current affairs

The Mark Duggan Effect: Can police be trusted?

Two years after the fact, a formal inquest into the death of Mark Duggan has been announced.

Two years after the fact, a formal inquest into the death of Mark Duggan has been announced.

Mark Duggan was not a famous person—he was an ordinary London boy who managed to revive the police race-relations debates that all but for the efforts of the Lawrence family had died. Mark Duggan’s death sparked local rioting and nationwide looting in the summer of 2011 and two years later it seems that politricks have taken precedent over the main issue, an unwarranted loss of life of a father of four.

What are they trying to hide?

There has been speculation that police feared that Mark Duggan was on his way to carry out a revenge shooting for his cousin’s death, but as with most ‘facts’ about this case – it is only speculation. There is a shroud of the unknown surrounding this particular operation and taking aside the implications it has had for Mark Duggan and his immediate family, it all reeks of a lack of competency in both police judgement and morality. The delays bring about a key question—what are they trying to hide?

Mark’s mother Pam is quoted as saying: “Since Mark was shot dead over two years ago we have been provided with nothing but lies, misinformation and delay.”  In any circumstances, is this any way for a grieving family to be treated?

In the Guardian, Shaun Hall (the brother of Mark Duggan) speaks frankly: “We have been fobbed off. If Mark had been killed by anyone other than a police officer we would be much further down the road by now.”

A cause for concern?

And is there a cause for concern? Initially, Mark’s death was reported as a police shoot out – an impressive achievement considering it was later and quietly admitted that he never fired a shot. The family attended a peaceful demonstration in Tottenham, and now feel blamed for the subsequent rioting. Kevin Hutchinson-Foster was convicted of supplying a weapon to Mark and jailed for 11 years, but there was no representation of the Duggan family in that court.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission apparently exonerated police officers involved in the shooting without even interviewing them. The police officers involved now wish to participate in the full inquest via video link as opposed to appearing in court. Taking an outside, observatory view – the process seems flawed. Even in school, if you got into a fight in the playground you’d be speaking to your teacher or the head before finding out if you had a week’s worth of detention.

It seems incredulous that one can be cleared of criminality and murder without uttering a word. An anonymous letter that claimed Duggan was the victim of a put-up job” by police was sent to the family after his death, and around fifty copies were distributed – the police and the Home Secretary being amongst the highest profile recipients. Carole Duggan has told Sky News “[the police have] been incompetent from day one. They’ve had to apologise to us on numerous occasions because they’ve not investigated thoroughly.”

Absolutely regrettable

Judge Keith Cutler was appointed as coroner for the inquest, and has called the delay of over two years ‘absolutely regrettable,’ and his team worked as fast as possible to get the inquest heard since his January appointment.

The pre-inquest review heard reports that Scotland Yard had been intelligence on Mark eight months before his death and had been granted search warrants days before he was killed. There are suggestions that the controversial gun supplied to Mark Duggan was deliberately kept on the streets. Ashley Underwood (counsel for the inquest) acknowledged this, and stated that it was ‘highly desirable’ to call the officers concerned. 

Kevin Hutchinson-Foster will be giving evidence at the inquest, along with officers involved. Due to the involvement of police officers in Mark’s death the verdict of the inquest must be decided on by a jury. The jury will be 11 north London residents, but have they been too close to the incident to really be fair and unbiased? More than 100 witnesses are expected to be called and the inquest is expected to last for about 8 weeks to three months.

Fear now for long-term implications

Also this week insurers have won a multi-million pound case against the police for damages to the Sony Enfield building following the riots—their losses came to more than £60 million altogether.  According to a Financial Times analysis, 48,000 local business suffered losses as a result of looting and rioting. The courts have to delicately balance the concerns of businesses with those of the public.

The fear that the riots caused has died down, and the ruling against the Met police this week shows the corporate world can force appropriate governance and justice. The fear of teenage youths has receded, and the negative media storm is at bay. The cries for military intervention on British streets has died down (according to Facebook, it was a very popular solution at the time).The fear is now for the long term implications.

Undermining confidence in the system

The Duggan family appear to have joined the ranks of more activists – parallels are no longer being drawn to Steven Lawrence but instead to Joy Gardener and Roger Sylvester (who both died after being restrained by police) and Cynthia Jarrett, who died when police invaded her home.

There are previous incidents in which a lack of police conviction has undermined confidence in the system—the shooting a naked man in his bedroom (James Ashley) or a man carrying a coffee table leg in a bag (Harry Stanley). The lack of promotion of positive works committed by police with guns combined with the press attention that immense cock-ups with questionable motives achieve means that this ‘effect’ isn’t really exclusive to Mark Duggan.

Can we trust the police?

Three years after the fact, Avon and Somerset police finally issued an apology to Christopher Jefferies, a totally innocent man arrested in connection with a murder who suffered a media witch hunt as a result. When a police force is forced to admit to its mistakes or to divulge transparency to a highly volatile situation or to simply help and not hinder, we are left with an uncomfortable question.

Can we actually trust our police?

What do you think? In light of these cases, can police be trusted? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.