Socialist Worker

Shoot to kill — the police’s fatal policy

Helen Shaw, co-director of the campaigning justice organisation Inquest, writes on why shoot to kill is unnecessary and unjustified

Issue No. 1963

illustration by Tim Sanders

illustration by Tim Sanders

Widespread and wide ranging outrage followed the shooting dead of Jean Charles de Menezes by the police on a London underground train at Stockwell tube station on Friday 22 July.

Concern and questions have rightly been raised about his death and the new “shoot to kill” policy that now governs police use of firearms.

This concern has come from many who have not expressed such feelings publicly in the past — John Denham MP, the chairman of the parliamentary home affairs committee, Sir Bill Morris and even the Daily Mail.

Questions have been asked about how there can be a “shoot to kill” policy on the streets of London. Why has police policy changed without parliamentary scrutiny? Shouldn’t the public be told the truth?

These questions echo those of the de Menezes family and many other families whose relatives have died after police shootings or deaths involving other weapons or force.

Everyone who has supported family campaigns for the truth after deaths involving the police should ensure that this death is the one that makes a difference.

The drift towards an ever more unaccountable and routinely armed police force operating within a policy framework that has not been subject to any external scrutiny must stop.

We need to make sure these voices of concern and criticism are not silenced by the wider concerns about public safety.

We need to remind those who have spoken out in the aftermath of Jean Charles de Menezes’ appalling death that the investigation will take months and that they must continue to ask the difficult questions.

We need to raise questions about why the decision announced on 7 August to increase the number of armed police on the streets has been taken with no political discussion.

The shooting of Mr de Menezes took place in a unique context, but similar concerns have arisen in many other cases.

Inquest is working with the family of Azelle Rodney, a 24-year old black man who was shot dead by the Metropolitan Police following a pre-planned operation on Saturday 30 April 2005.

Since 2000 there have been 14 fatal shootings by police. Three of the dead have been black men.

The deaths of Azelle Rodney and Jean Charles de Menezes are deeply controversial and once again raise serious questions about the disproportionate number of young black men who die following the use of force by police.

While we know that the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued guidance which contributed to the new policy adopted in England and Wales two weeks before the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, we don’t know the truth about the events that led up to his death.

As has happened in previous cases there has been a pattern of misinformation put into the public domain about Mr de Menezes — information that seeks to imply he is somehow to blame for his own death and to justify the decision to shoot.

The Association of Chief Police Officers’ detailed guidance in their firearms manual set out the previous framework under which armed police officers operated. This manual said that officers could only shoot “to stop an imminent threat to life”.

The manual proposed that armed police officers should usually shoot to incapacitate the central nervous system by aiming at the largest part of the body once the decision has been made to discharge their weapons. This invariably resulted in death.

The new policy reportedly gives police officers the authority to shoot at the head and radically changes the whole framework that governs police officers’ use of firearms. Such a shift must be subject to public and parliamentary scrutiny.

The comment by Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, that this may happen again and its implication that we have to accept deaths as one of the risks of policing London are really alarming.

This appears to pre-judge the outcome of the investigation into the death and also to argue that this “shoot to kill” policy is already necessary and justified.

The policy is a violation of the “presumption of innocence” — the most fundamental principle of British law — and is contrary to all international human rights standards.

As recently as February Ian Blair — then deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police — called for blanket immunity from prosecution for police officers who shoot anyone dead during the line of duty.

He appeared determined to undermine rather than uphold the rule of law when it applies to police officers. He appeared to be continuing the tradition of muddying the waters when it comes to holding police officers to account for their actions.

It is exceedingly rare for police officers to be prosecuted in any case. Ian Blair’s recent statements seeking to explain away the death of Mr de Menezes only add to the view that he is not interested in championing the needs of justice.

He seems to have chosen to send the message that the rule of law should not apply to those in police uniform and that this should be enshrined in firearms policy.

There must be an immediate review of the new policy and ongoing support for the family of Jean Charles de Menezes in their struggle for truth and justice.

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Sat 13 Aug 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1963
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