Last updated on October 20th, 2023 at 10:10 amReading Time: 3 minutes
An Honestly Held Belief
There is a principle in law that a person is entitled to use an appropriate level of force if they have an honestly held belief that it is necessary because they, or somebody else, is in mortal danger.
In other words, if an armed Police Officer finds themselves in a situation where they have an Honestly Held Belief that they, or somebody else, is in imminent danger of being shot, for example, they may be entitled to shoot that person in order to prevent that happening. The IOPC seem to think differently.
I need to write this piece without referring to any current case that may, or may not, be going through the courts at the moment.
In late 2015 armed officers from the Metropolitan Police, acting upon intelligence received, stopped a motor vehicle containing, amongst others, a man called Jermaine Baker. During the course of this operation Jermaine Baker was shot and killed by officer W80. W80 fired one shot because he had an honestly held belief that Baker was reaching for a firearm when he made sudden movement towards his bag.
W80 said ‘I believed at that time that this male was reaching for a firearm and I feared for the safety of my life and the lives of my colleagues. I discharged my weapon firing one shot’.
A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed that Baker was not in fact armed, but that there was an imitation firearm resembling an Uzi in the back.
Jermaine Baker’s death was subsequently found to have been Lawful and officer W80 was never charged with any criminal offence because he had an honestly heald belief that his life was in danger.
The story didn’t end there, the IPCC (now IOPC) decided that they required the Met to hold a Gross Misconduct hearing, to hoild officer W80 accountable for the death of Jermaine Baker anyway. Quite unsurprisingly W80 appealed to the Supreme Court in light of his honestly held belief. However he lost that one. Their Lordships accepted that he had an honestly held belief, but that it was unreasonable, opening the way for disciplinary proceedings to proceed. Basically, like the level of proof, their Lordships are stating that that the threshold is different for civil proceedings to that for criminal proceedings, their full judgement (and not just my précis of it) can be bound here
I’m not sure there has been one to be honest. The criminal aspect has been made quite clear, but I have failed to find mention of a Disciplinary Hearing for W80, and certainly not the result of one. The best I could manage was an IOPC update dated July 2023 saying
In terms of the W80 case itself, we will now review our original decision as to whether there remains a disciplinary case to answer, taking into account this judgment, evidence heard during the Public Inquiry, and further representations from W80 and Jermaine’s family.
Confused? I certainly am. If you know of an update please add it to the Comments below, I would be delighted to know the current situation. Again, avoiding any current cases, hypothetically speaking, our brave Firearms Officers, who are quite ready to put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safer, are faced with assessing their situation and making a decision on the circumstances, whether or not they need to discharge their weapon, having a really good idea what the likely outcome will be, and now having to add in an extra factor as to whether they believe their proposed course of action is ‘reasonable’ in Civil Law. All, literally, within a split second, and if they delay too long, they or somebody else could be fatally injured.
It is my belief that it is that that is behind the emerging crisis within the Metropolitan Police, and actually affects Firearms Officers everywhere. None of them goes to work thinking “I do hope I get to shoot someone today”, all they want to do is to do their job well and for for everyone to go home safely. Sadly it doesn’t always end well, and that is a tragedy no matter who is involved, but just remember that that the subject of their attentions could always submit and give themselves up. I don’t recall anybody, anywhere (in the UK) being shot for surrendering. I’m perfectly happy to be politely corrected if I have been factually inaccurate
I wish all of our Firearms Officers well, and I believe that I understand their position and fully support them. I certainly agree with their stance of surrendering their ‘tickets’, and so should Response Drivers until this is all sorted out. No doubt plenty will disagree with me, as is their absolute right, but I wonder how many of them will have had experience of an Armed Operation from either end of the barrel.