LONDON — An inquest jury Wednesday largely vindicated London police over a fatal shooting that set off a wave of rioting across England, finding that officers acted lawfully when they shot 29-year-old Mark Duggan through the chest.
The jurors' decision — by a majority of eight to two — could play a critical role in shaping the nation's understanding of the riots more than two years ago, the worst civil unrest to hit England in a generation.
One of the central questions in this case related to whether Duggan had a gun, and whether it was on him, when he was killed by police. A pistol was recovered a few meters (yards) from the scene. The officer who shot Duggan said he was sure the gun was in Duggan's hand as he opened fire, but Duggan's supporters insist he was unarmed.
The jury found by a majority of eight to two that Duggan did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot. Crucially, however, it found that officers at the scene genuinely believed Duggan was armed when they killed him.
Duggan's family insisted that justice had not been done.
"The family are in a state of shock ... They can't believe that this has been the outcome," family lawyer Marcia Willis Stewart said. "No gun in his hand and yet he was killed — murdered as they have said — no gun in his hand."
One family member shouted an obscenity at jurors as they left the court. Outside the courthouse, supporters chanted "no justice, no peace" and nearly drowned out a police press statement.
Authorities said policing in the capital was proceeding as usual following the decision.
The riots began the day after Duggan's death on Aug. 4, 2011. A days-long wave of looting, fighting, and arson caused hundreds of millions in property damage and killed five people — three of whom were run over by a car while trying to protect their shops.
Images of masked youths raiding department stores, of massive fires, and of police skirmishes shocked the country a year ahead of the Olympic Games.
Some argued that Duggan's death amounted to the murder of an unarmed man, and that anger over what they called an unjustified killing had tapped a country-wide undercurrent of rage over unemployment, inequality, and police abuses.
Others portrayed the rioters as opportunistic criminals, using outrage over the death of a gangland figure as an excuse to indulge in looting and mayhem.
Police and other officials came under scrutiny over their role in the killing in part because they didn't properly notify Duggan's family of the death and because misleading briefings led journalists to wrongly believe Duggan had shot at officers before being killed.
After allegations of cover-up and foot-dragging, an inquest was finally opened on Sept. 16, hearing testimony from roughly 100 people, including witnesses, pathologists and police officers.
Inquests are held in Britain to investigate violent or unexplained deaths, and even though they don't rule on guilt or innocence, they often play an important role in establishing the facts surrounding controversial cases.
The anger continued to boil as Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley attempted to read out a statement in front of court. It was largely drowned out by cries of "liars" and "scum."
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