When police lost a data card with names of 1,000 informants, they questioned this father - then cleared him. Two months later, they shot him dead
- • Anthony Grainger, 36, was shot dead by police in Cheshire in 2012
- • Accused of stealing memory stick with names of police informants
- • Despite being cleared of suspicion, police surveilled him for weeks
- • Over 100 officers were involved in six-week operation
An unarmed man shot dead by a police marksman as he sat in a car was wrongly suspected only weeks before of stealing a computer memory stick containing the names of 1,075 police informants.
The missing stick was stolen after a detective had taken it home. It held a mass of highly confidential data about police inquiries into drug trafficking – plus hundreds of real names and addresses of secret contacts who gave information about gangsters to police.
Father-of-two Anthony Grainger was questioned about the theft but formally cleared four months later. Meanwhile, the loss of the stick was exposing the informants to grave potential danger.
Family man: Father-of-two Anthony Grainger, 36, pictured with his partner Gail and a relative's baby, was shot to death by police weeks after he was cleared of suspicion of stealing a memory stick of sensitive information
It is believed at least one of those contacts was attacked and beaten at his home. Soon after that incident, Grainger, 36, was shot dead by Greater Manchester Police officers as he sat in the parked vehicle with two friends on March 3 last year.
Police records of the incident reveal he was shot at close range through the lungs and heart during a night-time operation which involved marksmen armed with sub-machine guns, pistols, Tasers and tear gas.
A chilling statement from the crack-shot who killed him describes how he aimed his sub-machine gun at the car’s windscreen and ‘switched the safety catch to fire’.
He levelled his laser-aiming device ‘and fired one round to the centre mass of the driver’ – Grainger’s chest.
Now a Mail on Sunday investigation based on exclusive access to hundreds of pages of official documents has revealed that:
- Days after police decided they had no evidence against Grainger over the theft, they began six- weeks of covert surveillance called Operation Shire directed at him and two associates. It involved nearly 100 officers.
- Statements by the Operation Shire team reveal no sign that Grainger or the others had weapons or access to them. But on the morning of the incident, the 16-strong police armed response team involved in his shooting was briefed that he and his friends were highly dangerous and likely to fire at police if challenged.
- In the wake of his death, legal documents show, police searched Grainger’s house and those of his associates – and seized numerous computer memory sticks. None of them was the missing device.
Seeking answers: Gail Hadfield, holding a picture of Anthony Grainger and one of his children, wants the police to reveal details of what happened on the night he was killed
Almost 14 months on, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has still not finished its investigation into the killing, although the armed officers all made statements – obtained by The Mail on Sunday – within five days of the shooting. An IPCC spokeswoman said it would soon be sending a file to the Crown Prosecution Service, which will have to decide whether any officer should be charged with murder or manslaughter.
The delay has left both Mr Grainger’s family and Greater Manchester Police deeply frustrated. ‘We can’t say anything because it’s with the IPCC,’ a police spokesman said yesterday.
Grainger’s cousin, Wesley Ahmed, from the #Justice4Grainger campaign, compared the case with the shooting of Greater Manchester Police officers Nicola Bone and Fiona Hughes by Dale Cregan last September. ‘Cregan was in the dock, charged with murder, five months later,’ Mr Ahmed said. ‘But if the police shoot a member of the public, the process is interminable.’
The memory stick theft took place from a detective’s home in the Grotton area of Oldham in July 2011.
Ten months earlier, a similar stick containing sensitive Greater Manchester Police data had also gone missing. This prompted David Smith, the Deputy Information Commissioner responsible for policing and security issues, to make a formal recommendation that all such sticks should be encrypted.
But the second stolen stick, which was inside an officer’s wallet in his kitchen near an open back door, was not encrypted nor protected by a password. Mr Smith described this as a ‘significant failing’.
He added: ‘The consequences of this type of breach really do send a shiver down the spine.’
As well as the names of informants, the stick contained details of police operations, names of officers involved in them, and those being targeted for arrest. The Information Commissioner’s Office has since fined the force £120,000.
On radar: Police watched Mr Grainger for weeks after he was cleared of suspicion regarding the memory stick theft
Mr Smith said: ‘In this particular case the data subjects would suffer from substantial distress knowing their sensitive personal data may be disclosed to third parties.’
If this has actually happened, they were likely to suffer ‘further substantial damage’, and be ‘exposed to physical harm’.
Police made the link between the stick and Grainger the month after it was stolen, when he put some Volkswagen Golf airbags up for sale on eBay. Grainger was working for his friend, Colin Waters, 42, who owned a car-breaking and spare parts business in Bury.
Why did the police think this significant? Because along with the memory stick, the officer from Grotton had lost the keys to his Golf. This was also stolen and not recovered.
Grainger had no convictions for violence, but he did have a record for car crimes, although he had committed all but one of them more than a decade earlier.
On September 29, Grainger and Waters were arrested and questioned about the memory stick at Chadderton police station.
Mr Waters said yesterday: ‘Anthony was a good friend. He lived in my house from 2009 until a short while before he was shot. We used to buy and sell parts all the time, and he put a lot of them up on eBay.
‘When the police interviewed us, all they wanted to know about was the memory stick. They claimed the airbags were from the same model as the VW stolen from the officer. But that proved nothing. We knew nothing about that stick, and we never had it.’
Police seized computers, cash and mobile phones, and released Grainger and Waters on bail. Then, on January 6, 2012, they told them there would be no further action.
In fact, the police were about to launch Operation Shire. Ostensibly, this was directed at three men – Grainger and two associates, David Totton and Robert Rimmer – and was based on suspicions they were planning to commit armed robberies. Documents show the undercover surveillance was intense, and covered every detail of the three men’s lives. For example, on the evening of February 20, Detective Constable John Mills wrote how he covertly observed Mr Rimmer when, ‘together with a white female dressed in black’, he entered a Jamie’s Italian restaurant.
In none of the dozens of Operation Shire records obtained by this newspaper is there even a hint that the men had access to weapons.
The evidence they were planning robberies also amounted to nothing more than the fact that they were sometimes seen in places where there were commercial premises, such as supermarkets and banks.
However, the briefing given by an unnamed detective from Operation Shire to 16 officers from the Greater Manchester Tactical Firearms Unit who reported for duty at 4.30am on March 3 last year, reflected none of this uncertainty.
The armed officers made their statements five days later. They are not named, but are identified by their ‘deployment numbers’.
Conspiracies: The three men who were with Mr Grainer that night were arrested for conspiracy to commit robbery - it only took a jury 45 minutes to find them not guilty
The fullest account of the briefing is in the statement by ‘Q9’, who describes himself as a ‘close-quarter combat live fire instructor’ – one of the unit’s most senior members and ‘a veteran of many deployments’. Before the briefing, his statement says, he drew his Heckler & Koch MP5 sub-machine gun and a 30-round magazine from the armoury, together with a self-loading Glock 17 pistol, more ammunition and a Taser.
Then, it goes on, he and his colleagues were told what to expect from Grainger and his associates:
‘The intelligence suggested that the subjects were responsible for a robbery in Preston in 2008 where they broke into a bank and lay in wait for the staff.
‘When the staff arrived they held them at gunpoint . . . and stole a substantial amount of cash.’
Q9’s statement adds: ‘It was within my knowledge that this group of offenders were in some way linked to a robbery at a bank in Bolton where one offender had opened fire on an attending police patrol.’
No evidence has been disclosed to support either of these assertions, and none of the men has ever been charged with these crimes.
But Q9 said that in his mind: ‘I was facing extremely dangerous criminals who committed robberies whilst armed with firearms.
‘I believed that members of this organised crime gang had discharged firearms towards police in the past in order to evade arrest.’
The last piece in the surveillance jigsaw was supplied by DC Steven Brown at 6.41pm, more than 14 hours after the armed officers had reported for duty that day and told to remain in a state of readiness.
He saw the car: Grainger and the two men were in a red Audi which had been stolen by unknown persons three months earlier and equipped with false number-plates.
Brown watched it enter a car park in Culcheth, a Cheshire village 15 miles west of Manchester and outside the Greater Manchester force area. By now it was dark, and unbeknown to the police, the three men in the Audi were not the group targeted by Operation Shire: Rimmer was absent, and one of the passengers was another man entirely – Joey Travers.
Their car was parked in a corner, next to a privet hedge.
The police decided to deploy the armed unit in three cars. They got to the car park at 7.09pm. Q9 was in the back seat of the lead or ‘alpha’ vehicle – a grey Audi estate.
Shot: A bullet hole in the windscreen of a red Audi that police opened fire at in Culcheth, Cheshire
His statement says: ‘I had hold of my MP5 by the pistol grip in my right hand and my left hand on the electric window button on the door. W4 [the driver] increased the speed of our vehicle when we were halfway along the car park.
‘I activated the electric window so it came fully down.
‘When the vehicle stopped I levelled my MP5 towards the front windscreen of the subjects’ vehicle . . . and switched the safety catch to fire.
‘From my position I was about three metres from the windscreen.
‘I shouted to the vehicle occupants, “Armed police, show me your hands.” ’
Q9 saw Grainger move his right hand downwards – he says ‘suddenly’ – though a statement from one of the other officers say this movement was slow.
The officer levelled his laser- aiming device ‘and fired one round to the centre mass of the driver’ – Grainger’s chest.
It was only afterwards that Q9’s colleagues shot out the Audi’s tyres and lobbed two tear gas grenades inside the vehicle. By then – around three seconds after the ‘alpha’ car had screeched to a halt – Grainger was already dying: no tear gas was found inside his lungs.
Afterwards, it seems from the statements, there was confusion.
For some time, most of the officers remained unaware Grainger had been shot, and one even says he thought he was trying to resist arrest, so tried to pull him out of the driver’s seat window until he noticed his chest wound.
Totton and Travers were arrested and charged, along with Rimmer, with conspiracy to commit robberies. In September they were tried but the prosecution case consisted only of the records of Operation Shire, and there was no mention of the supposed previous robberies cited by Q9.
In evidence, all three men said they had been in Culcheth to help Grainger recover money that was owed to him.
It took a jury just 45 minutes to find them not guilty.
Grainger’s death left his two children from an earlier relationship, who he used to visit every weekend, fatherless – and his partner, Gail Hadfield, with whom he had just moved in, bereaved.
As for his family, Mr Ahmed said: ‘There are too many unanswered questions. Who gave that briefing, and why did they say they were armed and dangerous? Why were the armed unit on duty for so long, and why was he shot so quickly?
‘I am convinced that Anthony’s death is somehow linked to the memory stick. Was someone trying to send a message to whoever really had it?
‘The only way to get at the truth is a full-blown public inquiry, and that’s what we’re demanding.’