Rishi Sunak has said armed police need clarity about the legal powers they have as he backed a review by the home secretary after an unnamed officer was charged with murder over the shooting of Chris Kaba last year.
The Metropolitan police has asked the SAS to provide counter-terrorism support after firearms officers handed in their weapons in protest at the charging of their colleague with murder.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a community centre in Hertfordshire, the prime minister said: “Our firearms officers do an incredibly difficult job. They are making life or death decisions in a split second to keep us safe and they deserve our gratitude for their bravery.
“Now it is important when they are using these legal powers that they do so with clarity and they have certainty about what they are doing, especially given the lethality they are using.”
Sir Peter Fahy, who was chief constable of Greater Manchester police from 2008 until his retirement in 2015, defended armed officers who have refused to carry weapons. He said many police officers were tired of criticism from people who did not understand the pressures they faced on a daily basis.
“This is a part of a bigger picture, where there is a huge level of discontent among ordinary police officers, where there’s a huge gulf between policing and the Home Office,” Fahy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.
“Officers understand the impact of some of the serious cases – particularly involving the Metropolitan police – but feel a lot of the criticism is unbalanced; that they’re unappreciated, and that the media and politicians just don’t understand the reality of day-to-day police work.”
Fahy told Today the review must be given a wider scope so it can look at morale in policing – as well as the number and type of incidents for which an armed response is deemed necessary.
He added: “All those officers are volunteers. They take on a huge responsibility. And so Mark is right to point out that there are a huge number of incidents involving armed officers every single year which passed off safely.”
The scale and speed of the protest by Met armed officers prompted the home secretary, Suella Braverman, to order an emergency review of armed policing, with several sources telling the Guardian there were fears the rebellion could spread further in the Met and around the country.
“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 and I will do everything in my power to support them. That’s why I have launched a review to ensure they have the confidence to do their jobs while protecting us all.”
The Home Office has refused to reveal any further details about the review other than the words Braverman used on X, the BBC reported.
Critics have accused Braverman of risking the right of the charged officer – known only as NX121 – to a fair trial by choosing to comment on his case while criminal proceedings are active. This is covered by strict contempt of court laws designed to protect the integrity of trials, breaches of which carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
On Monday, a Conservative minister defended Braverman, saying it was “right” for the Home Office to carry out the review because “brave officers” should not “fear ending up in the dock for split second decisions made in the interests of public safety”.
Rachel Maclean, the minister for housing and planning, told Sky News: “Public protection, of course, is the first priority. And that is why it is right that the home secretary has said she is going to review … the legal framework that sets out the balance between those very brave officers who have to make split-second decisions in the interest of public safety.”
Referring to the officers who have handed in their weapons, she added: “They have taken that decision. They are there to serve the public and I am sure they are doing it reluctantly.”