A ‘lawful killing’ verdict returned by inquest jury in shooting case
Compiled from various sources
Originally published 10th January 2005
Updates listed at the foot of this item
Two police marksmen who shot a man brandishing a gun-shaped lighter were returned to full duties after the ruling of an inquest on 15th December 2004. The decision to lift restrictions on both officers involved in the shooting came after an inquest found Derek Bennett was lawfully killed. In July 2001 Derek Bennett was fatally shot by police marksmen. The 29 year old father of four had been challenged by two armed Metropolitan Police officers after reports of a man being seen with a gun in the area of the Marston House flats in Crowhurst Close, Brixton, south London.
Police continue to refuse to name the two officers involved, who were granted anonymity during the inquest, and gave their evidence from behind protective screens.
The Coroner, Selena Lynch directed the jury to return the lawful killing verdict after a five week hearing. The court heard the officers had believed Mr Bennett was armed with a silver handgun and had taken a hostage but it was later discovered he was holding a novelty lighter.
Relatives described the jury’s verdict as “outrageous” and a “travesty of justice”. The officers had claimed that at the time of the death they thought the gun was real. Derek died after armed officers opened fire when it is alleged he grabbed John Knightly, 53, and held the imitation weapon to his head. It is said that once Mr Knightly wriggled free and Mr Bennett turned the novelty lighter on police and tried to take cover behind a pillar as they fired six shots at him.
Some witness and medical accounts suggested that Mr Bennett had bullet entries from the back of his body which suggested that he was in fact running away from the officers when he was shot. Giving evidence from behind a screen, one of the policemen, identified only as “Officer A”, said he fired on Mr Bennett. “I thought he was going to shoot me so I fired. I fired at least two shots very quickly,” he said.
Speaking outside court, Mr Bennett’s brother Daniel said, “For the last three years we have been fighting to ensure those responsible for the death of Derek are brought to justice. “At the very least we hoped the jury would be able to consider all the verdicts, in our view Derek was unlawfully killed. “We hoped the jury would agree with us, but the decision by the coroner meant they were not allowed to do this.”
He went on to say, “This is a travesty of justice which should never have been allowed to happen.” In a statement, Mr Bennett’s father Ernest said, “We are devastated and our grief is compounded by this outrageous decision of the court.” The family’s solicitor Imran Khan said he will take the case to the High Court.
Following the verdict, the Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said, “This has been a stressful time for the family of Derek Bennett and the two police officers and their families.” He described the protracted legal process as unfortunate and said an urgent review will take place into the speed and manner which shootings involving police are handled.
He went on, “This incident and its tragic outcome only further underlines the very real dangers presented by realistic replica firearms being readily available,” he said. He also called for protection for armed officers, who act in good faith, from serious criminal charges.
This has already proved to be a controversial proposal which is being challenged by many other families and campaign groups.
Police lawful death ruling upheld
26 June 2007
Police shooting inquest challenge
28 June 2005
Bennett police anonymity appeal
13 October 2004
Protest over police shooting
20 July 2001