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Charity head condemns police chief’s ‘inflammatory’ comments on armed officers

Claims by the head of the Metropolitan Police that firearms officers would rather face terrorists than gangland criminals have been criticised by the head of the charity, Inquest (John Stillwell/PA)
Claims by the head of the Metropolitan Police that firearms officers would rather face terrorists than gangland criminals have been criticised by the head of the charity, Inquest (John Stillwell/PA)

The head of a charity that supports the loved ones of those killed by police has condemned Sir Mark Rowley’s comments on armed officers as “inflammatory, dehumanising and dangerous”.

Britain’s most senior police officer told the Sun newspaper on Monday that marksmen would rather face terrorists than gangland criminals because there would be less of a legal backlash.

But the director of the charity Inquest, Deb Coles, said officers had to understand that they would be held accountable for fatal use of force under the law.

She told the PA news agency: “Mark Rowley has spoken of being ‘ruthlessly supportive’ of firearms officers.

Sir Mark Rowley
Sir Mark Rowley said that justice campaign groups could ‘influence accountability’ with non-terrorist deaths (Shiv Gupta/PA)

“But the public need Mark Rowley to be ‘ruthlessly supportive’ of equality before the law.

“All police officers must understand that they must be ready, willing and able to justify each use of force, crucially including fatal force, within the existing legal and investigative process.

“Framing the debate on the use of fatal force as being against gangsters or terrorists is inflammatory, dehumanising and dangerous.

“This is a clear attempt to deflect attention away from the many deaths that have exposed the use of unlawful and excessive force and systemic failure and the imperative for accountability.

“Once again, the Commissioner seems intent on undermining the rule of law.”

Sir Mark also took aim at justice campaign groups, telling the newspaper: “One thing that’s really startled me is I’ve had some of our firearms officers say to me they would rather end up ­confronting on the streets a well-trained terrorist than a gangster.

“Because even though they would face far more personal danger with the terrorist, they believe they’d get a fair hearing in terms of the legal processes that follow.

“Whereas with a gangster, they feel that campaign groups can influence accountability in a way that leads to something that’s unbalanced and lasts forever.”

Ms Coles added: “Behind every death are families left behind grieving and searching for answers and accountability. They face cultures of delay, denial and obfuscation.

“It is appalling that the Commissioner therefore chose to criticise the very campaign groups that seek to hold the police to account and support bereaved families in their search for the truth.

“Mark Rowley seems to have forgotten not only bereaved families but also the Casey Review published in March, which laid bare the toxic and racist culture within the firearms unit in the Met.

“Addressing this should be the Commissioner’s priority.”

Police at the scene of the Streatham attack.
Police attend the scene of the Streatham attack (Metropolitan Police/PA)

On Friday, Sir Mark criticised the prosecution of a Met officer who crashed while driving to a terrorist attack in Streatham, south London, in February 2020 as “appalling”.

He said that it “undermines the confidence of all officers using their powers to keep the public safe”.

It came amid a renewed debate over how firearms officers who use legal force should be held to account.

The Met has been ordered by a police watchdog to hold disciplinary proceedings for W80, the officer who shot 28-year-old Jermaine Baker during a foiled prison breakout in 2015.

Another officer known only as NX121 is set to stand trial for the murder of Chris Kaba, a 24-year-old shot in south-east London last year.

According to a legal ruling, the officer will be named on January 30, ahead of a trial in September.