On 30 April 2005 Toby Long, one of the Met’s most experienced firearms officers shot dead Azelle Rodney. The following year the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that there was not enough evidence to support a case against him. That appeared to be that. But Azelle Rodney’s mother continued to campaign vigorously that this was an example of a police execution of a black. Eventually, a public enquiry was set up in 2010 under Christopher Holland (a retired judge from the Queen’s Bench Division) and reported in July 2013.
Holland held (para 19.9, page 55) that he had to decide:
(1) Did E7 (the code name used at that time for Toby Long) have an honest belief that Azelle Rodney posed a threat to himself, or to other police officers?
(2) If “yes”, was the threat such that it was then reasonably necessary for him to shoot at Azelle Rodney?
(3) If “yes”, was E7’s actual shooting a reasonable response, proportionate to the threat?
He answered (section 21): Yes, No, NA.
Holland had the benefit of more evidence than had been available to the IPCC enquiry shortly after the shooting. In particular, video evidence allowed precise timing of the 8 shots fired by Toby Long. His analysis was as follows:
(a) Why shoot? … I cannot .. rule that … opening fire was a disproportionate response. That said, there remains a concern. Why did the situation differ from those hitherto experienced by him and his fellow officers: the visible threat of a G36 (his impressive gun) held “in the aim” serving to achieve dominance so as to obviate the need to fire?
(b) first shot … did not hit Azelle Rodney – that said, it did underline the threat implicit in E7’s G36 held in the aim.
(c) second shot (0.22 seconds later). Well aimed, as taught, at “the central body mass”, this is on target so as to hit the right upper arm of a man sitting upright, facing forward with his hands down. Whatever the earlier perception of threat, it is plainly now “neutralised” and shooting be at an end.
(d) third and fourth shots (successively 0.24 and 0.22 of a second later). Aimed towards the back of a disabled man then twisting downwards – one shot going into the back and downwards; the other probably penetrating the rear nearside window in close proximity to E3 [a colleague who was now outside the vehicles]. Justification escapes me, not least because E3 self-evidently no longer needs static cover.
(e) fifth and sixth shots (successively 0.22 and 0.21 of a second later) Two shots accurately aimed at the vicinity of the right ear – in military terms “a double tap”. These could only result in a fatality and did so. I find that E7 saw Azelle Rodney collapsing before he fired these shots, and I do not accept his account that he fired these shots because he saw Azelle Rodney upright and apparently not affected by the earlier shots. No justification proportionate to the essential objective of deterring Azelle Rodney from raising a weapon occurs to me.
(f) seventh and eight shots (successively 0.72 and 0.21 of a second later) Again, well aimed “double tap” shots into the vertex of a dead or dying man – and then after the first and only pause. Obviously, there is no justification.
The conclusions of this report caused some public disquiet, particularly as they came only a few years after the disastrous shooting of Menezes in Stockwell tube station, on which I commented extensively here, here, here, here, here, red mist, log book, inquest, inquest(2), inquest(3). Part of the reason for so many posts was that new evidence kept emerging as the drama rolled on.
There was one essential difference between the two cases: Menezes was wholly innocent, whereas Rodney wasn’t. But there were plenty of similarities – flaky intelligence passed to the firearms’ officers and treated as gospel – and the apparent descent of the “red mist”. That is an SAS term for the way that inadequately trained soldiers (and others) get carried away when they start shooting. Shooting in a precise, disciplined way takes a vast amount of training, and many people, perhaps most, never achieve it, no matter how much training they get. It is not necessary for most military operations, but it is for most police operations, because most – and indeed sometimes all – of those around you are innocent bystanders, whom you must avoid shooting.
In any case, the upshot was that Toby Long, who by now had retired from the police, was put on trial for murder at the Old Bailey in June 2015. A month later he was acquitted by a jury on a majority verdict.
I intended to write about the case after his acquittal, but I was unable to make up my mind on the case. Had Holland been wrong? Was it reasonable for Long to shoot and kill Rodney? Or was this just a classic case of the traditional reluctance of juries to find the police guilty of crimes when they are apparently trying to protect the public?
Then last week there was a 45 minute documentary on Channel 4, which I caught on the Catch-Up service. It turned out that Long had known the two firearms officers who shot Menezes well and at one point he vigorously defended them.
I found him a sympathetic character. He had obviously found his trial a considerable strain, and he still believed that he had done the right thing. The problem he thought was the (completely incorrect) intelligence he had been given that the guys in the car were armed to the teeth with machine guns which could fire a thousand rounds in a few seconds.
I was left feeling that justice would not have been served by convicting him. The fact was that although he had been one of the Met’s most senior and experienced firearms officers, he was not really up to the job. He was not capable of thinking in a sufficiently cool, calm way in a crisis. Whether that was lack of training or simply his personality is hard to tell.
There is an interesting passage in Holland’s report where he expresses the view that part of the problem is that no one outside CO19 dares to criticise or critique their operations. That sounds plausible to me.
Of course, it is also true that the numbers of people wrongly shot and killed by the UK mainland police is extremely small, so it is maybe not worth expending scarce resources on trying to push the number down further.
I also find it a little bizarre how upset criminals’ friends and relations can get when they are wrongly shot. In this case, the shooting also fuelled claims that the police are prejudiced against blacks and hence more likely to kill them – for which the evidence seems slender (unlike the current situation in the USA).