Shoot to kill

This article is from Black Flag in 1999. It analyses the British state's use of shoot to kill.

Submitted by martinh on October 1, 2006

Crime reporters are a curious breed. The majority are local hacks who report on whatever happens under their noses, and hope the more salacious the story, the safer their job-at least for the next few months. There are a few though, who specialise in being propagandists for the police; who conjure up folk devils like the Adamses, the Arifs, the Yardies and the Triads so that the Police Federation can call for a recruitment drive and the Michael Howards and Jack Straws can be given cover while they further curb our "civil liberties." Some who come to mind include tv journalist Martin Short, The Guardian's Nick Hopkins, and former Time Out hack, now at The Observer, Tony Thompson. Usually they just recycle what Scotland Yard tells them -as an example Thompson had a piece in The Observer on 28th November 1999 "Muggers Enter the Big League" about how muggers are purportedly turning to armed robbery and aggravated violence because "there has been a steep decline in the number of stop- and - searches since the publication of the report into the Stephen Lawrence case." Just to refresh our memories-the issues at large in the McPherson report were l) racism and 2) police competence. Between the lines then, is the coded warning that most violent crime is committed by blacks and because the police have been accused of racism they can't tackle the real issue-violent black crime. Hence the use of the description "mugger" in juxtaposition to "armed robbery." On any other level, the story makes no sense. There's no evidence produced to support the contentions that 1) muggers are turning to more violent forms of crime or 2) that "crime figures are going up." The only point to the story is to allow Scotland Yard to try and smear the Lawrence inquiry agenda as a means of getting itself off the hook. Tony Thompson doing what he does best.

Once in a while though, our Tony goes too far, says a little too much, Maybe because he spends so much of his time hanging round the Old Bill he forgets what 's in the public domain and what he 's supposed to keep to the canteen. In The Observer of 3/10/99 Thompson has an article "High-Tech Crime of the Future Will Be All Mod Cons". Its mostly a fantasy about "cyber-crime", probably to prepare the way for the curbs announced in the Queen's Speech on privacy on the Net. It does, though, contain one very curious, offhand statement; "Increased penalties for carrying firearms, along with an (sic) greatly increased likelihood of being shot dead by armed police will lead to more criminals using non-lethal weapons." Just an aside, really, nothing more. "..a greatly increased likelihood of being shot dead by armed police..". The police, we are told, have clear rules of engagement. They have to give a warning if they are armed, before they employ their weapons . There are just over 2,000 officers authorised to carry weapons in the London Metropolitan Police area. The numbers haven't changed much since the early 1990s. So why should there be an increased likelihood of being shot dead by armed police now compared to the 60s heyday of the Great
Train Robbers or the "Balaclavaed pomp" of the 70s (to quote former Guardian journalist Duncan Campbell)- the days of the Minute Men, the Crash-Bang Gang, of John McVicar and Billy Tobin? This article contends that the reason is simple-that since at least the mistaken identity shooting of Stephen Waldorf (believed by police to have been bank robber David Martin) on 14 January 1983 the police have employed a policy of premeditated use of lethal force in relation to armed robbery-that a shoot-to-kill policy has been in operation on the UK mainland to rival that carried out by the British Army in the Six Counties, and that the use of such force and its wider implications should concern all of us who seek to effect positive social change.

The use of a shoot-to-kill strategy to deliberately target and execute Republican activists in the six counties has been pointed to by the families and friends of those murdered by the British state in such circumstances in the north of Ireland. In 1977 Lord Justice Gibson determined that "In law you may effect an arrest in the last extreme by shooting him (the suspect) dead. That's still an arrest. "Between 1987-1991 19 people were killed by under cover SAS and RUC units in "disputed" circumstances . In April 1988 the SAS killed 3 IRA members who had hijacked a car in Omagh. Michael Gerard Harte, his brother Martin, and Brian Mullin, were ambushed by an SAS team, which was taken away by helicopter immediately after the killings. In 1990 Desmond Grew and Martin McCaughey were killed by the SAS at Loughall in County Armagh. In December 1990 Fergal Caraher was killed at a checkpoint in South Armagh ,when Royal Marines opened fire without warning. In 1982, John Stalker, former deputy chief constable of Manchester, was dispatched to investigate six killings by an SAS trained RUC squad .He concluded that there was, if not policy, then at least an " shoot suspects dead without warning rather than arrest them.". In January 1990, that "inclination" was shown to apply to "ordinary decent criminals" as well as to Republicans.

On 13 January 1990 Edward Hale, John McNeill and Peter Thompson were shot dead by undercover soldiers while robbing a bookmakers in West Belfast. The men were "armed "with an imitation sub-machine gun and a starting pistol. No warnings were given, No attempt was made to effect an arrest. No explanation was offered as to why the armed undercover unit was in the area at the time, or why the driver of the car, clearly unarmed, was killed. One eyewitness claimed that a second unit was also involved; that a white Renault stopped and a man and woman gave cover to the undercover unit that killed Hale, McNeill and Thompson. The killings gave warning that the deployment of lethal force perfected against the nationalist community would be effected across the board, as the state saw fit.

The operation of a shoot-to-kill strategy on the mainland predates the murder of Hale, McNeill and Thompson. The number of killings of
armed robbers carried out by the police under "disputed" circumstances is too great to ignore. Simply put, too many have been killed to accept the tragedy of coincidence as an adequate explanation. The evidence of strategy is unavoidable.

In 1983 David Martin escaped from Marlborough Street magistrates court, where he faced charges in relation to a number of robberies. A tip-off led police to target a yellow Mini in Earls Court on 14th January 1983. Mistaking a film technician, Stephen Waldorf for David Martin, they opened fire on the Mini, hitting Waldorf five times before dragging him out of the car and pistol-whipping him on the ground. Waldorf recalled no warning having been given. The operation was, clearly, intended to kill.

In 1985 Inspector Douglas Lovelock shot and crippled Cherry Groce at her home in Brixton. Searching for one of her relatives, Lovelock shot "the first black shape I saw."

In February 1987 Dennis Bergin was shot dead by police staking out a London museum. At the inquest it was revealed that Bergin was shot by a police marksman who had not shouted out a warning before opening fire. The marksman claimed to have shouted out a warning after the third shot, having "not had time" up till that point.

In July 1987 Michael Flynn and Nicholas Payne were shot dead by police during an attempted robbery of a wages van at an abattoir in Shooters Hill. In November 1987 Tony Ash was shot dead in a wages snatch at the Bejam supermarket in Woolwich, south east London. Ronnie Easterbrook was shot and wounded. A Thames Television crew was on hand, to ensure a very public execution. Again, Easterbrook recalled no warning being given . (Ronnie Easterbrook was given life for his part in the robbery and is clear that he was not supposed to have survived the Flying Squad ambush. In 1997 Ronnie Easterbrook went on hunger strike after being told he would never be released. Ronnie tried to escape from custody by blowing up a prison van during his trial and went on a number of dirty protests to publicise his case. If ever anyone deserved to be called "staunch" it was Ronnie.)

On 13 April 1989 Jimmy Farrell and Terry Dewsnap were shot dead by PT17 marksmen during a post office robbery in North Harrow. John Gorman, who survived the ambush, told the inquest that he never heard the warning "armed police" at any stage. He was shot 4 times in the head, a foot, and twice in the arm.

In 1990 Kenny Baker was shot dead by PT17 near Reigate in Surrey, during an attempted raid on a Securicor van. Mehmet Arif, who was the getaway driver, heard no warning from the police. Kenny Baker was shot in the stomach and the face.
In a shoot out near the post office in Brockham, near Dorking, in August 1992 police injured both the robbery gang and members of the public. The officer in charge was quoted as stating that while he was sorry for any injuries to the public, "sometimes it was necessary to fight fire with fire."

In 1995 David Ewin, an unarmed suspected car thief was shot and killed by PC Patrick Hodgson. He was shot twice with a 9mm Glock pistol while he tried to drive away.

In 1998 armed police in Hastings entered the home of James Ashley. He was naked and unarmed. He was shot in the chest and died at the scene.

So far this year, there have been 3 fatal shootings by police-Derek Bateman in Dorking on 22/6/99, Anthony Kitts in Falmouth, Cornwall on 10/4/99 and an unarmed man in Hackney on 22/9/99.

The killings recorded above-their circumstances, the fact that in every case those left alive had no record of any warning having been given-point inescapably towards the conclusion that what John Stalker euphemistically described as an "inclination... to shoot suspects dead without warning rather than arrest them" has been practised in mainland Britain by armed units of police. If this contention is accepted, the question then begging is...why?

On one level, the explanation is simple. In the sixties and seventies armed robbery began to appear a lucrative option .Bank robbery was the "coming thing." As Eric Mason, who has served over 17 years for armed robbery explains " In the old days you had this thing, you don't do it because it's establishment. In the sixties, people began to realise that anything was fair game in the days of Profumo, people realised that politicians, people we looked up to, were fragile and people lost respect. People began to realise this was a big con. The barriers started coming down." (qu interview in The Underworld-Duncan Campbell-BBC 1994). Armed robbery, then, has a symbolic weight beyond the immediate effects of the crime itself. Whether it be the Bonnet Gang or Buster Edwards, the logic of a successful blag is that bourgeois property is not sacrosanct. The fear isn't that, inspired by the occasional success we'll all start planning the next Brinks Mat or plotting to rob mail trains. As Eric Mason observed, there is a logic of disrespect that goes with the territory, and it is this disrespect, this not-knowing-your -place, that the police and their paymasters dread. As Spinoza once observed, " Sovereign powers possess the right of commanding whatever they will only for as long as they do in fact hold supreme power. If they lose this power ,with it they also lose the right of complete command." For a society which thrives upon the exploitation of the many by the few to survive, the many need to be made to fear the
few. Fear of the masses, and the need to instil fear in the masses is, in the last instance, the basis of all political discourse under capitalism. On that level, the operation of shoot-to-kill in the circumstances described is, also, symbolic. It is intended to scare us back into knowing our place. (Its also the reason why Harry Roberts, gaoled for the killing of three police officers in 1966, will never be paroled. In a 1993 interview Harry Roberts said "The police aren't like real people to us. They're strangers, they re the enemy." With football grounds still occasionally known to offer up a burst of "Harry Roberts is our friend", it is that fear of "the mass and the consequent need to instil fear that means life for Harry will mean life.)

There is, though, much more to it. Throughout the '90s, the Police Federation has orchestrated a debate about arming the police, which has served to cover over the increased number of Armed Response Units (and liberalisation of operational rules) and the introduction of CS sprays and long handled batons. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Condon said in 1993 "I don 't seek (the arming of the police) but it could happen within 10 or 20 years. "According to David Rose, writing in The Observer on 8/5/94, "From the early 1980s onwards, as inner-city riots gave way to coal strikes, poll tax demonstrations, gun-toting crack dealers, attacks by rural lager touts and renewed mainland campaign by the IRA, police officers have perceived their job to be getting more and more' dangerous with every passing year." It is this perception that allowed the police to get their hands on CS gas, and on the long handled batons used to beat Brian Douglas to death in 1996. But it is a deliberately manufactured perception. Murder of police officers is rare, about 2 a year. Of 19 officers killed between 1985-95, less than 50% were killed by gunshots. Recorded crime fell overall for the fifth consecutive year running in 1998. There is no evidence to hold up the alarmist perspective advanced by the police and their supporters in the Home Office.(The "gun" debate is, in any case, an obvious red herring. The majority of police, when polled, did not want to see a further arming of the force-not least because the routine arming of the police-as in the USA-tends to lead to more deaths "in the line of duty", not less. The argument about arming is even more nonsensical when you consider that the police have always had to lethal force as and when required. Between 1883 and 1939, police officers in London were allowed to carry arms at night.) The " arming debate "is a code for "civil disorder', much in the way that "mugging" codes for black crime. Jim Sharples, outgoing chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers ' firearms committee refers to the "routine" arming of the police in a situation where "the situation on the inner streets gets wilder."

It used to be the case, as the sociologist Peter Waddington observed, that we were "policed by consent. "With a labour movement resurgent after 1945, and social democracy a force with real political weight, policing was, we were told, a matter of mediation, of allowing a bit of "pushing and shoving" on the picket lines to stop the drift to "stoning and shooting." With the abandonment of the social -democratic consensus in the late '70s, the police were deployed by the state to be the physical edge to the political assault on organised labour that culminated in the miners strike . As Waddington puts it, " Those (post-war) understandings were finally fractured in the miners strike of 1984-85, when police ' overtly confronted and suppressed by force strikers who were no longer prepared to accept the restraints of mere "'pushing and shoving."'.( qu The Guardian 8/5/96.) In the run up to '85 organised labour caught the brunt of the police violence earlier meted out to blacks, Irish Republicans, squatters and youth in the inner-cities. The restoration of profits meant the disciplining by force of organised labour.

The next step in the process was the dumping of the cost of welfare back onto the working class-through the coercion of the unemployed into low-paid work (partly to cut back welfare spending, partly to use the low paid as a drag anchor on wages. ) Hence the Blair government and its New Deal agenda.

End of consensus, abandonment of the fiction of consensus policing. Under New Labour more go to jail than ever before (a record 77 ,300 in 1998), and Jack Straw has been converted to the "morally repugnant " cause of private prisons. As Nick Cohen has noted "Rather than be tough on the causes of crime, a policy that would necessarily involve the redistribution of wealth, New Labour is jailing more citizens than any government in modern history. " (qu Cruel Britannia- Verso 1999). In his detailed and illuminating indictment of US penal policy, Lockdown America (Verso 1999), Christian Parenti comments that in the Reagan - Bush -Clinton drive to restore profitability through the disciplining of labour "all alternative avenues of sustenance had to be closed. Thus we had the near... total evisceration of all New Deal and Great Society forms of downward redistribution and working class protections. The great business counter-offensive of the '80s and 90s has helped restore profits, but it has also re-created the perennial problem of how to manage the surplus, excluded and cast-off classes. This then is the mission of the emerging anti-crime police state. As the class structure polarises in the interests of profitability, the state must step in to deploy and justify police terror ,increased surveillance and over-use of incarceration. But the politics of punishment works in two ways; it contains and controls those who violate the class -based laws of our society, but prison also produces a predator class that, when returned to the street, frightens and disorganises communities, effectively driving poor and working people into the arms of the state, se eking

Straw 's penal policies to date ,and Blair's clear intention to pursue the Thatcherite goal of a low-wage, casualised economy at the working class's expense, suggest that what has been carried out to such terrible effect in the USA is what New Labour intends here. There is much talk from New Labour about "social exclusion." Exclusion, though, is fundamental to the Blairite agenda. Refusing to tackle-indeed exacerbating-the causes of crime- New Labour has determined to make crime something the poor do only to each other- through increased use of CCTV, stop and search , reduction of public transport, and the concentration of policing in core areas . (The risk of crime for council tenants is now twice the national average.)

The shadow of the Six Counties hangs over all of this. What began with the use of shoot-to-kill to remind a few villains to check their manners concludes with the new Prevention of Terrorism Act which seeks to extend the "security environment" of the north of Ireland to the British mainland, through a redefinition of "terrorism" (as "the use of serious violence against persons or property, or the threat to use such violence to intimidate or coerce the government, the public or any section of the public for political, religious or ideological ends") intended to criminalise any and all effective resistance to the agenda of the state.

We can only conclude then that, as the state learns its lessons through the implementation of strategies of repression on the streets of Belfast and Derry and thence their incorporation across the UK, so must we draw our lessons from the resistance of working class communities in the six counties to the repressive strategies employed.