Friday, July 22, 2005


Unsurprisingly, the shooting of the bombing suspect at Stockwell station today has brought about quite a lot of debate about the propriety of the actions of the police. Of course, the wisest comments are those that are calling for more information. The criticism of police actions stems largely from the response of an eyewitness on BBC News, who said that the suspect half-tripped, and was half-pushed to the ground, and was then shot five times. Now, the man was obviously in shock, and police are known to have said that the most unreliable witnesses are eyewitnesses. This can be seen in the OJ Simpson trial - the witnesses were supposed to have been looking at the same thing at the same time, and yet didn't confirm the same story.

Given that the police have now admitted that the man shot dead was not one of the suspected bombers, there are questions as to the intelligence that had caused them to follow him. However, reports of the mans actions leave no doubt in my mind that the police did the right thing. If a man who you have apprehended does a runner, whilst wearing a padded jacket in hot weather, then you give chase to him. And if he is a potential suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his body, as one commenter on Europhobia said, the response must be a warning shot to the head. Behaving as if one is a suicide bomber in this climate is foolhardy in the extreme - and when policemen are expected to react on the scene, on the spur of the moment, safety first is always going to be the reaction. I wonder what the critics would have said if they'd wrestled the man to the floor, got the handcuffs out just as he managed to blow himself, the officers, and 50 other people to pieces?

The situation isn't analogous to shooting IRA suspects in Gibraltar, because the people we are having to watch for now are prepared to blow themselves up. Shoot to kill where there isn't a direct threat can't be justified under any circumstances - it's just a case of abrogating responsibility for a problem. In a situation of a direct threat, conversely, shooting to kill is almost the only justifiable option.

Opponents of the war in Iraq, and others, have been saying that the actions of Blair placed London at the front line in the war on terror. If we accept that, then we have to accept that in incidents like this, the police are our front-line troops. It's tough to accept, because it flies in the face of the image of the smiling bobby. But on split-second decisions like this, where there's a clear public safety case, I think we have to trust them. I talk here having accidentally been caught up in a police chase in Munich last year - right next to the car with the suspect when the armed police piled out. Thankfully he just surrendered straight away (and I was running in the opposite direction anyway). If it was likely that the man would resist arrest before blowing himself up, however, then I'd have wanted him to have been shot - even with the chance of me being shot by accident instead.