Lewis Skelton’s family call for police officer who shot him ‘to finally accept he was wrong’

The family of Lewis Skelton who was shot by police have urged the officer involved and the force to own up to mistakes after failing in a legal challenge against a jury inquest’s conclusion he had been unlawfully killed.

Lewis, who was 31, died in hospital on November 29, 2016. He was tasered and then shot twice after he was seen carrying an axe in Hull city centre. But at no point did he interact with or threaten anyone. Now his family have urged Humberside Police and the officer, known as B50, to admit what happened was wrong.

A jury sat through weeks of evidence during the inquest in October 2021, which hinged on whether the police officer who fired the fatal shots genuinely believed three workmen nearby were at “imminent risk” of being killed or coming to serious harm. The jury decided Lewis, of Durham Street, Holderness Road, had been unlawfully killed.

The challenge was heard by the Divisional Court in Leeds on October 20. The firearms officer challenged how Oliver Longstaff, the assistant coroner, conducted the inquest, claiming that the summing-up of the case was deficient and that there was insufficient evidence to leave the jury the option of concluding that Mr Skelton had been unlawfully killed. The officer’s case was supported by the Chief Constable of Humberside Police.

The legal challenge left Lewis’s Skelton’s family shocked and angry. His sisters say it is prolonging their agony and leaving them with no chance to grieve for their loss.

But the judicial review judgement has now been issued with Lord Justice Stuart-Smith and Mr Justice Fordham dismissing the challenge on all grounds, upholding the jury’s important conclusion reached at the original inquest.

In a statement issued through their lawyers, Hudgell Solicitors, Lewis’ sisters Tia, Hayley and Laura, said they hoped the officer and the Chief Constable would now finally accept the findings.

They said: “If this officer, and Humberside Police, have any sense of decency, empathy, and respect for the justice system, they will now surely accept not only the conclusion of a jury who sat through weeks of evidence, but also the judgment of the High Court which dismissed all of the officer’s grounds for challenge in respect of the way the Inquest was conducted.

“It is time for the officer to finally accept he was in the wrong. It is time for him and the Chief Constable to finally accept what happened to Lewis was wrong. Sadly, given what we have been put through as a family ever since the day Lewis was taken from us, we don’t hold out much hope of that happening.

“Even in the statement the police have made today, this has not happened. You cannot learn from your mistakes until you admit them in the first place.”

The family say the police narrative throughout has been misleading. They say it has left them upset to hear the picture painted of Lewis on that day.

In the statement, they say: “From the day Lewis died, this officer, supported by the Chief Constable, has led a misleading narrative that Lewis was a threat to members of the public that day, and that there was no option but to shoot him dead.

“We’d urge anybody who has drawn conclusions from the past media coverage and from the statements of Humberside Police to read today’s judgment and decide for themselves.

“The danger to the public that day was an officer, who was on his first firearms callout in command, who took it upon himself to shoot Lewis twice in the back, when he had not threatened a single person, and as witnesses said, was already out on his feet having been tasered.

“At a time when trust in the police is at an all-time low, when they get things wrong, they should say so. Hopefully today marks the end of all this and allows us as a family to focus on remembering Lewis as the person we knew and loved. We’ve never been allowed to focus on grieving for our loss.”

In the legal challenge the officer, supported by Humberside Police raised three concerns. They were:

  • The coroner should have deemed the evidence unsafe and not left an ‘unlawful killing’ conclusion available to the jury
  • There was insufficient evidence to support a conclusion of ‘unlawful killing’
  • The coroner’s summing up was so deficient to render the jury’s conclusion unsafe

But the judgment released on Monday explained that CCTV footage did not corroborate the officer’s claims. B50 has denied any wrongdoing, claiming he had no option but to fire the lethal shots as Lewis was advancing towards three workmen, who he said could have been in imminent danger.

He and his colleague alleged Lewis had been threatening towards the officers, a claim not supported by CCTV. B50 relied on a ‘collapsing time frame’ for taking the lethal action. On October 15, 2021, an Inquest jury unanimously found that it was more likely than not Lewis had been unlawfully killed.

Monday’s judgment concludes the Coroner was right on the law and right on the facts. It rules he was also right to allow the jury to consider whether Lewis was lawfully or unlawfully killed.

The judgment says officers allegations were not supported by available CCTV footage, which captured the majority of the incident. The court also said there was “no evidence of threatening behaviour by Mr Skelton towards the members of the public”.

The judges also state that there was evidence the three workmen were around 50-60 metres away when first noticed by the officers, had crossed the road, and that Mr Skelton was already “out on his feet”, having been tasered four times, when B50 shot him twice in the back.

The judgment says: “The workmen (who were sufficiently distant that they had not yet perceived a threat) would have had ample opportunity to get out of the way had the threat become a real and present danger, and B50’s justification based upon his being threatened on or around Caroline Place was contradicted in circumstances which could (depending on the view taken by the Jury) support a conclusion that it was a deliberate falsehood designed to bolster an untrue case.”

The judges said the jury could properly come to the conclusion that B50’s “asserted belief in the imminence of the danger to the workmen was not genuinely held”.

They said: “We are not able to identify any feature of the case that required unlawful killing not to be left to the jury despite there being a sufficiency of evidence. Nor, in our judgment, were B50 or the Chief Constable able do so.”

Humberside Police accepted the judgment but still defended the actions of their officers who are often placed in situations in which they are under pressure and have to male “snap decision”.

Deputy Chief Constable, Paul Anderson said: “The findings of the Judicial Review have now been concluded, with the court satisfied with how the Assistant Coroner conducted the Inquest. This means that the original conclusion remains.

“Police officers often have to act quickly in challenging situations where there is extreme pressure and make split-second decisions in a bid to protect the public from any harm.

“We acknowledge the IOPC’s full and independent investigation where they found that no police officer had either committed a criminal offence or behaved in a manner which would justify disciplinary proceedings.

“This was a tragic and difficult incident and the death of any person in such circumstances is an outcome that no one would have wished. Our thoughts and condolences remain with Lewis’ family and friends.”

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, are now considering next steps, with the Independent Office of Police Conduct investigation (IOPC), which cleared the officer of any wrongdoing, an immediate focus.

Mr Hudgell said: “It simply cannot be right, given an inquest jury has delivered a conclusion of unlawful killing, which the Divisional Court has now upheld by dismissing the objections of the officer, for the original investigation – which accepted B50’s case – not to be placed under significant scrutiny.

“We believe the investigation fell way below the standards expected. It did not challenge officers’ statements sufficiently with regards to what actually unfolded that day and the decisions that were taken, and simply accepted versions of events which did not stand up against CCTV footage, and other evidence.

“The Court has now underlined what the family always believed – there is nothing in the evidence about what happened to Lewis to render the conclusion he was unlawfully killed unsafe.

“The fact that there were no misconduct proceedings, or a referral to the CPS for potential criminal conduct, following the initial IOPC investigation is a significant consideration, both for the family and for the wider public interest in accountability in respect of the use of lethal force by police officers. We are in contact with the IOPC and advising the family on next steps.”

The IOPC has confirmed the family have asked them to reopen the investigation. Despite saying it had already been reviewed, it added the family request is being assessed.

Regional Director Thea Walton said: “Lewis Skelton’s death was a tragedy that has had an understandable profound impact on his family, friends and the wider community. Our thoughts remain with all those affected by what happened. We note the outcome of the judicial review and will carefully consider the court’s findings.

“Following the conclusion of the inquest into Mr Skelton’s death, his family asked us to re-open the investigation. We carried out a review of both the original IPCC investigation as well as the evidence heard during the inquest.

“We wrote to Mr Skelton’s family in November providing the outcome of this review and a detailed explanation of our decision. We have recently been informed the family are challenging our decisions. As we are currently assessing the matter, we cannot comment further at this time.”

source: Hull Daily Mail