The information used to justify the raid was "intelligence" from a regional crime squad officer that a consignment of cocaine was on its way to St Leonards. Kent officers who reviewed the operation were amazed that such a high-risk operation could be justified on such grounds.
Firearms officers were warned that James Ashley was a murderer who had used firearms before. In fact he had been jailed for two years for manslaughter after a bar fight in 1992. Intelligence commander Detective Inspector Christopher Siggs had only been in the job days before the operation. Kent police, investigating the incident, said: "The significant intelligence was not mistaken or even merely exaggerated, it was determinably false. The considered conclusion of the inquiry team was that there was a plan to deceive and the intelligence was concocted."
Sussex Police employed the so-called Bermuda technique, which involves flooding a building with armed officers. The technique is not used by any other force and has been criticised by national police firearms experts. Officers were not issued with a plan of the building and were not clear where Mr Ashley's flat was located in the multi-occupancy building. The incident commander, acting Chief Inspector Kevin French, had very limited experience in his role. Entirely innocent people sleeping in other flats were not evacuated or informed of the raid.
As they stumbled in the darkness, officers knocked over an ironing board, making a dog bark and waking Mr Ashley's girlfriend, Caroline Courtland-Smith. The officers clustered outside a door that led to flats 5 and 6, where Mr Ashley and Ms Courtland-Smith were in bed. The marksman who found himself outside Mr Ashley's door, PC Christopher Sherwood, had what Kent officers later described as "a discipline record which had on a previous occasion led to the suspension of his firearms authorisation". The Kent team concluded: "It is difficult to see the justification for his authorisation being returned after a so-called 'cooling off' period without any apparent action to address either the behavioural or technical competencies."
The morning after the raid, Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse called a press conference, despite advice from colleagues that a Police Complaints Authority investigation was already under way. He wrongly stated that Mr Ashley was wanted for murder, whereas he had in fact intervened to pull a knifeman off a victim in an incident at Cherries Bar in Hastings a week before the shooting.
Mr Whitehouse described the raid as "properly and professionally planned". Sir John Hoddinott, the Chief Constable of Hampshire, later reported that Mr Whitehouse had "wilfully failed to tell the truth as he knew it".
Last week, after the collapse of all criminal charges against officers in the case, Mr Whitehouse promoted officers Siggs and French and gave them a backdated pay rise, despite the fact that disciplinary hearings against them are still pending.Reuse content