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Shot barrister Mark Saunders' 20-year alcohol struggle

Mark Saunders
Image caption Mr Saunders ended two months of sobriety the day before he died

In the crucible of the courtroom, he was an impressive figure.

Described in one directory of lawyers as "popular, gutsy and polished", Oxford graduate Mark Saunders fought on behalf of celebrity clients in high-profile and often acrimonious divorce cases.

But for nearly 20 years, he was struggling to control his alcohol intake.

It was following one heavy afternoon binge in the spring of 2008 that 32-year-old Mr Saunders found himself with a bottle of wine in one hand and a shotgun in the other, firing from the window of his £2m flat in Chelsea.

Police said they feared for their safety and the public's. On Thursday an inquest jury agreed that they had lawfully killed Mr Saunders.

When Mr Saunders began drinking at the age of 13, it was not to escape the reality of a sad and deprived life. Rather, it was in the surroundings of his private school in Cheshire.

After gaining his law degree from Christ Church College, Oxford, and serving with the Territorial Army, he joined the respected QEB Chambers in central London.

But while his profession career soared, his descent into alcohol abuse accelerated.

'Out of control'

By 2005 - three years before his death - Mr Saunders was drinking to excess most nights.

He himself admitted he was "out of control".

Some weeks he would drink the equivalent of four bottles of spirits. That year, he received a police caution for being drunk and disorderly.

His wife of two years, Elizabeth, also a barrister, told the inquest her husband was a "sensitive" man with a "huge energy and love for life". They were, she said, "very much in love".

Image caption Mr Saunders' marriage to Elizabeth was strained by his drinking

But their marriage was considerably strained by his drinking.

"I know he contacted Alcoholics Anonymous and went there on three or four occasions," she told the inquest jury. "But he felt it wasn't for him, and it didn't work out.

"What Mark wanted to do was control the drinking, to be able to be a social drinker. There were occasions, probably every three months or so, when it went wrong."

Mr Saunders' best friend Alex Booth often saw what happened when it did go wrong.

"He completely lost touch with reality," he said in a statement.

Mr Booth explained how his friend had ended up in casualty on several occasions, and while drinking he would be "in a fantasy world, he wouldn't respond or engage with you".

That fantasy world was often induced by cocaine as well as alcohol.

Tests revealed Mr Saunders had used the drug regularly in the six months before his death - although not within the last 12 hours of his life. His wife knew nothing of his drug habit.

Mr Saunders did recognise he had a problem and sought help. To stabilise his mood swings, he was prescribed the antidepressant Prozac.

In 2006, a psychiatrist examined him and warned that if he did not "abstain completely from all mind-altering substances" he could find himself being killed in a fight.

'Bulging eyes'

The other fear, according to medical notes, was that Mr Saunders would commit suicide if a period of depression and an alcohol binge coincided.

In February 2008, he told his wife he was giving up drinking for good. He was sober for the next two months. On the evening of 5 May, he had one glass of wine.

The following day would be Mr Saunders' last.

It is unclear at what point in the afternoon he began drinking, but by the time a taxi driver dropped him off near his home at about 1600 BST, it was evident that he was drunk.

Image caption Mr Saunders was shot as he levelled his shotgun from his flat window

Blood tests would later reveal him to be three times over the drink-drive limit.

David Hay, the taxi driver, said: "At that point he turned back round and I gave him his change and he was looking straight at me and just said: 'I'm going to die'."

"When he looked at me his eyes were large and bulging. I could see the terror in his eyes."

Half an hour later, Mr Saunders loaded the shotgun he legally owned and fired the first shots from his kitchen window, triggering the five-hour standoff with armed officers of the Metropolitan Police's CO19 firearms unit.

When the fatal shots were fired at half past 2130 BST, Mr Saunders was alone.

Police had refused his wish to talk to his family - fearing he wanted to say goodbye and take his life.

Instead, he was surrounded by broken glass and a wine bottle as he died.

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