Met seeks immunity for armed police

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The Independent Online

Britain's most senior police chief is calling for a change in the law to give police marksmen who shoot dead innocent people greater protection against prosecution.

Britain's most senior police chief is calling for a change in the law to give police marksmen who shoot dead innocent people greater protection against prosecution.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Sir Ian Blair, the new head of the Metropolitan police, said that marksmen who kill civilians in genuine error should not face a murder charge.

He said: "These are such split-second decisions. But is it reasonable to put a man on trial for murder in those circumstances? I say it's not.

"We need to have a serious debate about what is a reasonably tolerable mistake under operational conditions."

Sir Ian, who took up his post this month, is discussing with ministers a review ofexisting laws which mean that firearms officers cannot be charged with manslaughter, only with murder.

The Metropolitan police Commissioner said he did not condone officers being able to "fire at will", but insisted that the current laws needed changing and that the inquiry process into accidental shootings be speeded up.

He said the mistakes that resulted in the loss of life were "appalling" tragedies for the officers concerned as well as relatives of those killed.

"If a surgeon with all good intentions makes a mistake and the person dies then he is not subject to a murder inquiry. So if we are in a situation in which a police officer shoots, injures or kills somebody we need to look at the penalty this officer could face."

The most recent figures available on police shootings show that three people were killed by police marksmen during 2002.

Last December, 125 Metropolitan police firearms officers handed in their weapons and went on an unofficial "strike" in protest at the suspension of two of their colleagues who shot dead a man they thought was armed but was in fact carrying a table leg.

The widow of Harry Stanley, the man who was killed, called for the officers to stand trial, but they were reinstated and put on non-operational duties by Sir Ian, Deputy Commissioner at the time.

Peter Herbert, a human rights barrister and member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said it was wrong to change the law just to make a special category for police officers.

"What you cannot do is change the law on the basis of making a special category out of police officers. Our jury system already gives a great protection to police officers and usually gives them the benefit of the doubt."