Friday, 8 October 2010

Brute Force

"But in Chelsea on May 6, 2008, the scale of force deployed to deal with a single cornered, drunk, deranged man — some 59 firearms trained officers with a hundred guns — would have been more appropriate for a sighting of Osama Bin Laden." Well, that is what Max Hastings has to say on the matter. Whilst the Inquest concluded yesterday that the Metropolitan Police behaved lawfully in shooting dead barrister Mark Saunders, the Coroner drew attention to the way the operation was organised.

The barrister Mark Saunders was lawfully killed when he was shot by police marksmen, but the Scotland Yard operation had major failings, an inquest jury has ruled.

Officers used reasonable and proportionate force when they shot at the drunk divorce lawyer armed with a shotgun, the inquest found. They had been firing in self-defence or in the defence of colleagues.

But the jury of six women and five men made three major criticisms of the Metropolitan police's handing of the siege at the 32-year-old lawyer's £2.2m London home on 6 May 2008.

Officers did not give enough consideration to letting his wife, Elizabeth, or barrister friend Michael Bradley contact him early in the five-hour siege. They gave "insufficient weight" to the fact he was an alcoholic who was very drunk, and therefore vulnerable. Their confused command structure on the night meant there was a "lack of clarity" over who performed the key role in charge of the police snipers."

Back in the day, specialist groups of the Met were known as 'Squads'; the Murder Squad, Stolen Car squad or Special Patrol or some such. They reverted to giving them CO (for Central Office) number prefixes. Just as well or CO19 would possibly gain the nickname of 'Murder Squad'. There just seem to be so many incidents where someone has died following contact with police regardless of whether or not firearms are involved. I am not going to list them here lest someone feel I have been piling on the agony. I do not use them in my conclusion that led to the 'Murder Squad' comment.

"In all, 59 officers armed with more than 100 guns surrounded his flat, the inquest heard. In his final 20 minutes there were 15 armed officers visible to him at the back of his premises and a helicopter hovering overhead to drown out the noise of installing powerful halogen lights. The lights were turned on two minutes before he was shot, flooding his flat with "Blackpool illuminations".

The manual of the Association of Chief Police Officers stated that in such cases officers should consider taking cover or backing off, if safe, and giving "time and space" to the person, the jury heard. Early negotiation was also recommended. Those tactics could defuse tension, and allow alcohol or drugs to wear off and the subject's mental and emotional state to stabilise. Such tactics were not employed.

While finding police had given insufficient weight to Saunders's problems, the jury said it was not likely this contributed to his death. They found there was a lack of clarity between the key roles of the firearms tactical adviser and the firearms "bronze" adviser, with Superintendent Michael Wise, the "silver" commander in charge of tactical decisions on the night, believing one officer was performing both roles." 59 men armed with the latest weapons. All receive psychological evaluation and considerable range and tactics training. In military terms, 59 to 1 is about two infantry companies - overkill. Co-ordination of such a large group would be difficult. Any one of them would have been capable of neutralising the threat. Adrenaline runs high even for trained and experienced men. There may have been some rousing words - "The key words ­spoken that evening were those of an ­unidentified officer briefing ­colleagues at the scene before Mark Saunders was shot at 9.32pm: 'He let some off at Old Bill and that changes the rules' In the minds of the modern Met, once Saunders, mad or not, fired his gun, he made himself a legitimate candidate for killing. I reject the view of an anonymous marksman who gave ­evidence at the inquest, saying his action was ‘absolutely ­necessary’, as part of the police role in putting themselves ‘between the public and the bad man’

The effective range of the ordinary shotgunfiring buckshot is about 50 metres. We do not know how close the nearest officer was. The rifles used by the police would have effective ranges of many hundreds of metres so there was no need for any of them to put themselves at a range where Saunders might harm anyone - their justification for the fatal shooting. Post mortem established that 5 rounds hit him; 7 officers fired so some more range work needed there.

There was really no need for fatal shooting anyway. Our Special Forces have used blast and gas cartridges fired into the room where a gunman is. These give an opportunity to storm the premises and effect an arrest. I am aware of the self-defence response but the plain fact is that none of the police needed to be in a location such that a man armed only with a shotgun was in position to harm anyone. I have no concern that they shot to kill rather than to wound or disarm - that sort of shooting exists only in spaghetti westerns.

As I see it, the essential is that police re-examine their tactics; especially in the area of command and control. There is concern that Mumbai-type attacks could occur in UK and we have a terrorist prime-target of the Olympics. In light of the way 59 officers dealt with the solicitor, I am concerned at how the police might cope with a considerable number of terrorists armed with assault rifles and explosives in, possible, multiple locations.

There was one other matter for concern. "In the wake of the inquest it has emerged that the Met commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, who had earlier denied any confusion, wrote to the IPCC last week acknowledging inquest evidence had shown "confusion on this point" The last occasion we heard of Met Commissioners writing to IPCC was when Commission Blair involved himself in an IPCC matter was the Brazilian plumber. If IPCC are dealing, they should be left to do just that without any covert warning from a senior policeman that he had already come to a judgment.

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