Death of James Ashley

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James Ashley was a 39-year-old British man shot dead by armed police while unarmed and naked,[1] during a raid on his Sussex flat in 1998. Ashley and several of the apartment's other residents were suspected of involvement in large-scale drug deals. Having previously served two years on a charge of manslaughter, Ashley had been witness to a pubroom stabbing several months earlier, when a friend of his attacked someone else before Ashley pulled him away. A search of the premises later turned up a small amount of cannabis.


The raid occurred in St Leonards, East Sussex, United Kingdom, on 15 January 1998. Ashley had been in bed with his girlfriend at the time of the raid, and got out of bed to investigate noises coming from the flat.[1] As he moved towards the door of his darkened bedroom an armed police officer, PC Chris Sherwood, stepped into the room. Seeing Ashley approaching and having been briefed that the occupants of the flat could be "armed and dangerous", the officer reacted by firing his weapon at Ashley.[1]

At a subsequent press conference, the Chief Constable of Sussex Police, Paul Whitehouse, claimed that James Ashley had been wanted for murder but this was not correct.


An enquiry was held into the incident and Sir John Hoddinott, the Chief Constable of Hampshire Constabulary later found "suggestive evidence of collusion between some or all of the chief officers of the Sussex force to conceal what they already knew, and that an arguable case of attempting to pervert the course of justice might be made out." [2]

Hoddinott also said that there was evidence of criminal malfeasance and falsehood, neglect of duty, discreditable conduct against the Deputy Chief Constable of Sussex, Mark Jordan, and aiding and abetting the false statements of his chief, Paul Whitehouse.[2] Mr. Whitehouse insisted that he bore no responsibility for the events that had occurred but when the Home Secretary, David Blunkett suggested that he resign, he did.


After Constable Sherwood and four other officers were all charged with murder and manslaughter and found not guilty in Ashley's death, they continued to serve as policemen. Five other police officers who were suspended following the shooting unsuccessfully attempted to sue the Sussex police for the "psychiatric injury" they suffered due to alleged improper training they received.[3]

In March 2009 Sussex Police agreed to compensate and apologise to Ashley's family. The police admitted negligence – that there had been a series of police failures - but not unlawful killing. Ashley's son however maintained the killing was illegal, and along with the rest of the family, continue to pursue the matter.[4]

The affair re-ignited public concern about the wisdom of arming British policemen and the circumstances in which they might be authorised to attend incidents while bearing firearms.


  1. ^ a b c "Ashley shot naked and unarmed". BBC News. 12 November 2003.
  2. ^ a b [1] Hansard, 11 February 2002, Column 47.
  3. ^ "Police told they cannot sue force". BBC News. 28 March 2006.
  4. ^ "Damages deal over Ashley shooting". BBC News. 4 March 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2010.

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