Some six years after the death of Harry Stanley, Inspector Neil Sharman and PC Kevin Fagan have finally been arrested on suspicion of murder. The case has once again raised some fundamental questions about what kind of society we want to live in. Harry Stanley, 46, was shot in the head because (a) the police had been informed, so to speak, that he may have been an Irish terrorist; the informant was a pubgoer who had mistaken Stanley’s Scottish accent for an Irish one (unsurprisingly there was no other “evidence” against Stanley). And (b) the police mistook a chair leg in a bag for a sawn-off shotgun. So they shot him. In the head.
Firearms officers have now threatened an all-out strike, with one officer even handing in his gun, “in protest” at the arrest of the officers. This simple act of astonishing arrogance serves as a timely reminder of the fine line between a civilised society and an uncivilised one. For it is understood by most people that theirs is a difficult job – split-second, life-or-death decisions have to be made. But it is also understood that if a person, in any line of work, carries out their duties so incompetently that an innocent person is killed as a result, then they must be held accountable accordingly. To mistake a table-leg for a gun is just a mistake – let us suppose Mr Stanley had indeed been carrying a gun in a bag. I would submit that a man carrying a gun in a bag, as opposed to, say, brandishing it in any way, does not constitute the kind of immediate, life-or-death, split-second occasion in which it may be justifiable to fire upon him as a last resort. Indeed even if some people may beg to differ, they would have a lot of trouble convincing me that the gun would necessarily have to be aimed at the head of the suspect.
There are several inferences that can be made from the resultant strike threat. That firstly, unlike other public servants, the police should be above the law, because their job is more difficult. That somehow holding two trigger-happy young thugs to account constitutes a vote of no confidence in the entire police force. That the CPS – to whom the police have historically been so blindly deferential in respect of so many genuine miscarriages of justice – have somehow betrayed their brothers in blue. That the sort of lack of respect for the rule of law shown by two of their number in this instance is now to be condoned by their colleagues’ official bodies on the spurious basis that their job would otherwise be rendered impracticable. That proper training is no substitute for legitimised savagery, and that somehow respect for the law is something less than a two-way street.
(see further – [url=?q=node/view/88]ISD 4th November 2004[/url])