Constable may face murder charge

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The Independent Online
A POLICEMAN may be charged with murder while his four chief officers have been criticised following the shooting dead of a naked man in his bedroom.

The Director of Public Prosecutions will announce shortly whether Constable Chris Sherwood is to be charged with murder, and a chief constable, his deputy, and two assistant chief constables from Sussex police with conspiracy to pervert thecourse of justice.

While the senior officers are expected to be cleared of any criminal offences, they are facing criticism by an outside inquiry for providing misleading and inaccurate information on the victim, James Ashley, following his shooting in January last year. At least one is expected to be disciplined.

If PC Sherwood is charged he would become only the second police officer in modern times to be accused of committing murder in the course of his duties.

An unprecedented set of inquiries was carried out into the death of Mr Ashley, 39, who was shot in the chest during an early-morning raid at his flat in Hastings, East Sussex. He was naked and had been in bed with a girlfriend.

The morning after the incident, which happened at about 4am, Paul Whitehouse, the Chief Constable of Sussex, backed the operation and said the officers had been investigating drugs-trafficking and the attempted murder of a man stabbed outside a pub. He said the suspect they were after was considered "armed and dangerous".

It later emerged that Mr Ashley, far from being a suspect, had pulled the assailant off the victim and may have saved a life.

Two inquiries were set up.Barbara Wilding, Assistant Chief Constable of Kent, investigated the circumstances surrounding the shooting. PC Sherwood and four colleagues from Sussex Police's Special Operations Unit were suspended.

PC Sherwood is expected to argue that before the raid he had attended a briefing with 30 other officers where they were told that Mr Ashley, and others believed to be in the flat, were violent, dangerous and likely to be armed. No gun was found.

He is also expected to say that before he fired he was looking into the dark through the sight of his Heckler & Koch assault rifle when he saw a man coming towards him with his armed stretched out.

A separate inquiry by Hampshire police examined how the inaccurate information came to be broadcast. The four officers investigated were Mr Whitehouse, his deputy Mark Jordan and assistant chief constables Nigel Yeo and Maria Wallis.

Sources say that some of the officers were found to have been "economical with the truth" and should not have commented on the case until the facts had been established. It will be up to Sussex Police Authority to decide what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken. But an indication that the authority is prepared to take action was given last Friday when Mr Jordan, 40, was suspended.

A claim for damages has been made on behalf of Mr Ashley's 14-year-old son, James, who lives in Liverpool.

n A former policeman is to be tried for the second time for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, the Crown Office confirmed yesterday. The case is believed to be one of the first where someone has been charged twice for the same crime.

Alexander Hall, who served with Strathclyde Police, was convicted of the murder of Lorna Porter in 1988. Her body, with her throat slit, was found on waste ground in Belshill in 1984.

But after serving nearly 11 years, Hall had his conviction quashed at an appeal in December. He was kept in custody because of the severity of his sentence and a fresh indictment was served on him in Perth prison. He will appear at the High Court in Edinburgh on 22 March.