Friday, September 12, 2008

Depressed British trial lawyer shot dead by police ‘long after he’d stopped firing’

A barrister shot dead during an armed siege at his $4 million Chelsea flat was not pointing a weapon at anyone when he was killed by police marksmen, the High Court heard yesterday. Mark Saunders, 32, a divorce lawyer, died when seven officers fired eleven rounds at him, ending the five-and-a-half-hour stand-off at Markham Square, close to the fashionable Kings Road, West London.

His family claim that although Mr Saunders had opened fire using a legally-held shotgun during the siege, he had not fired for 20 minutes before he was killed on the evening of May 6. “It appears that the final fatal shots were fired at a time when neighbours had all been evacuated or otherwise safely ‘contained’,” Tim Owen, QC, representing Mr Saunders’s sister Charlotte, told the judicial review. “As a consequence, it is difficult to see who was being put at risk or who the police may have believed was being put at risk by Mr Saunders’s actions at the time when he was shot.”

Mr Owen said Miss Saunders’s claims about the shooting were based on viewing film recorded from a police helicopter flying over the scene. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) last night rejected another claim from the Saunders family that video footage showed the dead man was holding his gun “limply in his left hand” when he was shot.

Ian Bynoe, of the IPCC, said the video was vital to its inquiry into the shooting and could not be made public. He added: “I feel bound to correct what is not an accurate reflection of the evidence, which we hold since this will in due course have to be considered by a jury.”

Miss Saunders has launched a legal challenge to the way in which her brother’s death was being investigated by the IPCC. She is questioning the legality of the firearms officers being able to confer before producing their accounts of a shooting incident. Mr Owen said: “There can be no doubt that the present practice means that there is a substantial risk of collusion and of contamination.” He said that officers had delayed in producing their statements to the IPCC about the shooting and that the Metropolitan Police had since admitted they had conferred over their accounts. The IPCC took the view that the practice was “undesirable” but could not challenge it unless the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) directed a change.

Miss Saunders is also arguing that the failure of the IPCC to disclose to her the statements of the principal officers, operational commanders, negotiators and firearms officers was unlawful. She is seeking a declaration that the IPCC acted unlawfully by failing to exercise its discretion over disclosure of the statements or to give reasons why they were not disclosed. Acpo, the Met and the Police Federation are all represented at the review proceedings as interested parties.

A preliminary inquest has heard that Mr Saunders died after suffering gunshot wounds to the head, heart and liver. A full inquest has been delayed pending the High Court action. Mr Saunders had fired several shots from the window of his flat during the siege and at one point threw out a piece of cardboard on which he had written a message to his wife, Elizabeth. It said: “I love my wife dearly, xxx”.

Original report here

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