Justice for Mark Duggan demands that we change the law on intercept evidence

Our absurd laws mean there may never be a public inquest into Duggan's death at the hands of the police.

On 4 August 2011, Mark Duggan was killed by police in Tottenham. Two days later, a peaceful protest escalated into a riot. The looting and arson that followed saw five people killed, dozens injured and businesses destroyed. This summer British troops protected Olympic venues. Last summer some wanted them brought in to restore order on London’s streets.

Yet remarkably, there may never be a public inquest into Mark Duggan’s death. The reason? Britain’s rules on the use of intercept evidence. For justice to prevail, the law must be changed.

Since 1194, coroners have held inquests to investigate deaths which are suspicious, violent or occur at the hands of the state. These inquests are public. They ensure not only that the facts are found, but also that justice is seen to be done. They satisfy our need to understand why the death happened and how future tragedies can be prevented.

As things stand, intercept evidence – records of tapped phone calls and intercepted emails – cannot be used in British courts or at public inquests. Therefore, because vital evidence regarding Duggan’s movements in the hours leading up to his death is intercept evidence, there can be no public inquest.

This is not the first time the British tradition of open justice has been hamstrung by these rules. Londoner Azelle Rodney died after being shot six times by Metropolitan Police officers in April 2005. Intercept evidence exists which could shed light on his death, but since this cannot be used in open court, no public inquest has ever been held.

The year after Azelle Rodney’s death, counter-terrorism police arrested 24 suspects in connection with a plot to bomb airliners by detonating explosives hidden in soft drink bottles. Yet even for this trial, intercept evidence obtained in Britain could not be used. In the end, prosecutors were able to show the jury some evidence but only because it came from the Yahoo server in the USA, not Britain.

The government has promised an inquiry, but that is not good enough. We need a full, public inquest led by a judge, with a jury deciding on the evidence. It is intolerable that in a civilised, democratic society the relatives of British citizens killed at the hands of the state can be denied a public inquest into their deaths. It is even more intolerable when that death led to days of chaos. We all have a right to an inquest.

The law is not only wrong – it is absurd. Intercept evidence is treated differently to other surveillance evidence. So if the police follow you, they can use what they see as evidence in court. But if they tap your mobile phone, they can’t even tell the court that they did it, let alone tell the court what they heard. On this issue, Britain stands alone. There is no law like this in the rest of Europe or the US. Indeed, the Americans would not have been able to jail mafia bosses like John Gotti without the use of crucial intercept evidence.  The Independent Police Complaints Commission agrees with us, as do the Metropolitan Police and politicians of all parties.

The communities affected by the riots are still tinder boxes. To avoid a repeat of that appalling violence, we need a public inquest which is open, fair and completely beyond suspicion. We need a renewed commitment to our country’s history of open justice. This is not the first time a death at the hands of the police has passed by without an inquest. If this law on intercept evidence is not changed, it will not be the last.

David Davis is Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden. David Lammy is Labour MP for Tottenham

Friends and family attend the funeral of Mark Duggan at the New Testament Church of God in Wood Green on September 9, 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

David Davis is the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden

David Lammy is the Labour MP for Tottenham

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

0800 7318496