Greater Manchester Police was to blame for the fatal shooting of a father-of-two because of an incompetent armed surveillance operation, a public inquiry has found.
A report into the death of unarmed Anthony Grainger, 36, in a car park in Culcheth, Cheshire, in March 2012 exposed “serious deficiencies” in the planning and conduct of the operation by senior officers.
Unveiling his report on Thursday, inquiry chairman Judge Thomas Teague QC said commanders had inaccurately briefed firearms officers which led to the distortion and exaggeration of the risk posed by Mr Grainger.
Mr Grainger, from Bolton, was behind the wheel of a stolen Audi when a Greater Manchester Police (GMP) firearms officer, referred to in court as Q9, fired his Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun.
Mr Grainger and one of his two passengers, David Totton, had for some weeks been the subject of a GMP operation – Operation Shire – which was investigating their suspected involvement in commercial robberies.
During 15 weeks of evidence in 2017, Q9 told Liverpool Crown Court from behind a screen that he believed Mr Grainger had reached down as if to grab a firearm.
But the inquiry heard no firearms were found on Mr Grainger or in the stationary vehicle, which was in a public car park off Jackson Avenue in the early evening of March 3, 2012.
Judge Teague concluded Q9’s belief that Mr Grainger was reaching for a gun with a view to firing it at his colleagues was an honest one.
He said: “For that reason, applying the correct legal test, I am unable to say that his decision to fire was unlawful.
“At the root of the events of March 3, 2012 was a lack of effective leadership in firearms operations conducted by Greater Manchester Police.
“I detected a deeply entrenched complacency among certain senior officers who lacked the necessary critical insight to detect, let alone remedy, the deficiencies I have identified.
“Had they planned, briefed and conducted the deployment competently, Q9 would have been less likely to misinterpret Mr Grainger’s actions and might not have shot him.
“In summary I have concluded that Greater Manchester Police is to blame for the death of Mr Grainger because the force failed to discharge its obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to authorise, plan and conduct the Masts (Mobile Armed Support To Surveillance) operation on March 3 in such a way as to minimise, to the greatest extent possible, recourse to the lethal use of force.”
He added that firearms commanders “unnecessarily” authorised the use of special munitions, including a chemical weapons system known as the CS dispersal canister which GMP had procured some years earlier without the Home Secretary’s authority and in flagrant breach of national guidance.
In 2014, then GMP chief constable Sir Peter Fahy was charged with a health and safety breach over the shooting but the case collapsed a year later after it was argued evidence gathered by police was so secret it could not be shown to a jury and therefore the defendant could not get a fair trial.
In 2016, then home secretary Theresa May announced Mr Grainger’s inquest would be converted into a statutory inquiry led by a judge with greater investigative powers.
Following Thursday’s publication, lawyers for Mr Grainger’s partner Gail Hadfield-Grainger urged Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill QC to urgently review the findings with a view to bringing criminal proceedings of corporate manslaughter against GMP.
Leslie Thomas QC, representing the Grainger family, said they would invite criminal proceedings against at least four senior police officers and called for “urgent root-and-branch reform of GMP generally and their firearms unit in particular to avoid the public being put at risk”.
Outside Liverpool Crown Court, Mr Grainger’s mother Marina Schofield said: “We want lessons to be learned. No mother should face that knock on the door and be told that the police have shot and killed her son.
“We were all left devastated by Anthony’s death and have gone through further hell to find out the true facts of what happened that night. We only hope that this outcome serves as a lesson for GMP so that others do not have to go through what we have suffered.”
A GMP spokeswoman said: “The force, our commanders and our officers do not set out on any policing operation with the intention of firearms being discharged.
“This case was no different and the safety of the public, the subjects of police operations and our officers is, and remains, our absolute priority.
“That being said, we undertake to consider each and every one of the chairman’s findings and criticisms with the utmost care, attention and reflection.
“It is what the public would expect GMP to do in circumstances where criticisms have been made of the planning and preparation of a police operation in which a young man lost his life. It is what GMP will do.”