Saturday 20 January 2018

Mark Saunders inquest: barrister's last words ‘Hang on. I can’t hear."

John Bingham

A barrister shot dead in an armed siege at his London home made a desperate plea to police to "hang on" seconds before he was killed, his inquest heard.

Amid chaotic scenes as police shouted orders through a megaphone and a helicopter bore down above him, Mark Saunders leant out of a window and shouted: “Hang on, I can’t hear.”

They were his last words.

Seconds later he was felled by a barrage of police gunfire ending the five-hour siege.

Police marksmen have told the jury at Westminster Coroner’s Court that they opened fire fearing he was about to shoot at them.

But the inquest has heard evidence that the shotgun Mr Saunders was holding as he died may not have been loaded, while video footage suggests he could have been disabling the weapon as he was hit.

Yesterday the court also heard how a police lost what Mr Saunders may have intended as his final message to his wife, Elizabeth.

At the height of the siege, the 32-year-old dropped a piece of a cardboard into the garden below his home on which he had written the words ‘I love my wife to bits and pieces, I really do. XXX.”

But it was left lying around after his death and is likely to have been swept up with the rubbish.

Police descended on Mr Saunders’s home in Markham Square, west London, in the afternoon of May 6 2008 after he began drunkenly firing his hunting shotgun at neighbouring houses.

During the ensuing siege, expert negotiators spoke to him on his mobile phone attempting to coax him out peacefully.

But the jury has heard how he struggled to hear and resorted to waving notes from his kitchen window, asking to speak to his wife and complaining that he could not hear.

Eventually, negotiators in body armour were sent up onto an adjoining rooftop to appeal to Mr Saunders through a loud speaker while police on the ground shouted to him to drop his gun.

With a helicopter whirring above and arc lights shining a powerful beam into the room, Mr Saunders appeared at the window waving his telephone.

Moments later he held up his shotgun, waving it up and down before seven marksmen opened fire killing him with five shots to the heard, heart and liver.

Patrick Gibbs QC, for the Saunders family, told the court how marksmen had seen the barrister “groaning and swaying” at 9.31pm, two minutes before his death.

Reading extracts from a police radio log, he explained: “He is leaning out of the window, he has a telephone in his left hand which he then puts down.

“Blood is seen on his right arm and he is saying either: ‘I want to hear you’ or ‘I can’t hear you’.”

He went on: “A minute later, in the final minute of his life, he is out the window pointing the shotgun upwards and he is saying: ‘Hang on, I can’t hear’.”

The jury was shown two pieces of paper on which Mr Saunders had scribbled notes to police – one the back of a calendar from his shooting club, the other a bill from Tom's Place, an upmarket fish and chip shop nearby run by the celebrity chef Tom Aikens.

But a separate piece of cardboard, on which he had written the message to his wife, was lost in the hours after Mr Saunders’ death.

Mrs Saunders lodged a formal complaint prompting an investigation by the Independent Police complaints Commission, who even interviewed street cleaners in an attempt to track it down.

The coroner, Dr Paul Knapman, told the jury that it may have been inadvertently swept up and thrown away with other rubbish in the street after the siege.

“That’s the most likely explanation,” he said. “These things happen.”

Georgia Wilson, an IPCC investigator, remarked: “They shouldn’t happen.”

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