Fatal flaws and misinformation that made armed raid spin out of control

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When a Sussex Police marksman pressed the trigger of his Heckler & Koch carbine rifle in the darkness of a seaside flat three-and-a-half years ago, he not only killed a small-time drug dealer but dealt a fatal blow to the career of his own high-flying chief constable.

Petty villain James Ashley, who was shot at point-blank range and died instantly, was killed naked and unarmed in his own bedroom in front of his teenage girlfriend.

Despite warnings from colleagues that he should not speak out ahead of a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) investigation into such a death, Paul Whitehouse claimed the following morning that the operation had been "properly and professionally planned".

It wasn't true. The 25-strong police team that raided Mr Ashley's flat had been seriously misinformed and improperly prepared, and acted using discredited techniques.

At the Old Bailey earlier this year, murder and manslaughter charges against PC Sherwood, who fired the fatal shot, were thrown out.

But PC Sherwood, whose disciplinary record had previously led to his firearms authorisation being suspended, was not the only officer whose role had been called into question. The PCA-supervised Kent police inquiry into the raid found failings that went right to the top and, indeed, a "complete corporate failure".

Three commanders in the operation were also criminally charged, with the offence of misfeasance in public office, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Meanwhile, a separate investigation was launched into the role in the operation of the highest echelons of Sussex Police. This was led by the Chief Constable of the neighbouring Hampshire force, Sir John Hoddinott.

Its findings went to the Sussex Police Authority, who decided that Mr Whitehouse should be issued with "strong written advice", which was to "remain confidential". After being suspended for three weeks, the Chief Constable was reinstated.

The two-year-old Hoddinott report came into the public domain a fortnight before the general election with the collapse of the criminal case against the three officers. Sir John found that Mr Whitehouse had "wilfully failed to tell the truth as he knew it ... without reasonable excuse or justification".

To the shock of the new Home Secretary, Mr Whitehouse announced last week that two of the officers – Kevin French and Christopher Siggs – involved in the case should now receive the promotions that had been put on hold while they faced charges. The decision, which included a backdated pay rise, came in spite of pending disciplinary hearings.

The act was seen as yet another gesture of defiance by Mr Whitehouse in support of the bungled raid, but prompted Mr Blunkett's decisive move.