Richard Cottier inquest: Police who shot father 'could not have waited any longer'

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

An inquest into the death of Collier Row dad Richard Cottier is taking place at Barking Town Hall. - Credit: Ellie Hoskins

Police officers "gave as much time as possible" before shooting a Collier Row father to death, an inquest heard.

Independent firearms expert Gary Gracey, who previously worked for the police, appeared at Barking Town Hall for the eighth day of a three-week inquest into the death of 41-year-old Richard Cottier.

Mr Cottier was shot to death at an Esso petrol station near his Collier Row home on April 9 2018 while suffering from mental health issues, according to his partner Melissa.

The jury previously heard he was shot in the arm after pointing an unloaded air rifle at a police officer and then, two seconds later, shot in the back while bent forward so the bullet passed through his lung and out of the base of his neck.

Mr Gracey said: “If someone is pointing what looks like a firearm at you and your life is (seemingly) in danger, you have to protect yourself.

“They gave as much time, I believe, as physically possible before they discharged the rounds. I do not believe either officer could have waited any longer.”

Mr Gracey also insisted police had “done a good job” handling information from Mr Cottier’s partner Melissa, despite concerns raised earlier in the inquest that PC Matt Bishop did not pass on her insistence that the gun was “fake”.

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He told the court: “It’s my opinion that officers did a really good job obtaining as much information as possible and that all information was passed on to the tactical firearms commander.

“In particular, PC Bishop’s efforts to allay her fears and gather information were all a very good piece of work by him.”

He added that using non-lethal force, such as a taser or baton gun, would have risked “not neutralising the threat” officers believed Mr Cottier posed to the public.

Dr Itiel Dror, a cognitive neuroscientist hired by the Independent Office of Police Conduct, also testified on whether the second officer was right to fire after Mr Cottier had already been shot.

Dr Dror said: “From my perspective, it’s not a difficult case here, it’s quite clear what was going on. My opinion is the (second officer firing) was… reasonable and understandable.

“Two seconds may seem a very long time right now but, in the heat of the moment, it’s a very short amount of time. Your ability to stop and reconsider an action gets diminished.

“If the delay was five or ten seconds, that would be critical but, if it’s two seconds, I find it reasonable.”

Asked by the officer’s legal representative if his conclusion was that the officer “did nothing wrong”, Dr Dror replied: “That’s correct, it’s an easy case.”

He was also asked to comment on what the Metropolitan Police could do to improve officers’ decision-making in future stressful circumstances.

The court previously heard armed officers receive training every six weeks and that one officer, referred to only as F79, was fatigued on the day as he was working overtime and it was his first night shift after some days off.

Dr Dror responded: “The frequency of the training is not as important as how effective it is. There is a lot of training that is, I do not want to say a waste of time, but not very effective.

“However, even the best training can’t take out all human factors because we are human and some we do not even want to take out. Even though we can make mistakes from time to time, in the vast majority of times, intuition can be helpful to us.”

Asked by coroner Nadia Persaud how police could avoid the impact of fatigue in future, Dr Dror said officers might be less impacted if their shift patterns were more consistent.

He said: “Generally speaking, I think it’s better to consistently do only night shifts, rather than two night and then two day shifts, because the body gets into the rhythm.

“I’m not ready to make a recommendation to the police about a change of policy but they need to look very carefully and consider whether it’s better to have an officer have a whole month only working nights and gradually transition to a different pattern.”

The inquest also heard from Detective Inspector Phil Taylor about what kind of training firearms officers receive.

He said: “Officers will play out a number of scenarios in an Augmented Reality range at our training centre to educate them on the different stages the body and mind will go through.

“We put a huge amount of time and investment into trying to make that as realistic as possible. We use guns that make noise and hit the targets to make it as real as we possibly can.

“It’s a room with video screens and the officers are effectively carrying a firearm, although it does not discharge bullets. It’s really about presenting the problems and challenges of when to shoot and when not to shoot.

“It allows our students to make mistakes and learn from them. The content has been the same for a number of years and has been well-researched over decades.”

Asked by Ms Persaud if the training was updated to reflect the latest scientific learning, he added: “One hundred per cent, it’s constantly reviewed.

“We may learn lessons from a certain (real-life) incident and that’s then fed back nationally and we change our lessons.”

The inquest continues.

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