Police officers in gun death raid are promoted

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The Independent Online

Two officers who helped plan an armed-raid by police that led to a man being shot dead while naked in his bedroom have been promoted, it was revealed yesterday.

Inspectors Kevin French and Christopher Siggs have both been made chief inspectors by Sussex Police in move described by the family of James Ashley as "slap in the face". Unarmed Mr Ashley was shot and killed in his flat in St Leonards, East Sussex, in January 1998.

The promotions were seen as a gesture of defiance from the Sussex Chief Constable, Paul Whitehouse, after a series of investigations by other forces had been extremely critical of the handling of the operation.

An inquiry by Sir John Hoddinott, the Chief Constable of Hampshire, condemned Mr Whitehouse and other senior officers for attempting to justify the shooting. Sir John said he had found "prima facie evidence" of wilful neglect of duty by Mr Whitehouse.

Mr French and Mr Siggs were among three senior officers charged with criminal misconduct. However, the case was dropped last month when the prosecution offered no evidence at a hearing at Wolverhampton Crown Court.

But in clearing the officers, judge Mrs Justice Ann Rafferty said Sussex Police bore a "heavy responsibility" for Mr Ashley's death. The judge noted that Mr Siggs, 42, intelligence expert on the operation, "had spent only days in the job".

She pointed out that Mr French had "experience ... described as limited" in his role as the incident commander.

Both officers may still face disciplinary proceedings from their force after the collapse of the criminal case against them. Sussex Police is awaiting recommendations from the Police Complaints Authority on how to proceed.

A Sussex Police spokesman said: "Now they have been cleared in court and reinstated, there is no reason to hold back their new ranks."

The force said both men had been selected for promotion prior to the shooting but their new ranks had been placed on hold while they were suspended, pending the outcome of the case against them.

Mr Ashley's family have called for a public inquiry into the shooting of a man who was described by Mrs Justice Ann Rafferty as a "violent and brutal drugs dealer".

News of the promotion of the two officers came as a shock to the dead man's relatives.

Mr Ashley's brother Tony said: "This is another slap in the face for the family. If this is what it takes to get promoted within Sussex police, then it's a disgrace. We are demanding, not asking, that the Home Secretary orders an inquiry into this force and I hope he has the courage to do it."

The family is also planning a civil action against Sussex Police. Caroline Courtland-Smith, Mr Ashley's fiancee who was in bed with him at the time of the shooting is distraught at the development, her mother Toni Roberts said yesterday.

She added: "This makes me feel sick and Caroline feels the same way. How can Siggs and French have earned promotion when they have been suspended – that is, not working – for three-and-a-half years?"

The aim of the raid was to seize cocaine alleged to have been delivered to Mr Ashley's flat, arrest another man, and recover a large cache of weapons and drugs.

Another report, by the Metropolitan Police's Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Barbara Wilding, discovered police knew that two of the flats in Ashley's block were occupied by innocent members of the public but no plan of the building had been obtained before the raid.

Officers taking part in the operation were warned that Mr Ashley had a previous conviction for attempted murder and had shot someone. Neither was true, although he had been convicted of manslaughter after a man he punched later died.

The intelligence on which the raid was carried out was "determinably false", concluded the report. The search warrant was also deficient and should have been modified before a raid was carried out.

The officer who fired the single shot that killed Mr Ashley, PC Christopher Sherwood, was cleared of murder and manslaughter in April, after an Old Bailey judge ruled that the prosecution had failed to show he had not acted in self-defence.