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Met chief challenged over siege

Britain's most senior police officer has been challenged after he denied there was confusion about who was in charge of the firearms officers who killed gunman barrister Mark Saunders.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson rejected criticism that two key roles were given to the same officer at the five-hour armed siege in Chelsea, London, the inquest into the lawyer's death heard.

But an expert insisted it was not clear at the time who was the "bronze firearms commander", the officer in charge of the snipers on the ground.

Superintendent Liz Watson, who reviewed the command of the Metropolitan Police operation for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), said there was "much confusion" about who was in command of the armed officers sent to the scene. But Ms Watson, from South Yorkshire Police, concluded the fatal shooting would not have been avoided even if this problem had been rectified.

Mr Saunders, 32, a family law specialist who suffered from alcoholism, sparked the siege by firing his shotgun through a kitchen window after a solitary binge-drinking session. He suffered fatal injuries when he was hit in the head and chest by five police bullets at his £2.2 million Markham Square home on May 6, 2008.

The inquest at Westminster Coroner's Court heard it was unclear whether Inspector Nicholas Bennett or an armed response officer referred to as Sergeant SE was the bronze firearms commander under Superintendent Michael Wise.

Ms Watson also raised concerns about police communications issues and the fact that the bronze firearms commander was not out on the ground talking to his snipers.

But the officer concluded: "My assessment is these did not impact on, and even if rectified could not have avoided, the eventual outcome of the incident, which resulted in the tragic loss of life of Mr Mark Saunders." She went on: "I consider that the Metropolitan Police Service response was reasonable and proportionate... Having reviewed the circumstances that led to that course, I consider that the use of force was no more than absolutely necessary, and on balance the honestly-held belief by those officers was that unlawful violence of a life-threatening nature was an immediate risk to officers due to the subject's actions at that time."

The police operation to deal with Mr Saunders was always about trying to stop him killing himself, the inquest heard. Chief Superintendent Ian Kennedy, who reviewed the Met's handling of negotiations with Mr Saunders for the IPCC, said it was a "suicide intervention" case from the start.

This was one reason why officers refused to allow the barrister's wife and best friend to try to persuade him to put down his shotgun and come out, the hearing was told.


From Belfast Telegraph