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Azelle Rodney


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).

{ 7 } Comments

  1. Tom Welsh | 22 August 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that the critical point comes with Christopher Holland’s point (c). ‘Whatever the earlier perception of threat, it is plainly now “neutralised” and shooting [should] be at an end’. (I have interpolated “should” which seems likely to have been omitted in transcription).

    After this point, when the target was wounded and disabled, Holland rightly concludes that there was no need or justification for any further firing. However, Long then fired three “double taps” – six bullets – in what can only be interpreted as a sincere and whole-hearted attempt to kill the target; and not just to kill him, but to “mak siccar”.

    Why has no one apparently asked about those extra six shots fired at an already wounded and disabled man? If some foreign authority had done something similar to a British citizen there would be a storm of outrage.

    As for the intelligence about machine guns, I cannot help feeling that no intelligence at all would have been vastly preferable.

  2. John Scholes | 23 August 2016 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    In Long’s defence I would emphasise the timing. He apparently opened fire 0.06 sec after seeing Rodney. The first 6 shots were all fired with 1 sec of seeing Rodney. Even the last two within 2 sec.

    That seems to be an example of the “red mist effect”. You have been told that you face a dangerous gunman with a high powered machine gun capable of firing dozens of bullets in the blink of an eye. You are all pumped up. You get him in your sights. Something convinces you (wrongly) that he is about to fire, so you blaze away. Eight bullets later, when he is dead several times over (as it were) you stop firing.

    Most of us would do far worse than that. Long was apparently on a 5 weeks on duty/1 week on training rota. But the training was not remotely in the same league as the SAS or the US federal Hostage Rescue Team get.

    The plain fact is that to behave in a totally controlled way, where you are capable of assessing the situation in a split second, firing for a split second, then reassessing and stopping firing in another split second, that is extremely difficult.

    Only a few people can ever learn to do it, and those have to train incredibly hard (by Met standards) to remain able to do it.

  3. Tom Welsh | 26 August 2016 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    In the first place, I wonder whether something is wrong when a public servant charged with enforcing the law (without breaking it himself) suffers from “red mist”. Surely if the authorities choose to put officers in such a position, they must first make sure that they are trained so that they do not experience “red mist” (i.e., in plain English, go berserk).

    Second, according to the account given, all the harm in this episode arose from the false intelligence about machine guns. There seems to be an idea, and a most pernicious one, that officials can spread harmful rumours under the guise of “intelligence”, and then weasel out of all blame when the “intelligence” turns out to be entirely wrong. When you think about it, Blair’s decision to join in the invasion of Iraq was exactly such an error on a vastly greater scale.

    Third, I was interested to read your statement that Long “opened fire 0.06 sec after seeing Rodney”. As a follower of track and field athletics, I happen to know that the minimum reaction time allowed in sprint starts is 100 mSec (0.1 sec). If a runner pushes against his starting blocks less than 0.1 sec after the gun is fired, he is automatically disqualified for a false start, because it is deemed that he could not possibly be reacting to the gun and must have anticipated it.

    So it seems that Rodney opened fire before he could possibly have registered seeing Rodney, let alone identifying him or noticing whether he was holding a machine gun. He was ready to fire, with his gun already aimed – otherwise his reaction time would have been far longer – and as soon as he saw someone, he squeezed the trigger and kept on squeezing it until, presumably, his gun was empty.

    I do not wish to have “policemen” like that roaming loose when I am out in public.

  4. John Scholes | 26 August 2016 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    “they must first make sure that they are trained so that they do not experience “red mist” (i.e., in plain English, go berserk)”


    Second, they must give them intensive training, so that they remain capable of that high level of performance.

    In Long’s defence, he was not responsible for either of those errors. Nor was he responsible for the faulty intelligence.

    Of course, in an ideal world people who find themselves in a position for which they are unsuited would resign, but that seems to be so contrary to human nature that few do.

    So yes, I agree that the system is at fault, and tempting though it is, I do not blame Long.

    That still leaves the question of whether the harm is sufficiently serious to be worth spending money and time fixing. The fact is that these incidents are rare. Improving police driving in response to emergency calls would save more lives by a factor of dozens. Improving NHS performance would save more lives by a factor of (probably) hundreds or more.

  5. John Scholes | 26 August 2016 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Oh, the intelligence failing, as usual, was somewhat complex. The problem is not that people hand out completely unfounded intelligence. The problem is that intelligence is usually a matter of probabilities, not certainties. But the CO19 guys speeding to an incident are not told there is a 10% chance the guys they are meeting have a machine gun, they are just told “we think they have machine guns”. Partly that is sloppiness, partly it is a desire not to confuse the CO19 guys, but mainly it is because evaluating intelligence is extremely difficult – that is what lies behind all the fuss about the chairman of JIC and the dodgy Iraq dossier.

  6. Tom Welsh | 27 August 2016 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    I am unwilling to conclude that “it is the system that is at fault”, because from my viewpoint there is always some human being(s) who are responsible. If the sytem doesn’t work, those who designed and implemented it, or those who operate it, have made mistakes.

    We are all familiar with annoying situation when something goes wrong and we are told that it is the fault of the computer. Then, too, I ask “Who decided to computerize this work? Who specified the system?” and so on. Somewhere, there is someone who chose, quite deliberately, to do things in a particular way. When your system breaks down, you must be accountable – or else no one is.

  7. John Scholes | 28 August 2016 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I agree with that. I was just using shorthand: “the system is at fault” means “successive Met commissioners have failed to introduced adequate selection procedures and training regimes for CO19”.

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