Manchester police involved in Taser death seek anonymity at inquest

Jordan Begley died after being Tasered by police July 2013. The inquest into his death will be held before a jury next summer. Photograph: Rex Features

Five police officers involved in the fatal Tasering of a young man in Manchester have asked to remain anonymous at his inquest, claiming their lives would be in danger were they identified.

One of them, a uniformed beat officer, fired a stun gun at Jordan Lee Begley after being called to his house in Gorton, east Manchester, on 10 July 2013. Jordan’s mother, Dorothy Begley, had rung the police, concerned that her son had been accused of theft and was threatening to confront his accusers with a knife. They told a coroner that a £50,000 bounty has been offered to anyone who kills a Greater Manchester Police firearms officer, as vengeance for an earlier police shooting.

The other four officers – two uniformed armed response officers and two from the counter-terrorism and specialist firearms unit – were involved in restraining Jordan, 23. He died in hospital an hour-and-a-half after being shot with the Taser, an electroshock weapon that fires high voltage electricity which should temporarily disable, but not kill, its victim.

Next summer a jury will hear an inquest into Jordan’s death. According to the general principle of open justice, inquests should normally be held in public and be fully reported unless national security is at risk. But all five officers from Greater Manchester police (GMP) have asked the coroner to grant them anonymity at the inquest, arguing that they are a target for criminal gangs, putting their personal and family safety at risk.

Guardian News and Media - along with Associated Media, the Press Association and ITV - has opposed the application. Granting the officers anonymity would be a “major derogation of the open justice principles”, said barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher, for the media. The police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), also opposed the application, along with the Begley family.

The five police officers want their names and addresses removed from the court proceedings and replaced by pseudonyms. They have also asked to give evidence screened from the media and public gallery and want to be allowed to use a private court entrance away from waiting photographers or camera crews.

Such measures are “proportionate, justified and necessary because of the threats that exist towards each officer”, according to superintendent Leor Giladi, who runs GMP’s specialist operations branch, which includes the tactical firearms unit.

But Marc Willems, counsel to the inquest, argued that such special measures could aggravate the anger and suspicion towards the police felt by those who are already concerned about a “lack of transparency and accountability” among GMP. “There is obvious disquiet in sections of the community that the judicial system appears to give greater protection to the police than normal civilians,” said the barrister.

At a pre-inquest hearing in Manchester town hall on Monday, a statement made by Giladi was read out to court, in which he said the officers’ lives were at risk from associates of Anthony Grainger, who was shot dead by GMP officers in 2012.

In January the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring charges against any of the officers involved, though the chief constable, Sir Peter Fahy, will face a prosecution under health and safety legislation in the new year. The officers involved in that shooting have been granted anonymity in all legal proceedings so far.

Grainger’s cousin, Wesley Ahmed, has held a series of high-profile protests about GMP’s involvement in Grainger’s death, camping for several weeks outside various police stations in Manchester. Giladi said in his statement that Ahmed was at Dorothy Begley’s house when she was visited by investigators from the IPCC, which has looked into Jordan’s death.

Ahmed’s presence at the house was further evidence of the Grainger family’s desire to “avenge” Grainger’s death, said Giladi. Ahmed firmly denies seeking any sort of violent revenge for his cousin’s death, but frequently accuses GMP of “murder”.

The Begley family’s barrister said they were concerned that they had been put under surveillance, and asked during the hearing for assurance to the contrary. None was forthcoming from GMP’s barrister during Monday’s hearing.

Various posts from social media have been used by the five officers to attempt to show their lives are at risk. One is a photograph of two people wearing hooded sweatshirts bearing a picture of Jordan Begley, the dates of his life and death with the words: “Taken by scum”. Another is a Twitter posting by this reporter, showing members of the Grainger campaign protesting outside force headquarters, holding a banner which depicted Fahy as a Nazi war criminal. Reference is also made to a rumour that someone offered a £50,000 reward to kill a GMP firearms officer following Grainger’s death.

The coroner, Nigel Meadows, reserved his decision on the anonymity matter. A judgment is expected before Christmas.

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