The funeral of the latest victim of a UK police killing took place last Friday in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
On January 2, Yassar Yaqub, a 28 year-old father of two, was shot dead through his windscreen when armed police swooped on his car on a slip road off the busy M62 motorway in Huddersfield.
The killing, said the police, was “related to information received about criminal possession of a firearm.” Five arrests were made—three at the scene of the shooting and two in a simultaneous “related stop” of another vehicle in Bradford.
Yaqub was killed when armed officers, using four unmarked vehicles, boxed in Yaqub’s car before firing at least three shots through his windscreen.
Gemma Wilson, a Conservative councillor who was in the area at the time, said five or six police cars appeared to be acting as a barricade on Ainley Top roundabout, off the M62, with the scene “a sea of blue flashing lights,” and an “absolute hive of police activity.”
The following day armed officers searched a number of properties across Bradford and Huddersfield, including Yaqub’s family home where around 20 grieving relatives and friends had gathered. At least five police vehicles spread out in the surrounding streets, including a dog van, and officers with guns were positioned at the front and back of the house for around half an hour.
That same evening dozens protested Yaqub’s killing, many wearing scarves or balaclavas to hide their faces. One demonstrator told the Telegraph & Argus newspaper, “Police had no proof he was a danger but they killed him.” Police in riot gear, accompanied by a police helicopter, confronted the protestors as the three-hour long protest moved towards Bradford city centre.
Nearly 900 people joined a Facebook group, Justice 4 Mohammed Yassar Yaqub, in less than 18 hours after it was set up.
Speaking of his son’s death, in an interview in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, Mohammed Yaqub said, “I can’t believe that the police could do that to someone, to someone sat in the car. My wife said, ‘This is what you see in America.’”
Yaqub’s father said that having looked at the photographs of the cars on the slip road, he believed police had targeted his son. He said, “I think that he was cornered, shot instantly without any warning... He had no convictions for firearms or drugs, only minor assault. I believe he was targeted, a pre-planned assassination.”
“I am well aware of what happened with Mark Duggan [a victim of a police killing in 2011] and because of what was revealed first, and what the outcome was of that, it has worried me a lot,” he said.
Duggan’s death was the spark for riots that began two days later in Tottenham, London and quickly spread across the country.
Yaqub said he would pay to privately prosecute the police officer that killed his son.
Media attempts to justify the police shooting have centred on allegations that he was a violent drug dealer, with the media citing social media comments that he “deserved to die.”
References have been made to a May 2010 court case in which Yaqub was acquitted of attempted murder in Huddersfield. Aged 21 at the time, he was accused of being one of the gunmen in a drive-by shooting in September 2009. The case against him at Bradford crown court was dropped due to a lack of evidence.
Given the record of the police, allegations relating to Yaqub’s character can no more be taken at face value than any of the other unproven assertions related to the circumstances leading to his death. They have no bearing as to whether Yaqub posed an imminent threat to the officers involved in his arrest. Rather, their constant citing is meant to convey tacit endorsement by the media of police vigilantism and the dispensing of “summary justice.”
On the basis of the known facts, the police summarily executed Yaqub.
All police killings are now automatically referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which said in a statement, “A non-police issue firearm, found in the Audi, [Yaqub’s car] was secured in the presence of the IPCC investigators at the scene and is undergoing ballistics and forensic testing. Forensic tests are also being carried out on the two vehicles stopped and an unmarked police car. None of the police officers involved were wearing body worn video cameras. So far no relevant CCTV footage of the incident has been found.”
Bradford Coroner’s Court heard Yaqub had been shot through the windscreen of his car three times after a “hard stop” on the motorway slip road, adding that he died on the scene from gunshot wounds to his chest.
Four unmarked police cars were involved in the incident with one, a Mercedes, cutting across the front of the Audi, the coroner's officer Chris Dalby told the hearing. The cars were reported to have collided. “During the incident an officer discharged a firearm in the execution of his duty,” Dalby said.
The inquest was adjourned until March 31.
The police claim that a gun was found in the passenger footwell of Yaqub’s car, but no evidence has been presented that it belonged to Yaqub or that he either intended to use it or did use it. As Yaqub was driving the car on a busy motorway, it is highly unlikely that he was holding a gun when he was abruptly stopped. The police have made no claim that the alleged firearm was discharged against them.
Among numerous unanswered questions are: Why the police chose to swoop on Yaqub’s car on a busy motorway slip road after a high-speed pursuit through Bradford? Why were the armed police who killed him not wearing supposedly standard-issue (following the case of Duggan) police body cameras?
Human Rights group Just Yorkshire chairman, Nadeem Murtuja, said, “Given that the police say it was a pre-planned operation why wouldn’t they wear body cameras? This was a planned operation. It was not a risk that the police stumbled upon. There’s a big difference.”
The killing of Yaqub was the fifth fatal police shooting in England and Wales in the past nine months and the first involving West Yorkshire Police since December 2010. Deaths in police custody nationally (including shootings) reached 45 in 2016—the highest figure since 2008 when 64 were recorded. Last year’s total of four police shooting deaths was the third highest annual figure recorded since 1990.
In March 2015, the IPCC, which has been involved in the cover-up of every police shooting, cleared the police of wrongdoing or misconduct in the killing of Duggan, whose death bears some striking similarities with that of Yaqub.
Duggan, a 29-year-old father of six, was unarmed when he was shot twice in Tottenham, north London by an armed police officer on August 4, 2011. He was killed after the taxi he was travelling in was stopped, in a pre-planned operation in which three police cars surrounded the taxi.
Known only as V53, the police officer belonged to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) CO19 Tactical Support Team. The IPCC exonerated the police, concluding that Duggan was killed with “reasonable and proportionate force.”
The IPCC was implicated in the cover-up of the circumstances surrounding Duggan’s death from the outset. It initially told journalists that Duggan had opened fire on police. It was later forced to acknowledge this was a lie, but not until eight days after Duggan’s killing, when it admitted disseminating “misleading information.”