[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 November, 2004, 16:26 GMT
Were police right to hand in their guns?
Harry Stanley
Armed police in London have decided to stop their protest in which they refused to carry guns following suspension of two colleagues.

An inquest on Friday returned a verdict of unlawful killing and the officers, Pc Kevin Fagan and Inspector Neil Sharman were suspended.

Harry Stanley, a painter and decorator, was shot as he left a pub in east London, carrying a table leg which the two officers thought was a sawn-off shot gun.

Were the London officers right to hand in their firearms? What do you think about Sir Ian Blair's intervention? Can the use of weapons by officers be better controlled?

This debate is now closed. A list of your comments will appear here shortly.

Your comments:

This topic was suggested by Martin, England:
Were police officers justified in handing in their weapons?

As a serving PC this case illustrates to me why I would never want to carry a firearm at work. I would never want be in the position of having to make the decision to kill another person. I feel that the only route now open for police officers in the UK now is for us all to refuse to carry firearms, then perhaps there will be a real debate.
Alex, Exeter, Devon

No guns for anyone - let's rid the world of them. You know it make sense.
Jo, Brighton, UK

I happened to meet a firearms officer (from a different force) at the weekend, so got first hand the depth of feeling some officers have about this issue. Perhaps that makes me biased but it is a good thing that there aren't more people around like some of those leaving some of the negative comments here. I am sure that they wouldn't be prepared to take the risks that firearms officers do. I'm surprised that anyone, anywhere, is prepared to take any risks for a society that thinks like that.
Jon G, Huddersfield, UK

The rules covering armed officers should have been made clear in the legislation
Ian Hanson, Stockport, UK
This is a sadly typical legal minefield where the only winners are the lawyers. Police officers (and members of the armed forces) are placed in an impossible situation, having to make a split second decision. When later the information they had at the time proves to be wrong they are then accused of wrongful killing. People making these judgements have a lot more information and the benefit of not facing a possibly "armed" adversary. The rules covering armed officers should have been made clear in the legislation so that officers know they will not be maliciously prosecuted if they made a mistake, providing the rules of engagement had been strictly followed.
Ian Hanson, Stockport, UK

Do people really think the officers shot this man because they felt like it? Put yourself in their place - they were told that a man had a gun. They responded and for whatever reason he did not comply with them. He raised what they had been told was a gun towards them. They stopped him in the only manner open to them. The only problem I see in this is with the person making the mistake when reporting that the man had a gun. The officers were acting 100% in good faith. It is all too easy these days for people with little or no knowledge to have knee jerk reactions.
Richard, Birmingham

An inquest on Friday returned a verdict of unlawful killing and the officers were suspended. That says it all, if the public have any faith in the police, then we have to abide by the inquiries they have. Mind you I think they should be independent!
Anthony Rendle, Exeter, England

We must support these officers, their training is excellent and they risk their lives in our defence
Ian Blann, Southampton, Hants
It is quite ridiculous, we must support these officers, their training is excellent and they risk their lives in our defence. What is the matter with our society when we are prepared to reject every sensible action taken in our interests, even if it is sadly sometimes in error
Ian Blann, Southampton, Hants

The two police officers in this case should receive the same justice as everyone else. When Tony Martin shot a burglar in his home he went to prison, how is the shooting of an innocent man in the street any less of a crime! Are the police above the law?
Kevin Laughton, Manchester

The police have one of the hardest jobs (along with soldiers). They are asked to put their lives on the line, so we must protect them. I don't blame them for taking action, this decision must be squashed
Mike Sheldon, London

I fully support the suspension of the officers, a mistake was made which ended in tragedy for an unarmed, innocent man, the officers should be held fully accountable and be removed from any position involving firearms and decision making. If others want to "come out in sympathy" then remove them from the payroll.
Dave, Scotland

I am a serving Police officer. Although I sympathise with the family in this tragic case we must give officers more protection. What we have in essence is a split second decision to shoot analysed with the benefit of hindsight over five years. I have noticed a real trend towards prosecuting officers any chance given. We are falling over ourselves to be seen to be fair whilst ignoring the effect this has the wellbeing of the officer involved and the moral of their colleagues.
Andy, Bucks

I feel sorry for a society that can't support those who they have hired to do their dirty work. Because you are afraid to confront the mugger there are police, because you are too rich too bother or too busy to care there are police, because you have no courage there are police and yet when your hired hand does their very best you can't manage to support them. Bravo!
Chico Rosado, Seattle, USA

For the benefit of those who are not familiar with firearms. Apart from in the movies you really cannot shoot to wound and there is no way you can fire warning shots safely. I would love some of those condemning these officers to try some of the simulations we have to undergo in this part of the world. They would then understand the split second nature of these decisions. I do not know too much about the case but can understand why the officers feel so strongly.
Steve, Hong Kong

The London officers had a right to turn in their weapons in order to exercise their rights of free expression. They should be able to take this type of action in order to show their frustration with a flawed legal system that has sacrificed two of their own. Crime is always slightly higher in cities with striking law enforcement. However, that's a problem with the society as a whole and not the PC's fault.
Christopher Schrube, Milwaukee, USA

If they make a mistake they have to face up to the responsibility
J. Russell, Henley on Thames
It is simply a case of accepting responsibility for one's actions. The police are paid to do their job properly as are doctors, pilots and others. If they make a mistake they have to face up to the responsibility. They cannot hide behind a myriad of excuses. One has sympathy for the victim and the officers but they made a mistake and that cannot be excused.
J. Russell, Henley on Thames

If these officers have the same poor skills that led to the death of an unarmed man then we better be thankful they handed in their weapons. Law enforcement agencies should be held accountable for their actions more than anyone else, and when it comes to wasting a civilian life, no excuses should be made.
Jay Corless, Marie, Lancashire, UK

As you in the UK are fond of saying, "things are different in America". An officer who refused to carry his weapon in the US would be unemployed. It is unthinkable to wear the badge and have no weapon.
Bill, Wisconsin, USA

Don't blame the police, blame a compensation culture
Andrew Simmons, Atyrau, Kazakhstan/ UK
What surprises me here is the degree of polarisation in the attitudes of those writing in. But to my mind it is quite simple, you have cars, people get run over, you have guns, they get shot. Don't blame the police, blame a compensation culture and increasing level of gun crime.
Andrew Simmons, Atyrau, Kazakhstan (& UK)

Full support to the suspended officers and admiration for the togetherness shown by fellow officers in protest at the suspension. Yet another reason why many expats living abroad increasingly say to each other, "Another reason why we have no intention of returning home".
Alan Clarke, Hong Kong

Public confidence in the police is a vital component in the fight against crime. Actions by armed police have served to erode that confidence and it is therefore very important that these officers are subject to proper scrutiny. Strike action on the grounds that they may be held accountable for their actions does not send a positive message or encourage confidence. An enquiry should obviously consider whether the rules are flawed and one would have assumed that armed offices might have welcomed the opportunity to make that case?
Peter Wotton, Kingsbridge, Devon

As a law enforcement officer, I take seriously my responsibility in carrying and using a firearm. However, sometimes I am required to make a split-second decision, which can then be analyzed by the court for months or years later. If officers are not allowed to make these life-or-death decisions without fear of retribution by the courts or criminal's families, then their ability to protect the public will be compromised.
Jeffrey Bell-Zekas, Susanville, California USA

The response of armed officers to this ruling is mature and pragmatic
Kelly Mouser, Upminster, Essex

The response of armed officers to this ruling is mature and pragmatic. If it's unclear when they are allowed to fire on a suspect, then they are better off opting out of the situation. Armed police are, after all, volunteers.
Kelly Mouser, Upminster, Essex

"Unlawful killing!" It is an absolute disgrace for these officers to be charged with this offence and possibly have to stand trial. Does anyone really believe that these men whose job is to protect the public just decided on this occasion to shoot this unfortunate man.
Kevin Ainsworth, Stockport, UK

Sadly for them, the police can have no rights to special treatment under the law. That way lays danger for society. The officers who shot the unarmed man made a naive mistake in believing false information reported by a member of the public. They should have known better.
Paul, Swindon

Police should shoot to wound not shoot to kill.
Matt Fisher, Chelmsford, UK

Let this be a stark warning to all of those who are calling for our police officers to be routinely armed...we could see this as a regular occurrence.
Matt, Birmingham

There are a few self righteous comments here from people who probably never have to decide anything more difficult than whether to have coffee or tea. Police officers can make mistakes just like anyone else. The reason they are handing their guns in is because senior officers don't give them any support when the going gets tough.
Andy, Devon

If the public cannot support the police in doing their jobs, the police are right to hand in their weapons. The officers were given responsibility for making the decision to shoot or not - their decision should be supported.
Sue, UK

I have the greatest sympathy for this man's family but mistakes like this will increasingly happen in areas of the country where gun crime is a growing problem. It's easy to criticise the police sitting behind a desk with the benefit of hindsight but put yourself in their position. They only did what they are trained and paid to do and their colleagues are basically saying if you don't trust us with weapons we will not be armed.
Dave Mailer, Bristol, UK

They have been totally failed by their bosses
Pete, Milton Keynes, England
These men were doing a tough job in difficult circumstances. They have been totally failed by their bosses, and have had this hanging over them for 5 years. If I were one of their colleagues and I saw the way they were treated, then I would want assurance that the same wouldn't happen to me, or I would give my gun back.
Pete, Milton Keynes, England

Police officers do not have x-ray vision, telepathic skills or any other kind of sixth sense. If someone tells you that a person has a gun, and it appears that they have, you must believe they have unless you can see otherwise. It's absolutely true that, as it turned out, he was only carrying a table leg, but what if the opposite had been true, and he was carrying a gun and shot a passer-by? There would be equal criticism of the police for not protecting the public.
David, London, England

I have great sympathy for the family, but in a time when gun crime is so high in this country I think we need to give the police a break. They are given information and have to act on it. This time they were wrong but next time they might not be. The police are put in dangerous situations every day but we only seem to hear about it when something goes wrong.
Marie, Lancashire, UK

It's about time people in this country woke up to the cause of escalating crime to out of control proportions. Unjust decisions like this against the police officers, who were doing their job is one of the main reasons.
Patricia Humphrey, Maidenhead, UK

Bottom line is that the police murdered someone, just because they were doing their job can't make it much easier for the widow. The public must be protected from the police when they are at fault.
Adam, GB

The police had to make a snap decision and they made the wrong one, this time
Nigel C, Leeds, UK
It is a tragedy that Mr Stanley died but the policemen had been mistakenly told he was armed. The police had to make a snap decision. They made the wrong one, this time. They acted on the information they had and acted to save their lives and those of others. Blame should only be attached to the authorities who have not supported these two officers. The fellow officers are right to hand in the weapons what if tomorrow one of them makes another tragic mistake in a high pressured situation. They can see they will get no support from the authorities either.
Nigel C, Leeds, UK

This childish response by police officers shows that they are also not mature enough to be entrusted with firearms in a public place. It is obvious to anyone without a vested interest that there is a case to be answered here and it is quite right that the officers who shot this man, who let's not forget had no weapon at all, should be suspended from duty while the investigation is carried out. If a civilian had carried out the shooting they would certainly have been charged with murder We cannot have one law for the police and another for everyone else.
Gary W, England

They shot an unarmed man and should be sent to prison for it. End of story.
Ben Lloyd, London

Yes they are right, if the police were told that the man was armed, what else are they meant to do? If society isn't careful there will be no doctors, police and fireman due to repercussions if they make a genuine mistake.
Tim, UK

A policeman with a gun bears the same responsibility as a surgeon with a scalpel
Ed, Aberdeen, Scotland
If they can't deal with it then absolutely yes, hand the gun in. A policeman with a gun bears the same responsibility as a surgeon with a scalpel. There must be severe consequences where negligence causes loss of life, as was clearly the case with Mr Stanley's death. I do, however, hope there are some left who can hack it, we need them!
Ed, Aberdeen, Scotland

It's a disgrace that the police should react in this way to action taken after a court decision. Are they trying to say that officers should be above the law? Or is it just that they feel they can't do their job without shooting unarmed members of the public?
Andy, London

The police want to be able to act with impunity so no, I don't think their colleagues should take action. To kill someone just because they might be carrying a weapon and be allowed to get away with it sets a disturbing precedent.
Robert Dunn, Edinburgh, Scotland

I hope those police officers can be persuaded to think again
Graham Rodhouse, Helmond, the Netherlands
No, the police should not take this kind of action. That sends out the wrong message to criminal elements. The killing of Harry Stanley was regrettable, as was the verdict of unlawful killing, but the police must carry firearms when circumstances call for them, for their own protection and the protection of other members of the public. I hope those police officers can be persuaded to think again.
Graham Rodhouse, Helmond, the Netherlands

At the end of the day, if you're confronted by armed police officers and you're holding a long object obscured by a plastic bag you do exactly what they tell you, and if you don't then you should expect to be shot. At the end of the day the whole thing happened in an instant and I believe the officers did not intend to kill Harry and have since been treated very unfairly. Yes they are right to protest and they have my support!
Kenny, Bicester

No. The result of this case should not deter police from carrying firearms. What happened to warning shots? The policeman concerned said he went for the body and not the head - perhaps more target training should be done. Was standard procedure followed?
Angie, Coventry, UK

People should first imagine being in the position of making the decision
Mike, Brighton
It's easy to look back on an incident afterwards and be all high and mighty about it. However, before doing so, people should first imagine being in the position of making the decision and the knowledge that if their decision is wrong, they may well end up shot, potentially dead, along with possibly others. None of this is to say that on some occasions incompetence doesn't occur and that the police shouldn't be accountable for the discharge of their guns. Let's not forget that on this occasion, the police were given information by a member of the public that an armed man was around. They had grounds to believe he was carrying a gun. Are we suggesting they can only return fire after being fired on first?
Mike, Brighton

This is typical of the police. They are more concerned about protecting other police officers than protecting the public.
Derek, Glasgow, Scotland

What are they supposed to do? The law in this country should be changed to protect people who are only doing their jobs. They are scared of being prosecuted for simply doing their job. A can of worms has been opened. Also, how can the level of armed cover remain unaffected if the police hand in their weapons?
Paul, Wales

No! This sounds like a protest about the suspensions. I don't know much about the case, but shouldn't he have been surrounded by armed officers and told to drop the package he carried.
Lee, Castleford

Armed police angry at suspension
02 Nov 04  |  London

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific