Tim Farron: Nobody is above the law, including armed police

There’s a disturbing article on the front page of today’s Sunday Times (£) which reports that David Cameron is going to make it easier for Police using firearms to avoid prosecution.

The prime minister stepped in after police chiefs warned that the fight against terrorism is being compromised because firearms officers risk prosecution if they pull the trigger.

Cameron ordered a review of the law after a national security council meeting last week at which police chiefs demanded greater political and legal backing for those charged with protecting the public from a Paris-style massacre in Britain.

Senior government sources say the prime minister is prepared to change the law in the new year to make it harder to drag police officers through the courts if they shoot to kill.

The thing is, I’m not aware of Police being dragged through the courts for firearms offences at all. If that were happening, it might be necessary. Police are rarely prosecuted for things that they do on duty as it is.

I would expect every officer who is authorised to use firearms to be accountable for their actions. If they do something that merits prosecution, and, to be honest, the law already is quite lax on that point, then they should be prosecuted. Here are the current legal parameters, again from that Sunday Times article:

The Criminal Law Act 1967 allows police to use “reasonable” force, while the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 says police involved in shooting incidents can use the defence that they had an “honest and instinctive” belief that opening fire was reasonable.

What worries me is that any perceived slackening of the rules may well lead to mistakes and that the greatest risk would be borne by a very small section of the population who might find themselves caught up in a situation and find themselves injured or worse.

It’s also noticeable that Cameron is looking to extend the power to all situations, not just terrorism. That does not strike me as proportionate.

Tim Farron has made some sensible comments on this today:

It is vital communities have complete confidence in their police. That means nobody should be above the law, including armed officers.

The police do one of the hardest jobs there is and they must feel protected.

But this needs to reviewed in a calm and collected manner and not in a knee-jerk response to terror attacks.

The Scottish Police Federation has been trying to ramp up pressure on the SNP to accept the inevitability of more armed police on routine duties which, again, seems highly disproportionate.

Those of us who believe in a more liberal approach have our work cut out for us. On the basis of no evidence, Police want more power. I am unconvinced that they either need or should have it.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • The thing is there have been no prosecution so how much easier could it be to avoid them!

  • Richard Underhill 20th Dec '15 - 8:01pm

    PCC candidates in England Wales should be thinking about this. The recent public meeting in Tottenham (in Greater London and therefore under the mayor) was reportedly tense. There is a risk of rioting if law and order is considered by the public to be unjust. France is under a state of emergency at the moment, but the UK is one level below the highest stae of alert.

  • Tell that to the family of Jean Charles de Menezes.

  • “Cameron ordered a review of the law after a national security council meeting last week at which police chiefs demanded greater political and legal backing for those charged with protecting the public from a Paris-style massacre in Britain.”

    Where is the evidence that David Cameron is going to make it easier for the police, he as simply done the sensible thing and orders a review of the current state of affairs, allowing the concerns of the police chiefs to be properly assessed and investigated.

    I suspect that the police chiefs (and military) are concerned about the extent the law does support them in doing their job, namely if we allow the police to carry firearms then don’t be surprised if they get used and people, including innocents, will sometimes get killed.

  • I am deeply worried about the conduct of the IPCC so far this week in relation to Wood Green shooting. They have arrested a police officer doing his job in what maybe an illegal arrest in what appears to appease a selection of the criminal community. The IPCC have a shocking record especially after the Dugan case and seem to be more political than independent.

    Many police can’t see the code G PACE justifications under law for the arrest. It is threatening the safety of our communities when armed officers now are considering surrendering their firearms tickets or hesitate before taking action due to this murder/manslaughter arrest.

    Maybe we don’t need new use of police firearms laws but an IPCC reformed or abolished and replaced with a independent body fit for business.

  • Considering that, in the Duggan case, the IPCC found, ” no wrongdoing or misconduct for any of the armed officers involved in the operation”, they can hardly be accused of trying “to appease a selection of the criminal community”…..

    Police officers should always ‘hesitate’ , or more correctly ‘evaluate’, before shooting ….Such evaluation can take milli-seconds and is far, far preferable to instances like the Jean Charles de Menezes case where shooting was the only option considered and the subsequent cover-up used to justify that action….

  • As Ian MacFadyen says “Isn’t a “calm and collected” review what is being set up? What is wrong with that?”
    Do we honestly want to next find that armed police are revoking their willingness to handle guns in case it puts them in an invidious position because of a decision they made, or didn’t make, in a matter of a split second. Whatever they do, or don’t do could cause loss of life.
    Lets hear what the review is proposing before shooting it down before its done its work.

  • Andrew Lye 21st Dec ’15 – 1:18pm……………….As Ian MacFadyen says “Isn’t a “calm and collected” review what is being set up? What is wrong with that?”……………Do we honestly want to next find that armed police are revoking their willingness to handle guns in case it puts them in an invidious position because of a decision they made, or didn’t make, in a matter of a split second. Whatever they do, or don’t do could cause loss of life……….Lets hear what the review is proposing before shooting it down before its done its work……….

    That should be the situation; however, particularly with this regime, we’ll find out, too late, that we are facing a ‘fait accompli’…..

  • David-1
    “Tell that to the family of Jean Charles de Menezes”

    The death of JCdM was a disaster and the result of failings in the processes Law enforcement had in place which allowed a “Chinese whispers” situation to arise. As a result the Police force as an institution were to blame as they should have had a better process to ensure clear communication (along with the other failings).

    That doesn’t mean any individual operating within the system is criminally responsible for the death.

    Families who have lost someone will often desire an outcome that is not possible. That the family desire something does not make it an outcome that our justice system should aspire to provide. That would require the same crime require different penalties depending on the feelings of the victim/their family.

    I can’t see what this “review” of the legal position will achieve the current situation is as good as we will get. The police have top access the situation and are authorised to use force if they believe that the situation requires it to protect themselves or others, I have yet to hear any one suggest a workable alternative.

  • I would suggest a major problem is that the IPPC, civil servants and politicians largely have no experience of combat. Until mid 1980s , there were people who had combat experience and knew what was appropriate and what was not when it came to fire arms. Also , drug dealing and has allowed the growth of a criminal demi-monde which includes those who buy drugs and which is supported by the hard left. The consequence is that those who are honest and do not buy drugs are intimidated by those who sell and buy them. The film ” Harry Brown ” with M Caine shows what happens when an area is taken over by drug dealers. I still remember with horror how a mother a and reformed heroin addict told me that her 9 year old daughter had been offered white powder on the way back from school.

    The reality is that some Police officers tell honest people to leave crime ridden areas. As criminals have thuggish children parents know they cannot complain about crime in case their children are attacked at school.
    Those middle class people who live in safe areas who complain about the Police, should be made to live next door to criminals and have themselves and their children threatened by criminals.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Dec '15 - 7:19pm

    Should we remember when BBC TV Newsnight sent a junior reporter to interview Gordon Brown? The police used anti-terrorism powers to restrict this law-abiding and peaceful citizen. Obviously a minister can be busy, have a tight schedule, etc and obviously he could refuse an interview if he wanted to, so why were the police so heavy-handed? Neither the police nor the journalist were in any great hurry.

  • Charles De Menezes, was pinned down on a rail way carnage and shot in the head 8 timers. The police variously claimed that he was running, He wasn’t. That he was in a heavy coat. He wasn’t. That he behaved suspiciously. He didn’t. That they warned him. Disputed by witnesses. They then issued doctored pictures to show the clearly South American de Menezes looking more like the equally clearly North African suspect. What I find staggering is that liberals will make excuses for doing this kind of thing when most of us don’t support the death penalty. Coz the one thing we do know between the smoke screen that was thrown up around the killing od Charles De Menezes is that an entirely innocent man was held down shot in the head 8 times. Maybe if the police did not seem so intent on covering their tracks we wouldn’t be having this debate. Considering that there is no evidence of a reluctance to shoot I would suggest Cameron is in fact indulging in click bait politics to look tough.

  • Glenn, if every time a police officer shoots someone dead and there are charged with murder, then why should they join a fire arms unit? de Meneze s was tragic mistake and these types of mistakes are likely to l occur when there are multiple terrorist or criminal events happening in a city at the same time . Armed Police officers need to weigh up the needs of saving lives of innocent people and their own and have less than a second to do it. . What happened with de Menezes is that senior officers passed responsibility but not authority down the chain of command and did not make decisions which lost time. When the Police officers shot de Menezes they were on train and were aware of the bombings which had just taken place. I would suggest that the problem is that many senior police officers have been promoted because they are graduates and their faces fit but have no experience of a rapidly changing firefight when decisions have to be made in less than a second. Up to the 1960s many officers in the Met and City of London Police we ex sergeants from the Guards who had extensive WW2 and colonial conflict and understood decisions have to be made on the ground not at a distance .

    If one wants to look at improving the situation, I think selection and training should be examined. The low level of fitness requirement for the Police means that too much of Police training time is spent on fitness. An RMP corporal who had passed the SAS bodyguards course said the first moth of the 6 months course was basically fitness training and he was an experienced soldier before he started. I suggests the questions which needs to be asked is what is the gap in competence between the senior Police Officers , armed Police officers and the SAS/SBS when it comes to shooting in an urban/hostage situation and can the skills be improved ?

    When the person in charge cannot see what is happening how can they make the right decisions( this applies to gatherings of people over a wide area be it a sports meeting, demonstration or riot ) ? A Guards and Special Forces officers said to me ” The reason why so many soldiers do not respect officers is that so many officers are poor soldiers”. I wonder if a similar problems occurs in the Police between those who undertake operations and the senior officers in command?

  • A Social Liberal 22nd Dec '15 - 12:19pm

    With regards to Charlies initial comments.

    De Menezes shooting was predicated on a mistake, This is what happened.

    Bombers were identified as living in a block of flats which were put under survaillence. One of those watching mis-identified De Menezes as being one of the suspects but because he had left his place of duty this identification could not be corroberated – this was the mistake, that one of those watching left his position to urinate.

    The action on the underground train was not a mistake – you can argue about the rights and wrongs of shooting a man without warning but as I understand it the policemen were following a newly set up procedure where if a suspect was in a position to harm innocent bystanders they must be shot to stop that possible harm happening. Given the original identificaion of De Menezes, he fitted the profile for the Rules of Engagement.

  • A Social Liberal
    There to other problems
    1. Fire arms officers were called at 5 am but did not arrive until 9 am.
    2. Officers at the scene asked for decisions to be made by senior officers but they prevaricated.
    3. De Menezes was allowed to board two buses before he entered The Tube and boarded a train.

    My concern is whether the selection, training ,equipment , communications systems and operating procedures are adequate for fast moving situation and where there could several similar events happening at the same time? When considering major accidents , the procedure is to examine all aspects from selection training, equipment , operating procedures and chains of command and previous experiences. The IPPC do appear to be undertaking this approach or as the Japanese say ” Fix the problem , not the blames”.

  • Charlie’
    I disagree. There is no evidence of a reluctance amongst armed officer to engage nor is there a single prosecution to point to. It’s just click bait from Cameron. Also the claim that to the current rules would hinder the police in a situation like the Paris Attacks is far fetched because the attackers were armed and shooting people. I might also point out that there has been no incident like the De Menezes case and no major incident since it either . Personally, I think the threat is way smaller than the hysteria warrants and that the very nature of such attacks would not lend themselves to pre-emptive action anyway.

  • If an officer fires his weapon he/she is immediately suspended and interrogated. They are then in limbo for a very long time perhaps two years under suspicion. Really look at the amount of times officers have fired and killed, very rare. So much police hating fuelled by government through the media yet if G4S takes over you will not be able to complain at all. When policing is run for profit people will be really afraid.

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