Stephen Waldorf

Stephen WaldorfShot by police and lived…

compiled from various sources
Originally published 21st November 2007
News updates listed at the foot of this item

Stephen Waldorf, a 26-year-old film editor, was shot and severely injured by Metropolitan police officers on 14th January 1983, who mistook him for David Martin, an escaped prisoner charged with attempting to murder a police officer.

Waldorf was unarmed and sitting in his car in a traffic jam in the Earls Court area of London, when he was shot 5 times in the head and body at close range. Officers were actually on the trail of a dangerous escaped prisoner called David Martin. Waldorf was not connected with Martin although police believed that his passenger, Sue Stephens, was Martin’s girlfriend at the time.

The police officers had apparently mistaken Mr Waldorf for Mr Martin, because they both had long hair and because Mr Waldorf was accompanied by Mr Martin’s girlfriend Sue Stephens.

Members of the pursuit force, who, unlike most British police in the 1970’s, were armed with Smith & Wesson .38 handguns, riddled the car with 14 bullets. Stephen allegedly shouted, “Don’t shoot, you’ve made a terrible mistake!” after which a voice asked, “Who is it, Susie? Who have we shot?”

Waldorf recounted that after being shot, he fell out of the open car door, at which point a police officer pressed the barrel of his revolver between his eyes and said, “Okay, cocksucker,” before pulling the trigger. Finding that he had already used all ammunition, then officer then pistol whipped Waldorf until he lost consciousness.

Martin was rearrested shortly after the shooting, but hanged himself in prison in 1984 before he stood trial. Police officers, John Jardine and Peter Finch stood trial for attempted murder but were cleared of all charges in October 1983.

New guidelines were drawn up in the wake of the case. Most police forces in the UK supply their firearms units with rules of engagement based on guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). These state that they:

  • Must identify themselves and declare intent to fire (unless this risks serious harm).
  • Should aim for the biggest target (the torso) to incapacitate and for greater accuracy.
  • Should reassess the situation after each shot.

The incident raised a storm of controversy in the British press and sent shock waves through Parliament. In the House of Commons, Home Secretary William Whitelaw called the shooting “a most serious, grave and disturbing incident.” “

I can guarantee,” Whitelaw promised, “that there will be no cover-up, no whitewash, under any circumstances.” Said an editorial in the Financial Times: “The event provokes the fear that Britain has taken an unwelcome step toward the gun-toting law-and-order methods which are associated with steadily worsening violent crime in many American cities.”

While Britain’s violent crime was low by U.S. standards and most police officers remain traditionally unarmed, the number of incidents involving firearms had risen substantially over the twelve years prior to the shooting. Scotland Yard began issuing firearms on a regular basis to officers concerned with terrorism or other particularly dangerous cases in 1972; since the early 1980’s their guns had been drawn approximately 300 times, with 52 shots fired in twelve incidents.

Meanwhile, the number of firearms issued to police officers each year had grown to more than 6,000, a sevenfold increase over the previous ten years. Guidelines governing police firearms stipulate that they are to be used only as “a means of defence.”

Waldorf eventually made a full recovery and was paid £150,000 compensation by the police. A TV series ‘The Shooting of Stephen Waldorf’ was made in 1994.


Follow-up News:

SAS trainers denounce ‘gung-ho’ armed police
18 September 2005

The police marksman’s dilemma
24 July 2005

Don’t Shoot!?
31 January 1983

1983: Man shot by police hunting David Martin
January 1983

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