Barrister shot by police 'three times drink-drive limit'

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The Independent Online

A barrister was three times the drink-drive limit when he was shot dead by police marksmen, an inquest heard today.

Mark Saunders, 32, had been drinking heavily before he was killed by a volley of shots at his home in Markham Square, Chelsea.

Westminster Coroner's Court heard the wealthy divorce specialist had been battling a binge drinking problem for several years.

Toxicology tests found up to 255mg of alcohol in 100 millilitres of his blood. The legal limit for driving is 80mg.

Dr Stephen Morley, who analysed the samples, said the quantity would be similar to that found in a Saturday night drunk.

Asked how someone who had drunk that much would behave, he said there would be "significant effects".

Dr Morley added: "They are likely to be very drunk and may not have complete control of all their faculties."

Tests on Mr Saunders' hair and urine also revealed evidence he had taken cocaine repeatedly over the past six months.

The inquest heard the barrister had taken cocaine in the days before his death, but not within 12 hours of the shooting.

Mr Saunders was killed by at least five shots fired by marksmen who surrounded his home on the evening of May 6, 2008.

Several neighbours dialled 999 after he fired a shotgun through his kitchen window into the child's bedroom of an adjacent home.

Mr Saunders fired the first shot while on the telephone to a friend after admitting he was playing around with it.

His erratic behaviour was recorded by a taxi driver who took him home and others he spoke to on the phone and via text messages.

Family law barrister Michael Bradley, a close friend of Mr Saunders, told the inquest how he heard the first shot fired as they were on the telephone.

Describing Mr Saunders as "deep in drink", he first realised his friend was holding a gun and shotgun cartridges when he swore after dropping something.

Mr Bradley said it was difficult to understand Mr Saunders who was slurring as they held a "meandering" conversation.

He said: "The phrase I remember was 'shooting out the window'. Very shortly after that there was a bang and immediately after the bang the phone went dead.

"There was not even a second. It was almost instantaneous. At that point, given the context of the call - he had been drinking and he had mentioned a gun and cartridges - I was worried.

"At least half of me thought this was an absurd flight of fancy from my head. But enough of me was concerned that I tried calling him back a few times with no answer. His phone went straight to answer phone.

"I sent him a text and said: 'Call me now. If you do not call me immediately or in the next five minutes I will call the police'. When I did not hear back from him I called 999."

The inquest heard Mr Bradley left work and travelled to Chelsea where he met up with Mr Saunders' wife Elizabeth as the police operation swung into action.

Mr Bradley said they repeatedly asked if they could go to the house and speak to Mr Saunders but were told they could not for their own safety.

He said the response from one officer was "instant and negative" and there was no discussion as police were in charge and they were "not being given an option".

Mr Bradley added that he received a four-minute silent phone call from his friend at about 7pm before he and Mrs Saunders were asked to turn off their phones.

Patrick Gibbs QC, who represents Mrs Saunders, asked why knocking at the front door was "obvious".

Mr Bradley replied: "Because it would have been a de-escalation of this terrible sort of dark scenario that had suddenly, in minutes, taken over.

"It was like something out of a bad film. Armed police with guns everywhere, helicopters and things.

"Liz and I thought it was the best and simplest way to make a calm connection with Mark."

The inquest heard Mrs Saunders believed her husband would be "terrified" and later learned he repeatedly asked a police negotiator to speak to his wife.

Dr Nathaniel Carey, who carried out the post-mortem examination on Mr Saunders' body, said he suffered five gunshot wounds and was grazed by a sixth bullet.

He told the inquest he found a large number of bullet injuries, some of which travelled through Mr Saunders' arms and into his chest.

Dr Carey said "multiple gunshot wounds" was the official cause of death.

He said: "Each of the three areas of major damage to the head, to the heart and to the liver would have been capable of causing death in their own right.

"In fact, they were highly likely to cause death. The likely survivability of the brain wound, heart wound or liver wound would have been very low, even if one was artificially in an intensive care unit at the time it happened."

The inquest heard that pathologist Dr Freddy Patel oversaw the post-mortem examination on behalf of Mrs Saunders.

Dr Patel was recently censured by the General Medical Council and has been criticised over his examination of Ian Tomlinson after his death amid the G20 protests.

Georgia Wilson, of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said police negotiators recorded the contents of several hand-written notes from Mr Saunders.

One said: "Please, I want to speak to my wife." A second read: "I don't know how this happened."

Another message said: "I want to say goodbye and kill myself." This was followed by "I can't hear" and "Mum".

It was not clear how the contents of the hand-written notes, which will be admitted in evidence tomorrow, were communicated to police.

The inquest heard that seven firearms officers stationed in and on three buildings in Bywater Street, which backs on to Markham Square, fired the fatal shots.

A further five armed officers were watching the building but did not pull the trigger.

In a statement written after the incident, former Metropolitan Police Commander Ali Dizaei outlined how he took control, supervising the tactical response and liaising with senior officers.

He described how his aim was to "protect life and limb", keeping police, public and other emergency services safe while working to resolve the siege peacefully.

The former officer is serving a four-year jail term for corruption after he was convicted of attempting to frame an Iraqi web designer for assault in February.

The 11-member jury will undertake a site visit to 46 Markham Square and Bywater Street at 6pm tonight.