Police shot barrister at least five times, inquest hears

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The Independent Online

Mark Saunders was shot at least five times by police to end the siege at his Chelsea home, an inquest heard.

The 32-year-old barrister, who caused a five-hour stand-off when he started firing out his window, did not turn the gun on himself but was hit in the head, heart and liver by marksmen, Westminster coroner's court was told.

Friends and family of the popular divorce specialist, who had been married just 18 months, do not understand why he returned to his £2.2m Georgian flat in Markham Square, Chelsea, on Tuesday evening and began randomly shooting out of his window.

Armed police flooded the area as neighbours and customers in nearby shops were warned to stay indoors. The lawyer exchanged fire with police three times but refused to talk to negotiators. Two hours before he died, Mr Saunders – who some claimed had depression and a chronic drink problem – threw a message out of his apartment which read, "I love my wife dearly. xxx".

A volley of shots was exchanged at about 9.10pm before the final confrontation took place 20 minutes later. Members of Scotland Yard's CO19 specialist firearms unit stormed the flat using stun grenades. Emergency medical staff found the semi-naked gunman fatally injured.

The coroner's officer, Lynda Morris, told the hearing that Mr Saunders did not have injuries from his own shotgun but was hit by bullets from several weapons. "The multiple gunshot wounds present are associated with severe internal damage to the brain, the heart, the liver and the main vein of the lower body," she said, reading from a preliminary report by the pathologist, Dr Nathaniel Carey.

Ms Morris added: "The external and internal gunshot-related damage is consistent with a minimum of five shots having hit the deceased. The nature of the wound and the projectile material recovered from the body suggests that more than one type of bullet has hit the deceased and further information will become available on this point." The formal cause of death was given as multiple gunshot wounds.

The inquest heard that Mr Saunders' wife, Elizabeth Clarke, 40, an equally respected barrister at the same chambers, QEB, had identified his body. She has denied reports that she argued with her husband before the incident, insisting that she was at work and returned home only after the area was cordoned off during the siege. They had a "strong union" and were "deeply committed to each other", she said.

Paul Craig, an investigating officer for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, told the court a fuller report may take up to six months and involve forensic examination of scenes, searches, house-to-house inquiries and interviews with witnesses.

A Metropolitan Police commander, Stuart Osborne of the directorate of professional standards, said his officers took over after Mr Saunders died.

The coroner, Dr Paul Knapman, adjourned the inquest until 9 September.