Actions of armed officers 'appropriate' despite missed opportunity to arrest terror attacker

HM Prison and Probation Service missed an opportunity to prevent the Streatham terror attack despite concerns from the police and security service that an atrocity was being planned, an inquest jury has concluded.

Aug 20, 2021
By Tony Thompson
Sudesh Amman holding a knife in Streatham High Street during his terror attack.

Twenty-year-old Sudesh Amman was shot dead by armed undercover officers after he stole a knife from a hardware shop and began randomly stabbing members of the public on Streatham High Road in South London, on February 2, 2020.

During the inquest, which concluded today (August 20) with a finding that Amman had been lawfully killed, it emerged that police and MI5 officers had been so concerned about Amman’s behaviour in the days leading up to the attack that they held an emergency meeting to discuss whether he should be re-arrested.

Undercover officers had spotted him purchasing four small bottles of the drink Irn-Bru, along with kitchen foil and parcel tape on January 31 and suspected he intended to make a hoax suicide belt.

However, when HM Prison and Probation Service decided not to recall him to prison, Amman was placed under round-the-clock armed surveillance instead.

Police defended the decision not to raid Amman’s hostel room following the purchases, stating there was an insufficient time window in which to conduct such an operation.

On February 2, Amman left his hostel around 1.22pm and made his way along Streatham High Road. At 1.57pm he entered a store and stole a knife. Outside he stabbed two people before being pursued by the undercover officers.

A minute later, Amman turns to face the officers who shoot him dead. He is found to be wearing the fake suicide vest created using the items he purchased a few days earlier.

Speaking at the conclusion of the inquest, Dean Haydon QPM, deputy assistant commissioner for specialist operations at the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), said: “Police had serious concerns about the attacker’s extremist mind-set, and what he might do upon his release from prison. It was for this reason that he was monitored by an incredibly skilled and professional team, who were in the right place at the right time to quickly intervene in what could otherwise have been a murderous attack.

“Using lethal force is always a last resort, but as the court heard, in the circumstances of this particular case, once the attack started lethal force was the only way to stop it.

“This inquest has given a rare insight into how police work closely with the security services, the probation service and other partners to manage terrorist offenders released from prison.

“Police have brought increasing numbers of terrorist offenders to justice in recent years, and so the task of managing them upon their release has also grown.

“It is an incredibly challenging job which requires difficult decisions to be made, and we use a range of resources and measures to manage these individuals. However, we are always looking at ways to strengthen these processes, to ensure the public is kept safe from extremists.”

“Today, the jury found that the attacker was lawfully killed. Her Majesty’s Coroner commended the armed surveillance officers for their bravery and putting themselves in harm’s way in order to keep the public safe.

“He noted that this was in stark contrast to the actions of Sudesh Amman who was prepared to risk his life in order to try to murder other people. The coroner recognised that we owe the officers a considerable debt and extended gratitude to the investigative team who should be commended for discharging their duties to a high standard. I would like to thank the coroner and the jury for their careful examination of this incident.

“Thankfully, most armed officers in the UK will never need to discharge their firearm in the course of their duties; let alone come face-to-face with somebody carrying out a terrorist attack in the way these officers did.

“They were extremely courageous in the way they pursued the armed attacker, and made sure he could not harm anyone else. This was another example of how our police officers confront danger to keep people safe.”

An investigation conducted by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found that the MPS officers acted appropriately and proportionately to the threat that was posed when they fatally shot Amman.

The IOPC has also produced a separate report which considered the MPS response to the threat posed by Amman following his release from prison on January 23, 2020. This specifically examined the police analysis, decisions and actions taken as a result of intelligence available in relation to Mr Amman.

The view of the IOPC was that the MPS took appropriate actions based on the intelligence they had and the timing of tactical decisions demonstrated how the operation adapted quickly to changing circumstances.

The IOPC found no indication that any of the MPS officers involved may have committed a criminal offence or breached police professional standards. No organisational learning was identified.

IOPC Regional Director for London Sal Naseem said: “This was a horrific attack, carried out in the middle of a busy Sunday afternoon while shoppers were going about their day.

“I would like to pay tribute to the police officers at the scene on Streatham High Street who acted swiftly and professionally to protect members of the public and remember everyone affected by this horrific incident.”

“The IOPC has a duty to investigate the circumstances surrounding all fatal police shootings, and in this case, we found no indication any officer may have committed a criminal offence or breached professional standards. All officers were treated as witnesses throughout.”

MPS Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said: “The armed surveillance officers who responded to this incident, and acted to draw the armed terrorist towards them to stop him attacking others, were incredibly brave. I am proud of them and would like to thank them for their professionalism, courage and decisiveness in the most challenging of circumstances – fast moving, horrific and frightening. The attack happened on a busy high street, and quite simply their quick actions almost certainly saved lives.

“While there were fortunately no fatalities, we can’t forget that two people were seriously injured. One of them suffered life-changing injuries, and no doubt the events of that day will live with them for a long time. Our thoughts are with them.

“The police operation before and after the attack was challenging and involved hundreds of officers and staff from across the Met, and I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge all of their efforts.

“I also want to praise the members of the public who did what they could to help those who were injured, and stayed with them until medical crews arrived. This display of humanity and compassion shows that London will always stand against terrorists and what they stand for.

“While we have foiled a number of planned terrorist attacks in recent years, unfortunately we won’t be able to stop every attack. But I want the public to know that we will continue to work around the clock, and with great determination, to deal with the terrorist threat.

“Terrorism remains a substantial threat across the UK, and we would therefore urge the public to stay vigilant and report any suspicious activity or behaviour that might be linked to terrorism to police.”

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