The error to force change: One of the cases that sticks in public memory is the mistaken shooting of Stephen Waldorf, just ten years ago

Sunday 10 January 1993 00:02 GMT

ON 14 JANUARY 1983, London was the scene of an armed police operation that shocked the nation. In Pembroke Road, Earl's Court, during the evening rush- hour, a yellow Mini with three passengers, one a woman, came to a halt in a traffic jam. A group of men converged upon the Mini from both sides. Without warning a series of shots was fired.

A male passenger in the car escaped and ran away in shock. The woman was dragged out of the car, screaming and protesting. The driver, shot five times and seriously wounded in the head, abdomen and liver, was pulled clear by police. Handcuffed and bleeding profusely he was hauled across the pavement by his forearms. His name was Stephen Waldorf.

Within an hour a senior officer at New Scotland Yard was making a public apology for 'a tragic case of mistaken identity' and announcing the launch of an immediate inquiry by the Complaints Investigation branch of the Metropolitan Police Service. Stephen Waldorf, a film editor, had been ambushed by plainclothes detectives in the belief that he was David Martin, an escaped prisoner who was accused of the attempted murder of a police officer and was also facing bank robbery and firearms charges.

The ambush, staged in a busy thoroughfare in heavy traffic, was also seen as posing a serious threat to public safety as well as flouting rules governing the use of firearms by police officers. William Whitelaw, then the Home Secretary, promised that a full report would be passed to the then Police Complaints Board and

the Director of Public Prosecutions. All steps would be

taken to ensure that no such incident should ever happen again.

Three detective constables were suspended during the inquiry. On 19 January 1983, detective constables John Jardine and Peter Finch were both charged with attempted murder. Both were remanded on bail. Stephen Waldorf was still in intensive care.

Nine months later, on 19 October 1983, DCs Jardine and Finch were found not guilty as charged. Stephen Waldorf eventually recovered and was awarded pounds 120,000 in compensation.

After the Waldorf incident, changes in the selection, training and deployment of armed police were progressively introduced; but two incidents in 1985 resulted respectively in an accidental fatality and serious wounding. As a result, yet further changes in procedure were made and have continued to the present day.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in