Unlawful killing verdict quashed by High Court
by Mikey Powell Campaign
Compiled from The Telegraph 13th May 2005
Updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
A police marksman who shot dead a man carrying a table leg in the mistaken belief that he was about to fire a sawn-off shotgun succeeded yesterday in overturning an inquest verdict of unlawful killing.
The High Court accepted the officer’s argument that the inquest jury should have been left with the option of finding that he and a colleague had acted in self-defence. There will not be a further inquest, so the ruling yesterday amounts to an open verdict on Harry Stanley, 46, a painter and decorator who came originally from Lanarkshire. His family said they would seek permission to appeal.
One evening in September 1999, Mr Stanley was seen leaving the Alexandra pub in Hackney, east London, carrying a plastic bag with what looked like a shotgun inside. In fact, it contained a coffee table leg, which had just been repaired by his brother. Mistaking his Scottish accent for an Irish one, a member of the public alerted the police.
Inspector Neil Sharman, now a chief inspector, arrived at the scene with Pc Kevin Fagan. The two armed officers challenged Mr Stanley and, on their account, he levelled the bag and pointed it at Pc Fagan, gripping it with both hands. Fearing that Pc Fagan was about to be shot, each officer fired one round at Mr Stanley [one hitting him in the head].
In his ruling yesterday, Mr Justice Leveson described Mr Stanley’s death as a “terrible tragedy” that had legitimately generated great public concern. “Whether or not a misunderstanding on the part of the officers may be justifiable, they did in fact misunderstand Mr Stanley’s reaction and, as a result, he lost his life,” the judge said.
“This is not a situation which can be allowed to be repeated.”
Mr Stanley’s widow, Irene, said: “I have got an unlawful killing verdict from a jury, but the judge today has taken it away and said an injustice has been done. But that is unfair and the real injustice is to my family and the public. What is the point of a jury?”
The verdict of unlawful killing was returned last October at the second inquest into Mr Stanley’s death. An earlier inquest resulted in an open verdict in June 2002, but that was quashed by the High Court in April 2003 after a challenge by the dead man’s family. Mr Justice Leveson said that the verdict of unlawful killing could have been left to the jury only if there was sufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the officer did not believe he was under imminent threat of being shot.
An open verdict would have been appropriate if the jury could not be sure that the officer had thought he or his colleague were in no imminent danger. If the jury concluded that the officers believed, however mistakenly, that they were under threat, the verdict would have been lawful killing.
The judge said that he was prepared to accept there was sufficient material “for the jury to be able to conclude that the detailed account provided by the officers of Mr Stanley’s precise movements was not accurate (and, perhaps, not honest) and that there may well have been other features which permitted the jury not to accept the account (such as tone and timing of the radio traffic).”
But the judge added that a properly directed jury could not safely conclude that the officers were not acting in self defence. He said he would not order a third inquest as no one wanted it, a view he shared. “This extremely difficult case would have benefited from judicial oversight at a higher level,” he added. The judge supported proposals now being considered by the Government under which a small number of complex inquests would be heard by specially trained circuit judges or High Court judges.
Outside the High Court, Glen Smyth, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said common sense had prevailed. “These officers acted entirely in accordance with their training.” Firearms officers had to “make split-second decisions which last a lifetime”, risking their lives “to protect others”. He called on the Crown Prosecution Service to reach a speedy conclusion on whether the officers would face charges.
Mr Stanley’s widow also pressed for an early decision from the CPS: “It’s been five and a half years and a long, hard struggle. But I am going to keep fighting. “I feel very bitter because this shooting should not have happened in the first place.”
Read statement from Harry Stanley Campaign: (Word file)
Met officers held in murder probe
2 June 2005
Table leg killing verdict quashed
12 May 2005
The long fight to win justice for Harry
3 November 2004