Monday, 15 August 2016

Lethal Force by Tony Long

With a sub-heading "My life as the Met's most controversial marksman" you know this book isn't going to pull any punches. And it doesn't. In part this is because the author is quite clearly angry. He's angry with how he's been treated by the Met, how he's been treated by prosecutors such as the IPCC and the CPS, and how he's been portrayed in sections of the press. But that only tells half the story. If Lethal Force was merely an angry screed, a chance for an embittered man to rant at those he perceived to have wronged him, then it wouldn't be half the book that it is. It would be tiresome and tedious rather than compelling and, a frankly uncomfortable read. For what lies at the heart of this manuscript is a brilliantly honest account of what it is to serve as a firearms officer in Britain's biggest police force.

Tony Long joined London's Metropolitan Police in the 1970's. After Hendon, a short time in uniform, a shorter spell in CID, and finally time in the Special Patrol Group (the forerunner to today’s Territorial Support Group, and like the TSG, the closest the Met has to a full-time riot squad) he found a home in what was then D11. This was the Met's nascent firearms command, and the author vividly paints a picture of a group of dedicated men (at that time it was primarily men) under-resourced and lacking sufficient training, having to make do in the face of official intransigence. The Met hierarchy looked upon the firearm's unit as a necessary evil and thus Tony and his colleagues had to organise their own training, beg, borrow and steal kit.

D11 eventually turned into PT17, then SO19, through CO19, to finally its current designation, SCO19. If these frequent name changes appear confusing, it's worth bearing in mind that each signaled a further step in the unit's professionalism. While no one doubts the dedication of those early efforts, SCO19 is now unrecognisable from its earlier incarnation and again the author describes this journey well. In many ways it mirrors his own and it is no surprise that he helped draft many of the training programmes and advised on the sourcing of much of the unit's kit.

This is all very well but anyone who follows the news will know of Tony Long and why indeed he has become "the Met's most controversial Marksman." Notably his shooting of Azelle Rodney in 2005. Police shootings in the UK are actually exceedingly rare. In the year of Rodney's shooting, the Met's firearms unit carried out 938 pre-planned operations. Shots were fired on only four of these. And in total, across the four of the operations where shots were fired, just thirteen rounds were discharged. The contrast with say, the US, is stark. 2005 however was a bad year for the Met, both Azelle Rodney and the innocent Jean Charles De Menezes being gunned down. It was Tony Long's misfortune to be responsible for the first of these incidents.

Unlike De Menezes however, Azelle Rodney was not shot on the basis of mistaken identity. Nor was he an innocent bystander mistaken for the operation's target. Rather he was a known criminal who at the time was wanted by police for an earlier assault. The official inquiry into the shooting, it's report still available online, makes clear that police intelligence pointed to his participation in an organised crime group and that he was a "mid-level career criminal".

There were a number of reasons why the author's shooting of Rodney was to prove so controversial. For a starter this wasn't Tony long's first shooting. Indeed, he had fatally shot two armed robbers in a Plumsted abattoir in 1987. That operation had again followed police intelligence that the men were planning on stealing the wages and both were indeed armed when Tony engaged them. The description of this shooting is visceral and Tony explains in great detail the threat he perceived and why he felt he had no choice but to fire. Justified though this may well have been, it lay the foundations for a reputation that was to hang from his neck like an albatross for years to come. The Met hierarchy, tetchy about its firearm's command, preferring the Dixon of Dock Green image of the unarmed Bobby to the paramilitary paraphernalia of a SWAT team, were never likely to be his greatest fans.

Fast forward to 2005 and Tony Long was once again put in a frightfully difficult position. Intelligence assessed that Rodney and his associates were planning to rob a Colombian cocaine gang of their drugs, that they had got hold of MAC-10 sub-machine guns to do the robbery with. The decision was made to make a hard stop of the suspect's vehicle. Once again Tony takes us through the minutiae of his decision making in forensic detail. He describes how Rodney had rumbled the police presence, how he had been speaking animatedly to those in the front seats (he was seated on a back seat), how as their police car pulled alongside the suspect vehicle Rodney appeared to duck down and come back up. Concluding that Rodney had picked up a MAC-10 from the footwell of the car, Tony opened fire.

As it happens Rodney did not have a MAC-10, though he did have a pistol. Other members of the gang were also armed. Eventually the controversy surrounding this shooting led to an inquiry where the shooting of Azelle Rodney was deemed to be unlawful. Tony's arrest and trial for murder were to follow. But in a court of law he proved his innocence and left the Met with his reputation intact. The last few chapters take us through this denouement and demonstrate just why it is one should read news reports with more than a little degree of skepticism. The reports surrounding Azelle Rodney's shooting in the months and years after his death gave a very partial picture of events. It was only with the full airing of the facts at his trial that they could be put in the proper context. Reading all the evidence, it is little surprise the jury found him innocent.

None of this stopped the Met from viewing Tony as an embarrassing inconvenience however. One of the most shocking tales in this book is of a senior officer saying upon introduction to Tony that she had always wanted to meet the Met's very own serial killer. While this was the most blatant example, others abound. After he was found innocent the Met Commissioner expressed a desire to meet with Tony in person to congratulate him. He quickly changed his mind. A further senior officer was to express disquiet at the thought of Tony writing a book. It quickly became apparent that they just wanted him gone.

Tony Long has now left the Met and despite the displeasure of the police force he once served, he has written his book. The result is one of the finest examples of its genre. He's clearly a tough, no nonsense kind of man. That shines through the text. But unlike some former police/soldiers who have penned memoirs, there's very little macho posturing in this book. Plain speaking is perhaps a cliché but in this case it's apt. Tony tells his story forcefully and passionately. Sometimes the anger he feels to those who persecuted him lifts off the page. But this never gets the better of him and he doesn't descend into acrimony. Rather, like the evidence presented at his trial, he gives a solid account of his career and actions.

5 out 5 stars

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