Socialist Worker

Armed police demand a licence to kill

Issue No. 1926

POLICE OFFICERS have reacted swiftly and furiously to the unlawful killing verdict returned by an inquest into the death of Harry Stanley, who was shot in the back of the head by police in 1999.

The two officers who killed Harry Stanley—Neil Sharman and Kevin Fagan—have been suspended by the Metropolitan Police following the jury’s decision. The pair may now face criminal charges.

But the suspensions sparked a bitter reaction from police.

As Socialist Worker went to press, some 120 officers in the Met’s SO19 specialist armed response unit had officially withdrawn from firearms duties.

The Police Federation described the suspensions as “unnecessary and unwarranted”. The Met tacitly condoned the protest, saying it was “understandable” that firearms officers feel “especially vulnerable”.

“I think it’s a very calculated move on their part to try and deflect attention away from the evidence that came out of that inquest,” said Deborah Coles of Inquest, which campaigns against miscarriages of justice.

“The Metropolitan Police and other officers are attempting to influence the media and avoid the reality of what this case is all about—that in the jury’s view these officers lied about the threat Harry Stanley posed.”

Despite the jury finding that Sharman and Fagan had acted illegally, the Metropolitan Police issued a press statement defending the officers’ account of events—that they “were confronting what they believed to be an imminent threat to their lives”.

The Met was later forced to withdraw that statement after protests from Inquest and solicitors representing Harry Stanley’s family.

Nevertheless, the firearms officers’ “strike” clearly signals how some elements of the police force believe themselves to be above the law.

“If we perceive a threat, we must be able to take action without worrying if we will end up being prosecuted,” one protesting officer told the London Evening Standard.

Deborah Coles responded, “The jury believed the police officers acted unlawfully—that’s the key issue people have forgotten here. The rule of law has got to apply equally to police officers as it does to other individuals.”

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