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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 18:38 GMT
Detective fights suspension over shooting
James Ashley's sister Pauline with a picture of him
James Ashley's family campaigned for a public inquiry
The officer who led the operation which ended in the fatal shooting of James Ashley is to challenge his suspension from duty while he faces disciplinary charges.

Mr Ashley was naked and unarmed when he was shot dead by Sussex officers in 1999.

Detective Chief Inspector Kevin French was given leave to bring High Court proceedings against the decision to suspend him.

His lawyers say his suspension from duty blocks his retirement.

His legal team also says the action is "an unlawful mechanism" intended to ensure he faces disciplinary action, after the high-profile death of Mr Ashley.

It is preferable the matter is determined one way or the other by this court

Mr Justice Stanley Burnton
Former Sussex chief constable Paul Whitehouse was forced to resign after home secretary David Blunkett got involved in the inquiry into Mr Ashley's death.

Mr French is one of three officers who are facing disciplinary charges over the affair.

If allowed to retire, Mr French will not have to face charges recommended by the Police Complaints Authority alleging neglect of duty arising out of the shooting of James Ashley.

Mr French is also seeking damages for financial losses suffered as a consequence of not being able to retire on 30 September 2001, as he had intended.

Referring to Mr French's case, Mr Justice Stanley Burnton said remarks had been made more than once that it would be "arguably regrettable police officers may avoid disciplinary proceedings by retiring".

Former Sussex Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse
Paul Whitehouse resigned
The judge said he was "far from satisfied" that Mr French had a good case, but it was important the courts should determine whether the power to suspend could be lawfully used to ensure disciplinary proceedings continued.

"It is preferable the matter is determined one way or the other by this court," said the judge.

Mr French headed up the operation in January 1999 that ended with the shooting of Mr Ashley, 39, after officers acted on intelligence he was a violent drug dealer who may be armed.

He was shot at his flat in St Leonard's, East Sussex, while naked in bed with his girlfriend Caroline Courtland Smith. No guns or drugs were found at the flat.

Health grounds

After taking independent medical advice, Sussex Police Authority also decided to retire Deputy Chief Constable Mark Jordan on health grounds.

He had earlier been suspended on full pay for his role in authorising the operation that led to the shooting.

Because he had retired on health grounds, disciplinary proceedings against him were dropped.

In separate hearings last year Mr French, 48, Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Siggs, 42, and Superintendent Christopher Burton, 44 - were all cleared of charges of misconduct in public office.

Police marksman PC Chris Sherwood was cleared at the Old Bailey of the unlawful killing of Mr Ashley.

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