On 8 January 2014 an inquest jury ruled that the shooting of Mark Duggan on 4 August 2011 was lawful. We watched Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley trying to read his self-serving statement aloud outside the High Court in London to a hostile crowd. Our interest was piqued by AC Rowley’s earnest desire to ‘get firearms off the streets’.
That’s the official reason why Metropolitan police officers attacked registered firearms dealer Guy Savage in February, 2011, their opening gambit being to shoot his tyres out. Then, having taken him into custody, they cleared his arms factory at Sabre House, Northolt, of all firearms, ammunition and parts. Having established that he had committed no offence in the United Kingdom, they didn’t give any of it back, as ‘keeping guns off the streets’ means shutting dealers down, the same as in the drugs market. Except that a) firearms dealers are easier to find, as they are all registered with and by their local police chiefs, and b) nobody has ever tried reducing drugs crime and illicit drug dealing by cracking down on registered pharmacists.
Material presented at the Duggan inquest suggests the police had intelligence that he was going to obtain a firearm from somewhere, so they swooped on him when they expected to find him in possession of a firearm. That makes a change: they usually pounce on people they know have guns when they are least likely to be holding one—in Guy Savage’s case, when he was on his way to work.
Mark Duggan spent most of his last few minutes in a taxi, which was box-stopped by three unmarked police cars. But how was he to know they were police cars? Given that he was supposedly a gangster, would the police have been on his radar? Or would he have initially interpreted what was going on as an attack by a rival gang? That would have kick-started his constitutional right to defend himself.
In a sense it was a gang attack, of course. The Metropolitan Police are the largest armed gang on London’s streets. Something that seems to have passed AC Rowley by. Anyway, Duggan had a toy gun, said to have been adapted to fire one shot. We can’t confirm this because Michael Vaughan’s forensic report on the pistol recovered at the scene does not seem to be on line, although the other forensic reports released to the Duggan inquest are. In these, experts tell how tried but failed to link that pistol to Mark Duggan forensically. It had blood from two other people on it, but no DNA linkage to Mark Duggan.
That’s unsurprising, since the intel was he’d only just got the gun, and it was riding in a shoe box in the taxi. The likely scenario is that when the box-stop occurred, Duggan must have realized very quickly that either they were armed police or that they were an armed gang and he was outclassed. He most likely threw the pistol over the fence in front of him as he exited the nearside rear door of the cab.
The police must have come around the vehicles onto the pavement from both ends of the traffic jam, as it were. The chances are Duggan saw one and tried to run away, which meant he was running at the officer who fired on him. The bullet track through his torso suggests a running position, head and shoulders forwards of hips. The police weapon was said to be an MP5, a long-barrelled shoulder-weapon intended for 100-yard shooting, loaded with +P long-range ammunition and a bullet designed to expand on impact: prohibited for use against people by a European directive, adopted by Britain, 21 years ago.
Shoulder weapons present a number of operational problems in policing. We’ve touched on it being intended for long range shooting; there have been occasions when police have used them lethally over greater distances than they could have effectively hailed or challenged their suspects before firing. Shouldering a weapon means that your weak arm obscures your suspect’s hands, unless he’s got them above shoulder level already.
Using high velocity ammunition in a long barrelled weapon at short range meant a through-shoot . The bullet exited Duggan and then struck another police officer. This suggests that the circumstances in which the police found (or had put) themselves was not one they’d trained for. So who let them out on the streets with live ammunition to do things for which they were untrained and unprepared? Perhaps they had trained for what happens after a box-stop and then drifted off the script, so setting themselves up for the Irish firing squad that developed. Duggan himself may have led them off the script, not having had prior training for how to respond to a police attack.
And that’s the essential difference between him and Guy Savage. Mr Savage managed to get his surrender to armed police accepted after shots had been fired. Trained man that he is, he knew what to do to maximize his chances of surviving the police attack. Mark Duggan didn’t. He was probably trying to flee, but in all the excitement ran away from one police officer and at another. Running straight at that policeman would have been interpreted as a hostile act. So it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for the officer to open fire, although he if he’d been armed with a pistol and thus could see that Duggan was unarmed, he might not have felt any need to shoot.
It’s too simple to say that Mark Duggan was a victim of the limited training armed officers receive and the inappropriate kit they carry. The fact is, he didn’t know how to surrender in the circumstances. If someone points a gun at you, the safest bet is to faint (or seem to). A poorly trained shooter will fire where you were before you disappeared from his view behind his own hands and when he next locates you visually he’ll assume he hit you.
He should at least assume you’re out of the fight, and thus that you’ve surrendered. Shooting you on the ground will be harder to explain to an inquest, although not impossible, as we know from the case of Jean Charles De Menezes—another fellow who didn’t know that he needed to surrender to the biggest armed gang in London.