Whenever police forces take the decision to use firearms – resulting in the loss of life – it is a situation which quite rightly comes under huge scrutiny.
It is only right and proper that every aspect of such operations are fully examined and questioned, from the initial planning to the communication and decision making process during the operation, and then what happened afterwards.
In our work at Hudgell Solicitors, our civil liberties and human rights teams have been deeply involved in such investigations in many high-profile cases, both in the past and at present.
We are therefore aware of the many challenges police forces and officers’ face when carrying out armed response operations, and that no officer involved ever wants it to end with somebody having lost their life.
However, in our work we represent devastated families who have had a loved one taken from them, and whilst we can never help lessen that pain, we do our best to use our legal expertise to find out how and why it happened, and question whether the actions of the police were unjustified.
Duties of our polices forces and officers
It is in this work for families that our solicitors have seen many areas of concern, where decisions which have ultimately proved the difference between life and death have been questioned.
Too often, however, all the information needed to fully assess whether those huge decisions could be fully justified is not easy to uncover, whether that be due to insufficient record keeping or a lack of clear undisputable evidence.
We appreciate that police forces and officers first and foremost have a duty to protect the public and make decisions which have not always been planned.
But equally there must be a duty to have done all possible to gather information and evidence which can justify that decision, both in the name of justice, and importantly to the families of those whose lives they take.
Inquiry concerns over fatal shooting of unarmed man
A national review into the planning of firearms operations was launched due to concerns raised at an inquiry into the circumstances around the fatal shooting of Anthony Grainger by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in 2012.
Although under observation amid suspicions he was part of a gang planning armed robberies, the 36-year-old was unarmed and was shot by a marksman through the windscreen of an Audi in a car park in Cheshire.
A public inquiry has since heard the decision to deploy armed officers was based on out-of-date intelligence, and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) identified 16 failings by GMP before the shooting.
Senior officers are also being investigated for alleged gross misconduct over evidence given to the inquiry, with assistant chief constable Steve Heywood, who authorised the operation, admitting there had been “some flaws” in record-keeping.
Detective chief constable Anthony Creely, of GMP, is now leading a “working group” of senior officers carrying out a national review of how similar armed investigations are managed.
It comes as inquiry judge, Thomas Teague QC, is expected to publish his final report into the shooting of Mr Grainger later this year, as part of which a series of recommendations about pre-planned firearms operations are expected.
Accountability of police officers
In calling for evidence towards his inquiry in November, Thomas Teague QC asked whether any national reviews had been undertaken following the fatal police shootings of Mark Duggan in 2011 and Azelle Rodney in 2005.
He also asked for guidance as to whether there are national policies for the use of body-worn video, or the recording of radio communications, for firearms officers on armed operations.
In the case of Duggan, in which our Deputy Head of Civil Liberties Cyrilia Davies Knight was one two solicitors instructed to represent the family during the inquest and subsequent litigation, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now the IOPC) called for urgent improvements in the accountability of undercover firearms operations.
That came after it discovered a lack of audio or video material “made it difficult, and on occasions impossible, to know with absolute certainty what happened”.
Following a three-and-a-half-year investigation into the killing of Duggan, 29, it was recommended that all radio communications taking place during such operations should be recorded and covert armed response vehicles ought to be fitted with in-car data recording systems.
Given fatal police shootings in England and Wales hit a 12-year high in the 12 months to March 2017, it is only right that procedures are now coming under such increased scrutiny and review, and forces must be made to do all possible to collect indisputable evidence such as film footage and radio communication recordings.
We at Hudgell Solicitors hope this review leads to improvements in procedure which both improve decision making to assist officers on the front line, but also to ensure families and loved ones are provided with the information and answers they so badly need.