LEGAL EXPERT: Have-a-go heroes in bookies unlikely to face criminal charges
A LEGAL expert has said the bookmaker's customers were unlikely to face prosecution if they used "reasonable force" when faced with the West Park gunman, writes Crime Reporter Carl Eve
Nigel Lyons, a partner at Foot Anstey solicitors and a criminal law specialist, said police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) would be examining a range of evidence before making any decision about prosecution.
The debate over reasonable force when a suspect enters a home intent on burglary was renewed in October last year at the Conservative party conference.
At the conference, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said householders who reacted with force when confronted by burglars would get more legal protection.
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While "grossly disproportionate" force would still be against the law, the bar would be higher than the current "proportionate" force test.
Mr Lyons said the question police and the CPS would ask in relation to the death of Levers was "did the customers use reasonable force in relation to the circumstances?".
He said: "We assume these were ordinary members of the public going about their lawful duties.
"They are then faced with a man brandishing what they believe is a handgun – whether it turns out to be imitation or real is irrelevant.
"They would most likely fear for their safety.
"We understand one or more of them disarmed him and restrained him, then someone then calls police.
"Up until the point the gun is removed the force that a person may use may be regarded in other circumstances as quite extreme."
However, Mr Lyons said once that threat had been removed, the level of force that could be regarded as acceptable in law is reduced.
He said: "The CPS will be looking at the findings of the police. The investigators will be speaking to all those present who were involved – those that were involved in disarming him, those involved in restraining him and those who just witnessed the incident.
"They will be asking what they subjectively felt. Did they fear for their personal safety? Did they feel that they had to act or face serious harm or death?
"Then the police will have to consider objectively whether that action was reasonable."
Mr Lyons explained that if the threat had been negated by the gun being removed, then "citizens were entitled to detain, effectively making a citizens arrest".
He said: "We don't yet know whether the gas mask restricted his ability to breath, whether he was agitated and hyped up.
"His death may have been from natural causes, in that he may have had a stroke, a heart attack, an embolism, or an asthma attack.
"If his death was by asphyxiation, the focus would be was he held in a way which restricted his airways? Was that done during the attempt to remove the gun, or when he was being restrained?"
Mr Lyons also noted that if any kind of charge did follow, the CPS would have to consider whether a prosecution would be likely to succeed.
He asked: "What is the likelihood that a jury would want to convict a member of the public who tackled an armed robber?"