29 April 2010

On 30 March 2010 the Justice Secretary announced through a written statement to parliament that he intended to set up an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 to investigate the circumstances relating to the death of Azelle Rodney, shot dead by Metropolitan Police officers on 30 April 2005, to avoid any further delay for the family. A month has passed and no further progress has been made.

On the fifth anniversary of his death, Azelle’s mother, Susan Alexander, is still waiting for details of who will chair the inquiry, its terms of reference and when it will begin. Her lawyer, Daniel Machover, partner at Hickman and Rose Solicitors, has written to the Justice Secretary seeking further information urgently about what steps have been taken towards holding the inquiry as speedily as practicable. However major concerns remain about whether such an inquiry will satisfy the requirements of an article 2-compliant investigation and allow for the proper participation of Azelle Rodney’s mother so that all her questions can be answered.

The proposed inquiry will take place as an inquest could not proceed because of problems with the admissibility of intelligence evidence. This led to the controversial proposals for secret inquests that were rejected by parliament. Susan Alexander is very concerned that a significant part of the inquiry could be held in secret, with her being excluded from the hearings when secret evidence is looked at and discussed with witnesses, but she now wants to see if the judge appointed to head the inquiry will be brave enough to support her right to see this evidence.

In their detailed letter her lawyers are seeking answers to the following questions:

  1. Has a protocol been put in place to cover the procedure for establishing the inquiry? (This protocol is referred to in the Secretary of State’s Written Ministerial Statement.)
  2. Has the Lord Chancellor written to the Lord Chief Justice seeking his approval to the appointment of a senior judge to chair the inquiry?
  3. Has there been a meeting between the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice? If so, when did this meeting take place?
  4. Has the Lord Chief Justice proposed anyone to chair the inquiry?
  5. Has the Secretary of State nominated a chair?
  6. Has the Lord Chief Justice approved the appointment of a judge to chair the inquiry?
  7. Have the terms of reference of the inquiry been prepared? If yes, can we have a copy or draft?
  8. Has the Lord Chancellor requested that HM Coroner Andrew Walker suspend the inquest into the death of Azelle Rodney on the grounds that it is likely to be adequately investigated by an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005?
  9. When can our client expect any information or Written Ministerial Statement announcing the identity of the chair?
  10. What timetable is in place for the inquiry to be set up and carried out?

Susan Alexander said:

It has been a long, emotional and drawn out five years and I have tirelessly campaign responsible for every week of delay in this case since September 2007, which is over two and a half of the five years since the shooting. It is a disgrace that Susan does not even have a timetable for the inquiry as she enters her sixth year of mourning for her son. The government must at least acknowledge that this delay has breached Susan’s human rights as it is their fault that a ‘prompt investigation’ (which includes an inquest or inquiry where witnesses give evidence and conclusions about the death are reached) has not finished in this case. The public has also been badly let down, because the full lessons of how to avoid similar deaths in future have not and cannot be learned until the investigations reaches a public conclusion after hearing all the evidence.

Helen Shaw, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

Not only is Susan Alexander still waiting for answers to why her son was shot dead by the police but she has found herself at the centre of political controversy over secret inquests. This inquiry is the first held under the Inquiries Act 2005 as a substitute for an inquest and we will be monitoring the process closely to ensure it fully and fearlessly examines the circumstances of Azelle Rodney’s death, and does not set any dangerous precedents in closing down public scrutiny and accountability following a death involving state agents.

Notes to editors:

Azelle Rodney in died in April 2005 after a police operation in north London in which he was shot seven times. After his death, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) conducted an investigation and a file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and in July 2006 the CPS announced that there was “insufficient evidence to disclose a realistic prospect of conviction against any officer for any offence in relation to the fatal shooting”. After the CPS decision the family was told by the coroner that the full inquest could not be held because large portions of the police officers’ statements had been redacted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) 2000, which covers information obtained from covert surveillance devices such as telephone taps or bugs. Azelle was shot seven times after the car he was in was ordered to halt in a ‘hard stop’ after being under police surveillance for over three hours in Edgware, north London. Two men were later convicted for firearms offences but there was no evidence that Azelle was armed at the time of the shooting.