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.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito

I suppose I have always followed the advice "you should not give in to evils, but proceed ever more boldly against them" Maybe it was that which led to my choice of employment in HM Forces and, briefly, as a civilian. My early years were in the late 1930s when there was a strong regard for morals in the days when "nice children do not do that" was backed with physical reinforcement if not learnt the first time.

It seems from my aged standpoint of today that that has all been swept away. Children are mostly feral and self-raising and say and do much as they wish with no let or hindrance. On the other hand, it seems as if we have changed attitudes to children. As a seven or eight year old I was outside the house, alone for much of the day and early evening. I knew there were 'dirty' men that I should avoid but my parents never had to consider whether I would disappear off the face of the earth into the hands of such as Myra Hindley and Brady. Paedophilia has benefited from the electronic age.

There is considerable anguish about sex education. I have no memory of one of the fierce dragons known as 'lady teachers' showing me how to cover a banana with a condom as now seems prevalent. I do recall, even now, the locations of such as air-raid shelters where females of my age (12'ish) would gather and sex education became homework. The whole world of male and female relationships has now changed. It was once the done thing to tell a girl-friend or other female just how beautiful she looked as one held the door open for her to exit or as she walked along the pavement with me between her and the traffic. Try that now and one would find the door slammed firmly into one's face or receive a push under a following bus. I remember the early days of the Womens' Liberation movement. Two adherents worked in my department and it seemed that never a day went by without some drama where one of them went by without my having to adjudicate on a perceived disrespectful remark or action.

The preceding ambling on has been set-off by a current court case in Edinburgh involving alleged perjury by a husband and his wife. It is alleged (yes, by me I know) that he is typical of the new breed of sleaze-ball politician and lied about pursuing his sexual activities out-with the marital bed. Press coverage has images of her. She typifies the 'Stand by your man' culture. Whenever I see her photograph I ponder just why this might be. She is a stunner. All without the need to flash her assets about. She follows the footsteps of Mary Archer who has explained why she stood by the damaged-goods husband. This new admonition regarding comments on females may well lead to suggestions from the bra-less community that I am referring to her in a sexual manner. No. She is the sort of woman I would have been proud to take home to my mum to face a grilling far more stressful that a High or Sheriff's Court appearance.

Just to clarify though. There are women in the public eye that would cause my sex machine to rev up. Sorry that should be would have caused; it never gets above zero revs now. There are just some women who cannot, unfortunately, be seen other than as objects of sexual desire. They would most certainly never have met Mum.There are many photographs of Sophia and Kate where they are dressed very formally -as for Ascot one might say - but nothing destroys the lusty image. I think it is the facial bone structure that does it!