive and violent individuals. One officer could potentially have held her down, but the risk of injury to both parties would be far higher than having more officers available to assist.

This is sensationalism and biased reporting at its best and people (including the media) need to get a grip and look at this objectively before jumping on the ever-popular "hate police" bandwagon.

  • 9.
  • At 12:37 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • CobblyWorlds wrote:

Those who whine about Police brutality should imagine how they'd deal with a similar situation. Better still, stop being do-nothing armchair experts and try intervening. Living in a rough neighbourhood I regularly have to deal with "people" like this woman.

Frankly I don't know how the police manage to be so restrained. I am generally more "assertively robust" in my dealings with such people.

This is a non story because it's just another case of someone who can't take the conseqences of their actions. And BBC lead with it on News 24 this morning? Staggering! Even if the only alternate story were a new coat of paint drying on a wall in some toilets at the Scottish Parliament it'd be more newsworthy.

  • 10.
  • At 12:53 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • thedacs wrote:

Reasonable force from what I could see and a bit of a non-story. Not that it's prevented the Guardian from wetting itself and claiming this incident was akin to the Rodney King one mind.
If you don't want the police to use reasonable force against you, then don't smack one of them in the face while you're drunk and resist arrest.

  • 11.
  • At 12:53 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Sharad Sharma wrote:

Well the reporting and the footage was just a piece of information on the event. Whether it is a case of use of brutal force or use of reasonable force, is a decision to be taken by an independent investigative authority.

I don't understand Andrew's view as this being a terrible piece of Journalism? It is Journalist's job and Media's task to report events as they occur, isn't it? Or does Andrew mean it was too small an event to be reported?

  • 12.
  • At 12:57 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Robert wrote:

I watched the clip and was surprised at the arrival of a dog handler and another swarm of what appear to be policeman in the background. Did they have nothing else to do. Getting to be like other countries where one suspect has 10 policeman piling on top so that they can get get an assist as a reason for being there.

Fairly certain that if I thumped somebody five times and a policeman saw me, I would be up for assault or GBH.

What evidence other than the two people involved being of different races did the BBC have that this was a possibly racist incident?

Why did you speculate and bring up a false Rodney King analogy when you had no evidence whatsoever to back it up?

Perhaps the BBC should have some actual evidence before tarring people's names and stop conducting trials by TV.

  • 14.
  • At 01:07 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

No one has mentioned the piece at the start of the clip where she resists arrest and then makes a grab for the policeman's face.

Man bites dog and all that.

  • 15.
  • At 01:12 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Roy Harding wrote:

The police have to protect themselves, no use doing it after the problem.

  • 16.
  • At 01:39 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

"That I think would have constituted bad journalism."


That never stopped BBC in the past.

  • 17.
  • At 01:48 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • M Menzies wrote:

It's interesting that for some people it's the behaviour of the young woman involved in this case which justifies the use of force. As others have pointed out, many professionals dealing with challenging behaviour cannot resort to physical force in the way the police did here. My (increasingly big) lad who has autism and a learning disability would be at grave risk if his behaviour licenced people to hit him, and there's a significant crossover between those on the autism spectrum, those with learning disabilities, those with mental health issues, and those who are dealt with by the criminal justice system. The police would be protecting themselves as well as these vulnerable groups if they routinely used safe restraint techniques. It isn't their job to punish people.

  • 18.
  • At 02:05 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • John, Devon wrote:

I won't judge the facts unless and until we are shown ALL the footage.

Like the previous commentator, my concern with this incident, as with other similar cases, is that the Police appear to be closing ranks around one of their own. The officer concerned has merely been taken off public duties. In any other profession he'd have been suspended immediately.

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