It was the more troubling for feeling so familiar. Last Monday, 5 September, a young black Londoner driving through the city’s streets became pursued by Metropolitan Police officers. They brought his vehicle to a halt and at around 10pm one of those officers shot him dead.
The questions raised by the incident are obvious, urgent and deadly serious, especially at a time when black Londoners’ confidence in the Met has fallen very low. Were the officers right to have chased Chris Kaba in the first place? Why was he shot? What will the consequences be?
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which investigates “the most serious and sensitive incidents and allegations” involving the police in all of England and Wales, was on the scene overnight.
In a statement issued on Tuesday 6 September the IOPC said its investigators had been “securing key evidence, including footage from the police vehicles and a police helicopter which was in the area, as well as officers’ body worn video”. It added that a “detailed search of the scene and surrounding area is continuing this evening” along with the gathering of CCTV evidence and house to house inquiries” in the Streatham Hill area.
The statement also said: “We attended the police post-incident procedures where they officers involved provided their initial accounts of the incident. We can confirm that one shot was fired from a police issue firearm, which will be subject to further analysis”.
The following day, Wednesday 7 September, Kaba’s name was released by the IOPC, along with his age (24) and where he lived (Wembley). And that was also the day a reason for the pursuit of Kaba was provided by the IOPC. Its update statement said:
“We understand at this stage that police officers in an armed response vehicle attempted to stop the vehicle Mr Kaba was in, following the activation of an automatic number plate recognition camera which indicated the vehicle was linked to a firearms incident in the previous days.”
The IOPC said it would not be appropriate to say any more about that previous firearms incident, as it was the subject of an ongoing Met investigation. But it was able to confirm that around 10pm “a single shot was discharged by a police officer” at Kaba, who was flown to hospital but died later that night. The IOPC also said:
“A detailed search of the scene and surrounding area was completed last night. No non-police issue firearm has been recovered from the vehicle or the scene.”
The disclosure that no non-police firearm was found at the scene of Kaba’s death, either in the car he was driving or near it, was, of course, significant. And as there was no mention by the IOPC of any other object in or around the car that might have been a potential weapon, the conclusion was drawn that Kaba was not only without a gun on the night of his death but wholly “unarmed”.
On the same day, 7 September, members of Kaba’s family released a statement through the charity Inquest, which, in its own words, provides “expertise on state related deaths and their investigation to bereaved people, lawyers, advice and support agencies”. The statement asked for a homicide investigation into Kaba’s death and said the family had demanded one from the IOPC. And it explicitly raised the burning issue:
“We are worried that if Chris had not been Black, he would have been arrested on Monday evening and not had his life cut short.”
IOPC director general Michael Lockwood issued a statement the next day, Thursday 8 September, in which he recognised “significant concerns” among local people about what had happened and stressed that the IOPC is “independent of the police and the government”.
The day after that, 9 September, the IOPC revealed that “the vehicle Mr Kaba was driving was not registered to him”. It also announced that Kaba’s family members had got one of the things they wanted. Following its review of the evidence, a “new phase” of the IOPC investigation of the police shooting was announced – a homicide investigation had been launched.
I understand that this was always going to happen, purely because somebody was killed. And it is important to take note of what might and might not result from the investigation. The category homicide includes murder and manslaughter and, as the IOPC has pointed out, a homicide investigation “does not mean that criminal charges will necessarily follow”. The key detail is that the IOPC has also described the investigation as a “criminal” one.
The pressure is now on for a swift outcome to that investigation, and patience is likely to be tested. Speaking at a rally outside Scotland Yard on Saturday, rapper Stormzy urged protesters to have stamina – the slowness of past investigations has been the object of suspicion in the past. After initially being withdrawn from operational duties, the officer who fired the fatal shot has now been suspended by the Met.*
The IOPC is now constrained from releasing much further information precisely because its investigation is now a criminal one. For everybody’s sake it must move as quickly as it can to conclude its inquiries, reach its conclusions and tell as much as it can of the story about what happened to Chris Kaba and why with clarity, transparency and credibility. For the sake of Kaba’s family, all Londoners and good policing in the capital, nothing less will do.
*This article was updated on 13 September to include the Met’s suspension of the officer who fired the fatal shot, which was announced the previous evening. The photograph of Chris Kaba has been released to the media by his family.
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