My son did not have to be shot, says barrister's father

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The Independent Online

The father of a barrister shot dead during an armed siege in Chelsea has insisted his son posed no threat to the public, despite being armed with a licensed shotgun.

Reports suggest that Mark Saunders, 32, may have been hit up to three times during the five-hour stand-off, near King's Road on Tuesday night. It was claimed that Mr Saunders, who was tipped to be a top judge, used the shotgun to fire through a hole in his window, peppering neighbouring properties with pellets.

Yesterday his father, Rodney Saunders, said he wanted answers as to why his Oxford-educated son, a former member of the Territorial Army, had been killed. He also appeared to contradict suggestions that the high-flying young lawyer had sought to end his life in the stand-off by refusing to put away his weapon and surrender to the nine firearms officers believed to have been engaged in the operation.

Mr Saunders said: "Put it this way, he didn't endanger anyone at all to my knowledge and we can only surmise what might have happened before the whole thing started," he said, describing him as "a warm, caring and loving son".

An inquest into Mr Saunders' death will be opened today at Westminster coroner's court when the details of the full post-mortem examination will be disclosed. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating the incident and officers have been making house-to-house inquiries and taking statements from residents in the area around the dead man's flat in Markham Square. One neighbour, Jane Winkworth, described how she had to take cover in her basement flat after the barrister fired shots into her garden. "I thought I was being shot at and screamed at Mark to stop firing. He fired again a third time. I then locked myself into my flat and called the police," she said. Mrs Winkworth described how officers "charged up the stairs to Mark's flat and shot him".

According to witnesses, Mr Saunders had suffered from depression in the past and was known to drink heavily at times. One resident said he had seen him recently in the street outside his £2.2m home in a highly agitated state, rocking and crying.

It is understood that on the day of his death he had quarrelled with his wife, Elizabeth Clarke, 40, also a successful barrister at the same QEB Chambers. She was at work when the siege began and was forced to watch events from behind the police cordon. The couple had been married for less than 18 months. Mr Saunders's family issued a statement last night emphasising that he and his wife had a "strong union" and were "deeply committed to each other". The statement read: "This is a very distressing time for all of Mark's family, who loved him dearly, and especially for Elizabeth ... It has been widely reported that Elizabeth was at the family home prior to the terrible events which led to Mark's death. She was in fact at work, and arrived home only after the area had been cordoned off."

Mr Saunders is the eighth person to be shot dead by police since 2005, when Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by police officers at Stockwell Tube station.

Deborah Coles, of the campaign group Inquest, which monitors deaths in custody and police shootings, said previous shootings in the capital had not been satisfactorily dealt with by the authorities. "There is a wrong suggestion that the police don't shoot people but the figures show that they do. Previous cases show that if these shootings are not properly investigated they can linger for some time. Our concern is for there to be a robust and transparent investigation into the conduct of individual police officers," she said.

When lethal force is used

There are no formal rules of engagement, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers. Decisions are made by the gold and silver commanders, who set the parameters for each operation. In the event of a fatal shooting, it is up to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to investigate the circumstances. Senior police officers have denied operating "shoot-to-kill" policies, but spoke in the wake of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes of a "moral duty, if not possibly a legal duty... to take life to save life". The IPCC prosecuted the Metropolitan Police over Mr de Menezes on the grounds that it failed to protect his welfare. The force was fined £175,000 for "catastrophic errors", though no individuals were disciplined.