On the 4th August 2011 Mark Duggan was in a minicab in Tottenham, London, when it was stopped by armed police who believed Mark Duggan to be in position of a firearm. Mark Duggan got out of the minicab and was lethally shot twice in the chest by a police marksman codenamed V53.
V53 testified that he saw a gun in Mark Duggan’s right hand and believed that he intended to use it against the officer or his colleagues, thus arguing that the shooting occurred in an act of self-defence. A second officer, W70, also testified to seeing a gun in Duggan’s hand.
Although no gun was found in Duggan’s possession after the shooting, a gun wrapped in a sock was recovered three to six metres away from where the fatal shooting took place.
It is widely accepted that the shooting of Mark Duggan acted as a catalyst for the riots which began in London and subsequently spread to other parts of the UK in the nights after the 4th August 2011. Whether the behaviour of the rioters had any connection to the shooting of Mark Duggan is a matter for debate and in my opinion the connection was severed once the disorder transferred beyond the initial clashes with police in Tottenham, to widespread looting and vandalism across other parts of the capital.
Given the controversial nature of Mark Duggan’s death on the 9th January 2013 His Honour Judge Cutler CBE was appointed to chair a jury inquest into the events of the 4th August 2011. The jury returned their verdict on the 8th January 2014, deciding with a majority of eight to two, that Mark Duggan had been lawfully killed despite also finding that he was unarmed at the time the shooting took place.
The decision has not been accepted without criticism, Mark Duggan’s family; understandably believe the decision to be unjust, whilst Diane Abbott MP said on twitter that she was “baffled” by the decision.
The criticism has arisen out of the jury’s finding that Mark Duggan was unarmed at the time he was shot, therefore raising the question: how could he have been lawfully killed if he were unarmed?
I do not think that this decision is perverse, in fact given the step by step decision making process adhered to by the jury, one suspects that this decision may in fact be far more reasonable than many decisions made by juries in criminal trials, who are, admittedly advised, but not forced to adhere to the same strict decision making process and guidelines.
I intend to briefly address the decisions made by the jury at each stage of their deliberations, beginning with whether in the period between midday on the 3rd August and the shooting on the 4th August 2011 MPS and SOCA did the best they realistically could to gather and react to intelligence about the possibility of Mark Duggan collecting a gun from Mr Hutchinson Foster.
The jury unanimously found that the relevant agencies had not done all they could, suggesting instead that there was not enough intelligence and information on Mr Hutchinson Foster, and there was a lack of emphasis on exhausting all avenues, which may have had implications on subsequent events. Also there was insufficient information on intelligence gathering between 9pm on the 3rd August (after surveillance had lost Mark Duggan) and the 4th August when new intelligence which led to his location came in.
These findings indicate that there were operational failures in intelligence gathering and the use of that intelligence, but that does not mean that Duggan was unlawfully killed.
The second question: was the stop conducted in a location and in a way which minimised to the greatest extent possible recourse to lethal force? Was answered as a unanimous yes, thus finding the officers involved did not act improperly in the way they stopped the minicab.
In response to the third question, crucially all ten jurors concluded that Duggan had the gun in his possession whilst in the minicab immediately before being stopped by the police.
Question four asked how the gun came to be on the grass where it was later found by police. Nine jurors reached the conclusion that the gun was thrown by Mark Duggan (eight believe from the minicab, one from the pavement after exiting the minicab), whilst one juror found that there was not enough evidence to reach a conclusion.
The fifth and final fact-finding question was whether Mark Duggan had the gun in his hand at the time he was fatally shot. Eight jurors were sure that he did not, one thought it more likely than not that he did not, and one thought it more likely than not that he did.
The burden of proof does not rest with the officer (V53), rather the jury had to be sure that the actions were unlawful. Furthermore the actions of V53 must be judged from his perspective; whether he believed an attack was imminent and was the response reasonable in all the circumstances as V53 believed them to be. Or alternatively was V53 acting to prevent a crime and were his actions reasonable? Only if the answer to both points is no can a verdict of unlawful killing be reached.
Given V53’s testimony that he saw a gun in the hand of Mark Duggan, his response was not unreasonable and disproportionate, even if that belief was mistaken. This is where the failure of the intelligence services may have played a vital role, if V53 was under the impression that Duggan was in possession of a firearm (which arguably he was until moments before the incident took place) then his actions at the time a split second decision had to be made are arguably more understandable.
Eight jurors concluded that Mark Duggan was lawfully killed, whilst two returned an open conclusion as they believed there was insufficient proof to the required standard.
It is regrettable that a young man has lost his life in this incident and that the incident itself may have been avoided, but the verdict of this inquest is by no means unjust, perverse, or baffling. Mark Duggan was in possession of a gun until moments before he was fatally shot, and the officer was right to assume that Duggan was armed as he did not see him dispose of the gun. There were mistakes made by the police but none so serious as to label the events of the 4th August 2011 an execution.
The only available recourse for Mark Duggan’s family is a judicial review, which one strongly suspects will find no fault with the inquest, but may be worthwhile if only to put this matter to rest.