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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 July 2005, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
The police marksman's dilemma
By Chris Summers
BBC News website

Scotland Yard's admission that an innocent man, Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, was shot dead by plain-clothed police searching for the 21 July London bombers has focused attention on the record of British firearms officers.

Jean Charles de Menezes was not the first person to die by mistake at the hands of UK armed police.

Jean Charles de Menezes (left) with friends (BBC pic)
Jean Charles de Menezes (left) pictured at a barbecue last week
His death on 22 July, which came amid heightened tension caused by a string of bomb attacks on London by Islamic extremists, is the latest in a long line of controversies involving firearms officers.

Only a month ago two Metropolitan Police officers were arrested by detectives investigating the fatal shooting of Scottish-born Harry Stanley in Hackney, east London, in 1999.

Family and friends of Mr Stanley have been campaigning for the officers who shot him to face a criminal trial. There have been two inquests and two judicial reviews during the saga.

In November 2004 members of SO19, the Met's firearms unit, staged an unofficial strike in protest after two officers were suspended following the second inquest.

The Stanley case revolved around the question of whether the officers had acted correctly in shooting the 46-year-old.

Shot by mistake
James Ashley
14 Jan 1983: Stephen Waldorf (survived), Kensington, west London
15 Jan 1998: James Ashley, St Leonards, East Sussex (above)
22 Sep 1999: Harry Stanley, Hackney, east London
They claimed they shouted: "Stop, armed police" and fired when Mr Stanley turned around while carrying a bag which they believed contained a gun. In fact it only contained a table leg.

Most police forces in the UK supply their firearms units with rules of engagement based on guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

These state that they:

  • Must identify themselves and declare intent to fire (unless this risks serious harm).

  • Should aim for the biggest target (the torso) to incapacitate and for greater accuracy.

  • Should reassess the situation after each shot.

    These guidelines were introduced in the wake of the 1983 shooting of film editor Stephen Waldorf in Kensington, west London.

    Mr Waldorf was shot five times but survived after being fired at by police officers who were on the trail of a dangerous escaped prisoner called David Martin.

    Mistaken identity

    The confusion apparently arose because police mistook Mr Waldorf for Mr Martin, partly because they both had long hair and partly because Mr Waldorf was accompanied by Mr Martin's girlfriend Sue Stephens.

    Two officers were eventually acquitted of attempted murder in connection with the Waldorf case.

    Lessons were learnt and the Acpo guidelines were drawn up in an attempt to prevent a repetition.

    Fifteen years later Sussex Police officers were criticised after they shot dead a man called James Ashley as he got out of bed.

    'Five shots'

    Three senior police officers were cleared in 2001 of any wrongdoing in the raid, but the circumstances surrounding the shooting led to the resignation of Sussex Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse.

    And in June this year the family of Derek Bennett, shot dead by police in July 2001 in Brixton, south London, after he was seen brandishing a cigarette lighter shaped like a gun, won the right to challenge the inquest verdict that he had been lawfully killed.

    After the suicide bomb attacks in London on 7 July it is thought the Met's Anti-Terrorist Branch implemented its own pre-arranged response to suicide bombers, based on Acpo advice.

    Harry Stanley with his nephew
    Harry Stanley was walking home with a table leg in a plastic bag
    Codenamed Operation Kratos, and based on the experiences of the Israeli security forces, the guidance reportedly states that an officer can shoot a suspect in the head if it is thought he is a suicide bomber who poses an imminent danger to police or the public.

    Eyewitnesses at Stockwell station said they saw police officers fire five shots into the head of the suspect.

    If Operation Kratos is being used, it would be the first time a shoot-to-kill policy was officially allowed on British streets.

    Killed by SAS

    Sinn Fein has long claimed the SAS and other British Army units used a shoot-to-kill policy against IRA members in Northern Ireland.

    Among the cases highlighted are the 1992 shooting of four IRA men - Kevin O'Donnell, Patrick Vincent, Sean O'Farrell and Peter Clancy - in Clonoe, County Tyrone.

    Three others - Peter Ryan, Tony Doris and Lawrence McNally - were killed in Coagh, County Tyrone, in June 1991 when SAS soldiers fired around 200 shots into the stolen car in which they were travelling.

    Shoot-to-kill was also said to have been used by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988 on three IRA suspects.

    An inquest into the incident held on Gibraltar returned a verdict of lawful killing but the European Court of Justice verdict ruled that British soldiers violated the fundamental right to life of the three IRA members.

    Many policing experts claim the threat posed by suicide bombers today is so much more serious than the danger from the Provisional IRA in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s that a shoot-to-kill policy is obligatory.

    Former Scotland Yard commander Roy Ramm told the BBC: "Generally speaking police officers have been taught to aim at the largest target on the body, which is the torso and that has worked well.

    Almost invariably a shot to the head will kill - in a sense it is a shoot-to-kill policy but by practice rather than design
    Roy Ramm
    "People have died but others - robbers and drug dealers - have lived.

    "The problem with the police continuing with that strategy is that if a round enters the body of a suicide bomber it could detonate the charge, probably killing the person wearing it, the police officers and anyone else who is close to the suspect.

    "That leaves no option for the police but to take head shots. Almost invariably a shot to the head will kill. In a sense it is a shoot-to-kill policy, but by practice rather than design."

    But the death of Mr Menezes shows the tragic consequences which can lead from such a policy and there may now have to be a rethink by Scotland Yard.


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