That’s how his bosses dubbed their most prolific marksman. Now, he reveals how his deadly reputation came back to haunt him
By Adam Luck
Tuesday 26th July 2016
HE IS a brilliant marksman, commended no fewer than seven times during an illustrious, if controversial, 33-year career with the police. In the course of his duties, Tony Long shot dead two armed robbers who were threatening a security guard and freed a four-year old girl from the clutches of a crazed killer by shooting him in the head.
As a result of his exploits, he was dubbed by his own bosses – only half in jest – ‘the Met’s very own serial killer’, a label that has come at a very heavy cost, even if, over the years, it is one to which he has become inured. For Long has just survived a ten-year legal battle with his reputation and liberty at stake.
Standing in the dock at the Old Bailey, he was accused of ‘executing’ gangster Azelle Rodney, 24, in a case that seemed to put not just his record but the police themselves on trial
Shocking footage of the killing in 2005 was broadcast, accompanied with the exclamation ‘sweet as…’ from a colleague. The court was told that Long may well have decided to open fire on Rodney within just six hundredths of a second. To his detractors, he was a trigger-happy killer who should have been drummed out of the force.
But this month he was cleared, which means now, for the first time, Long, 58, is free to speak about the ordeal.
And as he admits in an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, he is without regret.
It is an unprecedented insight into the world – and mindsets – of the firearms officers he says the police too often treat as their ‘dirty little secret’.
After years of bravely facing lethal danger, the verdict, he says, moved him to tears.
‘My girlfriend was in the bath and I was sifting through emails and texts when I realised there were around 20 messages from well-wishers on my phone,’ he says. ‘When I heard one of my friend’s voices – clearly emotional – then my own pent-up feelings broke through and I ended up blubbing.
‘I went upstairs and even though my girlfriend was still in the bath I just ended up hugging her and holding her tightly.’
Long is believed to be the firearms officer with the highest kill total in the country.
‘Yes, that would be me,’ he says, simply. As one of those elite officers entrusted with the extraordinary responsibility of assessing a situation within the blink of eye and deciding instantly whether to shoot or withhold fire, he says he was simply doing his job – and doing it well.
‘Shooting someone who needs to be shot is not difficult. Once you have made the decision to fire, the person you are shooting at becomes a target and nothing more.’
It was on April 30, 2005, that Scotland Yard’s CO19 firearms unit was called in to help in an investigation
The suspect’s body language convinced me he’d reached down for a gun into a British gang which, intelligence suggested, was planning to rob Colombian drug dealers. CO19 was told that the gang could be armed with Mac-10 sub-machine guns which can fire about 1,000 rounds per minute. The plan was for unmarked police cars to hem in the suspects’ vehicle on a road in North London and arrest them.
Long was in ‘Bravo’ car, behind ‘Alpha’ car, which was following the VW Golf that contained Rodney and fellow gang members Wesley Lovell and Frank Graham.
‘Bravo pulled alongside the driver’s side of the Golf and I was looking directly across at Rodney in the rear seat,’ says Long.
‘I could see him look to his left and right and duck down towards me. He then sprang up again and that action to me was totally unnatural.
‘His shoulders were hunched and his body language convinced me that he had reached down for a gun.
‘I distinctly remember asking myself, “Can I give him more time?” I decided I couldn’t so I aimed at his centre mass.
‘I was using a Heckler and Koch G36 carbine and I probably fired five or six shots but I didn’t know for sure.
‘I remember the glass shattering the window of the Golf but I could see no obvious effect from my rounds because he was upright. Nor could I see his hands. So I leant back in my seat, saw him again and fired. He slumped towards me.’
In 2006, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) concluded there was insufficient evidence to convict anyone in connection with the death. Then the Independent Police Complaints Commission confirmed Rodney was not seen holding a gun – although three guns were found in the car, none of which were Mac-10s.
An inquest was halted because the police were unwilling to reveal key evidence surrounding their surveillance techniques but a judge-led public inquiry completed in 2013 said there was ‘no lawful justification’ for opening fire and Rodney’s family campaigned for action against the police.
In 2014 the CPS decided to charge ‘E7’ – as Long had been referred to up until that point – with murder and his identity was finally revealed. A key issue during the trial was whether Long had time – given that it is possible that he opened fire within 0.06 seconds of Bravo pulling alongside the Golf – to see whether Rodney was doing anything that might pose a risk.
However, as Long points out, a life or death confrontation has a marked effect on brain function: ‘It is as if the brain is racing ahead with the situation. Everything slows down. Time becomes distorted.
‘These young men went out to take the short cut to wealth. Well, it backfired. If young men – and it is invariably young men – are going out to commit crimes with guns, they are massively reducing the opportunity of officers to deal with them safely. If it comes down to a choice between the public, one of my colleagues and people like Rodney, then Rodney is going to come a poor third.’ And he is dismissive of those who expect firearms officers to have an emotional response to shooting criminals.
‘If you are having emotions about someone who has to be shot then you are probably in the wrong job,’ he says. ‘I don’t know any firearms officer who wants to shoot suspects but there’s a difference between wanting to shoot someone and being prepared to shoot someone if you have a job to do that has to be done.’
Long, who grew up in Sussex, joined the Metropolitan Police in 1975. ‘I wanted an exciting job,’ he says. ‘I wanted to be chasing bad guys.’
He undertook a five-day firearms training course. ‘Seventy per cent accuracy was a pass,’ he says. ‘With 90, you were a marksman. I scored 100 per cent.’
In 1983 he joined D11, the Met’s firearms unit, and in 1985 was involved in his first shooting. Errol Walker had barricaded himself into a flat in Northolt, West London, where his daughter Patricia and estranged wife Marlene had been staying with her step-sister Jackie Charles and her four-year-old daughter Carlene.
Charles had told Walker that he could not see his daughter. Walker stabbed her and threw her body out of a window. Long says: ‘The situation spiralled out of control with Walker stabbing Marlene.
‘We threw stun grenades i n through the windows… I climbed in through the kitchen window.
‘Walker was holding the little girl as a human shield in front of him. Because the lights were blown by the grenades it was dark and I could not see clearly.
‘I shouted at him to drop the knife but he didn’t respond so I aimed at his shoulder because I didn’t want to hit the girl. I fired two shots but they didn’t appear to have an effect so I shot at his head.
‘I thought I’d killed him. I picked up the girl and ran down the stairs.’
Walker survived and was sentenced to life for murder.
In 1987, D11 was renamed PT17. That same year, the unit acted on a tip-off that armed robbers were targeting a Securicor van delivering wages to a factory in Plumstead, South London.
Long and his team were hiding in a van in which they had drilled holes in to spot the gang arrive.
The security van was late but when it did arrive a surveillance officer positioned elsewhere did not see the gang break cover from a wood. Long was the only officer who saw them.
‘Our plan had been to arrest them by a loading bay before they were able to grab the [Securicor] guard, but by the time we realised what was going on they had already got to the guard,’ he recalls.
Long ran over and saw armed robbers Derek Whitelock and Nicholas Payne holding automatic shotguns to the legs and neck of the guard. Long recalls: ‘Another gang member Michael Flynn was closest to me and was holding a revolver.
‘We shouted “armed police” and all three started to turn. I shot Flynn twice, both rounds struck him in the back, I shot Payne twice in the arm and chest and I fired a single shot at Whitelock before he moved behind the guard and out of my sight.’
Flynn and Payne were both killed – lawfully a coroner’s jury later declared. Whitelock was wounded and later jailed for 15 years.
In the wake of Plumstead, PT17 was renamed SO19 with officers becoming specialist firearms officers.
Long, who retired in 2008, says: ‘We are the dirty little secret of British policing – the ones you do not talk about. I remember one commander telling us, “You have to realise that you are the unacceptable face of policing.”‘
Another police commander, Sue Akers, apologised to Long over an incident for which he was awarded £5,000 damages.
Long says: ‘She was visiting our unit to investigate a shooting incident. I went over and introduced myself and she went, “And you are?” When I explained she said, “I’ve always wanted to meet the Met’s very own serial killer.” I couldn’t really believe what she’d said but then, incredibly, she repeated it.
‘I thought I’d just ignore it but a colleague overheard her remarks and it spiralled out of control.
‘My senior management at the firearms unit wanted me to take the matter up because they felt it was inappropriate and reflected her department’s view of our unit.
‘When we tried to informally resolve the situation she didn’t respond so we felt we had no option but to take formal action.’
Long believes that, regarding fulltime specialist firearms officers in Britain, ‘the pros outweigh the cons’.
He says: ‘We now have situations where criminals are prepared to throw grenades and kill unarmed police officers, never mind the terrorists who are prepared to contemplate mass casualties.’
Eventually, he believes, the issue of arming all police officers will have to be addressed. He says: ‘Morally, I don’t see why a British police officer in a tough inner-city area should have less right to protection than a Belgian bobby on a bicycle.’
Long, who lives outside London, is separated from his wife, with whom he has a son and daughter. He now works in personal security protection. For relaxation, he runs and draws cartoons. Although once a member of a shooting club, he no longer participates.
‘I have put it behind me,’ he says. ‘It is really difficult to shoot in the UK legally using the kind of firearms I like to use.’
We are the dirty secret of policing – the ones you do not talk about