An Honestly Held Belief

Last updated on October 20th, 2023 at 10:10 am

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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.

W80

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.

honestly held beliefArmed Police IOPC
uzi

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.

IPCC/IOPC

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

The Outcome

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.

You can read the full update here.

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.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “An Honestly Held Belief”

  1. Another good read and whilst I agree we are not discussing the current newsworthy case I do feel in general that the firearms officers reconsidering their position with the current shift of opinion are correct to do so.

    I carried a firearm for 22 of the 34yrs I served and was lucky enough never to have to shoot anyone. My duties ranged from Diplomatic protection which included standing on posts outside an Embassy or High Commission to personal protection of the Royal family and Government Minister, foreign heads of state etc.

    It became a personal piece of equipment I carried all the time and I had to be aware of it all the time. I was responsible for it 24/7 when away working and developed a mindset for that.

    Doing what the ARV and specialist Firearms teams are doing is something on another level as they are actively going out to deal with live incidents where the intel is firearms are available and / or being used. That is a big step up. They are better trained and given more equipment than I had but the same decision has to be made, is there a life in danger and is it a proportionate to use the firearms?

    The honestly held belief is the key part here and you only have a split second to make a life changing decision, it will be examined in hindsight by clever people looking for any weakness in the decision. To have an uncertain process where it will be investigated at a criminal level, a civil level and a disciplinary level where public opinion is being pandered to is unacceptable in my view. It is definitely not worth the extra pay… oh hang on those officers don’t receive any extra pay for being an armed officer although many do have access to overtime because of the restricted numbers of fully trained firearms officers.

    Just a couple of weeks after my initial firearms course I had transferred to the Diplomatic Protection Group and was posted to a response car and was involved in an accident with motorcycle courier, whilst waiting for the accident to be fully reported we were approached by two off duty firemen who had seen a man acting suspiciously outside a bank nearby, they had spotted a firearm on the passenger seat of his car along with other paraphernalia. We called for back up and both approached the car drawing our weapons and pointing at the driver I opened the door and asked where the gun was he replied it was on the passenger seat. We called him out of the car and had him lie on the floor to handcuff him safely. We found an Uzi machine pistol type weapon that looked real but was in fact a water pistol replica along with a couple of fake hand grenades. At this point out back up arrived as the suspect’s colleague came out of the bank. He was arrested too and when taken to the police station they admitted to buying the toys to take part in an abduction of one their girlfriends in an “SAS kidnap” style attack in a local pub. Every officer who looked at the water pistol said it looked real and if they’d had it pointed at them they would have engaged the suspect with their firearms. That was a long time ago and we still live in a world where these weapons are available and are very real to look at.

    Sorry if I’ve gone on a bit but I know officers who have been charged and one who had three trials for shooting someone fatally who was driving a car and trying to crush the officer between vehicles. His life was in danger and even then he was charged to satisfy public opinion.

    The language used by the media and the facts and how they are reported makes a huge difference to public perception and unbiased reporting is essential for a fair trial. I noticed the BBC using the word “force” in several news articles on their news website, as far as I’m aware we’ve been a “service” for many many years and the subtle use of the word force is in inappropriate and should be flagged up and queried by the MPS senior leadership.

  2. I’m IT literate, I’ve twice replied, this is my third, the previous two having vanished. I’m giving up now.

  3. Brave firearms officers… hmmm. I’ve been awarded for bravery more than once, and I was never armed. Do you have to be brave to have a lethal weapon at your disposal? Or do you have to be brave not to have a lethal weapon at your disposal, while pledging to and indeed dealing with on occasion incidents of similar levels of danger. I never thought I was being brave, I just thought I was getting on with what I’d promised to get on with 🤷‍♂️

    1. You don’t have to be a Firearms Officer, of course not, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise, but I still think that Firearms Officers ARE brave because of what they are expected to do. Just my personal view

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