A Scotland Yard firearms officer is being investigated after it was alleged that he inserted song titles into his evidence at the inquest of a barrister shot dead by police. Mark Saunders died after a siege at his home in Markham Square, Chelsea, in May 2008. An inquest found he was lawfully killed.
The officer, who is known only by his codename AZ8, allegedly played a game as he gave evidence under oath at the inquest in September. He was initially reprimanded by his Metropolitan Police line manager, but yesterday it was announced that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) would investigate after senior officers felt a reprimand was insufficient.
The officer, who is a member of the force's CO19 firearms unit, could lose his job if the allegations are proven. The IPCC is also investigating whether other officers were involved in placing song titles into their evidence.
Last night the parents of Mr Saunders said that they were told about the investigation last week and that the officer's conduct, if the allegations were true, was "outrageous". Rosemary Saunders, Mark's mother, told The Independent: "Any officer of CO19 who can approach something as serious as an inquest with such frivolous bravado – you have to question what then was his attitude on the night of 6 May 2008 when he was faced with the possibility of shooting a man. Was this also just a game? And does this call into question all of his evidence at the inquest?"
AZ8 was one of of seven officers who shot Mr Saunders after police responded to reports that the barrister had been firing his shotgun from the window of his home. A bullet from AZ8's carbine rifle hit the barrister in the head. AZ8 gave his evidence to Westminster Coroner's Court on 27 September this year. Although it has not been confirmed which song titles the officer is alleged to have used, an examination of the transcript reveals several phrases used by AZ8 which are the titles of songs.
He spoke about how, since the operation, he has reflected upon it during "Quiet Moments" – the title of a Chris de Burgh song. Describing the moment he decided to open fire on Mr Saunders – who had been waving the weapon around for five hours before he was killed – AZ8 says he decided "Enough is Enough", which is the title of a Donna Summer hit, and that he had reached the "Point of No Return" – a song from Phantom of the Opera. At one point he talked about being in the "Line of Fire", the name of a track by Journey.
It is not known why AZ8 allegedly inserted song titles into his evidence, but, during the hearing, repeated references were made to a song by The Doors. Mr Saunders had sent a friend a text message with the words: "This is the end my only friend, the end" – a lyric from the song "The End". The barrister also listened to this and other Doors songs as the police attempted to negotiate with him.
On the same day that AZ8 gave his evidence, a colleague of his from the CO19 team is thought to have told a manager that AZ8 had deliberately inserted song lyrics in to his testimony and AZ8 was immediately reprimanded. It was not until Thursday last week that senior officers, including the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, were made aware of the reprimand and the allegations.
They decided to refer the matter to the IPCC. Sources close to the Commissioner said he was "furious" that anyone could show such "insensitivity and lack of judgement" during a high-profile hearing.
The IPCC began its investigation on Friday and its investigators are currently examining transcripts of the evidence of AZ8 and other officers who gave evidence during the two-and-a-half-week hearing.
It is not currently suggested that any other officers played the same game during their testimony.
The IPCC inquiry is not a criminal investigation at the moment and will instead report back to the Metropolitan Police with suggestions on what form of disciplinary action, if any, the officer should face.
A spokeswoman for the IPCC said: "It is alleged that, while giving evidence under oath to the inquest on 27 September 2010, officer AZ8 deliberately inserted song titles into his verbal testimony.
"The IPCC has now decided that it will manage an investigation. The investigation will examine the officer's testimony, any impact that testimony may have had on the proceedings, the way in which the allegation was initially dealt with by one of his supervisors and whether or not any other police officers were involved."
A Scotland Yard spokesman said that AZ8 has been temporarily removed from firearms duty but has not been suspended. He added: "The Met takes this matter extremely seriously as we expect the highest standards of all of our staff."
Mr Saunders' widow, Elizabeth, released a statement via her solicitor which read: "Mrs Saunders has no comment to make on this matter while it is under investigation."
Possible song titles in the officer's evidence?
Quiet Moments, Chris de Burgh
Q: "Can you help us please with what you remember seeing?
A: "... it's not something I think about all the time, but in quiet moments I think about how we could have done it different."
Line of Fire, Journey
Q: "Did you know that anyone placing those lights would be exposed to danger unnecessarily?"
A: "To quote a recent programme about this, sometimes we have to put ourselves in the line of fire."
No More Tears (Enough is Enough), Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand
Q: "Action beats reaction means what exactly in simple words?"
A: "I thought: no, enough's enough."
Point of No Return, Duran Duran
Q: "What was it the second time that...made you decide it was absolutely necessary for you to fire?"
A: "It just got past the point of no return."
Faith, George Michael
Q: "Were you aware that there were other armed officers in Bywater Street?"
A: "... you have got to have faith that they are going to be covering the threat as well."
I'm Kicking Myself, As Tall as Lions
A: "I mean, like I said, I've seen the film and I'm sort of kicking myself because I now feel I left it too late..."
Chain of Command, XTC
Q: "Who ordered you to put the lights in?"
A: "Sergeant SE...There is a chain of command and you don't question your superiors."
Q: "Can you give us an idea of what time you got there?"
A: It was daylight."
Get a Bloomin' Move On (The Self Preservation Society), Theme from 'The Italian Job'
Q: "Were you actually concentrating or paying any attention to what AZ9 was doing or were you focused on your own job?"
A: No, you know, self preservation."