'Unlawful' shooting probe claim dismissed

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The Independent Online

A High Court judge today dismissed a claim by the family of barrister Mark Saunders that the investigation into his shooting by police is unlawful.

But Mr Justice Underhill expressed concern about the practice of allowing police officers involved in such cases to confer with one another before recording their first account of the shooting.

He said this might well be unlawful and there was a danger that the opportunity for collusion could become institutionalised.

The judge gave permission to take the case to the Court of Appeal.

He was told at the hearing last month that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) inquiry was flawed because officers involved in the siege at the lawyer's Chelsea flat were allowed to confer before recording their accounts.

Tim Owen QC, representing sister Charlotte Saunders who brought the case, told the court the issue was whether this was compatible with human rights laws.

He said: "There can be no doubt that the present practice means that there is a substantial risk of collusion and of contamination."

Mr Owen added: "On the facts of the claimant's case, the risk is substantial.

"The officers were not separated before their accounts were obtained.

"The opportunity to confer, and therefore the risk of collusion, was increased by a number of events.

"There was a delay in providing initial statements. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has now admitted that there was, in fact, conferring between the officers."

He said the IPCC had provided further opportunity to confer by organising meetings attended by groups of officers to put the questions to them.

Miss Saunders and her family, who believe the barrister was posing no further risk when he was shot, also sought a declaration from Mr Justice Underhill that there had been an unlawful failure to disclose sufficient information in the course of the investigation into the shooting on May 6.

This was also dismissed by the judge.

The IPCC practice of allowing officers to confer was agreed with the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and is contained in the Acpo Manual of Guidance on the Police Use of Firearms.

Acpo, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and the Police Federation joined the proceedings as interested parties.

Mr Saunders, 32, died of multiple bullet wounds after a five-hour shoot-out with police at his luxury Chelsea flat.

Mr Saunders, who worked as a divorce lawyer, died after shooting at police officers, neighbours and buildings with a legally-owned shotgun from his £2.2 million Markham Square flat.

Miss Saunders said after the judgment: "I brought these proceedings because I was concerned that the police officers who shot Mark were allowed to confer before giving their accounts to the IPCC.

"It is encouraging that the judge agrees that this practice might well be unlawful and that he decided that the 'opportunity for collusion is institutionalised'.

"I would really like this to be changed before Mark's investigation is over, so I am writing to the Home Secretary. I hope she will agree that something should be done urgenty."

Miss Saunders' lawyers said the judge had found, "after some hesitation", that the IPCC was entitled to go along with the police's current practice of conferring because the IPCC claimed that, if it insisted that officers did not confer, they might refuse to give any account at all.

This practice seemed to allow the officers involved in a killing to control how they themselves were investigated, the lawyers said. This could not be right.

IPCC chairman Nick Hardwick said the judge, in a judgment which also rejected similar complaints in relation to another fatal shooting, supported calls by the IPCC for changes to the way police officers conferred to write their notes after a fatal shooting.

"Both families and the IPCC agree that the way officers currently confer after a fatal shooting does not provide best evidence or secure public confidence and should change," he said.

"The court recognises the uniquely difficult job firearms officers do and also notes the IPCC's position that it will not treat officers in these circumstances as suspects in a crime unless there is evidence to justify doing so.

"The court recognises that any new post-incident procedure must command public confidence, but also acknowledges the fears of firearms officers about the way they might be treated."

He added that the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) was now developing a post-incident procedure to provide "best evidence".

"We urge Acpo to finalise and publish the new procedure quickly," Mr Hardwick said.