‘Keeping London Safe’

Wail Qasim

Last Thursday, Sadiq Khan announced that from April next year there will be 400 more firearms officers in London. ‘Nothing is more important than keeping London safe,’ the mayor said in his first major announcement concerning the capital’s policing. The Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, had asked for more armed police after last November’s terror attacks in Paris. On 1 April, Downing Street announced that £143 million would be spent on ‘increasing the number of specially trained armed officers’. But senior figures in the police are telling the BBC that still isn’t enough.

The mayor’s office claims that more armed police in London would better ‘protect the capital from gun crime and terrorism’. But it was in the name of protecting London from gun crime and terrorism that Jermaine Baker, Mark Duggan and Jean Charles de Menezes were killed.

Baker, a young black man, was shot by the police in a car near Wood Green crown court last December. They suspected him of being about to try to spring two prisoners from a police van. His alleged co-conspirators are currently on trial. Last week, the jury heard evidence that the weapon recovered from the car was a replica, found on the floor of the back seat. Baker, sitting in the front, was shot through the windscreen. The IPCC arrested one of the officers involved in the operation (they’ve investigated 29 fatal shootings by police in the past 12 years; this is the only arrest they’ve made). The officer’s colleagues responded by threatening to step down from duty.

The operation that killed Duggan, another young black man, was designed to take a gun off the streets, but instead took a life. The inquest into his death found that when V53 (an unidentified firearms officer) fired at him, Duggan was unarmed. Somehow the jury still found that his killing was lawful, but many people in Tottenham don’t accept that.

Jean Charles de Menezes died at Stockwell Tube Station two weeks after the 7 July 2005 bombings. Specialist officers, with authorisation from the very top of the Met, fired eight shots into the 27-year-old Brazilian electrician’s head and torso in the unfounded belief that he was a terrorist. No individual officers were ever held responsible for the deadly mistake.

There seems to be no plan for increasing accountability among the officers most capable of deadly force. On the contrary, firearms officers complain that they are already too accountable. ‘What they are worried about,’ according to Simon Chesterman, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead expert on armed policing, ‘in the event they have to use lethal force, is that they make a split-second decision and are pulled apart for up to 10 years.’

The Home Office says that ‘it is for operationally independent chief officers to determine the number of authorised firearms officers in their areas based on a thorough assessment of threat and risk.’ Khan’s rush to support Hogan-Howe’s new marksmen suggests little attention has been paid to the ‘threat and risk’ of more police carrying guns. In March, the home secretary opened a public inquiry into the death of Antony Grainger, an unarmed man shot dead by Greater Manchester police in 2012. Campaigners argue that as well as individual cases, the question of deaths from police shootings needs to be reviewed as a whole.

Read more in the London Review of Books

David Renton: The Killing of Blair Peach · 22 May 2014

Katrina Forrester: In Bed with the Police · 7 November 2013

Thomas Jones: Ian Blair and the IPCC · 6 April 2006

John Upton: Terror, Muslims and the Met · 22 January 2004


  • 17 May 2016 at 4:36pm
    Graucho says:
    The trust, support and respect of the public in and for the British police is one of the most valuable assets they have. This has been eroding steadily since their use as a political enforcer during the Thatcher era punctuated by incidents such as Hillsborough. Guns kill people with minimal physical effort and fractions of reaction time. An armed officer believing themself in danger is very likely to fire simply because the human instinct for self preservation is so strong and high levels of adrenaline don't help. More armed officers will result in more unnecessary deaths. Where this could be headed was all too well illustrated by the riots in Ferguson Missouri. Trust like many things takes years to build and seconds to destroy.

  • 17 May 2016 at 11:41pm
    Phil Edwards says:
    After Lawrence, after Bob Lambert, after de Menezes, can we really carry on giving these people a blank cheque? It seems to be a fixed pattern with London Labour. Even Ken Livingstone was hand in glove with Ian Blair - it took a Tory government to bring him to heel.

  • 18 May 2016 at 4:03pm
    Harry Stopes says:
    "The operation that killed Duggan, another young black man, was designed to take a gun off the streets..."

    I think it's also worth mentioning here the persistent rumours in Tottenham, backed up by reporting in the Mail on Sunday by David Rose, that Kevin Hutchinson-Foster, the man who allegedly supplied the gun to Duggan, was a protected police source. ( Hutchinson-Foster had previously had gun charges against him dropped, in a decision for which the CPS says it has lost the paperwork. After Duggan's death it took 9 weeks for KHF to be arrested, despite the fact police had apparently watched him supply the gun to Duggan, and the gun had his DNA on it.

    If the Met wanted to keep guns off the streets, why let their man supply them?

    • 19 May 2016 at 2:34pm
      Mat Snow says: @ Harry Stopes
      The version I hear of Mark Duggan's death is very murky indeed, and linked to the mysterious death during a police raid of the reggae singer and DJ Smiley Culture a few months previously.

      Both men, it is rumoured, were involved in the illegal drugs business with partners who were and perhaps still are serving Metropolitan Police officers. Either the deal(s) went sour or else the profits would be larger with two of the partners removed from the picture, so, according to the word on the street, both men were set up to be killed in encounters with the police.

  • 20 May 2016 at 3:52am
    farthington says:
    Ah. Foretaste of a marvellous future for London under Khan's administration.

  • 26 May 2016 at 6:31pm
    J. Kirkpatrick says:
    Recommend that y'all watch old Law & Order episodes, or the other one, Law & Order-Criminal Intent, for lots about corrupt policemen/women. These TV dramas are not based on myths. Very difficult to regulate/control/finish off police corruption if it has been in force for several years.

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