Mark Duggan inquest: Q&A
- 8 January 2014
- From the section London
As an inquest into the death of Mark Duggan - which sparked the England riots - ends, what were the issues and background to the case?
What happened to Mark Duggan?
Mark Duggan was a 29-year-old man from Tottenham in north London. He was shot dead by armed police in Ferry Lane, Tottenham, at 18:15 BST on 4 August 2011.
He had been travelling in a minicab when he was stopped by the armed unit as part an intelligence-led operation against a gang called Tottenham Man Dem.
He got out of the vehicle and one officer shot him twice. Police say Mr Duggan was holding a gun, which they believed he had collected about 15 minutes earlier. But the only civilian witness to the shooting to give evidence at the inquest said it looked like "an execution". Mr Duggan had a phone not a gun in his hand, the witness said, and appeared to be surrendering with his hands in the air when he was shot. The gun was later found some 20ft (6m) away.
When the police are involved in a death, the law says there must be either an inquest or some form of open inquiry to establish what happened and why.
What happened after Mr Duggan's death?
His family say they were not formally notified of his death, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) later apologised because it initially suggested incorrectly to the media that Mr Duggan had fired at police.
A day-and-a-half after the shooting, protesters marched to Tottenham police station. The protest was followed by violence which turned into rioting.
The rioting spread across London and others parts of England in what became some of the worst disturbances in decades. More than 3,000 people eventually ended up in court across the country.
How did the inquest work?
A jury of ultimately 10 people heard evidence of what happened during the operation and the circumstances leading up to it.
The question they ultimately had to answer was whether the shooting was absolutely necessary. Did the police officer who fired have an honestly held and reasonable belief that Mr Duggan posed a serious and imminent threat at that moment?
The inquest examined police reports before the shooting which said Mr Duggan was a gangster with a history of violence and guns. The jury had to consider why the gun which was apparently the target of the police operation was not seized by officers sooner.
At the end of the evidence the jury had to answer a series of questions: Did the police do the best they could have done to gather intelligence about Mr Duggan collecting a gun? Was the stop on the minicab done in a way which minimised recourse to lethal force? Did Mr Duggan have the gun with him in the taxi before the stop? Did he have the gun in his hand when he was shot? If so, did the officer who shot him honestly believe that he needed to do so? How did the gun end up where it did?
Unlike a criminal trial, where a jury has to be sure beyond reasonable doubt of the relevant facts to reach a verdict, an inquest jury can base its conclusion on a balance of probabilities. The exception here was a conclusion of unlawful killing - if the jury wanted to reach that conclusion then, the coroner said, it had to be sure.
What is the significance of an inquest conclusion?
Inquests are not criminal trials - so juries are never asked whether someone is criminally to blame for a death. Their role is to look at the facts and come to some conclusion about how the individual died.
If an inquest jury decides someone has been unlawfully killed, then it is up to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether someone should go on trial.
However, coroners have additional powers to send a report to ministers or other public bodies if an inquest identifies specific issues which must be acted upon to prevent future similar deaths. The body that receives the report must respond to it.
Who were the key people in the inquest?
The coroner, Judge Keith Cutler, was assisted by an inquest legal team led by barrister Ashley Underwood QC. The team's role was to take the coroner and the jury through the evidence before counsel for "interested parties" put questions.
The "interested parties" are people who have some connection to the death or specific stake in the outcome of the inquest.
The family of Mr Duggan were represented by Michael Mansfield QC. Hugo Keith QC represented the Metropolitan Police, Samantha Leek QC appeared for the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Ian Stern QC represented the armed police.
Some individual witnesses had legal counsel, as did the IPCC, which has separately investigated what happened but not yet published its report.
Who gave evidence?
There were about 100 witnesses.
Many of them were police officers who gave evidence anonymously, among them V53, the officer who fired the shots. There were also witnesses who were experts in pathology, ballistics and trauma injuries.
There were also civilian witnesses to the aftermath of the shooting, but only one, Witness B, who claimed to have seen the actual killing.
Why did some of them give evidence behind screens?
Courts have the power to grant anonymity to a witness if there is a risk to their personal safety from appearing in public.
Do the police have the power to shoot someone dead?
Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights says that everyone has a right to life - but that does not mean that police cannot shoot someone dead.
The law states that police can use force, including lethal force, providing it is necessary in the circumstances. In other words, if an officer can show that he was right to believe that the force he used was the only way to protect himself or others, then that can be deemed to be lawful.
The coroner told the jury that it was not necessary for the officer who fired the shots, V53, to prove that the killing was lawful. "Any person is entitled to use reasonable force to defend themselves or others," he said.