Officer was 'wrongly told' Romford father threatened family, inquest hears
- Credit: Ellie Hoskins
A firearms officer was wrongly informed that a Collier Row father was making “threats to kill" his family, an inquest has heard.
The strategic firearms commander – granted anonymity and testifying behind screens – gave evidence on Wednesday (May 26) at an inquest into the death of 41-year-old Richard Cottier.
Mr Cottier was shot twice by police officers on April 9, 2018, after dialling 999.
Jurors were told the strategic firearms commander had final say over whether armed officers should be deployed to deal with the incident.
The inquest at Barking Town Hall heard the officer had been told: “Suspect armed. Shotgun. Threats to kill partner and kids.”
Coroner Nadia Persaud told the officer that recordings and transcripts showed Melissa Cottier, Mr Cottier’s partner of 23 years, had not made any such complaints.
“She didn’t report any threats to kill herself or the kids. What she reported was that she wasn’t in danger,” the coroner informed him.
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The officer accepted that the inaccurate information – relayed to him verbally by another officer – had contributed to his belief that there was the potential for "what we call a domestic armed siege”.
He said he had been aware that Mrs Cottier had told police repeatedly that the gun was fake, but he was not informed that she had said there was no ammunition in it.
But, asked whether being given the correct information would have changed his decision, he said it would not.
“The criteria for the deployment of armed officers were still met,” he said.
“With the greatest of respect, the informant is not an expert on firearms. We would be looking to corroborate that.”
Ms Persaud asked the officer whether he was satisfied that sufficient consideration had been given to the fact that Mr Cottier appeared to be experiencing a mental health crisis.
He said Mr Cottier had been classed as EMD (emotionally or mentally distressed) and officers would have taken that into consideration.
“However, it doesn’t detract from the threat that that subject poses,” he said.
Asked whether he believed it was appropriate for officers to have shot to kill, he replied: “The officers have to react to the threat that they see there and then.
“Nobody can actually say for sure what the type of firearm is at that stage and those officers have to explain why they have used that force at that time. They would have seen a gun.”
On Tuesday, jurors heard evidence that two civilians who encountered Mr Cottier at the Esso petrol station had quickly spotted that the gun he was carrying was in fact an air rifle.
Stephen Simblet QC, representing the Cottier family, told the officer: “As it turns out, what you had been told – almost all of it – was wrong.
“The male suspect was not armed with a shotgun and he had not made threats to kill his partner and kids.
“She was pretty consistent that she believed it was not a gun. She was in fact universally consistent that it was not.”
The officer replied: “I was aware that we had been told different variations of what type of firearm it was. That’s my understanding. That’s what I was told in a fast-moving incident.
“My understanding was that the subject was in possession of a firearm. To determine the actual veracity of that firearm was impossible.”
He said firearms officers could not take somebody’s word that a gun was not real.
“I could never guarantee that that was not a lethal, barrelled weapon with even one round in the chamber,” he said.
“I certainly would not trust anyone’s account that there’s no ammunition other than when that firearm is checked by a firearms officer.”
The court also heard from a tactical advisor – an officer who acts as a “critical friend” and is “separate from the command structure” - scrutinising the decisions of firearms officers in real time.
Also granted anonymity, she said she agreed that Mrs Cottier’s statements could not be taken at face value.
“Unfortunately, because part of what she was saying was that Richard had told her it was not real, it wasn’t what we would call reliable information,” she said.
Asked whether she had disagreed with any of the team’s decisions in the lead up to the shooting, she said: “No. Not at all.”
Asked whether she believed there were any alternative courses of conduct available to officers which were not pursued, she replied: “No ma’am. No.”
The inquest continues.
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