Police gave no warning before fatal shooting of Azelle Rodney

Officer tells inquiry that he thought unarmed victim Azelle Rodney  had automatic weapon

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The Independent Online

A policeman who shot dead a suspected armed robber did not shout a warning or see any weapon before he opened up with two rapid bursts of gunfire, a public inquiry into the killing heard yesterday.

The officer, known only as E7, said in his first statement made after the shooting in 2005 that he believed from "actions and body language" that Azelle Rodney was about to take an automatic weapon when the car in which he was travelling was stopped by police.

E7 said he fired eight bullets in two bursts because he thought that his colleagues were in immediate danger. Police believed the three men were armed with machine guns and were preparing to rob a group of Colombian drug dealers of a stash of cocaine, based on intelligence provided by Customs and Excise.

The officer, an experienced firearms specialist, was in one of four unmarked police cars tracking the VW Golf carrying Mr Rodney, 24, and two other men from Fulham to Edgware, north London, on April 30, 2005.

On the call of ‘attack, attack', the car carrying E7 pulled alongside the Golf carrying Mr Rodney. In the statement made two days after shooting, E7 detailed what he saw before he shot Mr Rodney six times during the 0.88 seconds that he had sight of him.

E7 stated that Mr Rodney, the only man on the back seat of the car, looked over his shoulder a couple of times before "ducking down" and appeared to be reaching down into the foot well of the car. "I feared that he was reaching for a weapon," E7 said in his statement. "I held my fire waiting to see what he would do next.

"Suddenly his head popped up and he appeared to look through the front windscreen. His shoulders were hunched.

"Everything about his actions and his body language led me to believe that he had picked up a firearm and was preparing to shoot a fully automatic firearm but I still couldn't see a weapon. "I believed I couldn't delay my decision to fire any longer. I felt that my colleagues were in immediate danger."

He fired "several shots in quick succession" followed by a second burst from the passenger seat of the car in which he was being driven.

E7 got out of the car and "saw a lot of blood spray out of the suspect and noticed that he had serious head injuries". He confirmed that he did not shout an "oral warning" before he opened fire. Three guns were later found in the VW car.

In an emotional statement to the hearing yesterday, Mr Rodney's mother, Susan Alexander, said that she was devastated that an inquiry into his death had taken so long. The delays followed the abandonment of an inquest because coroners were not allowed to see evidence obtained through phone taps.

Mrs Alexander had questioned whether any other police shootings over the last seven years could have been avoided if lessons had been learned earlier from the shooting, the inquiry heard. "No one should have to wait for so many years to find out why their son or daughter died at the hands of the police," said an emotional Mrs Alexander.

The two other men in the car later pleaded guilty to firearms offences, but her son – whose partner was eight months pregnant with his daughter – never had the opportunity, the inquiry was told.

"To state the obvious, they were at least able to walk away alive on 30 April 2005 and have long since served their prison sentences, while it seems to me that Azelle was executed that day and as a result never even got to see his baby daughter."

Leslie Thomas, counsel for the family, said the family did not seek to justify what Mr Rodney was doing on that day and said they had never sought to paint him as an angel. "But he was entitled to be apprehended and if there was evidence he was entitled to be charged," he said. "If individuals are at fault, they should be held accountable."

Counsel for the Metropolitan Police, Anne Studd, said that any criticisms of the police operation should be seen in the light of changes made since the shooting seven years ago.