Shotgun barrister was killed lawfully, rules jury

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An alcoholic barrister who pointed his shotgun at police was lawfully killed when they opened fire in response, an inquest jury ruled today.

Mark Saunders, 32, died when Scotland Yard marksmen fired a volley of shots during a drunken stand-off at his home in Markham Square, Chelsea, on May 6 2008.

A jury at Westminster Coroner's Court ruled their lethal actions were lawful, proportionate and reasonable at the conclusion of a two-and-half-week inquest.

The panel found fatal shots to the head, heart and liver were "likely" to be caused by police shots that were lawfully fired in "reasonable self-defence".



The jury said it was not sure Mr Saunders "deliberately and consciously" committed 'suicide by cop' by using his shotgun to provoke police to shoot him.



The inquest heard the gunman said he expected to die several times during the evening but that he was extremely drunk and may have been in a fantasy world.



The jury said more detailed consideration should have been given by police commanders at an early stage in the siege to using his wife Elizabeth or friend Michael Bradley to defuse the confrontation.



But it added that this did not contribute to the deadly outcome.



Both his wife and Mr Bradley asked to speak to the gunman, who also wanted to contact them, but they were told it was too dangerous and to switch off their mobile phones.



This was despite the fact that Mr Saunders called Mr Bradley at about 7pm.



Mrs Saunders later found he had sent her a blank text message but her phone was off.



The jury said there was a "lack of clarity" over who was responsible for frontline firearms officers.



But it added that this did not contribute to the deadly outcome either.



The inquest heard that Superintendent Michael Wise did not know two officers, Sergeant SE and Inspector Nicholas Bennett, were undertaking the role of bronze firearms commander.



The coroner said this may have contributed to the move to switch on static floodlights despite a decision by Mr Wise that this would be too dangerous.



It was claimed that this "fundamental" confusion had led to poor decisions over the positions of marksmen surrounding Mr Saunders.



The jury found insufficient weight was given after Mr Saunders fired his shotgun through his window at 9.09pm to the fact that he was a vulnerable alcoholic.



But it added that this did not make a contribution to his death.



Police knew Mr Saunders was a member of a so-called special population group because of his long-term alcoholism and history of violent mood swings.



The inquest heard guidelines state police could consider "backing off" to allow tension to ease, the affects of alcohol to dissipate and the subject's mental or emotional state to stabilise.



In a legal ruling that can now be revealed, Coroner Dr Paul Knapman said there was not enough evidence to prove unlawful killing and did not give the jury this option.



He said: "I am satisfied there is insufficient evidence to justify leaving the jury with the option of finding that unlawful killing is made out to the criminal standard."



The Crown Prosecution Service will now review the circumstances of Mr Saunders's death to see if new and significant evidence emerged during the inquest.



In September 2009, prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to charge any firearms officer as it could not be proved they were not acting in self-defence.



But it emerged that prosecutors also considered charges of gross negligence, misconduct and health and safety breaches against those in charge of the operation.



As a result of this move, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has postponed the publication of its investigation.



It emerged during the inquest that IPCC officials concluded that the officers were justified in their actions.



Mrs Saunders sat with her head bowed and dabbed her eyes as the nine to two majority narrative verdict was returned.



Addressing the Saunders family directly, Dr Knapman said: "These have not been an easy three weeks for Mrs Saunders and the Saunders family.



"In fact it must have been an extraordinarily difficult period. I would just like to say, on behalf of us all I am sure, that they have our sympathy in a desperately sad situation."



A CPS spokesman said: "In line with guidelines from the Attorney General, the Crown Prosecution Service always considers whether any significant new evidence has arisen from an inquest where someone has died after contact with the police.



"This case is no different, and we will be looking to see if any such evidence has emerged from the inquest into the death of Mark Saunders."



In a statement, Mrs Saunders said: "From the day Mark died I have been committed to ensuring that the circumstances of his death should be subjected to a thorough and independent investigation.



"I did not approach the process with any pre-determined conclusions and I respect the verdict of a jury who have carefully considered all the evidence.



"I spoke at length about Mark when I gave my evidence. He was a loving and much loved husband, son, brother and friend.



"He is very much missed by all who knew and cared about him.



"I would like to thank all those who have supported me since Mark died, my family, my friends and my colleagues, the residents of Markham Square who have been unfailingly generous to me and all those people whom I did not know before Mark died who have been so kind to me."



Mrs Saunders said she will not be making any further comment and thanked the media for its sensitivity during the inquest.



The coroner said he would write to the Metropolitan Police to make at least one recommendation in the light of the evidence heard at the inquest.



He raised in particular Supt Wise's confusion about who was in charge of the police marksmen.



Dr Knapman said he would use his powers under Rule 43 of the Coroner's Rules to highlight lessons that should be learned by the police for the future.



Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson wrote to the IPCC last month rejecting criticism that two key responsibilities for the firearms operation were given to the same officer, the inquest heard.



He said: "The roles were separated at this incident.



"It is unfortunate that due to a misunderstanding this was not apparent to Superintendent Wise at the time."



But Dr Knapman revealed today that the Met wrote another letter to the IPCC on Monday in which the force admitted: "The evidence at the inquest has shown that there was a confusion on this point."



The coroner said: "It may be that this will be the subject of a Rule 43 report and there may be others.



"I now intend to announce that I shall be making at least one report under Rule 43 of the Coroner's Rules."



He said he would make copies of his recommendation available to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke and the parties involved in the inquest.



In a joint statement released on their behalf, the Metropolitan Police firearms officers involved in the operation said they wanted to "express their heartfelt respects to the family".



They added: "Since May 6, 2008, they have awaited the inquest to give their account of what actions they took and why they took them.



"All involved only ever wanted a peaceful resolution to the incident.



"Firearms officers are all volunteers, they perform a unique role in policing.



"They place themselves between the public and harm's way. Nothing can adequately prepare a police officer for the actual taking of someone's life.



"They all joined the police service to protect the public and save life."



Mrs Saunders left the inquest with her legal team by taxi without making any further comment.



Tom Davies, who oversaw the IPCC investigation, said: "We note the findings of the jury today. We understand the Crown Prosecution Service will now be considering whether any significant new evidence arose at the inquest in accordance with their normal procedure.



"At the request of the CPS, we will not publish the findings from the investigation until the outcome of their review is known.



"We originally passed our investigation report to the CPS in May '09 and, following consideration, they decided in September '09 that no officers would be prosecuted.



"We conducted a thorough investigation into the fatal shooting of Mr Saunders, which has helped inform the inquest.



"I would like to again send my condolences to the family of Mr Saunders who have acted with great dignity throughout this difficult time."



Mr Saunders' parents and sister Charlotte left the inquest and got into a waiting taxi without commenting to waiting media.



A source close to the family said they remain "extremely upset" and are considering what to do next.



One person who has supported them throughout the hearing said: "It is some sort of closure, but the feelings are very raw."