British government to review level of legal protection given to armed police

It follows concerns raised by senior officers about how the public could be protected against a Paris-style terrorist attack

Yui Mok / PA Archive/PA Images

File photo. Image: Yui Mok / PA Archive/PA Images

British armed police who shoot to kill are to be handed greater protection from prosecution under plans by David Cameron to introduce new rules on police use of guns.

The move comes only days after a firearms officer was arrested over the fatal shooting of a 28-year-old man during an alleged attempt to spring two convicts from a prison van in north London.

The prime minister has ordered a review of the law after police chiefs demanded that those charged with protecting the public from a Paris-style massacre in Britain deserve greater political and legal backing.

At a meeting of the National Security Council, ministers were warned that the fight against terrorism is being compromised because firearms officers risk prosecution if they pull the trigger.

Mr Cameron is said to be prepared to change the law in the New Year to make it harder to drag police officers through the courts if they shoot to kill.

A senior government source said: "Terrorist incidents both at home and abroad have shown very clearly the life and death decisions police officers have to make in split second circumstances.

"We must make sure that when police take the ultimate decision to protect the safety of the public they do so with the full support of the law and the state - there can be no room for hesitation when lives are at risk."

The proposals are likely to be opposed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

In a Sunday Times interview, he repeated his opposition to a shoot to kill policy, warning that it would damage community relations with the police.

They will also be controversial since they will cover all police firearms use, not just that in counter terrorism cases.

Mr Cameron also wants to see an end to lengthy investigations by the police complaint investigators and long court cases that over-analyse split second decisions months or even years later - wrecking the careers of police officers seeking to protect the public.

The review will be conducted by the UK's home office, the attorney general and the ministry of justice and will report privately to the Mr Cameron.

It is expected to examine:

  • Whether the law goes far enough in supporting officers when they have a genuinely held belief that opening fire is necessary in the circumstances. The legal analysis will check whether existing acts go far enough.
  • The review will also consider the investigatory processes in these types of cases, including the inquest / inquiry process.
  • How to ensure that concerns raised by firearms officers over the legal and investigative framework do not hamper future recruitment plans.

The review will examine ways to "speed up" the process of investigations, inquest and public inquiries after a shooting incident.

Any legal changes are likely to be included in a new bill which will be introduced in the New Year.

But Mr Corbyn told The Sunday Times: "We have to be very, very careful.

"If you want the public as a whole to have confidence in the police force and confidence they can cooperate with them in the future, any shooting on the street diminishes that confidence.

"There has to be a very robust and strong independent inquiry into what the police do. Like any other public organisation they must be held to account. I hope this is not a political stunt."