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Barrister shot dead by police predicted his own death

By Tom Peck

A successful barrister told a taxi driver "I'm going to die" hours before he was shot dead by police marksmen after firing a gun out of the window of his home in Chelsea, south-west London, an inquest heard yesterday.

Shortly before he died, the divorce specialist Mark Saunders, 32, left a series of bizarre messages on the phones of friends and colleagues. He sent a text message to his close friend Alex Booth which read: "This is the end, my only friend, the end. X". It is a line from the song "The End" by The Doors.



Saunders caused a five-hour armed siege in May 2008 after he opened fire from the window of his £2.2m home in Markham Square. A neighbour said he had fired a shotgun through her daughter's bedroom window, leaving glass and pellets strewn across the floor.



The barrister died from injuries to his head and chest after police marksmen in the street and in surrounding buildings shot him at least five times.



His GP, Dr Susan Horsewood-Lee, told the inquest at Westminster Coroner's Court yesterday that Saunders had started drinking at the age of 13 and that his problem with alcohol had peaked in 2004, when he drank to excess on most nights. She said at one stage he was consuming up to 120 units a week. One medical colleague was concerned that he might commit suicide if a period of depression and an alcohol binge coincided.



One consultant psychiatrist wrote: "Considering the paranoid and belligerent state he finds himself during the binges, there is a real risk that he may be killed during one of these altercations. I am in absolutely no doubt that he must abstain completely from all mind-altering substances."



The taxi driver David Hay said Saunders had made several strange phone calls as he drove him home across west London on the afternoon of his death.



Mr Hay added that when he handed the barrister his change, "He looked straight at me, and just said 'I'm going to die'. His eyes were large and bulging – I could see the terror in his eyes. It was scary, like he was on drugs."



Saunders' widow, Elizabeth, said her husband had abstained from alcohol for two months before the incident, but had been drinking on the day it happened. The barrister had taken cocaine over the previous 48 hours and was on antidepressants at the time he died, the inquest heard.



Saunders is thought to have fired the first shot at around 4.40pm, while he was on the phone to his friend and fellow barrister Michael Bradley. Ivor Treherne, a senior clerk at his legal chambers, Queen Elizabeth Buildings in London's Temple, heard another shot being fired minutes later.



Mr Treherne told investigators: "He said: 'I've got my gun out and I've already shot it'. He said 'Listen', and he fired the gun. I said: 'Stop being stupid, put the gun down'. He said 'It's too late, I've already fired the gun and the police are here already'."



The inquest heard that an officer returned fire from his position in nearby Bywater Street after Saunders shot at him. The owner of the house said the officer had asked a radio controller for "permission to engage" before pulling the trigger.



The inquest heard that Saunders repeatedly asked negotiators if he could speak to his wife, but that she had been told to turn off her phone when she arrived at the scene. She turned it back on after she was told her husband was dead at about 10.30pm and found a blank text message from him. "That would have been the only time in our relationship that he sent me a text message and he did not get an immediate call from me," she said. The inquest is expected to last up to three weeks.

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