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David Cameron orders review of legal protection for armed police

Government sources say review is in response to the threat of a marauding terrorist attack

Paul Peachey
Crime Correspondent
Sunday 20 December 2015 22:15 GMT
Police leaders said they were concerned about the number of armed officers available to respond to a suicide terrorist attack
Police leaders said they were concerned about the number of armed officers available to respond to a suicide terrorist attack (Getty)

The Prime Minister has ordered a review into legal protections for police marksmen after senior officers demanded more support for the first responders of any Paris-style terrorist attack.

David Cameron was lobbied by senior officers, including Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, after being warned of concerns that officers could be tied up in long-running legal disputes after making split-second decisions to open fire.

But opposition MPs warned against any knee-jerk response after a member of a Scotland Yard undercover team was arrested last week following the fatal shooting of a 28-year-old man during an alleged attempt to spring two convicts from a prison van.

The review – to be carried out by the Ministry of Justice and Home Office – will cover all forms of police shooting, but government sources said it was in response to the threat of a marauding terrorist attack.

It will also been seen as an attempt to bolster the morale of armed officers, after police leaders said they were concerned about the numbers available to respond to a suicide terrorist attack.

Scotland Yard this month revealed tactics adopted since 2008 that showed fast-response teams pressing forward and leaving behind injured colleagues in the pursuit of armed terrorists. “In the world we now find ourselves in, post Paris, there’s certainly a need for police officers to feel they have backing,” said a government source.

But the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “It is vital communities have complete confidence in their police. That means nobody should be above the law, including armed officers. The police do one of the hardest jobs there is and they must feel protected. But this needs to be reviewed in a calm and collected manner and not in a knee-jerk response to terror attacks.”

The review follows a political debate over the rights of police to shoot to kill. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was criticised by a number of his own MPs after saying “any kind of shoot-to-kill policy” could be counter-productive on the streets of Britain. He later said that he supported taking whatever actions were required to save life in response to Paris-style attacks.

A policy of shooting to kill suicide bombers was made public for the first time a decade ago following a major reassessment after the 11 September attacks in the US. The College of Policing, the body responsible for standards, says that a critical shot should be fired only “when absolutely necessary in defence of a person when there is an imminent and extreme risk to life from unlawful violence. A critical shot is a shot or shots to the head, if possible, or otherwise to the central nervous system or major organs.”

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