Mark Duggan was unarmed, but he was lawfully killed by a police marksman. While the conclusion from the jury might have appeared to some to be perverse, that would not be a judicial first. What is most certainly welcome is that the most extreme sanction available to police has been so closely scrutinised.
Yet this was not a triumph for the system, even so. The anger of Mr Duggan’s family was inevitable given the jury’s decision. It is their right to continue a campaign against what they consider a police execution. And although the jury found differently, wider concerns do remain.
Given that the shooting of Mr Duggan was the spark for nationwide rioting and rising community tensions, it is indefensible that it took two years and five months to reach a conclusion. Delays are palpably unfair for the grieving family. They are also bad for justice. In light of the Plebgate saga –which saw inquiries into whether Andrew Mitchell called a Downing Street policeman a “pleb” drag on for more than a year – it is essential for public confidence that investigations take place swiftly and effectively. Speedy resolution avoids trial by social networks. It also allows differences in evidence between witnesses – and, in the Duggan case, there were many – to be rigorously examined before memories fade.
Delays are also unfair to the police. The man who fired the shot that killed Mr Duggan, “V53”, has now given evidence three times – twice at the trial of a man who passed a gun to Mr Duggan, and once at the inquest. Officers involved in the case have been taken off firearms duties pending the result of the inquest.
The reasons for the delays were legion. The police watchdog’s inquiry took too long and officers gave statements rather than be interviewed by investigators. The coroner who originally took the case stepped down and a retired judge took over because, by law, a coroner cannot hear surveillance evidence.
More importantly, the introduction of much-needed changes in police procedures are also being held up. Scotland Yard said it would put cameras into its vans only after a damning inquest verdict in 2012 into the death of Sean Rigg, who was allegedly mistreated in the back of one four years earlier. After the verdict in Mr Duggan’s case, police say that marksmen will be given body-worn cameras which can resolve conflicting witness evidence. Quite right.
It is clear that mistakes were made. The police watchdog apologised after wrongly claiming that Mr Duggan had fired on officers. But Scotland Yard failed to correct the mistake, allowing anger and resentment to grow. New guidelines have been introduced because of public concern at the practice of police sitting down to write their accounts in the same room.
It is important to get this in perspective. A police decision to pull the trigger is rare. In contrast to the 50 gun murders in the last three-and-a-half years, Mr Duggan was the only fatal shooting by police. In 2013, firearms teams in London were called out more than 3,000 times – but only two shots were fired and nobody was killed.
If society gives the police officers who risk their lives tackling dangerous criminals the right to use fatal force, their actions must be closely scrutinised. But it must be done swiftly.