In saying ‘shoot first’, Angela Rayner ignores the devastation caused by police violence

Angela Rayner

Deputy Labour leader and MP Angela Rayner has advocated “shoot your terrorists and ask questions second”. She also made it clear she was “quite hardline” on crime generally. Her comments, made during Matt Forde’s Political Party podcast, were subsequently criticised on Twitter.

But the timing could not have been worse. That’s because her comments came when there’s renewed interest in Labour leader Keir Starmer’s handling of the Jean Charles de Menezes case. Not forgetting, too, the murder of 14 innocent civilians on ‘Bloody Sunday’, now in its 50th anniversary year – and with still no justice in sight.

The cases given here highlight the tragedy of innocent lives lost to police violence. Meanwhile the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Act, which passed into law in 2021, controversially authorises “sources” to commit criminal acts in certain circumstances. These criminal acts are not defined and so could include killing a suspect.

‘Shoot first’ is current practice

Either Rayner via her comments is saying she backs current “shoot first” practice, or she’s unaware that, as The Canary reported, this is how counter-terrorism police already operate.

Perhaps one of the more infamous examples of “shoot first” was the killing of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005. He was an innocent man, travelling on the London underground, but mistaken for a terrorist.

De Menezes was shot seven times by Metropolitan police at Stockwell tube station:

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The de Menezes operation was led by Cressida Dick, who was later appointed Metropolitan Police commissioner.

One tweet referred to a December 2006 High Court ruling that the director of public prosecutions (DPP) had made “a reasonable decision” to not prosecute “on the basis that [prosecuting the police officers was] likely to fail”:

In July 2008, the then director of prosecutions (DPP) Ken Macdonald reportedly concluded that a conviction of any of the police officers involved was not realistic. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided that no police officers would be prosecuted with any offence.

An inquest into de Menezes’s death resulted in an open verdict, and the family was paid compensation. But compensation is not justice, and it’s certainly no substitute for a lost life. In November 2008, Starmer took over the DPP position from Macdonald. Starmer also agreed not to prosecute the police over the killing.

It’s easy to say “shoot first”, but the consequences of such policy are both devastating and permanent. And, as the de Menezes case shows, there’s often little to no accountability or recourse to justice.

Other “shoot first” cases

There were other cases, as pointed out by The Canary, where the police shot and killed suspects, though not all of them suspects of terrorism, with no questions asked.

Harry Stanley, for example, was unarmed when the police shot him in 1999. An inquest found he was unlawfully killed.

Another victim was Mark Duggan, who the police shot and killed in August 2011. An inquest found he was unarmed, but the jury ruled it was a lawful killing. And Azelle Rodney was shot six times by an officer in 2005 after his car was stopped. A police officer was prosecuted for his murder, but was cleared by a jury.

Again – lives lost, but little to no justice for the victims or the bereaved they left behind.

Bloody Sunday

Moreover, Rayner’s “shoot first” comments were made not long after the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday where civilians, not terrorists, were targeted – this time by the British army:

On 30 January 1972, 14 unarmed civil rights protesters were murdered in Derry by British armed forces. Many more were injured. The Saville inquiry exonerated the 14 from any wrongdoing.

Fred Holroyd, a former British army intelligence officer, commented:

Bloody Sunday was a planned, calculated response to a demand for civil rights, designed to terrify organised protestors away from protesting.

Not just James Bond

With regard to the CHIS Act, human rights organisations have pointed out:

There is no express prohibition on authorising crimes that would constitute human rights violations, including murder, torture (e.g. punishment shootings), kidnap, or sexual offences, or on conduct that would interfere with the course of justice

Indeed, Home Office minister James Brokenshire explained:

We do not believe… that it is appropriate to draw up a list of specific crimes that may be authorised or prohibited.

The “shoot first” endorsement was presumably intended to show that Labour can be as tough as the Conservatives when it comes to combating crime. However, that endorsement may well come back to haunt Rayner when another innocent person is shot and killed. It is unacceptable that Labour should use people’s lives for political point scoring.

Featured image via Wikimedia / Rwendland cropped 770×403 and licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

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