Police marksmen have too many complex guidelines, says coroner

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The Independent Online

Police marksmen cannot "see the wood for the trees" because of reams of complex guidelines, a coroner said today.

Paul Knapman, who oversaw the inquest into the death of barrister Mark Saunders, said the paperwork burden must be slashed.

In a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, he said senior officers must encourage "common sense" and not a "slavish adherence" to documents and protocols.

Dr Knapman also said police should consider bringing a top level officer from any force to attend the most difficult operations.

He said the officer should be given "huge authority" to review tactics, take a fresh look and change them if necessary.

A jury at Westminster Coroner's Court yesterday ruled Mr Saunders, 32, was lawfully killed by Scotland Yard snipers when he brandished a shotgun at them.

But it highlighted shortcomings in the police operation including confusion among senior ranks and a lack of consideration for the barrister's vulnerable state.

Dr Knapman said: "My perception is that 'not being able to see the wood for the trees' may be a problem.

"You may take the view (or encourage others with power to alter things to take a view) that much of this material may be amalgamated, simplified or dispensed with.

"You may also take the view that there has been over reliance upon the printed word of instruction in the police service (as with other public services) in recent times.

"It may be that there is merit in encouraging one or two shorter documents and all documents set out in simple and unsophisticated language thereby minimising jargon - indeed, encouraging more common sense rather than slavish adherence to written documents and protocols."

Dr Knapman highlighted six firearms manuals and guidance documents printed by the Met, Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), Home Office and National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).

The coroner also wrote to Sir Paul Stephenson to underline the confusion that emerged during the inquest over who was responsible for the mass of firearms officers.

Dr Knapman said the Scotland Yard boss should take "any action you may think appropriate" over the "blurring" between the roles of firearms tactical adviser and bronze commander.

The inquest jury heard at length how the officer responsible for running the armed stand-off did not know that two officers were undertaking the key role of running the 59 marksmen armed with 109 weapons.

It heard that Sir Paul initially rejected the criticism in a letter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), but the force later changed its position, admitting there was "confusion".

Dr Knapman also said Sir Paul should look at the jury's ruling that police did not give enough consideration to Mr Saunders' vulnerable condition, although this did not contribute to his death.

The inquest heard that senior officers could have done more to balance Mr Saunders' fear of being killed by police with the large number of armed colleagues positioned just metres from him.

The coroner said: "I bring this to your attention, realising it is a very difficult area for whatever action you may think fit."

Dr Knapman will be widely seen as pushing at an open door on the issue of the burden of unnecessary and often confusing police guidelines.

Acpo president Sir Hugh Orde and HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Denis O'Connor have repeatedly highlighted that they must be cut.

Senior members of the coalition Government have campaigned on giving police "discretion" to make decisions, away from rigid guidelines.

Senior police firearms officers from across Britain have been brought in to review how the Met deploys armed officers.

The review examined whether units including Trident, serious and organised crime and the Flying Squad should continue to undertake armed operations.

Commander Jerry Savill, who is responsible for firearms at the Met, said: "We are constantly looking at ways to develop and enhance the way we conduct firearms operations.

"As part of our continued professional development within the Met, we have invited senior firearms commanders from other UK forces to assist us in reviewing the way the Met currently delivers planned firearms operations in terms of command capability and tactical deployments.

"The review has included operations carried out by a number of the Met's armed commands including the Flying Squad.

"Work continues within the Met to identify any potential improvements to current working practices."