Sun, Jul 24, 2005 - Page 7 News List

London police change tactics to `shoot to kill'

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The shooting on Friday at Stockwell tube station in London was the first time police used special tactics developed to tackle the threat of suicide bombers.

Under Operation Kratos a senior officer is on standby 24 hours a day to authorize the deployment of special armed squads, who will track and if need be, shoot dead suspected suicide bombers. One of the most senior officers involved in protecting London confirmed there were special teams of armed officers ready to be deployed.

A senior Metropolitan police (Met) source with knowledge of firearms procedures said of the shooting at Stockwell: "This was an intelligence led operation, within the parameters of Kratos." Officially the Met will not talk about Kratos, but the tactics have been in place for a year and were developed after British officers learnt from their Israeli counterparts how best to tackle suicide bombers.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) insisted that there had been no change in the law or in firearms policy. The relevant law is section three of the 1967 criminal law act, which reads: "A person may use such force as is reasonable in the prevention of crime."

Acpo's guidance to officers, revised in February, says: "You may open fire against a person only when absolutely necessary after traditional methods have tried and failed, or must, by the very nature of the circumstances, be unlikely to succeed if tried. To sum up, a police officer should not decide to open fire unless that officer is satisfied that nothing short of opening fire could protect the officer or another person from imminent danger to life or serious injury."

The threat to life must be clear and present, say Acpo guidelines which add that weapons should be used when "police officers need to shoot to stop an imminent threat to life. The imminence of any threat should be judged in respect to the potential loss of life ... and consideration of necessity, reasonableness and proportionality."

The guidance says shots to the upper chest area "are likely to be effective in achieving rapid incapacitation. Shots which strike the other parts of the body cannot be depended upon to achieve this."

Officers from Kratos or following their tactics are reported to be authorized to shoot to kill, and aim for the head to avoid triggering explosive devices attached to the chest or waist. Suicide bombers targeting public transport present a unique challenge. As July 7 showed, if they succeed the result is mass murder.

A senior Met source said: "The operation would have been authorized by a senior officer, and the armed officers would be able to self- deploy, open fire if they saw an imminent threat. They can get authority retrospectively. Once the officer decides to shoot, it's shoot to kill."

Solicitor Daniel Machover said that even if the suspect shot dead had no weapons or explosive, officers could have a defense against a murder charge.

Machover, who has has taken legal actions against police after shooting incidents, said: "If the perception in the officers' minds was that the suspect was posing an immediate threat to them or others, opening fire may well have been lawful. The test is the threat they perceived when they opened fire."

He said a defense against a lesser charge would be more complex.

To reassure the public, the force is engaged in high visibility policing, getting as many constables and part-time officers on the streets as possible. The force has to keep London going, while mounting a hugely pressured and complex investigation into the July 7 attacks.

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