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Ex-police chief says officers should not be automatically treated as criminal subjects but have duty to give account of actions

By DPF Admin21st December 2015August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

Firearms officers who shoot and kill suspects should be free from automatic criminal investigation in exchange for losing the right to stay silent when questioned, a former Scotland Yard chief has said.

Speaking after it emerged that David Cameron is planning a review of the legal protection afforded police who use “shoot-to-kill” authority, Brian Paddick said all public officials had a “duty to give an account of their actions”.

The review was requested in light of police concerns over the powers they have to protect the public from a Paris-style terror attack.

Lord Paddick, a former Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner and now the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman in the House of Lords, said: “Police officers who shoot people should not be automatically treated as criminal suspects, in return for not having the right to silence criminal suspects have, up until the point that a case becomes criminal.

“Public servants have a duty to give an account of their actions. If firearms officers believe it is likely they will face criminal investigation then it is understandable they will be reluctant to be open in interview. The concern among firearms officers is they make split-second decisions in very difficult circumstances, but you can’t have police officers above the law, especially if they use lethal force.”

He said the government’s review into shoot-to-kill must be held in public. “A review behind closed doors does not build public confidence. Unless there is public confidence in the outcome, there is no point doing it,” Paddick said.

Last week an officer was arrested and interviewed under caution as part of an Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry into the death of Jermaine Baker. The 28-year-old from Tottenham, north London, died after being shot during an operation against an alleged attempt to spring two offenders from a prison van near Wood Green.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has expressed reservations about the idea of a shoot-to-kill policy in relation to terrorist incidents, causing senior party figures to say they disagreed. He later clarified that he would authorise the use of lethal force against terrorists in the UK in exceptional circumstances if he was prime minister.

Corbyn said Cameron’s review could damage community relations, and he raised fears that it was a political stunt. But Angela Eagle, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said there could be a case for reforming the rules around police use of firearms, stressing the need for a balance.

Eagle said: “There have to be safeguards because we know what happens when people are shot wrongly … but we also need to give our armed police the confidence if they’re dealing with a marauding terrorist of the sort we saw in Paris that they can get that person down and get them on the ground and save life.”

Paddick’s intervention highlights different opinions on shoot-to-kill within the police force. The former officer fell out with some of his bosses after Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead after being mistaken for a terrorist in 2005.

Paddick went on to give evidence for the family of de Menezes at the inquest into his death. The Brazilian was shot dead by police who believed he was a suicide bomber and thus had to be killed as quickly as possible. He was wholly innocent but a string of blunders led him to be held down by one officer while others repeatedly shot him in the head from point-blank range.

The officers involved did not face criminal charges, but in an Old Bailey criminal trial the Met as an institution was found guilty of endangering public safety. The then Met commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, tried to block independent scrutiny by the IPCC on the grounds that it interfered with a terrorism investigation. He backed down after senior Home Office officials told him the law meant the IPCC had to investigate.

Responding to the news of a review this weekend, a spokesman for the Met said: “The MPS [Metropolitan police service] is aware of the review and strongly supports the prime minister’s decision to re-examine the legal protection for armed police officers. These officers volunteer to do a vital and unique job on behalf of society. We ask them to move forward and confront terrorists and criminals who may be armed with automatic weapons. It is important for them to know they have the full support of the public for the split-second decisions they have to take.”

In law, police have no special protection if they shoot a suspect dead in the course of their duties. They do so lawfully if they hold an honest belief that a suspect threatens the life of themselves and others. In practice, prosecutors have been wary of bringing charges and juries have been reluctant to pass guilty verdicts. No police officer has ever been convicted of breaking the law by shooting a suspect dead.

This year a former Met police firearms officer, Anthony Long, was cleared of murdering a suspect, 10 years after the shooting. Azelle Rodney was shot on sight by Long – including four bullets to the head – in 2005 in north London. Long argued self-defence, which the jury accepted, after he told them he feared the suspect was reaching for a gun.

By law police shootings must be investigated by the IPCC. Officers delay investigations by refusing to answer oral questions in interview, the IPCC has said.

Firearms officers in the Met are a powerful and close-knit group. They are volunteers and have expressed their anger in the past by threatening to hand in their weapons. Such a prospect catches the attention of their bosses and politicians, especially amid heightened fears of a terrorist gun attack in the UK.

In a candid 2014 Guardian interview, commander Neil Basu, then a Met firearms boss, explained the feelings of armed officers. He said: “No amount of fantastic Churchillian leadership from me is going to make an officer want to contribute to an inquiry where they are being made a suspect. They will be legally advised to make no comment. Why wouldn’t they, knowing that the slightest mistake they make … and they are potentially facing a murder charge for doing their job?”

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