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Frontline Scotland
The Shooting of Harry Stanley
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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK
Frontline Scotland: The Shooting of Harry Stanley

This is the transcript of the Frontline Scotland programme The Shooting of Harry Stanley broadcast on 22 May, 2001.

ROSS McWILLIAM: Harry Stanley was shot dead in a London street by police officers. The Scottish grandfather was mistaken for an Irishman carrying a shotgun. In fact, he was carrying a newly mended coffee table leg. There have been no charges against the policemen who killed him, and no explanation or apology for his widow and three children.

IRENE STANLEY (Harry's wife): I was only like a wife, mother, grandmother, and I didnae think that I was going to be doing something like this campaigning. You know, it has, it's changed my life completely.

JASON STANLEY (Harry's son): If I'm going to the pub, drinking, I still expect him to be at the corner of the bar, I still expect him to be here when I come into the house. It's just somebody gone now.

ROSS: Irene, the night that Harry died, what do you remember of that?

IRENE: I remember that I was in the kitchen with Kyle, my grandson, and I heard two shots - bang bang - and I came straight out my front door which was round there as I lived round there, it's about 100 yards from here. I came out, my neighbours and everybody was out in the street, and we seen a police car at that end, and there was like yellow tape straight across, and I came up to the barrier which was at the bottom there to try and see who it was but I couldn't see, and I didn't even know it was him, you know. And I was speaking to all my neighbours, to children in the street because everyone was out, but I didn't even know it was Harry.

ROSS: Harry Bruce Stanley was born in Bellshill near Glasgow. His first 19 years were spent in Scotland. But in the early Seventies Harry moved to London in search of work. He got married, had children, and grandchildren, and was living in Hackney. The 46-year-old painter and decorator was also recovering from a major cancer operation that had threatened his life. On Thursday, September 22 1999, Harry's task for the day was a bit of DIY - mending a table leg broken at a party.

IRENE: The last time I see Harry was ten o'clock in the morning. He was going to his brother's to get the coffee table leg. And he just, he got ready, and he had porridge and toast, he has his breakfast, and he says: 'I'll be back later on in the evening to watch the football', and he said: 'I'll have stovies when I come back'. So he gave us a kiss, Kyle a kiss, and off he went. I never seen him again, that was the last time I seen Harry, and his stovies was still in the microwave when I got told what happened to him. I never seen him again and that was that. Just, it was like an ordinary day, he said cheerio and that was it, he kissed me, and then he kissed Kyle and off he went.

ROSS: It was an ordinary start to the day. A short stroll to a neighbouring estate where his brother lived. It was also the beginning of a bizarre sequence of events that was to end with a table leg costing an innocent man his life.

PETER STANLEY (Harry's brother): He came over in the morning, it was about half ten, eleven o'clock. He asked us if he could repair the coffee table leg. So we had a cup of tea here, laughed, when all the brothers got the tools out, repaired the table leg. He cut himself on the thingamay with his stanley knife when he was taking the glue off the leg. We were laughing about him being a wimp cutting himself, a wee nick, with a great big plaster on it. And repaired the coffee leg, had a couple of cups of tea, and ended up leaving at half past two. He wanted to go down for a game of pool and I didnae feel up to it. He went down and had a game of pool, phoned me up, he says there wasn't a lot of people in the pub, nobody to play pool with, come down. I says: 'na, I just cannae be bothered'. That was the last I talked to him.

ROSS: And when he left you what kind of mood was he in?

PETER: Oh he was happy, he was having a laugh and a joke so he was, as happy as Larry.

ROSS: Harry set off home with the newly mended table leg wrapped up in a plastic carrier bag. He decided to break his journey at a local pub that wasn't one of his usual haunts. Harry wanted a rest and a lemonade.

JASON: Well, what we believed happened is he walked into the pub, and as a result he walked through the door, he threw the table leg on the seat, walked up to the bar, ordered a lemonade, and by the time he had done that they believed he was an Irishman and he had a sawn off shotgun. And by the time he left the pub they took it upon themselves to discuss if it was a shotgun or not. And one of them was so adamant that it was that he made the phone call.

ROSS: Harry Stanley finished his soft drink and left the pub completely unaware of the suspicion that he'd aroused. He was still feeling the after-effects of a cancer operation, and would have taken his time on the short walk home along Victoria Park Road. He was oblivious to the fact that he was now at the centre of a major police alert.

Harry Stanley was almost home. He was looking forward to his dinner and a quiet night in watching football on television. He never made it. These were to be his final steps.

Metropolitan Police officers in an armed response vehicle pulled up here. Two officers, both carrying hand guns, got out. They shouted to Harry Stanley: "Stop, armed police". Still carrying his table leg in a plastic carrier bag he turned. They shot him from just fifteen feet.

JASON: By the time my old man got to that point the armed response officers had just caught a glimpse of him, jumped out their vehicle, and allegedly confronted him before unloading two bullets, one which resulted in the fatal shot to the head, and the other one in the hand.

PETER: The helicopter had been up in the air for hours, and I turned on Teletex to see what had happened, and I saw somebody had been shot on Victoria Park Road. And I never ever dreamed it was my young brother. I never dreamed that.

IRENE: The door banged, it must have been about, I think it was about five o'clock, and Charlie said: "It's the police, they want to speak to you", I said: "If it's about that shooting round there I don't know nothing", I says: "because I never seen anything", and she said "No, they want to speak to you". So I went all the way upstairs, and there was a detective, and there was two constables with hats on, and they took me in the sitting room, and he says: "When did you last see your husband?", and then I just . . .something . . . a feeling came over me, that . . . I knew it was Harry¿then he said: "I'm sorry to tell you that he's dead".

ROSS: Harry Stanley had died just a few yards from his own front door. The police immediately descended on the area in large numbers and a detailed investigation began immediately. But his family were among the last to learn that the victim of the police shooting was Harry.

IRENE: It took them 18 hours to tell me, and he had his passport inside his pocket, he had his birth certificate inside his pocket. And eh . . .the day before he'd been at the Social Security, and that's how he had them inside his pocket, and I mean, it only happened a hundred yards from our front door, do you know I even heard the two shots in here, but I didn't even know it was Harry. It happened about quarter to eight, and he lay down there till about three o'clock in the morning, and that evening I think it had started raining, you know it was like raining. He lay round there all that time, and they they left all the blood there as well, you know. And friends and all that were coming to say they were sorry, and you about, they had seen it on TV and all that. And eh, the blood and everything was round there, a neighbour had to wash it all away, everybody was standing in it.

JASON: For me personally it was really tough. The press was there, I I'd my old man's body wishing it weren't him, hoping it weren't him, but it was. Trying to be strong for everybody else. For me it was tough, just like if anybody else's father dies it's . . no matter what circumstances it's tough for you. But that just seemed to be . . . I was under the spotlight and it was really hard. And to know somebody had killed him was unbearable.

ROSS: The grieving Stanley family struggled to cope with the shock of Harry's death, but they were also angry. Instead of getting an explanation and apology from the Metropolitan Police they found themselves on the receiving end of some unwelcome attention.

IRENE: I felt it was bad how we were treated as a family. I felt if we had done something wrong - if we were guilty and we hadn't done anything wrong, they had killed my husband. It just went on for days and days, these police being in the house and all that - it was as though they took over my home.

JASON: I just described them as the Gestapo. We were made to feel like we were the villains of the piece. We were wrong. My old man was wrong for walking down the street at that precise time. It was all brought on us that it was our problem.

ROSS: And to add insult to injury the police appeared to be hitting at a bizarre theory - Harry had wanted to get himself shot dead.

PETER: They were questioning us going right back two weeks before Harry was killed, trying to find out his state of mind as if he was committing suicide, which is a joke. It's a disgrace. I think that's what they're trying to make out with the questions that they were firing at us. Because they kept on saying: "What sort of mood was he in, what sort of mood was he in", and we kept on saying to them "He was happy, he was happy". They were still coming back maybe twenty minutes later: "What sort of mood was he in?"

ROSS: So did you get the feeling that as part of the investigation they were trying to find out if your brother was depressed?

PETER: Yes, yes.

ROSS: And saying that perhaps he wanted the police to shoot him¿.

PETER: . . . to shoot him, aye, that's the way things were coming across. All the questions that they were firing at us, definitely.

ROSS: How do you feel about that?

PETER: I felt diabolical.

ROSS: The whole remarkable chain of events was full of unlikely scenarios. There were rumours the police were worried about active IRA cells operating in London. But would a terrorist really go into a pub with a shotgun in open view? Can a Glasgow accent be mistaken for an Irish one? And just how easy is it to confuse a piece of wood with a deadly weapon?

PETER: I can show you here on the coffee table. It's near enough the exact same as his, the legs is. What had happened was that this bit here had been broken off, off this coffee table. So he's brought the leg on this up, bored a couple of holes through it so it could fit back on, and this is near enough the exact same leg. And there's no way you can make that look like a shotgun, no way whatsoever with all the different thickness. Then he just stuck it in the blue bag when we were finished.

ROSS: And that's about 12 inches long, and that's what he put in the carrier bag to take home?

PETER: Yes, that was it.

ROSS: The police intelligence that had sparked off the alert relied solely on the phone call from the pub, and that claim that Harry - a Glaswegian - was Irish. Was that an easy mistake for Londoners to make.

Testing Glasgow accent on London street

ROSS: Can you recognise that accent?

MALE: It's Scottish I suppose.

MALE: Ireland.

ROSS: You think that's an Irish accent?

MALE: I do, yeh.

MALE: Scotland.

ROSS: And you're quite sure of that?

MALE: Yes.

MALE: It's Scottish or Irish, one or the other anyway.

FEMALE: Scottish.

ROSS: Could it be Irish do you think?


ROSS: Harry's death has outraged the community in Hackney. A public meeting was arranged just two weeks after the shooting. His eldest son, Jason, was invited to speak, and the campaign to get justice for Harry Stanley was born. It became part of a wider movement already calling for an independent investigation into deaths in custody at the hands of Met Police officers.

MALE: The fact that 250 people showed up at that meeting indicated that the community locally was very, very angry in the way in which Harry had met his death. I think they're also very, very upset and disturbed by the way in which Harry's family had been treated by the police. And there was a need from then on that we set up a campaign to support the family. A campaign run by the family and friends of Harry Stanley, and the aims that we have is that we would see an end to deaths in police custody, that there is a need for an independent public inquiry into those deaths in police custody, that armed response units are taken off the streets of Hackney.

ROSS: Instead of a public inquiry the Stanley family got a secret investigation supervised by the PCA - the Police Complaints Authority. When an armed officer kills someone in the line of duty another force is automatically called in to investigate. In this case it was officers from Surrey who reported to the PCA. It's a system that has been heavily criticised.

DEBORAH COLES (Inquest): The shooting dead of an unarmed man on the streets of London is clearly a matter of desperate public concern. We, as an organisation that works with families of people who die in custody, have major concerns about the whole process of investigation following such deaths. The fact that these deaths are investigated by the police, so it's a system where the police investigate the conduct of other police officers. This government promised disclosure to families of information during the course of police investigations. The problem with the disclosure policy is that it's voluntary. The police do not have to disclose information to families. And what you see is in the very, very controversial cases, such as the death of Harry Stanley, families get little, if any, information which clearly adds to the whole grief and distress that they have.

JASON: I haven't got any faith in that sort of system. You might as well . . . it's like me doing something and my brother investigating me, I'm going to get off with it. So for me looking at that situation I can't see any outcome for us.

ROSS: The PCB's final report was passed on the Crown Prosecution Service, but still the family were given no details, only a few meaningless facts - the number of witness statements, and the number of man hours spent on the investigation. And then fourteen months after Harry's death a letter from the CPS to the family Solicitor brought the news the Stanley's had been dreading - the officers who shot and killed him would not face prosecution. It's not surprising that a few prosecutions against police officers involved in shootings are brought, and there have never been any convictions.

NOGAH OFER (Solicitor): I certainly couldn't blame the Stanley family for feeling that maybe the death of their father would have been dealt with differently if the people who had shot him were not police officers, and that they're bound to feel, partly because of the vale of secrecy surrounding the investigation, partly of how long it's taken, and that after this very, very long investigation the decision that has been made doesn't seem to make sense. They're bound to feel that perhaps these officers are being treated differently to other ordinary members of the public.

ROSS: But the letter from the CPS contained some startling admissions including the fact the police officers who shot Harry Stanley may have lied during their account of what happened that night.

NOGAH OFER: Even after the CPS decision was made the family still don't know what the officers have said about what happened, what eye witnesses have said about what happened, and they have been told that there is reason to think that the officers may have lied about certain aspects that they've put forward, but the family haven't been told what those things are, why there's reason to think they may have lied. So although there is an attempt on the fact of it to keep the family updated, it's just superficial procedural things and not actually the substance of what happened.

ROSS: It was yet another setback for a family who had spent over a year trying to come to terms with Harry's death.

IRENE: Jason, he's 28, he's the eldest one, he done a lot with me when it happened, Jason, he took a lot off my shoulders and all that, and dealt with a lot. And he's . . .he's keep quite a lot in, he don't show his feelings. And Charnel's like Jason and that, but they can speak about Harry and that. And then there's the middle son, Jamie. He doesn't even want to talk about Harry. He goes upstairs to his bedroom and all that. But it has changed our lives completely. One minute he's here, then he's gone.

I get very angry. I get very angry. I mean he had colon cancer before this happened to him and that. But, I mean I could have handled the cancer and dealt with that, there was things I wanted to say and all that. But the way it happened was he got taken away and I didn't have a chance to say goodbye.

I haven't sorted my life out, it just seems to be campaigning, campaigning. That's what I'm doing all the time. My life is campaigning.

ROSS: The legal and moral pressure finally forced the CPS to look again at its decision not to prosecute. The Stanley's' Solicitor thinks there is enough evidence to convict the officers of manslaughter as a result of gross negligence.

NOGAH OFER: Well certainly one of the things that officers can do is carry out some surveillance to see what a person is doing. From what we know that didn't happen, it was only really a matter of a couple of minutes at most, if not a lot less than that they observed Harry. Secondly, officers can take cover and take care in the way that they approach someone who might potentially be armed, and to be standing in the middle of the road and call out to someone who you believe to be armed suddenly creates a dangerous situation which didn't exist before seems that they may well have created that danger completely unnecessarily.

ROSS: If the officers had taken cover they may have felt more protected, and not fired on an unarmed man, and could they have observed Harry Stanley for longer? These and other crucial questions remain unanswered.

The officers who shot and killed Harry Stanley belong to London's police force - the Metropolitan. We asked them to comment on the case, their fire arms policy, and the investigation into the shooting - they said no.

The Police Complaints Authority supervised the investigation into Harry Stanley's death. That investigation is now complete, but when we asked them to comment on the case - they refused.

The Crown Prosecution Service decides if there are to be any charges brought against the police officers who killed Harry Stanley. Again - no comment.

Even the Association of Chief Police Officers refused to talk to us. ACPO is responsible for issuing guidelines on the use of fire arms. We asked for an interview about its general policy, but the Association said it was unwilling to take part in any programme that was looking into the shooting of Harry Stanley.

We do know Harry Stanley was shot twice in the head and hand by police pistols. Hand guns are used by officers who feel they're under an immediate threat. There's strict training to guidelines to be followed by any officer registered to use a fire arm. The police units in the armed response vehicles are considered to be the elite. The stress as they approach an incident is incredible. Officers will tell you their heart rate increases dramatically, and they develop super senses, everything focusing on the target. A split second hesitation can lead to an officer paying with his life. But each incident could be assessed on its own merits.

MALE: The pistols carried¿when I say pistol, it could be a revolver or a self-loading, or what one calls semi-automatic pistol offers immediate protection for the police officers and to the public. If there's a time to obtain a carbine there's very little different except that they're far more accurate in the sense that you have more time, you can aim at the subject, and you are pretty sure where you're going to hit him you will hit him. Whereas with a hand gun it's much more difficult contrary to public knowledge to his somebody even though they might only be five or six feet away from you.

ROSS: Most of us will never get caught up in an armed incident. But Harry Stanley's death shows that if you do it can have dreadful consequences. Armed police are becoming an increasingly common sight are airports and on the streets of Britain's main towns and cities. Last year armed officers from Strathclyde Police were called out on 277 occasions. In London the Met deployed armed response vehicles 1,440 times, a tenfold increase on 1991, the year they were first introduced. Their presence is meant to protect the public. They can also pose a threat.

MALE: The public ought to be aware that officers arrive at the scene and they're given instructions by armed officers to stand still, don't move, freeze, or to move in any direction, carry out any instruction, whatever their feelings on the subject are they should do it in order to prevent accidents occurring whereby an officers thinks that a member of the public is going to something, particularly where somebody is innocent, because innocent people are more inclined to do things without thinking, when somebody starts shouting you tend to look round¿ I do think as a consideration the public should be made more aware what to do when armed police issue orders.

ROSS: Eighteen months on is it still very hard to accept that he died that way?

PETER: Oh yeh. Yes. Because I walked along there myself a couple of times. And it still hurts, it still hurts. You're thinking¿you walk along there, the road, and what's going through your brain is him walking the same route, and nearly thirty yards from his door, feet¿.just unbelievable. And it does . . it will always hurt. Even if we got justice it would still hurt.

IRENE: He was 16 and I was 16.

ROSS: What was your first impression of him?

IRENE: Bright red hair. He had bright red hair, and he used to wear black sunglasses and a long coat. That shop's not there now. There's the Barrowland, we used to go there on a Friday night. That's looking quite old.

ROSS: Irene has decided to bring the campaign for justice to Scotland, Harry's birth place. It also gives her a chance to visit his family and see for the first time the memorial they've placed in the local cemetery.

ROSS: Do moments like this make it seem very real?

IRENE: It's moments like this it does, it makes it real, when you see his name in memory, you see when he was killed. That's . . .that brings it all back, and it's there, you know what I mean. It's just so sad.

I feel as if a part of me is gone, and I feel lonely, you know what I mean¿I don't know, I just wish that he was here to share in it, but unfortunately it's not like that at all and he's gone, and I'll just need to try and get on with it. I just keep thinking and that's what's keeping me going I think.

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