Imagine beating a terminal illness, getting a new lease on life as they say, then getting shot in the middle of a road by police for no reason whatsoever? Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s always the other perspective and we don’t get it in the following film, or in the maelstrom of media that emerged afterward. Not that I’m suggesting the police in this case are innocent but we simply do not get the other perspective and it’s always fair to keep that in mind. This “real-life” account of Harry Stanley’s death is re-enacted in the embedded video. Watch it before you read any further.
I loved the narration – it was the most effective part of the film. I researched Harry Stanley’s horrible end and found out some interesting facts, aside from that which were presented so professionally in the film. Police had a reasonable concern when they approached Stanley in the street. The narrator claimed Stanley didn’t turn around to face police but the narrator didn’t mention that Stanley had a previous criminal record. He was a convicted armed robber and served 4 years in prison for “grievous bodily harm.” To be sure, this was unknown to officers who attended the scene where”an Irishman with a gun wrapped in a bag” was reported leaving a pub. Nonetheless officers didn’t know the identity of the man nor did they know about his previous convictions (obviously, since they didn’t know who he was in the first place).
On 22 September 1999, Stanley left the Alexandra Pub in South Hackney carrying a table leg in a plastic bag that his brother had repaired for him earlier in the day. had been repaired by his brother earlier that day. For some reason , a patron at the bar believed the table leg was a gun and he contacted police. At Fremont Street and Victoria Park Road Inspector Neil Sharman and PC Kevin Fagan, members of the Metropolitan Police Armed Response Vehicle shouted at Stanley from behind him. He was just turning to face the officers when they shot him dead at a distance of 15 feet.
The first hearing resulted in an open verdict, meaning although the death happened under suspicious circumstances there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. What a load of bull. Irene Stanley was successful in appealing the verdict. On 7 April 2003 Mr. Justice Sieber ordered a new inquest due to “insufficient inquiry” of the case. Well done, Irene. Dr. Andrew Reid received information that the officers fired the shots after being given wrong information from the anonymous caller. The new jury overturned the open verdict, returning a verdict of unlawful killing. But wait. Don’t get too excited yet. The result was a mere suspension of the officers involved and even more infuriating developments.
In May 2005 the High Court ruled that there was “insufficient evidence” for the verdict of unlawful killing and it reinstated the open verdict. Mr. Justice Leveson decided a third inquest was unnecessary. The Stanley family discussed their “bitter disappointment”, stating the justice system had failed them. His sister Janice stated:
“I’m shocked and stunned. You hear about people getting killed by the police, but when they are killed over a table leg—it is unbelievable. The police have been unable to justify their actions. They say they were following up a report that a man had been seen with a gun. No gun was found. He was carrying a Queen Ann table leg, which looks nothing like gun. They shot him from 15 feet. He was a heavily built chap. They say that there is no shoot-to-kill policy in this country, but they didn’t shoot him in his body—they hit him in the head. A shot to the head is a shoot-to-kill policy….They left Harry lying in the street, uncovered, for hours. His wife and daughter went past, but didn’t know it was him. A lady asked them to cover the body up, but they would not do it because they said they were waiting for the forensic experts to arrive. That did not stop them interfering with the bag with the table leg in it, though. They shot him in cold blood and left him there for all to see. They gave him no dignity.”
The Birmingham Six
There was widespread anger in the community but it would appear that the matter is closed and will stay that way. The Stanley family are involved in a campaign to uncover the truth behind Stanley’s murder. They hope the campaign will “build up” and they are spreading the word about Stanley’s death.
Hugh Callaghan of the Birmingham Six, a group of young men who were falsely convicted of the bombing of a Birmingham pub by the IRA, attended a campaign meeting to offer support to the family. Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were travelling to the funeral of a friend who was a member of the IRA, and had accidentally killed himself while planting a bomb in Coventry. Callaghan and his friends were in the area at the time and were wrongly accused of the bombing. They spent 17 years in prison before a court of appeal overturned the guilty verdict on the basis that the verdict was “unsafe and unsatisfactory.” The West Midlands Police deprived the men of food and sleep, interrogated them for up to 12 hours and made death threats against them. The men were beaten, suffered punches, terrified by snarling police dogs approaching within a foot and they experienced a mock execution. A bit over the top, you might say. Eventually the men were beaten down by the torture and they made a false confession. During court proceedings however a prisoner in the same jail told of the beatings the police had done to the six men. No action was taken against police.
Police fabrication and suppression of evidence the attacks against the men caused the Crown to accept the men’s 1991 appeal leading to the release and exoneration of the Birmingham six. What happened to the police involved in the matter? As usual, nothing. The movie In the Name of the Father starring Daniel Day-Lewis depicted the case of the Birmingham Six although with several fictitious developments, including a female character, Caroline, who was part of the Six in the film but not in “real life”. The film also depicted Callaghan’s father as a member of the Six and the inspiration behind the title, which he was not. The film took the idea from the injustice brought against the Guildford Four, where four men, including a wrongly convicted man and his father, were falsely imprisoned for bombing the Guildford Pub on October 5, 1974. Although the Birmingham Six were finally released and given financial compensation by the government, no criminal or investigative action was taken against the DA or the police in the original trial.
Sometimes there is no justice in this world, not even in the movies.