Family of man shot dead by police while under surveillance is denied inquest

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The Independent Online

Eleven weeks before Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead at Stockwell Tube station, Scotland Yard killed a 24-year-old Londoner on a suburban road in Edgware.

Like Mr de Menezes, Azelle Rodney was unarmed and under police surveillance. But while the death of the innocent Brazilian has led to one of this country's most high-profile inquiries into the actions of armed police officers, the mother of Azelle Rodney has been denied any public investigation into her son's killing.

More than three years after Mr Rodney was shot, his family is still waiting for an inquest to establish the circumstances of his death and is yet to see a full report that was commissioned by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

The case raises concerns about the public accountability of armed police and has fuelled accusations of a cover-up of a shoot-to-kill policy.

On Saturday 30 April 2005, Mr Rodney climbed into a VW Golf with Wesley Lovell, 26, and Frank Graham, 24. The men drove to a barber's shop in North London. They were stopped by armed police tailing their vehicle. One of the 14 members of the Met's elite C019 armed unit fired eight shots into the side of the Golf at Mr Rodney, who was sitting in the back. Six bullets hit him in the face, head, neck and chest.

Police maintain that Mr Rodney's behaviour made the officer believe he was about to fire a weapon. Lovell and Graham were jailed for seven and six years respectively in 2006 after pleading guilty to possessing guns in the car. There is no evidence that Mr Rodney was holding a gun when he was shot.

Now the Rodney family has been told that an inquest into his death cannot go ahead because it would lead to the release of sensitive information about police operations.

Last year, the coroner presiding over a pre-hearing into the killing said police editing of information made under the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act – which covers information obtained from covert surveillance devices such as telephone taps and bugs – meant it was not possible to hold a meaningful inquest.

The Rodney family is no nearer knowing how Mr Rodney came to die. His mother, Susan Alexander, says that while there has been a lot of interest in the De Menezes case, the shooting of her son has been largely ignored.

"My son was tragically killed outside a pub in Hale Lane, Edgware by an armed officer of the Metropolitan Police," she said. "Azelle, who had just celebrated his 24th birthday and was looking forward to the birth of his first baby, had been busy making plans to build a life for him and his new family.

"This deeply controversial death once again raises serious questions about the disproportionate number of young black men who die following the use of force by police."

Daniel Machover, the family's solicitor, has written to the Government threatening legal action unless ministers clear the way for a full inquest that will answer the family's questions.

"There can be no public scrutiny where core evidence is withheld from the public and similarly it can never be appropriate for the next of kin to be denied the core facts surrounding the death of a loved one," he said.

The family of another man that police shot dead is also being denied an inquest because police fear it would lead to the disclosure of surveillance evidence. Terry Nicholas, a convicted drug dealer, was shot after he fired at police in west London in May last year.

Today, the House of Lords will have a chance to vote on an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Bill which would make it possible to hold inquests into both cases and for a High Court judge to properly consider sensitive police evidence.

The amendment is being tabled by the Liberal Democrats Home Affairs spokeswoman, Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer. She said: "Just because a dead man is alleged to be a violent criminal does not mean we can silently condone what might appear to be a shoot-to-kill policy. I am not saying that it was, but without a proper inquest how will the public know?"

An IPCC spokeswoman said that an investigation into the shooting had concluded that no officers should face disciplinary action. The IPCC had supplied the coroner and the Rodney family with an edited copy of its report.