Shoot-to-kill from the eye of the sniper Tony Long, ‘Britain’s deadliest firerarms officer’ tarnished by his killing of Azelle Rodney in 2005, restates his case in a documentary that is as timely as ever

By Hugh Muir – @hugh_muir
Friday 19th August 2016

When I think of a marksman, I think of Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name, but that, it seems, is all wrong. Tony Long, once a renowned firearms officer for the Metropolitan police, was the star of Secrets of a Police Marksman (Channel 4). No hat, no poncho, no chewed cigar. It turns out that real protectors/killers have the bland look of a night manager from Tesco. Certainly Long appears to have found the guise of everyman a useful one in his 25 years as part of an elite group at Scotland Yard, for whom he shot five people, killing three.

This record was open to interpretation. Long, mindful that some officers never fire an operational shot, considered himself unfortunate. On one occasion, he said: “I was halfway through shooting and thought: ‘Why is it me again?'” Admirers, however, dubbed him The Equalizer, borrowing (one might guess) from the 1980s TV series starring Edward Woodward as a gun-toting do-gooder.

Long never came across as boastful, but the documentary made clear he was a crack-shot apart. It called him “Britain’s deadliest firearms officer”.

Opening his casebook, Long described his shooting in 1985 of a west-London man, Errol Walker, who had murdered a young woman and was threatening to kill her four-year-old daughter. Long is a man for detail. “I fired a single shot at his head and as I did that his eyes seemed to flip open and roll up into his head.”

Also described, with grainy footage, testimony and partial reconstruction, was Long’s shooting in 1987 of two men engaged in an armed robbery in south-east London. He fatally shot two of them, hitting both twice. Long recalled his immediate reaction: “I’m thinking ‘You have done it now, you have shot three people’.”

Yet the nub of the programme, part of the Secret History series, was his most notorious case, the 2005 cause celébrè shooting of drugs and firearms suspect Azelle Rodney in north London. Though the Crown Prosecution Service declined at the time to prosecute, outraging Rodney’s family, an official inquiry doubted Long’s account. He was prosecuted at the Old Bailey seven years after his retirement.

Long was acquitted, but left “tarnished”. Amid enduring concern over Rodney’s death, and wider accusations of shoot-to kill-policing, this was a platform for a clearly aggrieved Long to restate his case.

It raised important questions. How much armed policing do we need to meet the terrorist threat? Who will carry those guns on our behalf? Might they, because of unconscious bias, be more likely to shoot people of minority backgrounds? Do we accept that mistakes will be made in good faith?

Are we comfortable with Long’s summary of the necessary thought process? “If they pose an immediate threat to you, they cease to be a human being. They are a target. They have to be shot and you shoot them.”

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