Businesswoman's account of how police shot dead a Chelsea barrister: 'He was just a drunk boy crying for help. I don't believe they had to kill him'
A businesswoman caught up in the controversial shooting by police of a promising young barrister at his £2million flat in Chelsea has given the first full account of the harrowing events that led up to his death in May – and her concerns that the operation was mishandled.
Jane Winkworth, founder of international shoe company French Sole, sat in her basement apartment with three armed officers throughout the dramatic siege, which resulted in Oxford-educated Mark Saunders being shot at least five times by police.
And, in an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, Mrs Winkworth reveals how police ignored vital advice she offered them that could have saved 32-year-old Mr Saunders’ life.
Horror: Jane Winkworth believes police mishandled the operation that ended in the death of her neighbour, Mark Saunders
She recalls how the stand-off began on the afternoon of May 6 with her
dodging shotgun pellets in her garden and ended five hours later as she sat alone in her flat in darkness, a towel wrapped around her face, suffering the effects of CS gas inhalation as a firearms unit stormed the premises of her upstairs neighbour.
She has already made witness statements to police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is investigating whether officers used reasonable force.
The results of that inquiry and an inquest into the barrister’s death are due to be published later this year.
Mrs Winkworth, 61, says: ‘Mark was not a terrorist, a suicide bomber or the leader of a drugs gang. He was a distressed young man who loved his wife and was having a crisis. This was a cry for help that was ignored.
‘I begged them to let Elizabeth, his wife, come to my flat. She could have soothed him and told him to put the gun down. I offered to shut down the electricity so Mark wouldn’t have had any light to reload. And I drew them plans to the flat, telling them how they could get in.
‘But all my ideas were vetoed. It was mishandled. They didn’t seem to be reacting to Mark or the situation with any compassion or intelligent thought. It’s so upsetting.’
She is left with a crippling sense of guilt that she could not do more to save her neighbour’s life, a life that showed so much potential.
The son of a respected quantity surveyor, Mr Saunders was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and was earning £150,000 a year working for QEB Chambers in Temple, London.
Killed: Mark Saunders
It was there he met his future wife Elizabeth Clarke, 40, a senior colleague specialising in matrimonial finance. Described by friends and family as the ‘perfect’ couple, they married at Chelsea Register Office on August 5, 2006.
Although they were not known to be experiencing any relationship problems, they are believed to have had a row the day he died, details of which are still unknown.
Mr Saunders had left work uncharacteristically early and is said to have spent the afternoon drinking in a nearby pub before returning to their three-bedroom home in exclusive Markham Square.
Mother-of-three Mrs Winkworth was ‘pottering’ in her garden when she heard a bang.
‘The first shot went over my head. I thought it was a crop-scarer,’ she recalls. ‘I carried on gardening and he shot again. It pinged off my table and chairs in the garden and I thought, “It must be a gun.” It was terrifying.’
She screamed at Mr Saunders to stop shooting – screams that would later be falsely recorded as Elizabeth arguing with her husband. Instead, using two legally owned shotguns, he fired again.
Mrs Winkworth went into her flat, locked the doors and called the police.
Within minutes, eight officers from Scotland Yard’s Specialist Firearms Unit and one from the Diplomatic Protection Group arrived.
They moved Mrs Winkworth’s bed and chest of drawers so they could lean out of her garden windows and communicate with Mr Saunders.
It has been reported that Elizabeth fled the flat in tears. But Mrs Winkworth believes Mr Saunders was alone, and doubts claims that he and Elizabeth had had a row.
She says: ‘I didn’t know it was Mark. I didn’t know who it was. I screamed at him, asking what he was doing.
'That resulted in a false report that he was arguing with his wife. But he wasn’t. It was me who was screaming at him to stop shooting.
‘At first, the officers were very nice to Mark,’ she says. ‘He was mumbling and groaning and generally incoherent. They thought it was just daft behaviour that would end soon.
'They were asking him if he was all right and were quite friendly. There was lots of eye contact.’
But at 4.40pm there was another gunshot and a marked change in the barrister’s attitude. He grew more aggressive, boasting: ‘I have been in the ****ing Army.’
He had, in fact, been in the Territorial Army for three years until 2002 but had never seen active service.
Operation: Police descended on Markham Square on May 6
The police told Mrs Winkworth they thought he was an Iraq veteran. But she said: ‘Of course he’s not. He’s a divorce barrister.’
In response, reinforcements were brought in, including officers with riot shields and helmets. Marksmen armed with Heckler & Koch MP5 sub-machine-guns staked out Mr Saunders’ roof terrace and the area was cleared of traffic and pedestrians.
At 7pm, an empty cardboard box with a note scrawled in black pen, saying: ‘I love my wife dearly xxx,’ landed in front of Mrs Winkworth’s bedroom window, where two armed police were on standby.
Mrs Winkworth is convinced the heartfelt message was not a suicide note but a desperate cry for help – and she is furious it wasn’t taken seriously.
‘A great mistake was made at that point,’ she says. ‘The police thought the box was insignificant. I told them it was important. It was a clear indication they were not dealing with a dangerous person.
‘It showed this was just someone who needed help. I asked them where his wife was.’
Elizabeth was, in fact, being cared for by a police officer at the temporary office they had set up on nearby Kings Road. She is described by friends as a loving and loyal wife who holds Left-wing views that contrasted with Mark’s more conservative beliefs.
Mrs Winkworth recalls: ‘I said they should bring her here, that the box showed this was someone in trouble emotionally. She could have talked to him and it would all have been over.
‘But they wouldn’t let her come. They said it wasn’t safe. But that’s
rubbish. They had an armoured tank outside. They could have got her to my flat easily.’
The officers had to borrow her BlackBerry, Mrs Winkworth says. ‘They had to phone someone but they couldn’t get a signal or their batteries were flat, so they had to use my BlackBerry and my landline.
Distraught: Saunders' wife Elizabeth Clarke was not brought to talk to him
'The next day my BlackBerry had been wiped of everything from that period of time and I can’t retrieve any of my emails from May 6 or 7.
'My daughter sent me a text about the killing around that time and most of it was removed. It came up with a message saying “This text has been removed”. There’s been no interference since.’
She believes the police helicopter hovering overhead hampered any conversation with Mr Saunders. ‘It was impossible for anybody to hear,’ she says.
‘The officers in my flat repeatedly asked for the helicopter to be moved away because it was interfering with what they were listening to on their headsets.’
She describes the police negotiator, believed to be operating from a flat roof nearby, as ‘bland’.
She adds: ‘The negotiation, in my opinion, was very controlled, very slow, very boring. Maybe they have a way of negotiating, but I felt there was no ability to see what had gone wrong that day.’
Mrs Winkworth, who owns the freehold to the Saunders’ property, was dismayed that her suggestions to rectify the situation were disregarded.
‘I had the building’s electricity supply in my flat,’ she says. ‘I could have turned Mark’s power off. He certainly wouldn’t have had any light to reload his gun. But it wasn’t allowed.
‘I gave them detailed drawings of the flat to help them get in, either through the roof or a little window. The police officers in my flat thought they were brilliant ideas. But they were vetoed by central command.’
Instead, she was instructed how to prepare herself for a violent conclusion. ‘They told me to put a towel over my face and head and stay in the room. They said, “We’re going in to disable him. We will be using tear gas and CS gas and it gets in your throat.”
‘I did exactly as they said. At that point they went in. I think they were bashing down the door because the noise was phenomenal.’
With Mr Saunders refusing to leave, nine officers stormed into his flat, throwing stun grenades that exploded in green flashes.
Several minutes later, a neighbour reported a ‘professional-looking’ man in a balaclava putting away equipment and making a ‘cutting the throat’ sign to someone.
At 9.40pm paramedics pushed a stretcher towards the house and it was reported that the gunman had died. ‘I just sat there and felt sick
and sad. I couldn’t understand how the night had ended like that,’ says Mrs Winkworth.
The pathologist’s report revealed Mr Saunders had been shot at least five times in the brain, heart, liver and body. But the full details have yet to be determined.
His death sent shock waves around Britain, still reeling from the police shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005.
As with all fatal police shootings, the IPCC launched an immediate inquiry. Lawyers acting for Mr Saunders’ sister Charlotte, 26, recently won
permission for a judicial review of the investigation.
Debate continues as to why the police felt the need to open fire on the barrister with such ferocity, and why they didn’t make more effort to capture him alive.
Doubt has been cast on initial claims that he was a depressive or heavy drinker and it emerged that he was probably using ‘birdshot’, which would have significantly reduced the harm he could inflict on others.
Described in legal publications as ‘quiet but firm’ with ‘an engaging style’, and with no known previous criminal convictions, he seems an unlikely candidate to perpetuate such a violent stunt.
As his father, Rodney, 64, said: ‘We are not aware of anything in his work life or private life that might have made him react like this. There was no indication whatsoever that there was anything wrong.’
It is a belief backed unequivocally by Jane Winkworth. ‘Mark was just a drunk man having a crisis,’ she says. ‘It was a cry for help. That cry for help was ignored.’
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