Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 16:16 UK

'Cunning plan' by police led to death

By Chris Summers and Peter Jackson
BBC News

Terry Nicolas
Terry Nicholas's family and friends believe that he would not have fired if he had known the people approaching him were police officers and, while I agree this may have been the case, it is impossible to say with any certainty
Deborah Glass

A businessman was shot dead by undercover police after a "cunning plan" to arrest him outside a west London restaurant went wrong, an inquest has been told. A jury returned a verdict of lawful killing on Terry Nicholas.

If he had not been wearing a bullet-proof vest three weeks earlier, Mr Nicholas might not have made it to his last meal in Ealing on the night of 15 May 2007.

The 52 year-old had survived an attempt on his life when he was shot and wounded by underworld enemies. Shots had also been fired at his home a few days earlier.

Out with family

He was under surveillance and on the day he died police had received intelligence that he would be taking delivery of a gun from an underworld friend called "Theo" either for "retribution or self-protection".

Police used secret intelligence techniques to gather the information - but the exact nature of what they knew and how they knew it was not revealed at the inquest.

The inquest had been severely delayed because of legal wrangling over intercept evidence, which is seen as a security breach if placed in the public domain.

Paolo's Italian restaurant
Mr Nicholas was under surveillance as he shared a meal with his wife

The hearing only went ahead because the coroner redacted the sensitive information.

Operation Wondoola, an officer known as V5 told the inquest, aimed to take a gun off the street. The arrest of the police target in possession of a firearm would have been a bonus, he added.

On the night in question, Mr Nicholas spent a "relaxed" evening with his wife, Alida, and child at Paolo's Italian restaurant near his home, close to Ealing's Park Royal Tube station.

The inquest heard Mr Nicholas and his wife - who was living in hiding following the attempt to kill her husband - had discussed moving to Italy to start a new life.

At around 2225 GMT he left the rear of the restaurant alone and was getting on a moped when two unmarked police cars - one with its headlights switched off - drove up the road towards him.

'Lethal threat'

Mr Nicholas, who had been carrying his gun in a sock, brandished the weapon - perhaps fearing the gang had returned to finish him off - and fired at least one shot.

He was then shot a total of 20 times in the head and neck by three officers from the Metropolitan Police's elite CO19 firearms unit and died at the scene.

Terry Nicholas
Six-month inquiry found no grounds for charging any officer
It considered 400 statements, 350 documents and 360 exhibits
Full report to be published

Documents drawn up by the Met stated that their assessment of the risk to Mr Nicholas was "minimal", the inquest at Fulham Town Hall in west London heard.

Independent firearms expert Martyn Perks said he would have liked to have seen a "greater emphasis" placed on risk assessment regarding Mr Nicholas's safety, particularly more documentation.

The experienced firearms officers - known only as W6, Z1 and V16 - told the inquest they feared for their own and their colleagues' lives.

W6, who was the first to get out of the car after he was told Mr Nicholas had a gun, told the inquest: "I was aware of a shot being fired, a loud bang and rush of air going past my face... I knew immediately I was being shot at."

He said he had no time to issue a warning to Mr Nicholas and it would have been pointless at that stage anyway.

V16 said he felt a "responsibility" to save his fellow officers and knew he had to shoot Mr Nicholas "to stop him killing my colleagues".

The Met's chief firearms instructor, Ch Insp Martin Rush, said the officers had perceived a threat, and acted in accordance with their training.

A police officer at the scene where a man was shot dead by police
The IPCC is due to publish a full report into the shooting

Mr Perks said he would expect W6 to defend himself from the "lethal threat".

In summing up, Assistant Deputy Coroner for West London, Lorna Tagliavini, dismissed a verdict of unlawful killing but said questions still remained about the police operation.

She asked the jury to consider to what extent the Met's assessment that the threat to Mr Nicholas was "minimal" may have contributed to his death.

She also asked them to decide whether the operation to intercept him should have been abandoned, given the recent threat to his life, the fact that his attackers remained at large and the wider threat to the public and all involved.

And finally, she asked how obvious it would have been to Mr Nicholas that the men in the unmarked cars were police officers.

At the inquest, the barrister representing the Nicholas family, Sean Horstead, asked the commander in charge of police tactics on the night whether the "cunning plan" may in fact have been foolish.

Mr Horstead said: "Given the two attempts on his life and the fact that he had a loaded firearm on him did you consider how he might react?"

Map of the scene
Mr Nicholas was shot dead at the back of Park Royal Tube station

Officer V5, giving evidence from behind screens, said: "Yes."

Mr Horstead asked: "Wasn't it an obvious possibility that Mr Nicholas, who had had two attempts on his life and that the people responsible hadn't been arrested, that if a suspect BMW pulled up he would react in a nervous manner?

"If two vehicles pull up he might assume them to be assailants and might start shooting?"

V5 replied: "It's one possibility. It's one of the reasons we didn't want to accelerate. If we drove in at speed from the alley it might alert him."

Mrs Nicholas told the inquest her husband, who ran a gym business, was a "beautiful man" and a "wonderful father".

The operation had involved officers from Operation Trident, which investigates gun crime in the black community, supported by specialist firearms officers.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) conducted a six-month investigation into the shooting and decided there were no grounds for charging any officer.

Memorial to Mr Nicholas
Jurors visited the scene of the shooting and memorial to Mr Nicholas

The incident received very little media attention compared with the death of lawyer Mark Saunders, who was killed by marksmen after he shot at police and neighbours in Chelsea, west London, in May 2008.

The Crown Prosecution Service has said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any officers over the death of the 32-year-old in the five-hour siege.

In June last year 24 year-old Jermaine Biddulph was jailed for 24 years for the attempted murder of Mr Nicholas in April 2007.

Biddulph had opened fire on him in Acton, west London, as he stood talking to plainclothes police officer Det Con Neil Webb about an earlier shooting.

The IPCC carried out an inquiry and published its report on Friday.

The IPCC Commissioner for London, Deborah Glass, said: "I know that Terry Nicholas's family and friends believe that he would not have fired if he had known the people approaching him were police officers and, while I agree this may have been the case, it is impossible to say with any certainty.

"Firearms officers have a difficult job to do and have to make split-second, life and death decisions. Terry Nicholas was armed and had shot at them.

"In this case, I believe they were justified in the action they took and the inquest verdict confirms this. Although the risk to Terry Nicholas should have been better documented, this was a well planned and professionally conducted operation, with a tragic outcome."

Print Sponsor

No charges over police shooting
28 Nov 07 |  London
Man shot dead by police officers
16 May 07 |  London

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

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific