UK cops 'trigger happy'

2005-09-18 12:56

London - British ex-special forces soldiers used to train the nation's armed police on Sunday condemned many of the officers as "trigger happy" and psychologically unsuitable to carry weapons.

The stinging criticism follows the shooting dead in London in July of an innocent Brazilian man by police who feared he was a suicide bomber.

Electrician Jean Charles de Menezes was shot a number of times in the head by anti-terrorist officers as he boarded a London subway train on July 22, when tensions in the capital were high in the aftermath of deadly bombings on July 7.

The case - which deeply shocked a nation where the vast majority of police never carry guns - is being investigated by Britain's Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

In a written statement handed to The Sunday Times newspaper, two former members of the British Army's elite Special Air Service (SAS) list their worries about the armed officers they trained.

The men said they believed the officers who killed De Menezes were likely to be among their former charges, although they could not be sure.

The ex-SAS soldiers said many of the police they trained in using guns, who they did not have the authority to fail, had poor skills and were not properly vetted as to their psychological suitability.

"When the tension starts to rise and the adrenaline is flowing, the 'red mist' seems to descend on armed police officers, who become very trigger happy," one soldier wrote in the statement.

"This has been shown time and again in training exercises."

The second soldier was equally scathing.

"We thought that police firearms officers were far more concerned with their personal image, dressing in body armour and looking 'gung ho', than their professional capabilities," he wrote.

"I'm not surprised at the number of mistakes over the years. There is no assessment of physical fitness, no psychological profiling, nothing. It's a major problem."

The statement described a training exercise in which police had to "rescue" hostages from an armed terrorist group which, unknown to them, had been told to surrender without a fight.

In the exercise the police "began firing at everything" although no one had moved.

"The response would have resulted in the unnecessary deaths of all the make-believe terrorists and the hostages alike. So much for the rule of minimum force," the statement said.

The police being trained would often pose for photographs with guns at the training college bar, the statement added.

Superintendent Phil Manns, the head of the CO19 armed unit of London's Metropolitan Police, rejected the criticism, saying his officers received "rigorous" training.

"The nature of the role done by a member of the SAS and a police officer who carries firearms is incredibly different and should not be compared," he added.