The long fight to win justice for Harry

ONE day, there will be a permanent memorial on the spot where Harry Stanley was shot dead by two police officers as he walked home from a pub carrying a table leg. For now, his widow Irene has to tie flowers to a concrete bollard on the cracked pavement of an anonymous London street to mark where he fell.

On a nearby wall, the words Justice For Harry Stanley are visible but fading They were scrawled on the wall soon after the 46-year-old Scot died on 22 September 1999 - but it was only last week that Irene Stanley felt that she truly did have justice for her husband.

An inquest ruled last Friday that Mr Stanley was unlawfully killed by the two officers - PC Kevin Fagan and Inspector Neil Sharman - who mistook the table leg for a sawn-off shotgun. The suspension of the two officers in the wake of the inquest verdict has led to a security crisis in London with armed police threatening to stop working in support of their colleagues.

Irene Stanley never foresaw the consequences of the verdict, but she is unrepentant. In her first newspaper interview, she insists the protesting police officers are wrong.

"The second inquest was a good and fair one in which all the evidence was presented fairly," says Mrs Stanley, 51. "Unless you completely undermine the jury, and the rule of law, you cannot dispute the findings, [which] only apply to the two officers involved.

"Officers who act within the law, who act in lawful self-defence, have nothing to be afraid of. But police are the upholders of the law and if they are protesting, they seem to be expressing the opinion that they are above the law. That is not right."

In the wake of the inquest verdict, the mantelpiece in Mrs Stanley’s front room is covered in cards, flowers and goodwill messages from well-wishers; she cannot walk down the street without being stopped half a dozen times by casual acquaintances wanting to congratulate her.

Mrs Stanley, originally from Glasgow, spent five years fighting for justice for the man she was married to for 26 years. The days since the verdict have been a whirlwind for the Stanley family, but for the first time in five years, she feels she can grieve properly for her husband.

However April’s High Court judgment, which over-ruled the first open inquest verdict in 2002 and paved the way for the new hearing and endless round of meetings with solicitors, has taken its toll.

"It has been stressful, very stressful for the family," she says. "The conduct of the coroner at the first inquest was outrageous and the High Court’s quashing of the result recognised that. But it has been a long, hard struggle. Before Harry’s death, I’d never been at a public meeting, let alone spoken at one. I’m strong, I’ve always been strong, but I’ve had to be more than that."

Harry and Irene Stanley were childhood sweethearts; they met at 16, married and moved to London at 19 and had three children - Jason, now 31, Jamie, 23, and Charlene, 22.

"On the day I found out Harry was dead, I made him a promise," Mrs Stanley recalls. "I wrapped my arms around the children and said ‘Harry, we will never forget you. You might be gone, but your family will fight for you.’"

She has little sympathy for the two officers who shot and killed her husband. They are now waiting to discover if they will face charges relating to Mr Stanley’s death.

"I don’t know how they sleep at night," she says. "They can go back home to their loved ones but Harry doesn’t have that choice. And I lost my husband, but instead of grieving, I had to fight."

Mrs Stanley says that hearing shortly before the second inquest that Neil Sharman had been promoted was like "being stabbed in the back".

"They have not shown me or my family one jot of respect or remorse," she says. "Police make mistakes like everyone else. But why don’t they admit those mistakes? I want them in a court of law. I want them prosecuted. Harry and I were going to grow old together, we were looking forward to that. They have taken that away from me and I want them to pay."

Two days before he was fatally shot, Harry Stanley had been given the all-clear in his battle against colon cancer.

"After that, every day was precious," says Mrs Stanley. "It was like getting a second chance."

That second chance disappeared just two days later when Mr Stanley, a painter and decorator, was shot in the head and hand by the two officers. Apparently his Scottish accent had been mistaken for an Irish one and a hysterical caller told police an "Irish terrorist" was walking around with a gun.

From day one, when it took the police more than 24 hours to inform her of her husband’s death, despite him having his passport and other ID in his pocket, Mrs Stanley has been unhappy with the police’s handling of the case.

"I’d lost my husband and suddenly, there were police all over the house, asking my family questions," she says. "I felt as thought we were the ones who were guilty of something, when all we wanted to do was grieve as a family."

But the worst moment came last Friday, while waiting for the jury to come back, when her solicitor, Daniel Machover, told Mrs Stanley that, if the jury returned an open or a lawful killing verdict, there was nothing more the family could do: "I thought, ‘We’ve got nowhere to go. We can’t go to the court of human rights. Five years and we’ve got nowhere to go.’ I went out of the building and burst into tears."

Now Irene Stanley feels that it has all been worthwhile.

"We’ve turned a corner" she says. "I came home and shouted to everyone ’We’ve got unlawful, we’ve got unlawful.’"

It was a happy day, marred only by the fact that Mr Stanley’s mother, Jean, had not been there to see it. "She would have loved to have seen the day" says Mrs Stanley. "She died with a broken heart."

When asked what has kept her going these past few years, Mrs Stanley says it has been the love of her family. She is a family person; she lives with her two youngest children and grandson Kyle, cares part-time for her disabled brother, James and regularly visits her elderly father, who lives in Essex.

She has always tried to be honest and straightforward with Kyle about what happened to his grandad.

When told of the verdict last week, the seven-year-old asked her "Does that mean that the men who killed grandad will be put in prison?"

"He’s been brought up to understand right from wrong," Mrs Stanley says. "What am I supposed to say to him?"

Irene Stanley has also leaned on Terry Stewart, the secretary of the Justice for Harry Stanley campaign. He helped her, she says, keep the faith. "I nearly lost faith in the system, then the jury made me feel there was some justice after all," she says.

Mr Stewart has got Hackney Council to agree to erect a permanent memorial to Mr Stanley at the site of his death, just 100 yards from where Irene Stanley’s home. There is another memorial in Bothwell, Lanarkshire, where he grew up; his sisters, Jeannie and Isobelle, who live near there, erected a bench to their brother in the cemetery.

But when Irene Stanley wants to remember her husband, she simply walks across the room. An urn containing his ashes take pride of place in the gleaming display cabinet in the living room of the home they shared, next to a book of poems by Robert Burns.

"I feel like he is here with me all the time," she says. When the time is right, she will scatter his ashes over Culloden field, a place they visited together. "Harry loved Scotland and all things Scottish," she explains. A battlefield is apt, she feels, for his final resting place.

Stanley was just 100 yards away from home when shot by police

22 September, 1999: Harry Stanley was just 100 yards from home when he was shot by police who mistook a table leg he was carrying for a sawn-off shotgun. Walking home with the table leg wrapped in a plastic bag, he stopped off at a pub in Hackney, east London. By the time he left, someone had called the police to report an "Irish terrorist" carrying a gun.

24 December, 2000: The Crown Prosecution Service announced that the two police marksmen responsible for the shooting would not face criminal charges.

22 September, 2001: The family said a memorial service would be held for Mr Stanley, close to the scene of his death in Hackney.

21 June 2002: An inquest was brought to a dramatic halt as Mr Stanley’s family and friends stormed out in protest at the coroner’s "one-sided" direction to the jury. The jury returned a unanimous open verdict after the coroner of St Pancras Coroners’ Court in London, Dr Stephen Chan, instructed them not to return a verdict of unlawful killing.

4 February, 2003: The High Court gave the family permission for a judicial review of the coroner’s handling of the inquest.

7 April, 2003: Mr Stanley’s widow, Irene, won a High Court ruling quashing an open verdict recorded by the first inquest.

18 October, 2004: A new inquest was opened.

29 October: A verdict of unlawful killing was returned, and PC Kevin Fagan and Inspector Neil Sharman were suspended from duty.

02 Nov 2004: More than 100 Scotland Yard firearms officers threatened to down their weapons in protest at the suspension of their two colleagues over the death of Mr Stanley. Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir John Stevens personally took over negotiations to avert a potentially devastating "strike" by armed police.