New guidance which states firearms officers should be separated from each other after a death or serious injury incident have been called into question by the Police Federation.
In a draft document published by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the watchdog has said it has to keep open the possibility of bringing prosecutions against armed officers and produced guidance that said police should not be allowed to confer before, during or after making their statements about a shooting.
But the Police Federation of England and Wales has criticised the guidelines, saying separating officers infers guilt.
West Midlands Police Federation interim chairman Tom Cuddeford said: “This has to start on the right foot. They are witnesses first and foremost and to separate them in the immediate aftermath of a highly traumatic incident is neither proportionate nor necessary. It implies guilt.
“Firearms officers work under extreme pressure and they know the split-second decisions they make in situations where someone is killed or seriously injured are scrutinised. It is not a career path they choose to go into lightly and they deserve not to be treated as suspects but as witnesses since that is essentially what they are.
“Firearms officers need to have faith and trust that should they ever find themselves in a situation where someone has been seriously or fatally wounded they will be treated appropriately, fairly and with no guilt implied.”
The issue of conferring among officers came under the spotlight following the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011. A jury later concluded he was lawfully killed by police.
In the Court of Appeal’s observations in its judgment in the case of Duggan and Delezuch, Lord Justice Richards outlined that “the separation of officers is an exceptional measure and that the normal position is that separation will not be required”. Instead, he considered the supervision of officers in the post-incident suite provides a reasonable safeguard against collusion.
The IPCC’s original plans called for the officers to give a full account after a serious incident before going off duty, instead of having 48 hours, which police said was necessary to recover from any trauma.
Representations made by PFEW on this issue have been listened to.
Che Donald, firearms lead for PFEW, said: “Expecting officers to provide high level descriptive statements while suffering the effects of trauma and shock is unrealistic, which is why this should be provided after an initial account and a period of rest.”
He added: “Trust in the guidance by those at the forefront of these incidents - our members - is key to ensuring a timely, fair resolution for all those involved. In its current form it’s difficult to see the existence of that trust.”
The draft guidance will need to be approved by the Home Secretary before it comes into force.