UK Liberty

Inquest into police shooting cannot proceed because of secret evidence

Posted in law and order by ukliberty on November 7, 2007

The BBC:

The family of a man shot dead by police have urged the government to change the law so his inquest can proceed.

Azelle Rodney was killed by armed police on 30 April 2005 – three months before Jean Charles de Menezes died.

The case was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service but, unlike the Menezes case, no charges were brought against the Metropolitan Police.

But a coroner has said [coroner’s ruling – 150Kb PDF] he cannot hold a lawful inquest because of secret evidence which cannot be made public.

In August coroner Andrew Walker, sitting at Hornsey in north London, announced he could not proceed with a full inquest into Mr Rodney’s death because of a large number of redactions – passages crossed out – in police officers’ statements.

The redactions were made under the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which covers information obtained from covert surveillance devices such as telephone tapping or bugs, said the solicitor for Azelle Rodney’s family, Daniel Machover.

Mr Machover said he had written to the Home Office and Ministry of Justice asking them to change the law so the coroner can proceed with the inquest.

He said he had warned them if they refused to legislate he would take the matter to the High Court and seek to obtain a declaration of incompatibility to show Ripa was in breach of the Human Rights Act.

Mr Rodney’s mother Susan Alexander has been waiting for more than two years for an inquest.

Mr Machover said: “She has to see for her own peace of mind what it is that the secret evidence reveals and how it affected the state of mind of the officers concerned.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said an independent review is under way into whether evidence from phone taps or bugs should be used in courts.

She said: “We accept the arguments in favour of using it but only if there are the necessary safeguards to protect methods of intelligence.”

Mr Machover said: “The RIPA ‘criminalises everything’ so that when the officer says ‘I shot him because of X and X’ we are not allowed to know what X refers to.”

Armed officers stopped the car in Edgware, north London, after having its occupants under surveillance for three hours.

Mr Rodney, who was sitting in the back seat, was shot dead after armed police were ordered to carry out a “hard stop”.

Immediately afterwards police said the dead man had been seen holding a firearm but it later emerged this was not true.

The officer who shot him claimed he thought he was reaching for a gun.

The police have admitted it was a “pre-planned” operation but they have refused to release more details.

One newspaper claimed at the time of the shooting that police believed the trio were on their way to kidnap and rob a drug dealer.

But Mr Machover said there were many unanswered questions, such as why the police did not arrest the trio when they were in the street in Harlesden, rather than waiting for them to get back in the car.

Three guns and ammunition were found in the car.

The driver and front seat passenger, Wesley Lovell, 26, and Frank Graham, 24, were later jailed for seven and six years respectively for firearms offences.

At the pair’s trial Samantha Cohen, prosecuting, said: “They were again followed by police and at about 7.40 a decision was made to stop the Volkswagen Golf they were in proceeding any further.

“That operation involved armed officers, and Rodney, who was in the back seat of his car, was shot in the course of that stop. He died.”

But Mr Machover said: “While others in the car were later convicted of firearms offences there is no doubt that Azelle was not holding a gun at the time of the shooting.”

He said the case had naturally been overshadowed by the Menezes case but he said it was very significant in its own right.

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