Mother of Azelle Rodney still waiting for justice nine years after her son was gunned down by police
A public inquiry ruled his death unlawful, but his family is still in a ‘black hole’
Nine years ago tomorrow, Azelle Rodney was shot and killed by a police officer. Like many parents who have lost a child, Azelle’s mother, Susan Alexander, knows that the day might pass more easily with a formal act of remembrance. But for her and her family that’s still not possible.
“I can’t afford to treat it that way,” she said. “I have to stay the way I am, keep my eye on the ball. When I think it’s all finally over, I hope I can move on with my family and have a proper memorial. But there’s not proper closure yet. We’ll keep in touch on Wednesday. We’ll remember it. But not the way I want.”
On 30 April 2005, Azelle Rodney was one of three people in a car that police suspected was on its way to rob Colombian drug dealers. There were guns in the car, but when he died, Mr Rodney was unarmed. In the moments after the police unit forced the car to stop, it took 2.04 seconds for the elite firearms officer, who is still only publicly known as E7, to fire the eight shots that killed him.
Nothing that has happened since then has moved so fast. It took more than 16 hours to move Mr Rodney’s body from the pavement. It took almost 24 hours for the police to tell his family. It took until his family arrived at the scene to clean the blood away. It took nearly five years for a public inquiry to be announced, and more than seven for it to get under way.
And even now, more than nine months after the inquiry ruled that Azelle Rodney was unlawfully killed – and more than a year after the CPS first saw a draft of the report – Susan Alexander is still waiting for a decision about whether to prosecute the man who killed her son.
The CPS had already looked at the case once, only to conclude, in July 2006, that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. But despite a letter from the Independent Police Complaints Commission last July asking for the case to be reconsidered, no one at the CPS began to examine it in detail again until January this year. The reason, a spokesman explained, was that until then the reviewing lawyer had been busy with “other professional commitments”.
Azelle Rodney was killed by a fire arms officer in 2005 (Jason Sutcliffe)
When that senior lawyer told Mrs Alexander’s solicitor the same thing via email back in January, he declined to offer any firm timescale for a decision, saying only that there was no prospect of one before the end of May, and adding that it would be “wholly unrealistic and unhelpful” to be any more specific.
Mrs Alexander still finds it difficult to talk about the death of her son. But she agreed to an interview to voice her frustration at the delays in a vital step towards a conclusion to the case. “I thought we’d have a decision within a couple of months [of the end of the inquiry], that we’d be moving towards the end of it,” she said at her house in Feltham, west London, where pictures of Azelle and her other children line the walls. “I’m so disappointed. I just can’t understand why it’s been drawn out for so long. I feel like I’m being ignored. I’ve put in all this time, I’ve sat down with all these people and now I think what for? And now what?”
Seema Malhotra, Mrs Alexander’s local MP, has seen the impact first-hand. “What has really struck me is that this is a family whose life is just on hold,” she said.
“That’s why it’s important to move forward. It’s a complicated case, we know that. But that doesn’t mean it should go on and on without any clarity about when it’s going to conclude. To the family it just feels like it’s gone into a black hole.”
In an answer to a parliamentary question tabled earlier this month by Ms Malhotra, the Solicitor-General said that on average it took six days for the CPS to reach a charging decision. But in a written statement, the CPS pointed out that deaths in custody are “among the most complicated” cases it deals with. And this case is certainly complicated.
Among other difficulties is the fact that E7 was granted immunity in relation to his testimony to the inquiry, meaning that the evidence he gave would be inadmissible. “I really don’t understand that bit,” says Mrs Alexander.
Daniel Machover, Mrs Alexander’s solicitor, acknowledges that in a case this complicated a rapid decision is unrealistic. “I’m not saying that’s the right benchmark,” he said. “Weeks or even months would be acceptable. Even four or five months. But not nine months. And they’ve got to tell us what’s going on. Why should E7 have to wait? Why should my client?”
The CPS also said that “this is a very substantial case with a significant quantity of third-party material in addition to the IPCC case file and the inquiry report”.
But the CPS had the IPCC file within weeks of the end of the inquiry. While E7 applied for a judicial review in the aftermath of the inquiry’s report, a move that ultimately failed, the CPS told Mr Machover that that was not a factor in the timeframe.
To Mr Machover, there’s another explanation for the delays. “I just think they overthink these cases,” he said. “They’re frightened, that’s the bottom line. When the police are accused of violent crime, the CPS approach it with extraordinary caution.”
Michael Mansfield, the QC who represented the families of Mark Duggan and Jean Charles de Menezes, points out that the vast complexity of such cases is often a problem. “These cases nearly always take too long,” he said. “You get a death, then the opening of an inquest, that’s postponed because of a murder inquiry, and so on. And as a result of this multi-layered situation you get enormous delays. It desperately needs streamlining to ensure that these delays don’t drag on for years.”
Andrew Arthur, head of police and prison law at Fisher Meredith solicitors, agrees that “it doesn’t do anyone any good having these matters hanging over everybody for so long”. He added: “I would have thought that given the gravity of what’s being alleged, and how unique a case it is, you’d want a decision as early as possible. There’s always a risk that cases go stale, that you lose the momentum of accountability.”
There’s also the risk that, as well as causing unnecessary pain for Azelle Rodney’s family, the delay will have a more substantial impact: if the CPS does decide to bring a prosecution – which could be against E7 himself or against the Met under health and safety legislation – a defence lawyer could seek to have the case thrown out by arguing that the delay since the events in question could deprive the defendant of a fair trial. E7’s solicitor, Scott Ingram, declined to comment.
What if, come the end of May, the CPS still hasn’t reached a decision? Mrs Alexander isn’t ready to deal with that yet. “It’s hard to think about that,” she said. “If they told me it was going to be months or years more until we got justice… to me it’s already dragged on far too long.”
The case has taken over her life to the extent that she has been unable to keep a job, and faced difficulties in getting benefits because of her situation. “It’s not on the form,” Mr Machover says drily, “I’m fighting for justice because my son was killed by the police.”
With no end in sight, Mrs Alexander observed, the only way to keep going is “to take it day by day”. “It’s so difficult,” she adds. “Where we started out and where we are now are completely different. But I’m still fighting for my son. Everybody’s moved on. Except us.”
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