Several recent posts on this blog have concerned situations where minorities have lawfully been required to suffer for the benefit – real or illusory – of others: basement developments, mansion taxes, pension restrictions. When the state does this, there has to be a very good reason (winning votes won’t do). And when society exacts the highest price – taking a life – without due process, the need for those reasons to be set out coherently, rationally and credibly could not be clearer.
I welcome therefore the decision to allow Mark Duggan’s family to seek judicial review of the findings of the inquest into his death. I fear they may not get the result they want: there are circumstances in which it might be lawful to shoot an unarmed man. I don’t know what happened on that day, but it would be a reasonable inference from the verdict that the jury didn’t either.
Anyone reading the evidence might well think that the witness who claimed to have seen the police take the gun out of Duggan’s taxi and move it after the shooting might have a more credible version of events than the one the jury reached – namely that Duggan threw the gun out of the car before he got out: this despite the fact that, according to the police evidence, at least two armed marksmen were in position before the taxi door opened, and none reported the gun being thrown out. Illogical conclusions don’t provide the closure society demands from such incidents.
At the time of the original inquest, The Times published a disgraceful editorial (9 January 2014) in which it said that “Anyone tempted to leap to the defence of Duggan against the police needs first to think hard about the company they are keeping.” Whatever company I shall be in, I shall continue to ask for a credible narrative of this incident – one which removes fully (or otherwise) the suspicions that linger. Perhaps we should be thankful that The Times hasn’t bothered to print news of the permission to appeal today.
But even those readers who believe that armed gangsters deserve to be shot on sight without due process should reflect on one other aspect of the incident. According to his own testimony, the marksman who killed Duggan did so at a few paces’ distance with the target’s body virtually full on. That his first bullet missed the main body mass and hit another policeman, who was saved from serious injury only by phone and body armour, is surely one of the most troubling aspects of the whole affair. The marksman, not Mark Duggan, was the greater danger to society at that instant. At the very least, the training of those we entrust with this grim task must be reviewed.