AZELLE RODNEY–‘END CLOAK OF SECRECY’ says family’s QC Tim Owen

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Protest outside the offices of the Independent Police Complaints Commission in December 2005
Protest outside the offices of the Independent Police Complaints Commission in December 2005

Chairman, retired judge Sir Christopher Holland formally opened a public inquiry into the death of Azelle Rodney at 10.30am on Wednesday and adjourned it at 11.10am.

In his opening remarks, Holland warned: ‘It may be in the fullness of time that the public interest will demand that I hear certain matters in private, but that is something I cannot deal with at the moment.’

Counsel for Azelle Rodney’s mother, Tim Owen QC, made the following statement: ‘Susan Alexander, the client who I represent, together with Mr Thomas and our solicitors, Hickman & Rose as your opening remarks have made clear, have been waiting some five and a half years for a full, complete, no-holds-barred explanation of why Azelle Rodney, the son whom she adored, was shot six times on 30th April 2005 by a police officer known to her as E7.

‘Susan Alexander is no fool and she is not afraid of the truth.

‘She knows a limited amount about the circumstances leading up to her son’s death, but she also understands that many of the most important facts, if facts they be, which are crucial to a full understanding of why Azelle was shot that day have to date been withheld from her.

‘If the Home Secretary, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs persuade you to adopt the approach which they have set out in preliminary documents lodged with the Inquiry, she is apparently destined never to know and understand crucial information which explains the actions of Officer E7 that day.

‘Now, as I have said, Susan Alexander is no fool.

‘She is frankly sick and tired of being, as she sees it, patronised, being marginalised and being treated as an irrelevant nuisance by what is to her a bewildering legal obstacle course with no apparent end.

‘She wants to know all the essential facts, good, bad, ugly or painful, and regardless of the light they may throw on Azelle’s actions that day.

‘She simply wants to know in unsanitised, unedited form why police officer E7 believed it was necessary to shoot her son six times at point blank range in a car on a busy London street.

‘I suspect that there isn’t a parent in the room who does not understand that desperate desire.’

Addressing judge Holland, Owen continued: ‘Miss Alexander has asked me to express her gratitude for the open and transparent way that you, Sir, and your Inquiry Team have dealt with her and her legal team since your official appointment in June.

‘She, of course, hopes, as you have indicated, that this transparency can remain a feature of the Inquiry while, of course, recognising that others are seeking to persuade you that the law demands that a cloak of secrecy must be maintained over some vital information.

‘She appreciates that it has been necessary for the Inquiry team to spend the period since June to familiarise themselves with the paperwork and to seek to arrange the opening of this Inquiry today with its immediate focus on the issue of closed material or secret evidence.

‘That, of course, as many in this room are aware, is the issue which held everything up since the Crown Prosecution Service advised in July 2006 that there was insufficient evidence to justify criminal charges being brought against any officer involved in the operation that resulted in Azelle Rodney’s death.

‘Over three years ago in August 2007, the Deputy Coroner, Mr Andrew Walker, was told that legal restrictions meant that he would not be able to see all the material in this case, and that as a result the family were also prevented from seeing it.

‘It is, we say, worth spelling out that Mr Walker was told back then by those acting for the Commissioner and who we assume had seen the closed material, that the fact that the obligation to disclose all the core documents to the coroner could not be complied with and that witnesses couldn’t be openly questioned about certain core material meant that it was, in the words of the Commissioner in the skeleton argument, plain and obvious that for an inquest to proceed would be unfair and would fail to discharge the requirements of Article 2 of the (European) Convention (on Human Rights) in terms of that procedural obligation to conduct an independent, effective investigation into any death which is caused by an officer of the state.

‘The Commissioner invited Mr Walker so to rule, and he did. We suggest that nothing has changed since then to alter that factual assessment by the Commissioner based, as we assume it was, on knowledge of what closed material contains.

‘Susan Alexander’s solicitors, Hickman & Rose, wrote to former Justice Secretary Mr Straw in September 2007 threatening judicial review proceedings unless he agreed to take relevant steps to enable disclosure of the withheld material so as to enable the inquest into Azelle’s death to be resumed in a manner which could comply with Article 2 of the Human Rights Act.

‘Despite a letter in November 2007 from the Treasury Solicitor confirming that primary legislation was indeed required and stating that the necessary procedures for initiating legislation were being taken forward, no legal change was ultimately achieved to the inquest process for reasons, which are well-known, and indeed after two attempts to introduce a system of what we call secret inquests, the inquest process has now been abandoned in favour of your Inquiry.

‘So we are here today on 6th October 2010 with, as we see it, the Home Secretary urging upon you a form of inquiry which will maintain the secrecy of crucial information and with Susan Alexander as she sees it surplus to requirements.

‘Now, I suspect that no-one present here today would seek to excuse or justify the delay since the Coroner adjourned the inquest in August 2007.

‘Susan Alexander is baffled and, frankly, disgusted by the failure of Government Ministers from the last or present Government to express their personal regret to her that legal problems not of her making have first delayed and then sidelined the inquest into Azelle’s death.

‘On Miss Alexander’s behalf it is our submission to you, Mr Chairman, that if your inquiry is to retain its credibility and achieve its true legal purpose as set out in Article 2 of the Convention, it must be properly open and transparent to the family and to the public, and that means that it must reveal the essential, the core facts of this incident so that Azelle’s death at the age of 24 is properly understood.

Nothing less will do, we respectfully submit.

‘In pure legal terms a life has been lost at the hands of state officers. No-one disputes, I think, this was a case of deliberate and lethal force.

‘If there are good reasons for Azelle’s death that day, let them be openly tested and examined by a process of inquiry which gives true respect to Susan Alexander and, indeed, to the officers involved in this incident, especially Officer E7.

‘We repeat Susan Alexander is not afraid of the truth and at this stage we say that this inquiry has to explore a number of areas and provide as best it can full answers to at least the following questions.

‘What was it to trigger the decision to make arrests on 30th April 2005? When were the conditions for arrest satisfied? How were the conditions for arrest satisfied?

‘Was the operation planned and executed so as to minimise risk to life of all concerned?

‘Could the suspects have been arrested earlier than the hard stop at 7.45 on 30th April 2005 and, if not, why not? If they could have been, why was that action not taken?

‘Were tactics continuously reviewed so as to execute the operation with minimum risk to life?

‘Finally, was open fire necessary in the circumstances?

‘There can, we suggest, be no serious dispute but that those issues, and no doubt others, are of central importance to Susan Alexander’s and indeed the public’s understanding of the circumstances surrounding her son’s death.

‘All she wants is that your inquiry should now proceed to give her the answers for which she has waited such a very long time, or if you conclude ultimately that that is not possible, that you should rule that legal restrictions which apply to you under the Inquiries Act 2005 and possibly the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 make it impossible for you to conduct an Article 2-compliant inquiry.’

The inquiry was told that firearms officer E7 would not be appearing.