The unlawful killing verdict against police who shot dead Lewis Skelton in Hull city centre presents serious questions about what happens next to the officers involved.

The family of Lewis say he was frightened and confused and “not a danger to the public” when he was shot twice in the back while carrying an axe in Francis Street in November 2016.

But Humberside Police have vigorously defended the actions of the officers who confronted, repeatedly Tasered and finally shot Lewis, insisting he was an imminent threat to people in the area.

After a jury at an inquest in Hull returned their verdict, it will now be up to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide what if any action could be taken against the officers.

Here we look at the potential outcomes.

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Who shot Lewis Skelton?

Lewis Skelton who was shot by police in Francis Street, Hull city centre
Lewis Skelton who was shot by police in Francis Street, Hull city centre

The Humberside Police officer who shot Lewis twice has never been identified and is protected by a ruling laid down by assistant coroner Oliver Longstaff who presided over the inquest. In court a large screen was pulled across the court so a Hull Live reporter could not see the officer when he gave evidence.

The officer was known only as “B50” while a second armed officer at the scene, who said he would also have shot Lewis if his colleague had not fired, was given the name “Charlie”. The two officers were part of Humberside Police's Armed Response Unit.

In his evidence, the officer whose shots killed Lewis said he believed three workmen nearby were at “imminent risk” of being killed or coming to serious harm and that is why he opened fire.

What did the jury decide?

The inquest jury ruled that Lewis had been unlawfully killed. This was one of three options they could have chosen, the others being lawful killing or an open conclusion which generally means the jury cannot decide on the evidence presented whether it was lawful or unlawful.

The way inquests are held, no-one is named by the inquest as being responsible for an unlawful death. Unlawful death verdicts are extremely rare.

Does this mean the officers are guilty of a crime?

The inquest ruling means the jury believe the killing was done without lawful excuse and was in breach of criminal law. This could encompass murder or manslaughter but the jury does not rule on what crime it believes may have been committed.

But the law also says an unlawful killing verdict at an inquest is on the “balance of probabilities” and not the “criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt” which would apply to a guilty verdict in court.

Will the officers be prosecuted?

A verdict of unlawful killing will usually trigger a further investigation into whether any officers involved should be prosecuted.

This ultimately lies with the Crown Prosecution Service. However, the Lewis Skelton shooting is currently still in theory under investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

They have already carried out what they describe as an exhaustive inquiry into the case but did not announce any findings because the inquest had still to be held.

After the verdict IOPC said they would now review their findings.

A statement said: “We thank the jury for their careful consideration of the evidence heard during the inquest and we note their verdict. We will now reflect upon this and carefully consider whether any of the evidence heard during the inquest may affect the findings of the IPCC investigation.”

The officer who shot Lewis Skelton in Francis Street in Hull gave evidence from behind a screen
The officer who shot Lewis Skelton in Francis Street in Hull gave evidence from behind a screen

The IOPC will then submit its findings to Humberside Police, Lewis's family and potentially the CPS, including any recommendations of whether officers should face action.

The IOPC says it submits its report to the CPS “only in cases where we think a police officer or member of staff may have committed a criminal offence. The CPS will then decide whether to prosecute.”

The statement by Humberside Police suggests senior officers do not agree with the jury’s verdict and believe the shooting could not be avoided and no crime was committed.

The CPS is now bound by law to confirm if it will be prosecuting anyone as a result of the Lewis shooting and if not, why it does not believe a prosecution should go ahead.

This include whether here is a public interest in prosecuting anyone and also if there is a reasonable chance of a guilty outcome if the case went to court.

Do Mr Skelton’s family have any say?

In a word, no. After the verdict the family issued a strong statement saying they believe Lewis's death was unnecessary. Outside court, his sister Tia Skelton said: "The jury has confirmed what we all knew: the killing of Lewis was wrong, and it was unlawful and he should still be with us today."

The family will be allowed to make their views known to the CPS and do have legal representation.

Family statement at inquest

Civil law does allow the family to bring about a private prosecution against those they believe killed Mr Skelton unlawfully but such cases are extremely rare.

Will the police take any action against the officers?

Humberside Police could decide to take internal action against the officers if it believes they were in breach of discipline. This could include being removed from firearms duties or even dismissed by the force. However, from its initial statement it appears senior officers have shown full support for their actions and they believe the killing was justified.

The IOPC can instruct Humberside Police to take action against the officers if it believes there conduct has fallen well below the expected standards of police.

Could police have shot Lewis and not killed him?

The scene of Lewis Skelton's shooting in Francis Street, Hull city centre
The scene of Lewis Skelton's shooting in Francis Street, Hull city centre

At the inquest a veteran firearms officer who had provided evidence for the IOPC report into the incident said shooting Lewis in the arms or legs would not have been an option for the officers.

He said: “Officers are trained to shoot in the central body mass.

“The officer has to be accurate and the central body area provides a larger target which is more likely to incapacitate the subject.

“Aiming for the extremities creates a greater risk of missing or ricocheting which might hit someone else and may not incapacitate them.”

The official policy says firearms officers “shoot to incapacitate”. They are trained to target the centre of the chest - in this case in Lewis's back - as the quickest way to “neutralise” a suspect – despite meaning this is highly likely that they will kill.

Have there been similar cases?

There have been a number of high profile deaths involving armed police which have then led to controversy over how they have been dealt with.

Azelle Rodney

Azelle Rodney

In 2005 Azelle Rodney, from London, was shot dead by an armed officer of the Metropolitan Police inside a car. Police later found a number of firearms in the car.

In 2013 an independent public inquiry found that the officer who fired the fatal shots had "no lawful justification" for killing Rodney. The case was referred to the CPS and in 2014 the officer was charged with murder. Following a trial in July 2015 the officer was cleared by a jury.

Harry Stanley

Harry Stanley

In 1999 Harry Stanley, a painter and decorator, was shot dead by the Met Police in London after a tip off that he was carrying a gun and had an Irish accent, suggesting he was a Republican terrorist. In fact Mr Stanley, a Scotsman, was walking home from the pub with a table leg he had had repaired wrapped in a bag.

In 2004, a jury returned an unlawful killing verdict against the officers resulting in their suspension from then Met. In protest more than 100 armed response officers handed in their firearm authorisation cards.

In 2005 the two officers involved in the shooting were arrested and interviewed, following an investigation by Surrey Police. Later that year the CPS said it would not be pressing charges, saying that they "concluded that the prosecution evidence is insufficient to rebut the officers' assertion that they were acting in self-defence".

On 9 February 2006 the Independent Police Complaints Commission published their report into the incident, recommending that no further disciplinary action be taken against the officers

Anthony Grainger

Anthony Grainger

In 2012 an armed officer in Manchester shot dead Anthony Grainger in a stolen parked car believed to be part of a robbery plot.

Two years later the CPS ruled that it would not be prosecuting the officer as it believed a jury would decide he had acted in self-defence. A CPS bid to prosecute Greater Manchester Police for failings in its management of its firearms unit was later dropped after a ruling by the High Court.

An inquest into Anthony's death was later converted into a public inquiry by then Home Secretary Theresa May.

In 2019 the public inquiry blamed the police for the shooting and criticised the Greater Manchester force for serious deficiencies in its firearms unit.

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