Below is the statement made by Tim Owen QC on behalf of Susan Alexander at the opening of the Azelle Rodney Inquiry
Susan Alexander - the client I represent together with Leslie Thomas and our solicitors, Hickman and Rose - has now been waiting 5 ½ years for a full, a complete, a no-holds barred explanation of why Azelle Rodney, the son she adored, was shot 6 times on 30 April 2005 by a police officer known only to her as E7.
Susan Alexander is not a 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 knows that the most important facts – if facts they be – which are crucial to a full understanding of why Azelle was shot that day have been withheld from her.
And if the Home Secretary, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and HM Revenue and Customs get their way before this inquiry, she is destined never to know and understand the crucial information which explains the actions of officer E7 that day.
As I’ve said, Susan Alexander is not a fool and she is sick and tired of being patronised, of being marginalised, of 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 and painful - and regardless of the light they may throw on Azelle’s actions that fateful day.
She simply wants to know in unsanitised, unedited form, why police officer E7 believed it was necessary to shoot her son 6 times at point blank range in a car on a busy London street.
Is there a parent in this room who does not understand that desperate desire?
Ms Alexander has asked me to express her gratitude for the open, transparent way that you, Mr Chairman, and your Inquiry team have dealt with her and her legal team since your official appointment in June.
She of course hopes that this transparency will remain a feature of the Inquiry while recognising that others are seeking to persuade you that the law demands that a cloak of secrecy must be maintained over 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 seek to arrange the opening of this Inquiry, with its immediate focus on the issue of the closed material – or secret evidence.
That of course is the issue which has held everything up since the CPS advised in July 2006 that there was insufficient evidence to justify criminal charges being brought against any of the police officers involved in the operation that resulted in Azelle Rodney’s death.
Over three years ago, in August 2007, Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker was told that he would not be able to see all the material in this case and that the family were also prevented from seeing it.
It is worth spelling out that Andrew Walker was told back then by those acting for the Commissioner (and who had of course seen the closed material) that the fact that the obligation to disclose all core documents could not be complied with and that witnesses could not be openly questioned about certain core documents meant that it was ‘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.
The Commissioner invited Andrew Walker to so rule, and he did.
We suggest that nothing has changed since then to alter that assessment by the Commissioner.
Susan Alexander’s solicitors, Hickman and Rose, wrote to Mr Jack Straw in September 2007 threatening judicial review 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 the requirements of article 2 ECHR and the Human Rights Act 1998.
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 legislative proposals were ‘being taken forward’ no significant legal change was achieved for reasons which are well known.
Instead, after two failed attempts to introduce ‘secret inquests’, the inquest has been jettisoned in favour of this Inquiry.
And so here we are today on 6 October 2010 with the Home Secretary urging upon you an inquiry which will maintain the secrecy of crucial information and with Susan Alexander effectively surplus to requirements.
I suspect that no one present here today would seek to excuse or justify the delay of over three years since the Coroner adjourned the inquest in August 2007.
Susan Alexander is baffled and frankly disgusted at the failure of Government ministers from the last or the 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 Susan Alexander’s behalf it is our submission to you Mr Chairman that if your inquiry is to retain any credibility and achieve its true legal purpose, it must be open and transparent to the family and the public. 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.
In pure legal terms, a life has been lost at the hands of agents of the state. No one disputes that 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 police officers involved in this incident, especially officer E7.
At this stage, we say that this Inquiry has to explore a number of areas and provide as best as it can full answers to at least the following questions:
- What was to trigger the decision to make arrests on 30 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 7.45pm on 30 April 2005?
- If not why not? If they could have been, why was this action not taken?
- Were tactics continuously reviewed so as to execute the operation with minimum risk to life?
- Was open fire necessary in the circumstances?
There can, we suggest, be no serious dispute but that these issues are of central importance to Susan Alexander’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. Alternatively, you should rule that the 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.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Hickman & Rose is a niche city firm with a criminal defence and civil departments. The civil team is renowned for its work in seeking public and private law remedies in the UK and other jurisdictions on behalf of victims of crime and other victims of the abuse of power by state agents within the criminal justice system. Chambers 2010 UK Guide to the Legal Profession describes the civil department as ‘a fantastic team – one of the best’. The combined resources of the civil and criminal teams position the firm uniquely to fight for justice on behalf of their clients.