Pressure on police over 'unjustified' killing of man with lighter

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The Independent Online

Concerns mounted on Thursday that armed police used "unjustified and unlawful" force when they fatally shot a black man in the back.

Derek Bennett, a 29-year-old with a reported history of psychiatric illness, was killed by officers in south London on Monday afternoon as he held a gun-shaped cigarette lighter. The Police Complaints Auth-ority (PCA) investigating the shooting confirmed yesterday that post-mortem tests found Mr Bennett, who had four children, had been hit three or four times in the back and shoulder.

The Community Police Consultative Group for Lambeth, which is liaising with the PCA, said in a statement it was "becoming increasingly concerned" as events unfolded. "The reports of four bullets into Mr Bennett's back would appear at this time to be unjustified and unlawful," it said.

Paul Andell, its treasurer, added: "The guidelines say use of force by the armed response teams should be proportionate. These early reports appear to suggest there was disproportionate use of force."

Duncan Gear, who is supervising the investigation by Northumbria Police, met the Bennett family after an inquest into the death of the former traffic warden was opened and adjourned at Southwark coroner's court yesterday. Assistant deputy coroner Dr Roy Palmer adjourned Mr Bennett's inquest until February 4 2002, after reading a statement from Mr Bennett's father, Ernest, who formally identified his son.

Earlier in the day Mr Bennett's mother, Violet, sobbed when she placed a bouquet at the spot where he fell on the Angell Town Estate in Crowhurst Close, Brixton. "They killed my child. Why did they kill my child?" she cried, collapsing at one point.

Mr Bennett had fled to the scene after brandishing what was thought to be a weapon in nearby Loughborough Road.

Mr Bennett's brother Anthony quoted Nelson Mandela, questioning whether a black person's life was so cheap that it did not count.

"As a family we are deeply saddened and upset as to the nature and loss of my brother Derek. The question that we really want to know is what happened, what were the sequences of events that led up to my brother being shot?

"We would also like to know why the police commissioner found it so hard to express his sympathy and apologies to us as a family?

"We hope to get some justice to the death of my brother. Derek was a lovable brother, a lovable son and a loving father who worked very hard."

The PCA and the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust would not comment on Mr Bennett's psychiatric history.