Shoot to Kill?

A brief foray into politics... around the recent London bombings... which are becoming confusing...

"Shoot to kill" was a policy probably used in Northern Ireland by the security forces during the IRA times. It was always denied, but widely believed, that in many cases IRA-type terrorist suspects would be deliberately killed rather than apprehended where possible (the example that springs to mind was the Gibraltar incident). The wiki RUC page has a bit on this, if you're unfamiliar with it.

This may all seem a bit namby-pamby to American readers: the typical Brit imagines US police forces wasting suspects left right and center. But generally we like to think that don't do it over here. Unless the authorities get panicky, and in the wake of the second round of bombings that begins to look rather likely.

Wikipedia seems to have good articles on the 2005/07/7 and 2005/07/21 bombings. To my mind, the chief characteristic of the first was bloody success; and of the second, total failure. Which makes one suspect that different people done it (err, or rather, organised it, since obviously the first lot couldn't do it again...). At the moment, no-one knows. The other thing no-one knows is what the first lot of bombs were made of. I've seen the papers stating that they were high-grade military explosive; that they were home-made unstable "TATP"; and that the police commissioner has stated that they have no idea what they were made of. Presumably the police now know what the second lot were made of, since they didn't go off, but so far they're not telling the rest of us.

Anyway, back to shoot-to-kill: Police shot a man dead in London at Stockwell tube station shortly after 10:00 on 22 July who they believed had a connection to the 21 July bombings in London. He was reportedly of South Asian appearance. Eyewitnesses report that three plain-clothes police officers pursued another man onto a train. The suspect tripped while jumping on the train and one of the police officers shot him three or five times with a black handgun, killing him. They said that the man was wearing a large winter coat, despite it being summer. One eyewitness said he appeared to be wearing a bomb belt. Police later reported that the man was in fact not carrying explosives. There are conflicting reports as to whether the police attempted to restrain the man on the floor, and whether a verbal warning was given before the man was shot. Sir Ian Blair later said, in a press conference, that a warning was issued and that the air ambulance was called but the man was pronounced dead at the scene [1]. Thats not too surprising, since the other reports I've seen said he was shot five times in the head from point-blank range, and you'd do well to survive that. The speculation, of course, (or justification) for blowing him away was not to give him a chance to blow himself up. But... does that make sense? Because there are weasel words around the "warning" that Blair says was issued. Several bystanders reported no warning, and the Torygraph at least was quite happy with that, arguing that it was quite sensible to give no warning to a potential suicide bomber. And in fact it makes sense to me too. So why is Blair asserting that a warning was given (it could just be reflex)?

The police have now admitted he was innocent (well not quite that: they said): We are now satisfied that he was not connected with the incidents of Thursday 21st July 2005. For somebody to lose their life in such circumstances is a tragedy... which is also a bit weaselly, because he didn't carelessly "lose" his life he got blown away quite deliberately by the police. It would be nice if they could say "we're sorry we killed him".

And now a thought experiment: if you wanted to make your ethnic minorities distrust you and hate your police force and go off and join extremist organisations, what better method that to shoot some of them dead?

Meanwhile, some Italians are cancelling their football tour. Wimps. They are more likely to die on the plane over than by a bomb when they get here. Unless they wear overcoats in summer, of course, in which case the police will get them....

Meanwhile number 2, Explosion rocks Trinidad capital on the 11th. No-one seems to know what that one was about, though.


Anonymous said...

>"So why is Blair asserting that a warning was given"

Maybe a 'warning' to stop was issued as he entered the station but he ran for the train. If so, we still do not know whether he heard the warning...

Is there enough of a difference between 'shoot to kill' and 'shoot to protect' to accept the later while condeming the former?

William M. Connolley said...

Still rather murky as of this morning. According to the Grauniad, although the police admitted he had done no wrong, they then then clammed up about everything else. Including such obvious stuff as... if this was such a problem, why was he trailed across London before shooting? If no warning could be given, how come they were chasing him?

Nice letter in the paper: if its now a capital offence to run away from people who merely *say* they are police (but of course in the circumstances can't stop to present verifiable ID), will muggers take to saying "stop police!"?

And it looks (typical new-Labour weasel-speak) that "Shoot to Kill" has been renamed "Shoot to Kill to Protect".