Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Justifiable Homicide, violent criminals and perceptions

Before I move on from this subject, I wanted to add something.

I believe that the principal officer in the Duggan case was fully justified in resorting to the use of lethal force. I believe this, based on the fact that a jury considered all the available evidence, both factual and circumstantial, and came to the same conclusion. I forgive the jury any discrepancies in respect of their decision surrounding the location of the criminal's handgun because there are aspects of this type of operation, psychological as well as tangible, that they could never fully appreciate unless they were trained and then deployed on such an operation. I believe they did their best considering they could not have been made to feel what the police firearms officers feel in the build up to such tasks and especially in the crucial moments before making the decision to fire.  The closest they could get would be to spend a while on a modern police range to try a few shoot/no shoot scenarios for themselves. I can see some merit in that and once when I had the authority to do so, I had all of our county coroners spend a day with us to see just how intense the training was and, in particular, how the `justification to shoot/not shoot` exercises were far harder than teaching accuracy with an MP5 carbine. 

I also believe it was the correct decision because, many times in my own career involving armed operations, I had been briefed, and had briefed others, in preparation for the arrest of criminals who were suspected and likely to have been armed with a firearm and who were likely to have used it to resist arrest and I know from personal experience the immense stresses that have to be managed in such tasks. Thankfully I have never shot anyone, but I was given lots of opportunities.

I was once briefed in respect of the arrest of suspected members of a terrorist organisation who had committed a mass murder in another country and who had then been traced to a British city. My team was called in to arrest the suspects. The briefing I received outlined their previous acts of terrorism. There were literally pages of information - acts of murder  and attempted murder by firearms and explosives, across Europe. The day before my task, they had planted a bomb in London that had been disarmed by explosives experts - the same day that they had committed the atrocity abroad.

My team was briefed that we would have military support if our task became an `incident`, but that for reasons that were not divulged in detail, we, the civilian police, would have the lead on this operation. Our assistant chief constable was expecting that we would suffer casualties, although he did not tell us this until we were de-briefed after the arrests, later that day. But he didn't really have to because it was pretty clear from the briefing what we could expect.

To say that my teams (entry and containment) were in fear for their lives as we deployed, would be 100% true. The stress in the atmosphere was almost touchable.  I led one of two entry teams. My inspector led the other. As `my` room was breached, quite dynamically, at just before 0600 we were confronted by three men and they were challenged very firmly (our words could be heard down the street) to stand still and put their hands up. The man who I was challenging failed to do so, failed to show me his hands, which were hidden behind the bedclothing he was holding in front of him. I challenged him several times to drop the bedclothes and show me his hands. Allowing for my own perceptual distortion, which was aided and abetted by adrenaline, there were what seemed like several seconds when I was considering if he could in fact shoot me. I moved my index finger to the trigger of my pistol and was within a demi-ace of squeezing off a shot into his chest when the bedclothes dropped and I saw his empty hands. I knew I was about to shoot him and that the likely outcome could well have been his death. Perhaps he could sense that too?  He possibly couldn't even speak English very well or maybe was just scared stiff. We were both lucky. That incident has been hanging out with me for thirty years.

With all the attendant cirumstances taken into account from the history of that terrorist group, the intelligence, the information I had been given about their bombings and shootings and what confronted me in that tiny bed sitting room on that summers morning in August, I was lucky not to have fired, but I also know in my heart that within the next blink of an eye I would have done so. I know I was correct not to have fired because of hindsight - in the fraction of a second before I would have shot him, he dropped the covers and I could see he was unarmed. The bit I am unsure of is that just suppose he was a second slower in doing what he did and I had shot him.  Would I have been judged as wrong by a similarly constituted jury who did not feel and perceive what I did in that grubby little room in an English city. I had been briefed and given a task to perform. I was doing my duty. I was a volunteer, as all firearms officers are - people would be well advised to remember that volunteers can say `no thanks` at any time. If there are no volunteers, there are no firearms officers.

The intelligence gathered was not done by me but by others, scrutinised by others, vetted by others.  We who crashed the door and entered that room simply acted in good faith and tried to stay alive in the process.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

`Kill TV`coming!!

The prevalent, `it's not my fault`, attitude strikes yet again, but I fail to see how this will change all that. Still, it will make a nice change from home videos from the front line of Afghanistan when our troops finally escape from that hell hole.

Cameras in police custody centres were initially viewed with suspicion but soon earned the trust and respect of officers. Having a camera strapped to my body armour during my time at the very sharp end would have been highly questionable,  as I did not want any more kit strapped to my already sagging back than I absolutely needed to do the job. But hey, they're much smaller these days. Good luck guys.

Sad for any family when one of their flock chooses a life where violent death features high on the list of possible outcomes. One day, just maybe, we'll hear some dead blagger's grieving auntie sobbing, "this would never have happened if only he'd got a job with Tesco".