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Coroner issues intelligence warning

Secret police operations that end in death may not be properly investigated due to restrictions on access to intelligence, the coroner in the Mark Duggan inquest has warned.

Judge Keith Cutler said in a report today that even the lead barrister to the inquest was denied access to intelligence that led up to the operation that ended in Mr Duggan's death, despite having "the highest security clearance".

The Independent Police Complaints Commission was also refused permission to allow an expert adviser to see the information.

Judge Cutler said: "There was intelligence relevant to Mark Duggan's death which the jury could not see. Exceptionally, the Senior Investigating Officer at the IPCC was permitted to see it.

"However a senior police officer in an independent police service, from whom the IPCC thought it necessary to get an expert opinion, was not so permitted. That prevented her from forming a fully informed view about the planning of the operation.

"I would have like to put her report before the jury and to call her to give evidence but did not do so because she had not seen the intelligence picture. Furthermore, the IPCC is plainly being hampered in its task by not having the benefit of her expertise.

"Further, although I was allowed to see the intelligence, my leading counsel was not, despite holding the highest security clearance.

"These limitations not only give rise to understandable suspicions in the minds of those not party to the intelligence but also plainly create a risk that an intelligence-led operation which results in death will not be fully investigated so that lessons may be learned."

He addressed these concerns to Home Secretary Theresa May.

The report, entitled Inquest Into The Death Of Mark Duggan - Report To Prevent Future Deaths, also raised concerns that police officers had "ample scope" to confer before making statements, and spoke to a Police Federation representative and a solicitor before doing so.

Judge Cutler said: "The fact of the officers gathering in a room together for many hours to compile statements created a perception of collusion.

"What the Metropolitan Police Service did was in accordance with national practice, much of it sanctioned or encouraged by the Association of Chief Police Officers. I believe it may not be the best possible practice."

He also said initial statements given by the officers involved were "universally bland and uninformative".

Since 2011 Scotland Yard has brought in a process where officers are reminded of rules not to confer four times in the wake of an incident. The writing of statements is also supervised by a senior officer.

The force said: "The conferring warning is a warning given to officers reminding them they should not confer and if they do so they have to write down where, with whom, why, and on what subjects they conferred.

"They are also warned they must not confer on their own use of force. The post incident procedure is the nationally agreed procedure that takes place following a police shooting."

It has begun a trial of body-worn video cameras in the wake of Mr Duggan's death, and the lack of footage of his fatal shooting was also highlighted by Judge Cutler.

He said: "There was a significant issue about how and when the gun found some distance from Mark Duggan's body got to that location. A further issue arose about how and by whom it was found there.

"The failure to record where Mark Duggan's mobile phone was found created difficulties. Much of this, and the distrust which it fostered, could have been avoided had the scene been video recorded in the period between the shooting and the arrival of a police helicopter.

"Armed officers were anxious to video record the first-aid that was (assiduously) given, so the availability of a camera and the manpower to operate it was not a problem, yet no thought was given to ensuring that the wider scene was captured until the helicopter arrived to begin overhead filming."

Judge Cutler also raised concerns about the way that the Met and the Serious Organised Crime Agency dealt with intelligence about the gun that Mr Duggan had collected from another man, Kevin Hutchinson-Foster, just before he was shot.

He said: "If lessons are not learned, I believe that circumstances creating a risk of other deaths will occur, or will continue to exist, in the future."

The coroner said there was "confusion" over how the IPCC dealt with the shooting scene, and that officers dropped their original mission to seize illegal guns in the wake of Mr Duggan's death.

He also said the IPCC should join up to an agreement between prosecutors, coroners and police chiefs that determines how deaths at officers' hands are handled.


From Belfast Telegraph