Police powers, use of firearms and the IPCC

Man shot dead by police at a house in County Durham (May 09).

Some of you may find your self discussing the use of firearms by police and how the deployment of armed response units is managed within particular police areas.  

This debate may also be relevant in the context of murder, due to the inclusion of the requirement that the death must be the result of an unlawful killing.  A policeman who kills in the lawful exercise of his duty will not be guilty of murder.  Problems arise should individual officers exceed the authority given to them in which case criminal proceedings may follow.

In May 2009 a man was shot dead by police in what has been described as a siege at a house in Cheapside, Shildon, County Durham.  The police were responding to 999 calls and it is reported that they saw a man with a crossbow, which he then fired.  As a result armed police officers surrounded the house.

The police have powers, which enable them to use force at times, but the use of such force must be appropriate and proportionate.  The issue here may be whether a crossbow can ever amount to a circumstance, which merits the deployment of armed response vehicles?  

Presumably it would have been possible to cordon off and restrict access to the area.  Apparently the incident took place in the early hours of the morning when very few people would have been about.  It has been reported that officers saw the crossbow being fired.  It is perhaps fair to say that the police themselves would have been the only targets having secured the area – the man was inside the house albeit at a window.  

What was the danger to the public?  Was there any likelihood of the man breaking out and reeking havoc?  Is it fair to say that the threat posed was to the police themselves?  A difficult situation surely but then there must be many incidents when difficult operational situations arise – needing clear operational lines of command and authority.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has praised the restraint of police firearms officers in the past "The latest figures on police use of firearms prove that officers show great professionalism in dealing with dangerous situations every day of the week, ….”   In the fullness of time this incident may be seen by the IPCC as another such situation.

The police are reported as having surrounded the house.  How realistic was the prospect of the man escaping?  Was the house effectively sealed off?  If so what prompted the police to open fire?  In such siege situations surely there must be some laid down plans of some sort and that shooting is not a first response?  So why did they fire?

Some of you may recall the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes on the London underground. The Metropolitan police was found guilty of a catastrophic series of errors during the operation that led to firearms officers shooting Jean Charles de Menezes dead at Stockwell station, South London, on July 22 2005.

The force was fined £175,000 and ordered to pay £385,000 costs after an Old Bailey jury found it had breached the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and failed in its duty to protect members of the public in the killing of the innocent Brazilian.

Some of you may also recall that mistakes have been made in the past over replica guns and things that look like guns - illustrated by such cases as the shooting of Harry Stanley by armed police officers after they saw Mr. Stanley with what appeared to them to be a sawn off shot gun wrapped in a blue plastic bag. ... it turned out to be a table leg.

The debate will continue and perhaps it’s a good thing that it does.

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