A killing joke?

The evidence of firearms officer AZ8.

Yesterday the news broke that an unnamed police firearms officer ("AZ8") who may have killed the barrister Mark Saunders had been removed from firearms duty after allegedly inserting song titles into his oral evidence at the coroner's inquest. It was also reported that the matter had been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The alleged song titles have not been publicly disclosed, though the Guardian helpfully told us:

An examination of the transcript shows that evidence given by AZ8 contained a number of phrases which are also the titles of songs, including "Enough Is Enough" by Donna Summer, "Point of No Return" by Buzzcocks, "Line of Fire" by Journey, "Quiet Moments" by Chris de Burgh, "Kicking Myself" by As Tall As Lions and "Fuck My Old Boots" by the Membranes.

I was at Bar school with Mark Saunders and, although I did not know him, we had mutual friends. But for this blog post it does not – and should not – matter whether the person shot dead by the police was a barrister or a barman.

The sole issue is whether a police firearms officer was contriving his crucial oral evidence to an inquest so as to serve an ulterior purpose.

Why would it matter? Well, as sources "close to the Police Commissioner" said, it shows "insensitivity and lack of judgement". But it goes further than that. When being examined at any inquest or hearing, a witness should be addressing the question directly and not seeking to formulate his or her answers to serve ulterior purposes. Any contrivance is likely to be at the expense of the reliability of the evidence given.

So, is the suggestion true? Were song titles inserted into the sworn evidence?

It is, of course, a matter now for the IPCC. However, for those interested in following this investigation, the following information is available. First, the Metropolitan Police's statement, which was emailed to me:

A matter was brought to MPS attention during the Mark Saunders inquest in relation to evidence given by a firearms officer to the inquest. The issue was dealt with at the time by the officer's management who reprimanded him.

On 28 October 2010 the matter came to the attention of senior officers who felt this was insufficient. As a result the matter was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission on the 29 October.

We have now been informed by the IPCC that they will manage an investigation by the Metropolitan Police Directorate of Professional Standards.

The MPS takes this matter extremely seriously as we expect the highest standards of all of our staff.

The officer has been removed from operational firearms duty.

And there is the IPCC statement:

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) received a referral from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on Friday 29 October 2010 in relation to the evidence given by a firearms officer to the inquest into the death of Mark Saunders.

It is alleged that, while giving evidence under oath to the inquest on 27 September 2010, officer AZ8 deliberately inserted song titles into his verbal testimony.

The IPCC has now decided that it will manage an investigation by the MPS's Directorate of Professional Standards into the allegation. This means that an IPCC investigator will have direction and control of the investigation and IPCC Commissioner Tom Davies will have oversight of it.

The investigation will examine the officer's testimony, any impact that testimony may have had on the proceedings, the way in which the allegation was initially dealt with by one of his supervisors and whether or not any other police officers were involved.

But what did AZ8 actually say? Below is attached a PDF of the oral testimony of AZ8, which has been kindly released by the coroner.

Click here to see the full PDF.

Can the supposed "inserted song titles" all be simple coincidences, perhaps spotted by some busybody either within or external to the Metropolitan Police?

One would suppose that any substantial oral evidence would, if analysed, tend to include song titles. Verbal communication often contains clichés and figures of speech, and such words and phrases will tend also to crop up as song titles. Certain cultural memes do come to mind when trying to express any idea: the title of this blog post, for example, owes something to my interest in Alan Moore's writings. To invoke a meme or to utter a cliché – especially when under pressure of formal questioning – may not necessarily be either dishonest or distracting.

Or is this a matter of contrivance, rather than coincidence? Did the officer boast of his feat? Was it the result of some cynical dare between officers? Was this a horrific misapplication of "barrack-room humour"? (And only the most earnest reader would begrudge those involved in dangerous work a certain levity, but the time and place for it surely cannot include sworn testimony to a coroner's inquest.)

Was it really a joke at the expense of someone the firearms officer may have killed?

We simply do not know the answers to these and other questions, and it is not appropriate for us to anticipate the result of the IPCC investigation. Although there would appear to be information not in the public domain but available to the Metropolitan Police which rendered the initial reprimand an insufficient sanction, what that information could be – or even that it exists – is mere speculation.

But what can be safely said is this. If it is true that the oral evidence of this police firearms officer was being contrived so as to serve any ulterior motive, rather than being provided to assist a coroner's inquest, then not only should we be disgusted at the facts in this particular case, we should also be concerned that we cannot have full confidence in the testimony of firearms officers in inquests and other hearings. And that is a confidence we dearly need to have.

 

David Allen Green is a lawyer and writer. He blogs for the New Statesman on policy and legal matters. He has recently been appointed a judge for the 2011 Orwell Prize for blogging, for which he was shortlisted this year

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.