It was with considerable disquiet that I read of the death of the young barrister at the hands of police marksmen. Several months from now we will get a report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission, so I don’t wish to jump to conclusions or to prejudice the outcome of their investigations.
Reliable information is thin on the ground. From what we have been told, the deceased must have been suffering from a severe mental problem, the cause of which is unknown. Naturally, there is speculation about the pressure of work, an unstable relationship, and something that triggered a sudden explosion of anger.
But my disquiet arises from the way in which he died, at the hands of police marksmen who shot him five times, and I wonder why. The deceased was armed with a shotgun, which those of us who shoot game will know has a lethal range of no more than fifty metres. So whilst blasting off from the window of his apartment in
Mercifully, incidents of legalised killing by the police are few and far between. We all have our own memories. There was the man, clearly deranged and possibly drunk, shot dead by police whilst brandishing a table leg, and besides, he wasn’t an up and coming barrister earning £500,000 a year! I’ll believe that when I see it! More recently there was the killing of Carlos de Menendes, but exceptional circumstances applied, and besides, he was a Johnny Foreigner who shouldn’t have been in this country in the first place.
I have read the guidelines issued to the police about “shoot to kill” policy, and it remains to be seen if they were followed. At first glance, they weren’t. But what perplexes me, and this tragic death highlights it, is what steps could and should have been taken to retrieve a volatile situation short of shooting to kill. Where are the trained mediators, indeed, are there any, to soothe the savage breast? The facts could have been ascertained quite quickly, especially with his partner in the wings, a disturbed young man with a shotgun, not a terrorist, who needed help, a quiet soothing voice and a shoulder to cry on. Even if it takes hours to talk a disturbed young man out of his moment of madness, surely it’s worth the effort.
Even if mediation wasn’t going to work, surely there are ways of ending such a confrontation without the use of weapons of last resort. What about smoke grenades for starters? If we believe in the sanctity of life sufficient to allow a known and self admitted terrorist to defeat a deportation order as a denial of his human rights, then what is the justification for ending the life of this otherwise perfectly decent young man so violently?
I have an uneasy feeling that more, much more, could have been done before the shoot out at the OK Corral, and once the police started shooting, the outcome was inevitable. This shouldn’t be James Bond territory. Let’s hope lessons are learned, and wiser counsels prevail in the future. Somehow, though, I doubt it.