This is a sad, bad day for British justice. It seems impossible to combine the view of 8 out of the 10 members of the jury in the Duggan inquest, on the one hand, that he did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot with the decision reached by 8 out of the 10, on the other hand, that it was a ‘lawful killing’ by the police. Moreover there remain far too many unanswered but deeply troubling questions, as Mark Duggan’s mother has herself made clear. Why was the taxi with all its potential forensic data driven away by the police before it was brought back? How can there be such assurance that Duggan threw the gun over the fence when no police officer and no other witness saw him do this and the taxi driver insisted he had not done so? Why is the evidence of V53 (the police officer who killed him) believed when an onlooker in the flats 100 yards away testified that Duggan was holding a mobile phone, not a gun (he had been using his Nokia 5 seconds before he was stopped and 10 seconds before he was killed), and that the object in his hands was shiny and thus unlikely to be a sock-covered gun? Why were armed officers 3 days after the shooting allowed to sit together in a room at Leman police station in east London for 8 hours and write their statements after conferring and then allowed to refuse to answer questions in interview by an IPCC investigation? And so on.
This has been bad all round – a hugely painful and bewildering rebuff for the family, an intensification of the distrust and hostility towards the police, a loss of credibility for the criminal justice system, and by no means an end to the whole affair. It seems very likely that the family will appeal or even take out a civil action against the police in order to reopen the whole matter in a desperate final resort to get the verdict changed or modified. But even that is overshadowed by the need, not only thoroughly to re-examine the use of police guns in such incidents, but also to replace the coroner’s court system which, however carefully it is handled, is simply not suited to sit in judgement on episodes of this kind.
There have been too many recent shootings of this kind – notably the man shot dead while carrying the leg of a table believed by the police to be a gun, and the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes after 7/7, and notoriously the police are never found responsible for unjustified killing. Where such a police killing has occurred in contested circumstances, an entirely new procedure is required involving legal counsel on both sides for the full and proper presentation and cross-examination of evidence. The nineteenth century coroner’s court is entirely inappropriate for getting at the truth in such extreme circumstances and should be wholly replaced.