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Q&A: Police siege tactics at killing of Mark Saunders

Mark Saunders
Image caption Mark Saunders was shot in the head, chest and liver

A jury has found shotgun-wielding barrister Mark Saunders was lawfully killed after a six hour stand-off with armed police.

Westminster Coroner's Court ruled the police shooting lawful, proportionate and reasonable. But the inquest raised concern over police tactics.

Retired Flying Squad commander John O'Connor assesses some of the issues.

Were police right to open fire?

Mr O'Connor said: "It's clear police had more than enough reason to open fire.

"The problem was his previous activity, firing into someone else's bedroom window. They would have thought, 'What's this guy going to do?'

"The rules of engagement were met and they had cause to shoot him earlier than they did.

"The only other way would be a non-lethal option such as a Taser. But that would be in range of a shotgun and could put officers in danger."

Should Mr Saunders' wife have been allowed to talk to him?

The inquest heard Mr Saunders was "dotty" about his wife Elizabeth. But police denied her request to try to talk him into surrendering.

Mr O'Connor said: "That was a mistake. You use every option you can. If they had an opportunity for the wife to persuade that person to save their own life they should have used it.

"You can't allow her into the flat as you have a responsibility for her safety. But I would certainly have allowed her to talk by phone."

Was Mr Saunders shot too many times?

Eleven shots were fired by seven officers and Mr Saunders was hit in the neck, chest and liver. Would it have been possible to shoot him fewer times, increasing his chance of survival?

Mr O'Connor said: "Once a decision had been made to open fire there were too many officers involved.

"But it wouldn't have made a difference whether one or ten opened fire.

"People talk about shooting to wound. But if you aim at a small body part you might miss, get a ricochet and hit someone else.

"In any case two shots to the torso with the Glock pistols they use sends such shockwaves through the body it is unlikely anyone could survive."

Were there too many officers on the scene?

It has been suggested 59 officers carrying over 100 guns and the presence of a police helicopter may have pushed Mr Saunders over the edge.

Neighbour Frank Borda told BBC News: "It was like having 59 bulldozers to squash an ant with a pea-shooter. It was very unfortunate."

Mr O'Connor said: "They had more officers than required - some would have been there in a training capacity.

"They wanted to make him realise the impossibility of his situation, hoping that would encourage him to give himself up.

"After his early activity they could not allow him to escape and threaten others. The number of officers made no difference to the outcome."

Was the chain of command flawed?

The jury heard there was "much confusion" who the "bronze" commanding officer was. Two officers performed the role.

And Coroner Dr Paul Knapman highlighted 10 pieces of information "silver commander" Supt Michael Wise was not given.

For instance, he was not told Mr Saunders repeatedly held his phone to a window and pointed at it, while shouting he could not hear the police.

But Mr O'Connor said: "At the crucial moment the guy pointing the gun fulfils the role of commander.

"It's going to take a brave man to overrule them and order men on the ground not to shoot under any circumstance.

"The firearms units need to be in direct control.

"After police handed the Iranian Embassy siege to the SAS they had no control. This is similar - the technical firearms adviser in effect becomes commander."

Were past lessons not learned?

Mr O'Connor said: "It took an incident involving an upper-middle class lawyer for these issues to come to light.

"They should have been aired a long time ago but, because of the status of people involved, there was little interest.

"The rules of engagement lack flexibility. When someone is determined to get himself killed - and I believe he wanted to commit 'suicide-by-cop' - it is sad someone who steps over the line is going to get killed.

"It is about time every senior [non-firearms] officer who may be in charge at one of these incidents had specific training."

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