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Wednesday, January 08, 2014 

Unanswered questions, familiar findings.

Of all the things you could have spent the last 4 months of your life doing, it's a pretty safe bet serving on the jury at the inquest into the death of Mark Duggan would rank at the very bottom of most lists.  To say you can't envy the 10 members of the jury would be putting it extremely lightly; whichever verdict they reached there would be have been major repercussions.  Had they found he was unlawfully killed, it's difficult to believe the Met wouldn't have reacted in the way they have in the past to jury verdicts going against them.  Members of CO19 downed tools after a jury found Harry Stanley to have been unlawfully killed, Stanley having been gunned down while being both Irish and carrying a chair leg in a plastic bag, the armed response teams happily returning to work after a judge overturned the inquest's findings.

The verdict the jury has reached however is just about the most inflammatory one possible.  They concluded by majority verdict that while Duggan had not been holding the gun when he was shot dead by officer V53, V53 was justified in believing that he needed to use force to defend himself as he genuinely thought Duggan was armed and about to fire.  Duggan was therefore lawfully killed.  The response from Mark Duggan's family, one of fury, is more than understandable.  V53 was not the only officer to testify that Duggan had been holding the gun when he exited the cab after the police conducted a "hard stop" on the vehicle; W70 also did, with both then saying the gun disappeared after the shooting.  W70's initial statement did not mention Duggan holding a gun though, with the officer saying in court he withheld it on legal advice, as this initial statement was not supposed to contain such details.

Where the jury's verdict is most likely to be challenged at a judicial review, and also where it collapses into a whole mess of contradictions is on how the gun got from the shoebox Duggan collected it in to behind a fence around 10 to 20 feet from where he died.  The jury's majority verdict by 8 to 2 was that Duggan threw it as soon as the minicab came to a stop, while one of the other two decided he threw it whilst on the pavement evading the police, leaving the last juror to decide that as no witness gave evidence that Duggan had done either he could not support either supposition.  Indeed, not only did Duggan manage to throw the gun without any bystanders or the police in pursuit seeing him, both the gun and the sock had no fingerprints or DNA evidence from Duggan on them.  The shoebox, by contrast, did have his fingerprints on it.  One officer specifically gave evidence that had Duggan thrown it he would have seen it, while Professor Jonathan Clasper gave evidence that as Duggan was shot first in the bicep, rather than in the chest as V53 testified, it would have been "very unlikely" he would have been able to have thrown it the distance it was found away.

If, then as the jury found Duggan had already thrown the gun away, how was it that not one but two police officers were certain that he still had it, only for it to disappear once he was dead?  Witness B gave evidence that Duggan had in fact been holding a mobile phone when he was shot.  Witness B also filmed 9 minutes of footage which he "sold" to the BBC (going by the Graun's reporting of the counsel for the officers, as I doubt the BBC did pay for it) of the aftermath of the shooting, at the time contradicting his later evidence by telling the reporter he thought he had been holding a gun.  The inquest heard that Duggan had been talking on a mobile phone 10 seconds before he was shot, yet there hasn't been much reporting on where the phone was found, or whether the officers could have mistaken it for a gun.  It would be one thing for one of the officers to do so, but for two seems unlikely.

It's not as unlikely however as the narrative we're meant to accept.  As no witness saw Duggan throw the gun, either before he got out of the cab or as he was shot, I can't see how the jury could make an informed decision as to how it got where it was found.  Whether that's a mistake on the part of the coroner in asking them to reach a decision, or on the jury for doing so might yet be decided in another court.

The jury was nonetheless entitled to find Duggan had been lawfully killed as they accepted V53's overall account of what happened, that he felt threatened and believed Duggan was about to shoot, even while finding he didn't have a gun. V53 was wrong about where he first shot Duggan, and about the colour of the cab, yet neither it seems was enough to make them doubt his evidence sufficiently to reach an open verdict. It's also not surprising when a jury is always likely to accept the word of an officer when there were no other independent witnesses close by, the cab driver's evidence contradictory, while Witness B was over 100 metres away.  From the time Duggan left the cab to being shot dead just 10 seconds went by, and while it's difficult to see how V53 could be so certain about the movements he thought Duggan was making in order to justify shooting him, it again isn't surprising they came down in the police's favour.

Little however it seems was learned from past tragedies and shootings involving the Met.  While nowhere near on the scale of the "complete and utter fuck-up" which was the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Met are once again describing a death they were involved in as being "by a thousand fuckups".  The jury found the police did not do enough to "gather and react to the intelligence" that Duggan was due to collect the gun, while in the aftermath we again heard the usual subsequently proved wrong claims that Duggan had shot at the police.  The crime scene was improperly secured, and handed over to the Independent Police Complaints Commission late, while the cab itself was driven away from the scene before later being brought back.  The officers themselves were, as in the de Menezes case, allowed to confer and write up their statements together, while they refused to answer the IPCC's questions, only giving written statements.  The IPCC is now set to be further reformed, but whether it will make much of a difference if officers are still to be allowed to confer before giving their statements remains to be seen.

The reaction of some to the verdict, best seen in the comments to David Lammy's piece that covers all the bases, reminds of the exact same calls we heard at the height of the riots that followed Duggan's death.  Regardless of how involved Duggan was with a sub-section of the Tottenham Man Dem, and the police likely have exaggerated it to a certain extent, when someone is killed by the police and there are unanswered questions about what happened, there has to be a swift response to such concerns.  That clearly didn't happen in August 2011, and what followed, even if not fully connected, were the worst riots in 30 years.  The exact reason why there were such suspicions is precisely because we've seen it all before, and while on this occasion the most likely explanation is the one reached by the jury, even if no one saw Duggan throw the gun, an unarmed man was killed when he should still be alive today.  There were never going to be any winners, but it's hard not to feel extremely hollow about today's verdict, and whatever happens from today, a dark piece of modern British history is still not yet over.

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