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A LETHAL WEAPON; Dead 'gunman' armed with cig lighter.

Byline: JEFF EDWARDS

THE police officer who shot and killed a man clutching a novelty cigarette lighter disguised as a full-sized replica handgun could face a murder charge.

Eye witnesses claim Derek Bennett was hit with several bullets after he had fallen to the ground in Brixton, south London.

A 20-strong team from Scotland Yard's Internal Affairs department, CIB, have been called in.

A senior CIB source said: "If we find evidence that the man was shot after he was down and no longer a threat, the officer could face a murder charge."

An Armed Response Unit was among the police vehicles which rushed to the Loughborough Road area after a 999 report of a gunman.

Police believe Bennett, a Rastafarian who had "over a dozen" convictions for robbery, burglary, drugs and violence" was on his way to rob a dealer on Monday.

As they gave pursuit, Bennett took one man hostage and attempted to seize a woman as a human shield.

Police say he refused an order to put down his apparent weapon and they fired six shots. One hit his replica automatic pistol. Attempts to revive him failed.

The Police Complaints Authority are now investigating the second fatal shooting in a week by officers. Last Thursday, police in Liverpool shot dead 37-year-old schizophrenic Andrew Kernan while he was armed with a sword.

Yesterday, as the internal probe into the Brixton shooting continued, PCA member Duncan Gear said: "I will ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation is carried out into this tragic incident."

A hotline was also set up for witnesses to call confidentially.

But last night, people near the scene of the incident described how police were shocked to discover that the shot man had no dangerous weapon.

Sherice Cabette, 16, said: "I heard about five shots and I ran out. The armed policeman was crouching down.

"He was red in the face and appeared to be panicking, mumbling: 'What have we done?'."

Celia Cadette, 37, said: "The man was running away and then they shot him. And then he went to hide by a door.

"When the police went up to him, they could see he didn't have a gun and they said: 'S***, s***, s***'.

A Metropolitan Police spokes-man yesterday said: "It is now known the weapon recovered from the scene was a replica gun cigarette lighter.

"It is believed six shots were fired by one of two armed officers who attended the scene."

He said the officers would receive counselling and post-trauma support.

A witness to the shooting, a woman, in her 20s, who asked not to be named, said: "The noise of the gunshots had a very unusual pattern to it.

"The first consisted of two shots in quick succession followed by a shout from police to tell the victim to get down.

"There was another shot, followed a while afterwards by two more shots.

"The man was lying down after the first two shots. I don't see why they had to shoot him again."

A teenager, who asked not to be named, said: "They shot the man twice and then, as he lay dying, they pumped him with more shots. Why was that necessary?"

Student Leon Smith, 18, also told how he watched the the man being gunned down.

He said: "The police shot the dread twice in the chest, then they shouted to him to get down.

"Then they shot him a third time and a further two times after that. I saw him fall. It was shocking.

Bob Broadhurst, Chief Superintendent of the Lambeth area, appealed for calm yesterday. Previous police shootings have provoked riots in London.

He said: "There were a number of young people who were angry by what had happened.

"I would appeal to these people to remain calm until the full facts are known."

Lee Jasper, London Mayor Ken Livingstone's senior policy adviser on policing, said: "We call for calm in Brixton.

"Given the explosion of gun crime within the black community, our message to people is that if you are carrying a toy gun as a fashion accessory that is a very dangerous thing to do."

The incident could hasten a search for a police alternative to guns which they are instructed only to fire in life-threatening situations.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is said to favour equipping police with dart guns or some other device in a bid to cut fatal shootings by armed officers.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 18, 2001
Words:740
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