Soldiers will be drafted in to replace armed police officers following a mass walkout by firearms teams to protest against the decision to charge one of their colleagues with murder.
More than 300 officers – 10 per cent of all firearms staff – have refused to carry a gun, forcing Scotland Yard to submit a formal request to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for help with counter-terror policing.
On Sunday Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, issued an open letter calling for an overhaul of the way police officers are treated by the justice system and better legal protection for those who use force while on duty.
His comments came just hours after Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, gave her backing to firearms officers and said she would launch a review “to ensure they have the confidence to do their jobs while protecting us all”.
The Telegraph understands that special forces could be asked to step in to cover for Counter Terrorism Specialist Firearms Officers, who are among those currently refusing to carry guns.
The unit is on duty round the clock to provide a response should there be a major terrorist incident.
The walkout came after an officer, identified as NX121, appeared in court accused of murdering Chris Kaba, 23, an unarmed black man who was shot dead during a police operation in south London last September.
The decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to charge the marksman sparked a huge backlash, with many specialist firearms officers saying they were no longer willing to run the risk of ending up in court for doing their job.
The Metropolitan Police’s decision to ask the MoD for help came after some firearms officers in other parts of the country refused to help, in solidarity with their London colleagues.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “The Ministry of Defence has agreed to a request to provide the Met with counter-terrorism support should it be needed.
“This is a contingency option that would only be used in specific circumstances and where an appropriate policing response was not available.
“Armed forces personnel will not be used in a routine policing capacity. We will keep the need for the support under constant review.”
The officer accused of murdering Kaba appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and then the Old Bailey on Thursday.
An anonymity order meant he could not be named but that order is to be reviewed on Friday.
Sources have told The Telegraph that the outcome of that hearing at the Old Bailey could be a factor in armed officers deciding whether to return to work.
A source said: “There is so much anger around this decision. The feeling is among AFOs [authorised firearms officers] that it is just not worth it.
“You don’t get paid any extra for carrying a gun and if something goes wrong you can end up on trial for murder looking at serving a life sentence. Is there any wonder they are saying ‘I’m out?’”
On Sunday, Mrs Braverman ordered a review and said officers must not fear ending up in the dock.
Mrs Braverman tweeted:
They mustn’t fear ending up in the dock for carrying out their duties.
Officers risking their lives to keep us safe have my full backing & I will do everything in my power to support them. 2/3
— Suella Braverman MP (@SuellaBraverman) September 24, 2023
She added: “That’s why I have launched a review to ensure they have the confidence to do their jobs while protecting us all.”
Welcoming the review, Sir Mark called for changes to the way the justice system treats officers.
He said armed officers in the Metropolitan Police responded to about 4,000 incidents every year but only discharged their weapons on average twice, representing less than 0.05 per cent.
In an open letter, he said: “Armed officers know they need to justify their actions, especially where lethal force is used.
“They are extremely well trained and an intrinsic part of their training reinforces that shots can only be fired if absolutely necessary to save life.
“But there is concern on the part of firearms officers that even if they stick to the tactics and training they have been given, they will face years of protracted legal proceedings which impact on their personal wellbeing and that of their family.”
He called for more clarity in the law as to when officers could defend themselves and a quicker resolution to investigations and prosecutions.
Firearms officers are highly trained, making it difficult to replace them at short notice.
They face reviews twice a year but do not get any extra pay for volunteering to carry a weapon.
Need for ‘sufficient legal protection’
In his letter, Sir Mark said he was proud of the “policing by consent” model in the UK and that the public relied on “on officers who are willing to put themselves at risk on a daily basis to protect the public from dangerous criminals, including terrorists”.
He added: “Officers need sufficient legal protection to enable them to do their job and keep the public safe, and the confidence that it will be applied consistently and without fear or favour.”
One area of the Metropolitan Police that has been significantly hit is the armed response vehicle units that contain three firearms officers and patrol the capital 24 hours a day, providing quick responses in the event of a major incident.
Sources have told The Telegraph that the unit has been severely depleted over the weekend, with officers from neighbouring forces called in to provide cover.
An MoD spokesman said: “We have accepted a Military Aid to the Civil Authorities request from the Home Office to provide routine counter-terrorism contingency support to the Metropolitan Police, should it be needed.”
Military personnel will only assist the police if needed with specific tasks and will not have powers of arrest. They are not expected to be used to perform the routine duties of unarmed officers.
Soldiers have previously been requested by government departments to assist with the Government’s Covid task force and to help when large parts of the country have been flooded.
In December last year, military personnel and civil servants filled in at major airports, including Gatwick and Heathrow, for 1,000 Border Force officers who were on strike over pay. Like police, members of the military cannot strike.
There was significant backlash from the Armed Forces when they were asked to give up their Christmas in 2022 to cover for striking NHS workers.
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