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Last Updated: Monday, 8 November, 2004, 17:57 GMT
Coroner blasts Met over witnesses
Derek Bennett
The inquest into Derek Bennett's death has been delayed until Friday
A coroner has criticised the Met Police Commissioner over a late demand that new witnesses offer evidence at the inquest of a man shot dead by police.

Derek Bennett, 29, was killed after officers thought his lighter was a gun.

The inquest was due to begin on Monday but was delayed until Friday after an appeal on behalf of Sir John Stevens.

The coroner said claims that Sir John had not been involved in decisions about the nature of the hearing were "false and misleading".

Inner South London coroner Dr Selena Lynch said Sir John had originally agreed that the inquest should focus only on the night of the shooting.

"(The solicitors) claimed that the commissioner had not been able to participate in the decision-making process... this is false and misleading
Dr Selena Lynch, Coroner

But he had belatedly demanded that the remit of the hearing should be widened.

Health and social services staff will now be required by police solicitors to attend the hearing due to Mr Bennett's previous history of psychiatric problems.

Dr Lynch said a late application to summon South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and Lambeth Social Services had offended "all rules of natural justice".

Dr Lynch told the hearing: "They [the solicitors] claimed that the commissioner had not been able to participate in the decision-making process, and expressed surprise at the contents of the witness list.

"This is false and misleading."

'Tragic incident'

After the hearing, a Met spokesperson said it was "essential" that all the evidence and circumstances were placed in front of the inquest jury.

"We believe that this includes information on how all the agencies involved discharged their duties towards Mr Bennett," said the spokesperson.

"The circumstances that led to this tragic incident did not begin on the day of his death."

He said the force apologised for the delay, but it was in the interests of all parties for the hearing to be "fair and comprehensive".

Mr Bennett, 29, was hit four times in the back by Scotland Yard marksmen during the incident in Brixton, south London, in July 2001.

Officers had believed the father of four was armed with a silver handgun, but he was later found to be holding a gun shaped novelty lighter.

A jury will be sworn in and witnesses called at the inquest at Inner London Crown Court on Friday. It is expected to last about five weeks.

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