Barrister shot by police told friend 'this is the end'
Monday 20 September 2010
A high-flying barrister sent a text message to a friend saying "This is the end" hours before he was shot dead by police, an inquest heard today.
Mark Saunders, 32, was killed in a volley of shots fired by marksmen who surrounded his home after he blasted a shotgun from a kitchen window on May 6 2008.
A coroner was told he sent three texts to Alex Booth, the best man at his wedding two years earlier, during the five-hour siege in Chelsea, west London.
After a first blank text message, the second read: "This is the end my only friend, the end. X" A second text message said: "Call me now."
In a statement, Mr Booth said he and the dead man would often quote music and films and the message was a quote from a song by The Doors used in the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now.
The inquest heard that Mr Saunders struggled with drink in the years before the shooting, attending Alcoholics Anonymous and asking for help from his GP.
The family law specialist, employed by the QEB chambers in London's Temple, had also recently taken cocaine and had been prescribed antidepressants.
His wife, Elizabeth, said she suspected he had been drinking heavily on the day of his death when he failed to answer his mobile phone as she called from work.
Fighting back tears as she gave evidence at Westminster Coroner's Court, Mrs Saunders said her husband was a "very sensitive and caring man" with "huge energy and love for life".
She said he had been teetotal since March that year as he battled to control drinking which had led to several "blips" when he disappeared late at night.
Mrs Saunders, also a barrister at QEB chambers, said: "What Mark wanted to do was control the drinking, to be able to be a social drinker.
"He was successful in that for most of the time. However, it is right to say he was working on this. There were occasions, probably every three months or so, when it went wrong."
Mr Booth said his friend would often hurt himself and lose his phone when drinking, adding "he completely lost touch with reality" and that "you could not engage with him".
Mr Saunders, a former Territorial Army soldier, died when he was hit in the head and chest by at least five bullets fired by seven officers at 9.32pm.
His final actions and the fatal shots were filmed by a police helicopter hovering above the armed siege in Markham Square, a short distance from the Kings Road.
The inquest heard that police were called by several members of the public who heard Mr Saunders fire a shotgun from his flat into neighbouring Bywater Street at about 4.40pm.
Metropolitan Police marksmen raced to the scene, taking up positions in the street outside as they learned he was armed with two shotguns and a cache of ammunition.
After the last shots were fired, police fired CS gas into the £2.2 million property and stormed inside to find Mr Saunders with fatal injuries.
All of the officers have said they pulled the trigger in self- defence or to protect others and the Crown Prosecution Service said none of them will be prosecuted.
Mrs Saunders revealed that her husband told their senior clerk he had been "firing his gun and that the police were coming and he was in trouble" in a phone call shortly before 5pm.
She got in a taxi and went home to find police had cordoned off the streets around her home. She spoke to an officer and was taken to a temporary operations base in a bank.
Mrs Saunders said she answered questions about the weapons her husband held, ammunition and his problem with alcohol as she "apologised for the fact he had caused this trouble".
She added that she felt "surplus to requirements" after being told to turn off her mobile phone so police could control communication with her husband.
Mrs Saunders said that, although she heard a "lot of commotion", including shots and helicopters, she did not know her husband was dead until police told her at 10.30pm.
She found a blank text message from him when she switched her phone back on and told the inquest it was painful to know she did not call him back.
Mrs Saunders said: "That would have been the only time in our relationship that he sent me a text message and he did not get an immediate call from me saying 'Darling, I am here'.
"That is very difficult for me, but there it is. I did not know he had called."
The inquest heard that Mr Saunders repeatedly asked police negotiators if he could speak to his wife as he roamed inside his property with a shotgun.
Asked what would have happened if she went to the door of their home, Mrs Saunders said she did not fear for her safety and suggested she could have defused the siege.
She said: "The truth of our relationship was Mark and I loved each other. I know that Mark would never, ever have hurt me.
"I think he would have just said 'Darling, I am sorry'. And I would have said 'Sweetheart, it is OK. Do not worry, we will sort this out'."
The inquest heard that Mr Saunders was cautioned for being drunk and disorderly in 2005 and declared this on his 2006 application for a shotgun licence.
Twelve police firearms officers, including one woman, will give their evidence anonymously on Thursday and next Monday.
Coroner Dr Paul Knapman ruled earlier this month that their lives may be endangered and undercover work compromised if they are named.
Georgia Wilson. deputy senior investigator with the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which carried out an investigation, said Mr Saunders ran his wife's mother to King's Cross station on the morning of his death and was "his usual cheerful self".
He rang a solicitor's office in Lincoln at 11.36am and "seemed very happy".
Phone records showed that between 1.30pm and 4.10pm, when he got a taxi home, he was in the Kensington area.
The records showed that he telephoned escort agencies, though no witnesses had been traced about that.
Taxi driver David Hay told investigators that he picked up Mr Saunders in the Cromwell Road and heard him making calls.
In one of them he said "Make sure you've got 10 ha has".
Mr Hay said he handed Mr Saunders his change. "He looked straight at me, and just said 'I'm going to die'.
"When he looked at me, his eyes were large and bulging, I could see the terror in his eyes."
A woman at a solicitors' firm where a friend of Mr Saunders worked took a message for him which consisted only of "ha ha" 22 times.
The friend has no idea what the message means, Ms Wilson said.
Mr Saunders rang another barrister called Michael Bradley, and during that call, at 4.40pm, fired the first shot.
He also spoke to the senior clerk at his chambers, Ivor Treherne, and fired the gun again.
Mr Treherne told investigators: "When I spoke to Mark, it was obvious he had been drinking, and I reminded him he was supposed to be going out to supper, and to get sober.
"He said 'I've got my gun out and I've already shot it'.
"He said 'Listen', and he fired the gun.
"I said 'Stop being stupid, put the gun down'.
"He said 'It's too late, I've already fired the gun and the police are here already'."
Neighbour Lesley Hummell told investigators that Mr Saunders fired at her house.
"The bedroom window was smashed, and there was glass in the room," she said.
"I also counted three little pellets.
"He had been shooting into one of my daughters' bedrooms. I thought 'What would have happened if she had been there?' because he hadn't known the room was empty.
"I rang police and said 'Someone's shooting at my house'."
She described the gunman as "quite calm, perfectly stable and contained".
"I didn't know him, I had never met him.
"The only communication he made was with his gun, that's how he spoke."
Mr Saunders' GP, Dr Susan Horsewood-Lee, told the inquest the barrister started drinking aged 13 and his problem with alcohol peaked in 2004.
In 2005, he told another doctor his drinking had been "out of control" for three years as he drank excessively five nights out of seven.
Dr Horsewood-Lee said at one stage he was consuming up to 120 units a week, the equivalent of almost four bottles of spirits, much of it while alone.
The inquest heard he attended three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but did not find them helpful and decided to see a therapist and psychologist.
Several medical experts recommended that Mr Saunders give up alcohol altogether to control his self-destructive binges, which left him anxious and depressed.
Dr Horsewood-Lee said a medical colleague was concerned Mr Saunders could commit suicide if a period of depression and an alcohol binge coincided.
Writing his medical notes, one consultant psychiatrist said: "He is at risk of serious injury.
"Considering the paranoid and belligerent state he finds himself during the binges, there is a real risk that he may be set upon, stabbed or killed during one of these altercations.
"I am in absolutely no doubt that he must abstain completely from all mind-altering substances."
Dr Horsewood-Lee said her patient was articulate, fit and healthy and did not have a problem with "street drugs". She said he was prescribed Prozac to stabilise his mood swings.
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