Scottish Police will shoot to kill

Saturday 20 August 2005

Armed police officers in Scotland appear to be operating under the same guidelines that led to the tragic death of Jean Charles de Menezes in London on 22 July. Their firearms policy is urgently in need of overhaul following revelations earlier this week that Jean Charles de Menezes was acting in an entirely innocent manner when he was assassinated by police officers on the London underground.

Scottish police firearms tsar Ian Gordon told Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) last week that "Scottish Police forces will deal with terrorist threats in the same way as our colleagues in England, Wales and Northern Ireland." He also said that operational tactics are "designed to be used on an intelligence-led basis." This dependence on intelligence is exactly the policy that led to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, when it should have been perfectly clear to the officers on the spot that he was no threat to anyone.

Ian Gordon is the Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police and holds the national portfolio for police use of firearms in Scotland, on behalf of ACPOS (the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland). His statement was in response to a request from SACC that Scottish police forces dissociate themselves from the controversial "shoot-to-kill-on-suspicion" policy operated by the Metropolitan Police (the full text of the statement is included below as Background).

In a letter to police dated 29 July, SACC wrote:

"We note with alarm that Metropolitan Police officers are ready to shoot in situations where a clear and visible threat does not exist, and where the cause for suspicion appears to be a belief – perhaps based upon intelligence - held by the officers concerned. We note that intelligence is fallible and can rarely be assessed by the officers on the spot.

We believe that the combination of 'shoot-to-kill' and 'shoot-on-suspicion' is a cocktail that will prove fatal to responsible, effective policing. It is unwise, unethical and probably illegal.".

The recent revelations about the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting make these concerns particularly pertinent..

Ian Gordon says that police tactics to deal with a terrorist threat are implemented "as a result of intelligence and backed up by senior decision-making." The dangers of dodgy intelligence should need no further emphasis. The role that senior decision-making played in the Menezes tragedy is still a mystery. But it is fairly clear that senior decision-making after the event was largely focussed on a crude cover-up campaign. Shortly after the new facts about the shooting were passed to the press, Harriet Wistrich and Gareth Peirce, the lawyers for the Menezes family, wrote:

"It is inconceivable that the true facts as revealed yesterday, were not made known to senior police and ministers immediately; for any to have made comments publicly without first informing themselves of the true facts would have been entirely reckless and wrong.".

In his letter to SACC, Ian Gordon confirms that police forces throughout the UK follow the ACPO "Manual of Guidance on the Police Use of Firearms". The parts of this document that are in the public domain emphasise "proportionality" and an individual's right to life. He does not mention by name the controversial "Operation Kratos" under which operations in London are known to have been conducted. Full details of "Operation Kratos" have yet to be made public, but the press have been told that it includes guidelines allowing police to shoot suspected suicide bombers in the head without identifying themselves or shouting a warning. According to press reports, "Operation Kratos" was the outcome of anti-terrorism planning by a working party chaired by Barbara Wilding, Chief Constable of South Wales. The discovery that these secret "shoot-to-kill" plans have been in existence for several years has led to the Islamic Human Rights Commission withdrawing from formal relations with the Metropolitan police.

In his statement on police policy in Scotland, Ian Gordon refers only to a "special project group" of the ACPO Terrorism Committee and mentions that they learn "best practice" from "professional colleagues". Earlier press reports regarding "Operation Kratos" and Metropolitan Police Force tactics have referred to learning "best practice" from forces in Israel, Sri Lanka and Russia. These countries are all engaged in internal or border wars of varying intensity and are notorious for human rights abuses. It is astonishing that they should provide models of "best practice" for our country.

Ian Gordon denies that police tactics can be described as "shoot to kill". But the tactics he is referring to appear to include shooting suspects in the head. It is perverse to describe this as anything other than "shoot to kill". Senior police officers appear to believe that they are entitled to initiate this policy. They are wrong.

Ian Gordon writes:

"I trust that this response is able to assure you of our commitment to protecting life."

On the contrary, it leads us to fear that police forces in Scotland constitute a threat to public safety. We will only be reassured when our police forces reject reckless policies such as those contained in "Operation Kratos" and make it clear that officers will only shoot when it is the only way to counter a clear and visible threat to life, and that they will never shoot in ways that needlessly increase the danger of a fatal outcome.

Richard Haley (spokesperson for SACC)

Background

1) Letter from SACC to Scottish Police forces

The text of a letter from SACC to Strathclyde Police is included below. A similar letter was sent to Lothian and Borders Police. These letters were passed by the police forces concerned to Ian Gordon, Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police.

29 July 2005

Rules of Engagement for Firearms Units in Strathclyde

I am writing on behalf of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities to ask whether you can reassure us that Strathclyde Police does not operate the kind of shoot-to-kill policy currently in use by the Metropolitan Police. I should make it clear that out concern is not only with the probability of a fatal outcome implicit in the the Metropolitan Police rules of engagement, but also with their evident readiness to shoot on suspicion.

The media have carried a good deal of rather unfruitful discussion about the meaning of the phrase "shoot-to-kill." I shall therefore try to be as clear as possible.

  • We recognise that when firearms are used by police, it will very often be necessary to aim for a part of the the body that carries a high risk of a fatal outcome. But in permitting officers to target the head, instead of the torso as ACPO guidelines would require, the Metropolitan Police have elevated this risk to a near certainty. They have increased the risk still further by allowing officers to fire multiple shots without pausing to re-assess the situation, as ACPO guidelines would require. The current Metropolitan Police policy appears to be indistinguishable from that which would be applied if the intention was to kill. It can certainly be called a shoot-to-kill policy, and can arguably be described as a policy of assassination. This worries us profoundly.
  • We recognise that police may have little choice but to shoot when a suspect presents a clear and visible threat to life, for example by adopting a threatening posture with a lethal weapon. But we note that many such incidents are brought to a successful conclusion without a shot being fired, and we commend the cool heads and courage often displayed by police officers in these situations. We hope that you will agree that this outcome is always to be preferred.
  • We note with alarm that Metropolitan Police officers are ready to shoot in situations where a clear and visible threat does not exist, and where the cause for suspicion appears to be a belief – perhaps based upon intelligence - held by the officers concerned. We note that intelligence is fallible and can rarely be assessed by the officers on the spot.

We believe that the combination of "shoot-to-kill" and "shoot-on-suspicion" is a cocktail that will prove fatal to responsible, effective policing. It is unwise, unethical and probably illegal.

The Metropolitan Police guidelines appear to have arisen out of an extreme fear that suspects may be carrying hidden, easily-detonated explosives and may be prepared for suicide. We think that the uniqueness of this threat has been rather exaggerated – it is not unusual for police to be confronted by people who are determined, mentally disturbed or suicidal. Police are, perhaps, as easily influenced as anyone else by the statements of media and other public figures. We think it essential that they avoid cultivating attitudes that would impede rational situational awareness. Excessive fear of a supposed invisible threat is just such an attitude.

We find it hard to shake off the impression – despite the fact that the man who fell victim to the Metropolitan Police rules of engagement was Brazilian – that a South Asian or Middle Eastern appearance is regarded as a cause for suspicion. This notion seems to be implicit in much of the commentary on the tragedy. If it were true it would, of course, be absolutely racist. This is just one more reason why circumstantial suspicion should not be considered a reason to open fire.

It should be clear that no policing strategy can guarantee protection from crimes of terror; lasting solutions lie in the political domain. The Police must, of course, do all that they can to minimise the danger in the absence of such a solution. But it is no solution at all for police to engage in macho posturing whose main effect will be to place the public in the firing line and to heighten fears in an already tense situation.

We hope that you will be able to assure us that police officers operating in the Strathclyde area will only shoot when it is the only way to counter a clear and visible threat to life, and that they will never shoot in ways that needlessly increase the danger of a fatal outcome. We also hope that you will be able to assure us that you would seek the prosecution of any police officers or officers of other agencies who fail to respect these principles. A firearms licence is not a licence to kill.

Yours sincerely

Richard Haley (for SACC)

2) Response from Ian Gordon, Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police

11 August 2005

Rules of Engagement for Firearms Units in Strathclyde

Sir William Rae, Chief Constable of Strathclyde has asked me to respond to your letter dated 29 July 2005 on the above topic. the reason being I have the national portfolio for the police use of firearms in Scotland, on behalf of ACPOS General Policing Business Area.

If I may inform you of current practice on police use of firearms in the United Kingdom.

All Police Forces follow the Manual of Guidance on the Police Use of Firearms, when dealing with a firearms incident. Parts 1 to 6 of the Manual are in the public domain - on the ACPO Webster. The essence of the manual is "proportionality", that an individual's right to life and public safety are paramount considerations. A police officer should not decide to open fire unless that person is satisfied that nothing short of opening fire could protect the officer or another person from imminent danger to life or serious injury. It is the case that firearms are to be fired only when absolutely necessary after conventional methods have been tried and failed or must, from the nature of the circumstances, be unlikely to succeed if tried. Scottish Police Forces will deal with terrorist threats in the same way as our colleagues in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. One of the potential terrorist threats - which has manifested itself for many years around the world - is that of a suicide attack by a person or persons determined to die. Another more recent development in international terrorism is an attack in which individuals carry out an armed assault on a target to enable a device to be planted. In these cases the terrorists are reckless as to whether or not they survive.

ACPO Terrorism Committee, which has Scottish representation, has a special project group that has developed operational tactics over several years to help police respond swiftly and effectively to such threats. This work includes analysis of all such cases occurring abroad, studying profiles of offenders and learning from professional colleagues the characteristics of such attacks and best practice in attempting to combat them. For operational reasons I am not prepared to disclose or confirm information about our detailed tactics and developing technologies.

However I can say that the tactics are designed to be used on an intelligence-led basis. They are not implemented at random, but as a result of intelligence backed up by senior decision-making. They include specialised tactics for both response to the sudden appearance of a suspect where intelligence suggests they may be about to commit a deadly attack, and for surveillance of suspects identified through intelligence. They are designed for use in relation to suspects on foot, in buildings and in vehicles.

By their nature they require very positive action to prevent any detonation or other type of attack. The tactics cannot be described as "shoot to kill" as the police must still apply the principle of using reasonable force, and will be held accountable for their decision-making.

The work on developing appropriate tactics is a continuing one. Tactics are reviewed in the light of changing circumstances and methodology, and learning from other police services around the world.

In relation to your closing remark on prosecution, as you know criminal prosecutions in Scotland are under the direction of Crown and Procurator Fiscal Service and not the Police. It should also be remembered that individual police officers are accountable for all rounds they fire and must be in a position to justify them in the light of their legal responsibilities and powers. Equally those commanding and directing firearms incidents are accountable to the law, where necessary through a court.

I trust this response is able to assure you of our commitment to protecting life.

Yours sincerely,

Ian A. Gordon

Deputy Chief Constable

3) Operation Kratos

See, for example "Shoot to kill policy adapted" by Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, Friday August 19
Shoot to kill policy adapted

4)Jean de Menezes shooting

For the press statement by Harriet Wistrich and Gareth Peirce (17 August 2005), see
Jean de Menezes shooting