Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 14:38 UK

Gun death family can sue police

James Ashley
James Ashley was in bed when officers shot him in 1998

The family of a man who was shot dead by Sussex Police while naked and unarmed can sue the force for unlawful killing, Law Lords have ruled.

James Ashley, 39, from Liverpool, was shot 10 years ago as he got out of bed at his flat in Hastings which officers had a warrant to search.

The policeman who fired the fatal shot was tried for murder and acquitted.

The force had argued the killing was the result of an honest mistake by the officer who thought he would be shot.

The senior Law Lord, Lord Bingham, said the family of Mr Ashley had an "arguable claim" against the police for assault.

The family are absolutely relieved. We're just over the moon, it's unbelievable
Pauline Ashley

Lord Bingham said it could in principle succeed, even though the officer who fired the fatal shot, Pc Christopher Sherwood, had been cleared at a criminal trial.

The Chief Constable of Sussex, Martin Richards, had admitted negligence but challenged the right of the family to bring a further civil action against the force.

Speaking on Wednesday, acting Assistant Chief Constable Graham Cox said: "Sussex Police has always expressed its regret for the shooting of James Ashley.

"The force has admitted its negligence and has always been prepared to pay compensation to the claimants."

'Landmark ruling'

He added that Sussex police would be consulting with their legal team before they decided the best way to proceed.

Commenting after the ruling, Mr Ashley's sister, Pauline, described the result as "fantastic".

Ms Ashley, 45, from Dingle, Liverpool, said: "We have been fighting for this for the last 10 years.

"The fact that we have actually been able to come this far makes it a landmark ruling," she said.

"The family are absolutely relieved. We're just over the moon, it's unbelievable.

"It's a great day for the little person on the street."

She added: "We've come so far but at times we thought we couldn't go through with it. But it was such a brutal killing that we needed to carry on."

Drugs raid

Jane Deighton, solicitor for the family, said: "It is a tremendous vindication of both the courage of the family and the court in upholding that claimants can go to the courts for a judgment and not just use it to get money.

"It is a defeat for the [now retired] chief constable of Sussex who spent the last 10 years trying to manoeuvre the Ashleys out of court."

Mr Ashley died when armed police carried out a drugs raid on his flat in Western Road, St Leonards, Hastings, on 15 January 1998.

Pc Sherwood claimed he had, mistakenly, believed that Mr Ashley was pointing a gun at him and was about to shoot him.

He was cleared of unlawful killing after he said he had fired in self defence.

Ashley murder police 'negligent'
24 Feb 05 |  Southern Counties
No files released on Ashley death
15 Feb 05 |  Southern Counties

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