James Elliot: Yes
On Wednesday 8th January, an inquest returned a ‘lawful killing’ verdict in the killing of an unarmed black man by the Metropolitan Police. Mark Duggan was shot at around 18:15 on August 4th 2011, as part of ‘Operation Trident’, after police officials chose to stop his cab at a location which happened to be outside the reaches of CCTV, and allegedly chased away onlookers. The inquest found that the police hadn’t taken the necessary steps in their investigation, and initially lied, claiming Duggan had shot at them before they gunned him down.
Pathologists concluded Duggan must have thrown the gun before being shot, yet police claim he fired first. The evidence of a cover-up should have undermined the Met’s case from the start, but instead they were able to shoot an unarmed man and then lie about it. Despite this, eight of the jury returned a ‘lawful killing’ verdict, with two concluding there should be an ‘open’ verdict. Only one non-police witness addressed the inquest, this was ‘Witness B’, who claimed he watched from the other side of the road, as Duggan was ‘executed’ with his hands up. Either Officer V53 intentionally executed an unarmed man and the Met attempted to cover it up, or he accidentally killed an unarmed man and the Met attempted to hide it. Whatever the circumstances were, the police have lied about them.
1,476 people have died following police contact in Britain since 1990, yet no officers have been convicted of any crime and only one has faced professional sanction. The silence of those who refuse to condemn the Met’s behaviour serves to preserve the image of them as innocent bobbies who sometimes make mistakes. Failures don’t stop with the Met. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has handled the Duggan case appallingly. As Stafford Smith, an independent advisor to Operation Trident, has said, “The IPCC has broken its own guidelines by giving out erroneous information to journalists regarding the ‘shootout’”. Nine months after the investigation began, the IPCC still hadn’t interviewed the officers involved. Instead, these officers sat in a room together to compose their witness statements.
It is the same Met, decades later, who have been blamed for Duggan’s killing who were accused of institutional racism by their own anti-racism unit after the failures in investigating the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Ten years later, the Metropolitan Black Police Association are still saying the same thing.
We need a public inquiry into just how and why Duggan was killed, how the Met covered it up, how the IPCC failed to thoroughly investigate, and a much wider public inquiry into the institutional racism and unaccountable violence of the Met. The objective should be fundamental reform, of the likes that saw the Royal Ulster Constabulary, a violent and sectarian organisation, become the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Until then, the institution responsible for deaths including Blair Peach and Mark Duggan now have more blood on their hands. No justice, no peace indeed.
Billy Beswick: No
The ‘lawful killing’ verdict that the jury returned in the inquest into the shooting of Mark Duggan has caused much furore, and it’s no surprise really. Whatever verdict the jury returned would have provoked outrage from citizens across the country, because the death of this man has impacted on so many people’s lives.
The riots sparked by Duggan’s death in cities throughout Britain showed quite clearly that communities are divided. They are divided not only by race, but by the socio-economic inequality that keeps people from truly understanding one another. Had the jury reached the conclusion that the killing was unlawful, home and business owners whose properties were damaged by the riots would have undoubtedly felt that their suffering had been undercut. In 2011, the insurance industry estimated that well over £100m of damage had been caused during the riots. Not to mention that rather small-minded people, who think criminals should be executed on the spot with no fair trial, would have flooded the Daily Mail comment section with expressions of their horror at this country’s lack of support for the good-ol’ police.
Now, I don’t subscribe to this view. Yet I don’t think this verdict is unjust. That’s not to say that I don’t believe the Met were at fault, but that the actions of an institution should not affect how the law is applied to an individual. Some people have compared this case with the murder of Stephen Lawrence — but there are clear differences between these two cases. Lawrence was murdered on 22nd April 1993, while waiting to catch the bus home. Police were negligent in following up leads which witnesses had provided, naming a local gang as the likely killers. The murder of Stephen Lawrence was an out and out crime. It was a racially motivated murder committed by a group of young white men. The Met were found to be “institutionally racist” by the Macpherson inquiry in 1999, because of their appalling handling of the case. Mark Duggan, on the other hand, was shot by the police in circumstances which less obviously constitute misconduct.
I believe, and I trust that the jury believed, that the officer who shot Mark Duggan honestly felt that he was under threat, and that he thought Duggan was armed. That the Met behaved appallingly in the aftermath of the shooting is quite another matter. The inquest found the Met to be at fault in their subsequent dealings with the case and I think it is this which should be investigated further. That doesn’t make the shooting of Mark Duggan unlawful. We should not victimise a police officer, who in a moment felt he was under threat by a man whom police intelligence said was carrying a gun. I think this case’s significance comes from far more than the shooting of one man. Those of us who look at the riots and feel that a lot has to change in order for our society to be fair and functional, would be wrong to place the blame for our society’s ills on one police officer.