The Attorney General was accused of bowing to political pressure last night after it emerged that no police officer will be prosecuted for shooting dead a man armed with a wooden table leg.
The killing of Harry Stanley, a painter and decorator from east London, raises concern about whether the criminal justice system is capable of holding police officers to account for shooting dead members of the public. In the past 12 years no police officer has been successfully prosecuted for any of the 30 fatalities caused by police marksmen.
Concern over police officers’ accountability for their use of firearms has been heightened by the controversy surrounding the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Underground station in London on 22 July. The Brazilian was shot dead after marksmen wrongly suspected he was a suicide bomber.
Last night, human rights campaigners accused the Crown Prosecution Service of giving the police immunity in gun death cases, while Mr Stanley’s widow said she was “devastated” at the outcome of the inquiry.
The Justice for Harry Stanley campaign said: “The CPS and the Attorney General have illustrated very clearly that the police not only have the right to shoot to kill, but they will be afforded total immunity from prosecution. This is clearly the most serious attack not just on the Stanley family but a warning to all the other families whose loved ones are shot dead, while going about their everyday business.”
Lawyers for the family and the group Inquest said they suspected the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, may have influenced the decision not to bring charges against any officers.
Daniel Machover, who represents Mr Stanley’s widow, Irene, said he had ” genuine concern that Lord Goldsmith’s input may have influenced or determined the final decision”. He added: “What we know is that there was dialogue between the DPP and the Attorney General and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing before the family and police were told of the decision.”
Deborah Coles, a co-director of Inquest, said: “You must ask whether or not there is a political policy at play in these cases and whether there was a political context in which this particular decision was made.”
Last night, the Attorney General denied there was any political interference in the decision. A spokesperson for the Attorney General said: “The decision not to prosecute was taken by an experienced Crown Prosecution Service lawyer on the advice of leading counsel and was reviewed and approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Attorney General was consulted and agreed with the CPS decision. It is absolutely wrong and misleading to suggest that there was any political influence. It is standard practice for the DPP to consult the Attorney in high-profile or complex cases.”
The death of Mr Stanley, 46, from Hackney, east London, has become one of the most controversial police shootings of modern times. The unarmed father-of-three was shot in the head and hand on a London street in September 1999 while walking home after a table leg he had in a bag was mistaken for a gun.
Chief Inspector Neil Sharman, 42, and PC Kevin Fagan, 38, firearms officers with the Metropolitan Police, were arrested in June this year on suspicion of murder, gross negligence, manslaughter and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and bailed in connection with the case. The arrests followed new forensic evidence that contradicted the officers’ accounts of the shooting and indicated that Mr Stanley was shot while facing away from the marksmen. The two officers told an inquest in 2004 that Mr Stanley had turned around “in a slow, deliberate, fluid motion” and pointed his wrapped-up table leg at PC Fagan, adopting a classic firing posture. This prompted Ch Insp Sharman to open fire, hitting Mr Stanley in the head.
A forensic scientist found that Mr Stanley had been shot in the rear side of his head – which indicated that he was not facing the officers at the point of impact. A bullet hole had also gone through the back of Mr Stanley’s jacket, through the shoulder, suggesting he had his back turned on the officers.
Mr Stanley was shot dead after someone telephoned the police and told them they had seen an Irishman with a sawn-off shotgun in a bag. Mr Stanley, who was originally from Lanarkshire, Scotland, was carrying a blue plastic bag with a coffee-table leg inside, which had been repaired by his brother.
The inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing, which was overturned in the High Court. The CPS, however, decided yesterday that there was ” insufficient evidence” to bring any charges against the officers. Two specialists, one hired by the Police Federation, the other by Surrey Police, the investigating force, said the forensic evidence did not prove that the officers were lying.
In a statement issued yesterday the CPS said there was not enough evidence to rebut the officers’ accounts that they were acting in self-defence. The CPS did, however, say it was “arguable that the officers’ haste and lack of planning led them to breach their duty of care to Mr Stanley and cause his death”.
After yesterday’s decision not to bring charges, the dead man’s widow promised to “keep fighting” for justice for her husband. Irene Stanley, who is consulting lawyers about a possible challenge to the CPS decision in the High Court and the European Court of Human Rights, said: “What happened today was an injustice. I am devastated by it, though I half expected it. I am going to keep fighting but can’t say more until I receive legal advice. I am also disgusted that I first heard of the CPS decision at 7.30am because of a leak to a tabloid newspaper.”
Ms Coles said public confidence in the criminal justice system would be severely undermined. She said it now appeared that British justice ” puts police officers above the law”. She added: “At a time when there is a massive increase of the number of armed police on our streets, it is imperative that the public have confidence in their ability to act professionally and safely.”
The 30 victims
JEAN CHARLES DE MENEZES, 27
Shot dead by police on 22 July 2005 after being mistaken for a suicide bomber.
PROSECUTIONS: Officers suspended until the investigation result is published.
PHILIP PROUT, 53
Shot by a police marksman after a baton gun failed to fire, in Cornwall in May 2004.
PROSECUTIONS: The CPS decided there was insufficient evidence to charge the officers.
DEREK BENNETT, 29
In July 2001, police shot him four times in the back in Brixton, south London. He had been holding a gun-shaped cigarette lighter to a man’s head.
PROSECUTIONS: CPS found insufficient evidence to prosecute.
JAMES ASHLEY, 39
Shot during a police drugs raid on his house in Sussex in 1998. Ashley was unarmed, naked and with his girlfriend.
PROSECUTIONS: Officer who fired the shot found not guilty of murder or manslaughter.
CRAIG KING, 32
Bouncer from Greater Manchester was shot by police on 11 September this year.
PROSECUTIONS: No officers have been charged.
JOHN SCOTT, 42
Killed in Northumberland in July after he fired a gun as police broke up a disturbance.
AZELLE RODNEY, 24
Shot in Edgware in April after bullets were fired into car of suspected drug dealers.
SIMON MURDEN, 26
Killed in Hull in March after brandishing a sword.
KEITH LARKINS, 33
Former mental patient shot in June at Heathrow after brandishing a blank pistol at police.
DAVID EWIN, 38
Former robber killed in London in March 1995 in a stolen car.
PROSECUTIONS: Officer tried and cleared of murder.
NICHOLAS PALMER, 23
Shot by police in south London in 2004. Failed to answer bail after arrest on arms offences.
COLIN O’CONNOR, 39
Thief shot in 2003 in Bedfordshire after being caught with a pistol in a stolen Jaguar.
FOSTA THOMPSON, 20
Jamaican shot in Bristol after defying police in 2002.
JASON GIFFORD, 27
Shot in 2002 in Aylesbury after he confronted officers with a sword and shotgun
MICHAEL MALSBURY, 62
shot in 2001 running out of his house in Harrow firing at police.
STEVEN DICKSON, 30
Shot in 2001 waving a home-made shotgun in Derbyshire.
ANDREW KERNAN, 37
Schizophrenic with sword shot in Liverpool in 2001.
PATRICK O’DONNELL, 19
Killed in 2000 after taking his mother and girlfriend hostage in north London.
KIRK DAVIES, 30
Former soldier was shot in West Yorkshire in September 2000 after he threatened an officer with an air rifle.
HARRY STANLEY, 46
Shot by police in 1999.
DEREK BATEMAN, 47
Shot in Surrey in 1999 after girlfriend told officers he was armed and was threatening to shoot her, or himself.
ANTONY KITTS, 20
Shot in Falmouth in 1999, threatening police with an air rifle thought to be a shotgun.
MICHAEL FITZGERALD, 32
Shot in Bedford in 1998 aiming a replica Colt 45 at police.
DAVID HOWELL, 41
Psychiatric patient shot in 1996 at a Co-op supermarket.
DIARMUID O’NEILL, 27
Unarmed IRA suspect shot in raid in west London.
JAMES BRADY, 21
Shot in 1995 in police ambush at village near Newcastle.
ROBERT DIXON, 45
Wild West fan fired at police, but gun may have been replica.
DAVID STONE, 35
Killed in 1993, carrying pistol in north London.
IAN HAY, 39
Mentally ill farmer shot in Devon in 1993 after police tried to investigate gunshot reports.
DAVID LUCKHURST, 46
Publican in Hertfordshire shot in 1993 after he fired rifle at officers in siege at home.