The police watchdog body investigating the shooting of Mark Duggan, the man whose death sparked riots in north London, admitted yesterday that it may have "inadvertently" briefed journalists incorrectly that the father-of-four fired on officers before he was killed.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said that, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Mr Duggan, it was possible that it told reporters he died in an exchange of fire with officers from Scotland Yard's firearms unit, CO19.
Initial newspaper reports of Mr Duggan's death, as he travelled in a taxi in Tottenham, suggested he had shot at officers who returned fire. The impression that the 29-year-old had used a gun on police was not formally dismissed until five days after his death when ballistics tests confirmed a bullet lodged in the radio of a marksman had been fired from a police weapon.
The shooting of Mr Duggan, who was the subject of a "pre-planned" arrest by Operation Trident, the Yard's crackdown on gun violence in the black community, triggered the first of four nights of rioting that spread beyond Tottenham.
The IPCC said its first statement on the 4 August shooting had made no reference to shots being fired at police, but now it accepted that early telephone briefings may have given incorrect information.
It is understood that the error arose after information was passed to investigators from Scotland Yard that an officer had been shot in the arrest operation and taken to hospital, leading to an assumption that Mr Duggan had opened fire. A source said the mistake had been "desperately unfortunate" and was now the subject of an internal review.
In a statement, the commission said: "Having reviewed the information the IPCC received and gave out during the very early hours of the unfolding incident, before any documentation had been received, it seems possible that we may have verbally led journalists to believe that shots were exchanged, as this was consistent with early information we received that an officer had been shot and taken to hospital. Any reference to an exchange of shots was not correct."
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