Thursday, 16 January 2014

Jury Duty

Several writers in the Sunday papers took up the theme of my post from Saturday about the appalling behaviour of certain family members, friends and supporters - in the wake of the Mark Duggan inquest.

News reports over the weekend suggest that the attempts to turn Mark Duggan into some kind of martyr are doomed to fail - because the public realise that this case is very different to other controversial issues involving the police - that Mark Duggan was a known, violent criminal whom the inquest jury decided was carrying a gun until moments before he was shot and killed.

As this piece in the Independent argues, the Duggan family is entitled to disagree with the jury but not to abuse and threaten them which, sadly, is what happened in court the other day - followed by accusations that the jurors were involved in some sort of conspiracy. 

Mark Duggan inquest: A perplexing verdict can still be a right one

Jurors based their decision on three months' evidence. The Duggans are entitled to disagree, but not to abuse them


Seven men, three women, from north London, most of them young, most of them white, some mixed race. That's about all we know about the demographic particulars of the Duggan inquest jury. They are not very much more than ciphers.

What we do know a bit more about is the responsibility they bore. And we know something about how they think. The verdict they were asked to deliver was complex, requiring that they address a diverging tree of six weighty questions. But, in the end, their answers were not ambiguous: Mark Duggan did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot, but the police officer who fired at him believed, or may have believed, that he did. The killing was, accordingly, not unlawful. It's a strange thing: if you were describing anyone else's answer to that question, you would append the qualification "in their opinion". But because these opinions are those of a jury, they have the practical force of unimpeachable fact.

Juries are troublesome beasts. Even at its very best, it is only the least worst system there is. The most exhaustive recent research, from the Ministry of Justice, tells us that there is no evidence of a tendency to bias, but it adds that in some circumstances as few as 31 per cent of jurors understand legal directions; it says that 26 per cent of those on high-profile cases admit to reading about it online while the trial is in process. There are plenty of anecdotes about jurors who fall short. But what else do we have?

Charged with a duty that they never asked for, and asked to tell the world something in binary terms, that they will surely have understood in shades of grey, the members of this jury seem beyond reproach. Certainly they did not deserve the treatment that they received in the aftermath of their verdict, when members of the Duggan family, and their supporters, screamed abuse across the courtroom as they left. "Fuck them and fuck the world. What are you running for?" shouted Mark Duggan's brother, Marlon, as others held him back. "This is a joke. The fuckers. He didn't have a gun." Duggan's fiancée, Semone Wilson, accused them of being part of a conspiracy.

Clear though it is that the jury deserved no such treatment – that such behaviour, in fact, makes the proper conduct of an inquest considerably harder – it would be equally senseless to condemn the family. Moments before they heard that the killing of their relative had been deemed lawful, they had been told that the jury was sure he did not have a gun in his hand, which must have seemed to be a promising marker for the outcome they craved.

No, it isn't normal for families and friends of a man whose death is at issue in a courtroom to heckle witnesses, or break furniture. But it is also vanishingly rare for such a death to be at the hands of the authorities. Mark Duggan's mother apparently fainted when the verdict was read. How can anyone blame her if she saw the court as part of the same system as the police watchdog that knowingly let the lie that her son had fired at officers stand uncorrected, even as Tottenham burned back in August 2011? How can anyone blame her if she has lost all faith?

Dead men's families are rarely the most measured judges of how their killers should be treated. It would be inhuman if they were. Those in public life, though, bear a greater responsibility to accept the system's output if they accepted the terms by which it was set up. You can't suddenly decide it's fatally flawed once it goes against you.

Diane Abbott MP tweeted, shortly after the verdict was announced: "If the Duggan jury believe that he did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot, how can they find it was a lawful killing?" She also said that she was "baffled". Challenged on those remarks later, she explained: "I am not second guessing the jury today, but I was taken aback. But that's different from saying I am in some way trying to challenge the jury." Well, if you say so, Diane.

Likewise Lee Jasper, who was race and policing adviser to Ken Livingstone when he was Mayor of London. He accused the police of murder, and added: "It is now open season on black men."

Criticisms of the verdict are the most obvious assaults on the jury's legitimacy. But excessively approving paeans to the jurors' wisdom are also complicated. Really, the verdict has to occupy a sort of intellectual limbo, with neither criticism nor praise hauling it into a destabilising factional battle. But more than a few supporters of the police have spoken of their relief at the news of "the correct" verdict. What would they have said if things went the other way?

The acid test of fairness on these things is simple: have your opinions on what happened undergone any significant challenge? You may have been right all along, of course, but it is unlikely that you were right on every detail. But even if your view remains rigidly the same as on the day the inquest began, it's unlikely you can match the jury for expertise.

Your view of all this comes down, in the end, to your definition of "respect". "With all due respect": we all know how misleading that phrase can be. And, in this context too, it is to some people useful merely as a precursor to a ringing critique. Those who understand the phrase this way, I assume, see their "respect" as meaning that they are not taking practical steps to undermine the consequences of the decision. But it has to mean more than this, surely: it has to mean taking care to do nothing that could incite others to the same error. It's equally important, on the other hand, to see that you can respect a verdict and yet also know that juries are fallible, that it is no act of sedition to ask careful, moderate questions.

There is, in fact, plenty of room in the middle. David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, found it when he acknowledged that he saw parts of the verdict as perplexing, but added a careful description of the enormous care that the jury had taken. I have questions, too. But every one of them comes, as they should for most of us, with the qualification "based on my limited expertise on the case". That is, based on the media reports I have read; also based, in part, on the understanding I had before the inquest began; and coming with the certain knowledge that, whatever else, I did not hear three months of evidence and will never have to live with the knowledge that my opinion will ultimately be upheld with the force of the law.

Peaceful Protest (11 January 2014)

The jury involved in the inquest of Mark Duggan were a group ordinary Londoners, 7 women and 3 men, with absolutely no axe to grind over the incident - yet they were subjected to a barrage of intimidation when they announced their decision.

The jurors have also had their anonymity guaranteed and been put under special police protection measures which is an extraordinary state of affairs - and seems to reflect the scorn that the Duggan family and their supporters are trying to pour on the jury's verdict which implies that the jurors were 'knobbled' in some way. 

Towards the end of this report in the Times a man who is described as Mark Duggan's godfather and a close family friend has apparently been leading a protest outside Tottenham Police Station where a crowd of 70 people gathered to shout "murderers" - a claim which is completely at odds with the jury's decision, of course.

Also this gentleman says he is just out of prison for 'protesting' in the summer riots after Mark Duggan's death - but there is no crime of 'protest' in UK law, so I have to wonder whether this chap was involved with all the violence and looting that accompanied these streets riots in 2011 because if so, he has been in prison for quite a long time.

So, while the family are entitled to their say, the jurors who gave up three months of their lives to sit on the inquest should certainly not be in fear for their safety - which means that the hotheads within the Duggan family should be told to accept some responsibility and calm down. 

Jurors flee as angry family hurl threats and abuse

Mark Duggan’s family, including mother Pamela (C), make a statement outside the High Court Andy Rain/EPA

By John Simpson and Tom Knowles

Jurors at the inquest into Mark Duggan’s death were whisked away from his furious family and friends yesterday as threats and abuse were hurled across a packed courtroom.

Duggan’s brother, Marlon, was restrained by friends as he shouted “f*** you” at the jury after they announced their conclusion of lawful killing, despite finding that Duggan was unarmed when he was shot.

One of the men in the group approached the jury and threatened a police officer before following the jurors, hurling abuse. Marlon Duggan screamed, cried and struggled with friends, asking the jury: “Why are you running?” as they were led to safety. As he left the courtroom he added: “I’ll blow this whole place up, burn it down.”

The group stormed out of Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice, overturning chairs and a table while a door to an office room was repeatedly kicked.

Young men sitting in the seats reserved for “the family and loved ones of Mark Duggan” refused to stand when Judge Keith Cutler, acting as assistant coroner, entered the room to ask the jury of three men and seven women for their conclusions after hearing more than three months of evidence.

They found that Duggan had thrown the gun before he was shot and was unarmed when he was killed. Nonetheless, they concluded that V53, the officer who fired the shots that killed Duggan, had sufficient reason to believe that his own life or the lives of his colleagues were in danger.

The Met and Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) did not escape criticism. The jury’s statement to the court, read out by a juror, said: “With respect to the Trident [anti-gangs unit] investigation, there was not enough current intelligence and information on Kevin Hutchinson-Foster [convicted 12 months ago of supplying a gun to Duggan]. There was no emphasis on exhausting all avenues which could have affected reaction and subsequent actions.”

Outside the court, Duggan’s aunt, Carole Duggan, said: “The majority of the people in this country know that Mark was executed. We are going to fight until we have no breath left in our body for Mark and his children.”

His older brother, Shaun Hall, said: “We came for justice today. We don’t feel we are leaving with justice.”

During the hearing, which began with a minute’s silence for Duggan at the family’s request, there were angry interruptions from family and friends, and tempers boiled over as the officer who shot Duggan gave evidence.

In Tottenham, North London, last night, riot police were prepared for a repeat of the protests that erupted after Duggan’s death in 2011. About 70 people gathered at Tottenham Police Station, shouting “murderers”.

The ringleader, who wore a red and white scarf covering his face, said that he was Mark Duggan’s godfather and a close family friend. He said he had just come out of prison from protesting in the summer riots after Duggan’s death.

The group was largely ignored by the public and wa urged by other members of the Tottenham community to calm down. About a dozen protesters were still outside the police station at 10pm but headed home once it started raining. No arrests were made.

Marcia Willis-Stewart, the family’s solicitor, said: “On August 4, 2011, an unarmed man was shot down in Tottenham. Today we have had what we can only call a perverse judgment.”

Lawfully Killed (9 January 2014)

I wrote about the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan in the wake of all the violence and widespread opportunist looting which followed his death.

Now an inquest jury has decided that Mark Duggan was lawfully killed having sat through three months of evidence - yet still some people wish to portray his death as an 'execution' while seeming to be in denial over Mark Duggan's criminal background.     

According to the BBC the jury of seven women and three men was asked to answer the following five questions:
  • Question 1: In the period between midday on 3 August 2011 and when state amber was called at 6.00 pm on 4 August 2011, did the Metropolitan Police Service and the Serious Organised Crime Agency do the best they realistically could have done to gather and react to intelligence about the possibility of Mr Duggan collecting a gun from Mr Hutchinson-Foster? 
  • Answer 1: The jury said a unanimous no
  • Question 2: Was the stop conducted in a location and in a way which minimised, to the greatest extent possible, recourse to lethal force? 
  • Answer 2: Unanimous yes.
  • Question 3: Did Mr Duggan have the gun with him in the taxi immediately before the stop? 
  • Answer 3: Unanimous yes.
  • Question 4: How did the gun get to the grass area where it was later found? 
  • Answer 4: A majority of 9 to 1 said it was thrown.
  • Question 5: When Mr Duggan received a fatal shot, did he have the gun in his hand? 
  • Answer 5: A majority of 8 to 2 said no, he did not have a gun in his hand.

The jury also said it was more likely than not that Mr Duggan had thrown a gun from a taxi just before he was killed with the weapon found about 20ft (6m) away from the scene.

Mark Duggan's family and their supporters are now involved in a campaign to try and discredit the jury's verdict.

But from what I have read and heard of the case, whatever the jury's concerns about the police operation, its main findings are sound because the key test was whether the police officer who fired the fatal shots held an honest belief that Mark Duggan was brandishing a gun and posed a lethal threat and - having heard all the evidence - the jury decided that the had which is why Duggan's killing was lawful.

Taking Responsibility (19 August 2011)

A lot has been written recently about 'taking responsibility' - in the context of all the violent looting in London.

The spark for what happened was the initial 'riot' in Tottenham following the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan - though this was just a convenient cover for all the copycat violence - which quickly spread to other parts of London in the nights that followed. 

On the Monday following that first weekend I remember listening to a TV interview the widow of Mark Duggan - who had been holding an initially peaceful vigil outside the local police station along with family 'supporters' - which later got out of control and turned violent.

The young woman was speaking about her husband and said she was sure he did not possess a gun - but even if he did have a gun (without her knowledge), then she was sure that he would never have used it to fire at anyone.

And finally she said that even if he did have a gun - then why didn't the police just shoot it out of his hand - instead of shooting him dead?

I also listened to one of the family 'supporters' - a black community leader - say that the police had not just shot Mark Duggan, but 'blew his clean head off' - a wild, inflammatory statement that proved to be completely untrue.

Now if this kind of language was typical of what was being said either at - or around the edges - of the 'peaceful' vigil outside Tottenham police station that first Saturday night - then no wonder things escalated so badly. 

Because while north London might sometimes resemble the wild west - the police are not trick shot artists - performers in some kind of Buffalo Bill or Annie Oakley wild west show. 

So people need to take responsibility for what they say - and how they say it - and to be fair the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) needs to learn a few lessons as well. 

Here's a statement the IPCC have issued since the original shooting took place on Thursday 4 August 2011 - in which they accept responsiblity for creating the false impression that shots were actually exchanged with the police.

"The IPCC's first statement, issued at 10:49pm on 4 August, makes no reference to shots fired at police and our subsequent statements have set out the sequence of events based on the emerging evidence.

However, having reviewed the information the IPCC received and gave out during the very early hours of the unfolding incident, before any documentation had been received, it seems possible that we may have verbally led journalists to believe that shots were exchanged, as this was consistent with early information we received that an officer had been shot.

Any reference to an exchange of shots was not correct and did not feature in any of our formal statements, although an officer was taken to hospital after the incident."

Loose talk can inflame situations and encourage them to spiral out of control - as recent events have shown.

Innocent people have ended up paying with their lives - and livelihoods - as criminals and others with their own axe to grind tried to exploit what happened - for their own selfish ends.

So it's not just the IPCC who should be reflecting on what they said and how they said it - there's a lot more besides.