Partner: Romford shooting verdict 'brushes police errors under the carpet'

Melissa and Richard Cottier

Melissa Cottier (left) said the verdict in her partner Richard's inquest did not tell the full story and brushed police errors under the carpet. - Credit: Ellie Hoskins / Met Police

A jury has ruled that the police shooting of Romford father Richard Cottier was a lawful killing - but does that verdict tell the full story? His partner Melissa doesn't think so.

On Wednesday morning (June 9), Melissa Cottier’s daughter turned around and came home three times before she eventually made it to school.

Less than 24 hours earlier, a jury had ruled police were justified in killing her father.

“My kids have got to go to school struggling with it,” Melissa told this paper. “It’s a hard thing to accept.”

An inquest into the death of Richard Cottier heard evidence of police errors and an allegation that a witness’s statement had been partially fabricated.

But before deliberating, jurors were instructed that only one “short form” verdict was open to them - lawful killing.

This, they were told, was because the evidence showed the officers who shot Richard “honestly believed” he posed a threat.

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“I was so upset,” Melissa said of the verdict. “I came home and had to tell my children. That was hard.

“I did expect there to be a narrative conclusion. I think that would have been the kindest outcome.”

Night of the incident

Richard, 41, was shot by police on April 9, 2018, at an Esso petrol station in Collier Row.

Melissa, his partner of 23 years, told jurors he was a “loyal” and “loving” father who suffered “bouts of depression”.

Unbeknownst to Melissa, Richard was using cocaine and steroids in his final days.

At around 4am on April 9, 2018, he woke Melissa. 

He said he had called police and told them he had a gun.

Barely awake and “in a panic”, Melissa called the police back.

She told jurors she recognised the gun he was holding as an air rifle Richard and his brother had played with as children.

The Recorder has obtained police records showing what happened next.

Richard Cottier who was shot dead by police in Collier Row. Photo: Ellie Hoskins

Richard Cottier was described at his inquest as a "loyal" and "loving" father. - Credit: Ellie Hoskins

“Danger”

Seconds into her 999 call, Melissa stated: “Me and my kids are in no danger.”

She repeated the sentiment three more times during the short call.

But the call handler wrongly transcribed her comments as “I’m in danger”.

A strategic firearms commander – who had the final say over whether armed officers should be deployed – testified that the information from the computer had then been relayed to him over the phone. 

An officer told him Richard was threatening to kill his partner and children.

He accepted this had helped him form the view the incident was a possible “domestic armed siege”, escalating its seriousness.

Documents from Richard Cottier's inquest show information was incorrectly recorded

Documents disclosed to the Romford Recorder show Melissa Cottier repeatedly told police she was in no danger - yet the computer record created during the same phone call quoted her as saying she was. - Credit: Archant

No ammo

When a firearms officer called Melissa back, she reiterated: “I am safe. He wouldn’t do anything to me and my children.”

Asked how she knew his "firearm" was fake, Melissa replied that Richard had always told her it was, she had never seen any bullets for it and she had never seen him shoot it.

The gun was later found to be an air weapon legally considered capable of lethal force, but which would not require any permit.

Melissa was correct – it had no ammunition.

Richard Cottier's air rifle at the Esso petrol station in Collier Row Road

Richard Cottier was carrying an unloaded air rifle during what witnesses said was a mental health crisis. - Credit: Met Police

“Firearms incident”

After Richard’s initial 999 call, the case was not logged as a firearms incident.

A tactical firearms commander testified that Richard seemed like "someone that was suffering from mental health, versus a criminal in possession of a firearm”.

It was only after Melissa called police to tell them that the gun was not real, not loaded and her family was not in danger, that a firearms incident was declared.

The inquest heard this was because her call had corroborated the existence of an item which might be a firearm.

From then on, police assumed it was real.

Officers testified that they had concerns about the reliability of Melissa’s information.

One, PC Matt Bishop, said he doubted her because he thought she might be drunk.

Melissa had told him that the previous afternoon she and her mother had shared a bottle of wine - but PC Bishop said people speaking to the police have often drunk more than they admit.

Melissa Cottier with a photograph of her partner Richard

Melissa Cottier said she felt the verdict in her partner Richard's inquest did not tell the full story. - Credit: Ellie Hoskins

“Armed robbery”

The court heard the seriousness of the incident escalated again when Melissa reportedly told police Richard was going to a nearby petrol station to commit an armed robbery.

The safety of staff and customers became the top priority and officers were diverted to the scene.

But, Melissa told the Recorder, she never said Richard was going to commit an armed robbery.

A transcript shows there was interference on the line at that moment.

“He’s on his way up to the petrol station (inaudible) a f*****g armed robbery (inaudible),” was all the police could decipher when they transcribed the recording.

Melissa said she was actually expressing concern that people might think he was committing an armed robbery.

When she heard the officer on the call telling colleagues Richard was going to commit an armed robbery, Melissa interjected: “He’s not going to do an armed robbery.”

She said he had taken £10 with him to buy cigarettes - something confirmed by the petrol station cashier.

Documents from Richard Cottier's inquest

The Metropolitan Police recorded that Melissa Cottier had said Richard was going to commit an armed robbery - but Melissa said she had never actually said that. - Credit: Archant

The first eyewitness

Only two civilian eyewitnesses to the shooting gave statements.

Danny Ward testified that he and another man, who did not give a statement, had encountered Richard at the petrol station and quickly spotted that his gun was an air rifle.

He told jurors: “I said to him: ‘Go home, mate. Go home. You’re doing yourself no favours. Go home.'"

Richard had in fact been classed by police as EMD - emotionally or mentally distressed.

Ex-firearms officer Kevin Nicholson testified as an expert witness that when a subject is EMD, officers should try to “stand off more, use negotiation more...Give that individual more time and space to allow things to calm down slightly".

Firearms officers said they arrived at the petrol station to find Richard arguing with Mr Ward.

Body-worn camera footage showed they ran at him, guns raised and shouting. He was shot after around 15 seconds.

Barking town hall. Picture: Luke Acton.

The inquest into Richard Cottier's police shooting was held at Barking Town Hall. - Credit: Luke Acton / Archant

The second eyewitness

The second civilian eyewitness, Jacqueline Squibb, testified that her police statement contained comments she had never made.

Her statement said: “They shouted several times for the man with the gun to put it down or get down... There were several minutes between the warning and the shots fired. I would say no longer than five minutes.”

Asked whether she agreed with the statement, Ms Squibb said she did not.

"They came straight in, got straight out of the car, said it twice – get down, get down – and then shot him twice,” she told jurors. 

How the false information came to be in her statement was not explained at the inquest.

What next?

Coroner Nadia Persaud announced after the verdict that she would write to the Met seeking assurances that improvements were being made.

She was concerned about the accuracy of information recorded into police computer systems; that three out of four officers’ bodycams had not worked properly; and that an expert testified officers' shift patterns may be affecting their cognitive abilities, as the officer who fired the second shot said he had not heard his colleague’s gunshot or realised Richard was already shot.

Another issue was the storage of biological material - the inquest heard samples from Richard’s body were not sent for toxicological testing until a year after he died.

Of the coroner’s plan, Melissa said:  “I don’t think it’s enough. I intend to pursue it more. I feel like a lot of it’s been brushed under the carpet.”

Richard Cottier who was shot dead by police in Collier Row. Photo: Ellie Hoskins

Richard Cottier's inquest heard he had been a miner, working on tunnels for construction projects, for 20 years. - Credit: Ellie Hoskins

The Met

A Met Police spokesperson said: “We are aware of the coroner’s intention to raise four concerns with the Met following the conclusion of the inquest.

“Once received, the Met will act accordingly to address any issues raised and any learnings will be recorded and acted upon.”

Commander Kyle Gordon, from the specialist firearms command, said officers had “no choice other than to use force” in "challenging circumstances".

He offered his “deepest condolences” to Richard’s family, adding: "Based on the information available to them on April 9, 2018, my colleagues deployed with an honestly held belief that Mr Cottier had a working firearm in his possession.

“As the public rightly expect, they attended the scene and put themselves in harm’s way to ensure the public’s safety.

“My colleagues that met Mr Cottier that morning acted in accordance with both their training and my expectations."

When life is difficult, the Samaritans is available 365 days, 24/7. Call for free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org.  

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