There's just been an inquest into the shooting and killing, by two policemen, of Harry Stanley, who they thought was armed but was in fact carrying a chair leg. A jury found the officers guilty of "unlawful killing", so they were suspended from duty, but then a section of the armed police threatened a strike, insisting the verdict was wrong.
A wife of one of the officers said, "You can't expect my husband to have X-ray vision." Because without X-ray vision, how can anyone tell a chair leg from a gun? I'm sure Harry Stanley himself often made a similar mistake, and wondering why a chair he'd made was wobbling, noticed that on one corner he'd stuck a Colt 45 pistol instead of a leg. And as anyone with military experience knows, there's nothing more common than a regiment opening fire on an enemy position, only to realise they're firing with warped lengths of pine from Ikea.
The marvellous part about this attempt to defend the shooting is it could be applied to gunning down anyone at all. You could say "It may have turned out to be an old-age pensioner reaching for his milk tokens, but in that split-second how could I be sure he wouldn't produce an armoured tank? Or a Great White Shark that had evolved to live on land? Who am I - Superman?"
It might have been more logical to say they were confused because there's a growing trend for criminals to use firearms that double as pieces of furniture, such as the RPG7 rocket-launching bevelled teak kitchen unit, or the Smith and Wesson reclining seat with repeat-action reloading feature for extra back support.
During the inquest, a Home Office pathologist revealed that Harry Stanley was "shot in the rear", not in the front as the officers had claimed. But then again, they'd also claimed that when they called out, Harry Stanley had assumed a "classic firing position". As you would. Because when faced with a squad of armed marksman calling out to you, the first thing you'd think is, "This is potentially hazardous, so the safest action is to crouch into a classic firing position and pretend my chair leg is a rifle." It's surprising they didn't add that he dived behind a barrel shouting, "You'll never take me alive copper," then climbed to the top of a ladder brandishing his chair leg/ Kalashnikov, screaming, "I'm on top of the world ma."
The discrepancies in the police evidence were crucial because, to arrive at a verdict of "unlawful killing", the jury had to be certain not only that the officers weren't under threat, but that they couldn't have perceived they were under threat. But now, the jury having decided exactly that, there's a campaign to lift the suspensions on the officers. Which means that the campaigners must be proposing a new system of justice, whereby the accused is allowed to choose their own verdict.
This is a groundbreaking liberal approach that the most free-thinking hippies might be uneasy about. If adopted, convicted bank robbers will have the option of saying, "Thanks very much to the jury and your honour for taking the trouble to work out whether I did it or not. But if you don't mind, I've decided you're wrong so I'm going home." Honestly, London's armed police are proposing political correctness gone mad.
There are other aspects to the story that suggest it isn't just about a tragic accident but about an attitude. Harry Stanley's wife said of the police, "They have not shown me or my family one jot of respect or remorse." For example, it took the police 24 hours to inform her of her husband's death.
And when the wife of one of the suspended officers was interviewed on the radio this week, she related how ever since the incident she's been sick with worry about what would happen to her husband, with barely a mention for the poor bloke shot dead. It felt as though she was saying, "Never mind him, what about my feelings?" Perhaps she's got a point and we should be more even-handed in these situations. For example, when the Twin Towers were knocked over, how many of us bothered to spare a moment for Mrs Bin Laden, who must have been sick with worry?
In any case she needn't have worried too much, as the officers who fired were allowed to carry on as they were, using firearms, and even after the recent judgement are on full pay, and according to one police spokesman could be back within a month.
I bet Adrian Mutu wishes that instead of playing for Chelsea after a snort, all he'd done was gun a bloke down, as he'd be back in the first team by now. Not only that, but one of the officers who shot Harry Stanley was subsequently promoted. Which makes you wonder, if he's one of the best, how bad must the others have been? I suppose at least a chair leg is long and round like a rifle. Perhaps the rest of the squad go to shoot if they see someone carrying shoe polish or a Kit-Kat.
So surely any day soon we'll see a torrent of vitriol as Richard Littlejohn, the Daily Mail, David Blunkett and Michael Howard compete with each other for who can shout the loudest: "Oh, we're supposed to be concerned for the rights of the guilty - but what about the victims?"
- More about: