SE­CRETS OF A SNIPER

ONE OF OUR MOST DEC­O­RATED VET­ER­ANS TAKES US IN­SIDE THE SE­CRE­TIVE WORLD OF THE PO­LICE SNIPER AND WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE LIVES DE­PEND­ING ON YOUR TRIG­GER FINGER, RE­PORTS CHARLES MI­RANDA

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - FRONT PAGE -

IT was a scene straight from an ac­tion movie — three peo­ple al­ready shot dead, the cops pinned down by a gun­man and ev­ery­thing rest­ing on a po­lice sniper called Fin­gers.

Fin­gers was be­hind an elec­tri­cal box with bul­lets from a 30.06-cal­i­bre semi­au­to­matic ri­fle and a shot­gun zing­ing above his ears, with the rest of his four-man team ly­ing in the gut­ter be­ing shot at and another dozen of­fi­cers shel­ter­ing be­hind their squad cars.

He had had no time to get his “golf bag” of sniper kit in­clud­ing his scoped Mauser 86SR or Sako 85 bolt ac­tion, so had to rely on his Heck­ler & Koch MP5 sub ma­chine gun, de­signed for close-quar­ters and with no scope sight, mean­ing he had to get to within 50m of his tar­get.

He was only able to get to 55m be­fore be­ing shot at.

Now he has to es­ti­mate range, range speed, speed wind drag and point of aim as well as fac­tor in a park filled with chil­dren nearby as well as a large crowd gath­er­ing from West­field Bur­wood that has heard the sirens and gun­fire.

His or­ders are “to­tal in­ca­pac­ity”, which means a kill shot to the head and he de­cides he needs to aim about 30cm above the gun­man to hit that tar­get. Fin­gers has to block out the sirens, gun­fire, screams, yells and the sound of chil­dren play­ing be­fore squeez­ing the trig­ger — and not think about how this day was sup­posed to be very dif­fer­ent.

THE WORLD OF THE SNIPER

The world of the sniper is not of­ten seen out­side of Hol­ly­wood.

But Fin­gers, one of Aus­tralia’s most ex­pe­ri­enced po­lice marks­men with more than two decades on the tools, has agreed to take The Sun­day Tele­graph through this usu­ally closed world.

He has had the “over watch” sniper’s role for three vis­it­ing US pres­i­dents, mul­ti­ple mem­bers of the royal fam­ily and the Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter, stopped mul­ti­ple tar­gets from Aus­tralia’s un­der­belly and re­ceived mul­ti­ple awards.

He has ef­fec­tively writ­ten the text­book in tac­ti­cal polic­ing but he doesn’t seek fame, just for peo­ple to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of a marks­man’s job.

FAST TRACK TO DAN­GER

Fin­gers was never into guns be­fore he joined the NSW Po­lice and got a .38 spe­cial po­lice re­volver.

He was a uni­formed of­fi­cer in the Liv­er­pool area, be­fore join­ing the le­gendary 21 Divi­sion, a fly­ing squad for high­end crim­i­nals and ma­jor in­ci­dents.

His abil­i­ties were no­ticed and he was put in the Po­lice Tac­ti­cal T ti lG Group, an Aus­tralia-wide elite po­lice group de­signed to com­bat high-risk in­ci­dents that today is a corner­stone to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional Counter Ter­ror­ism Plan.

They have to pass rig­or­ous train­ing with the Spe­cial Air Ser­vice be­fore they be­come a Yel­low Back or Tar­mac Lizard, the nick­name for snipers.

Fin­gers not only spent time with the SAS but with New Zealand’s Spe­cial Tac­tics Group and learned how to deal with chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal ra­di­o­log­i­cal, nu­clear and ex­plo­sive (known as CBRNE) in­ci­dents in Canada.

“It was hard shit,” Fin­gers re­called. “The course went for a bit over three and a half weeks, night and day, we were at their mercy.”

It wasn’t long be­fore Fin­gers was tak­ing the Sierra 1 call sign, the se­nior snip­ing lead on the ground.

“It’s not just a point, squeeze and shoot,” he said.

“You’ve got to be a marks­man, but you have also got to be a plan­ner, you have to be able to de­ploy your teams.

“The sniper has two roles, in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing and the sec­ond one is the ... bal­lis­tic in­ter­ven­tion.”

The in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing is a pri­mary role, look­ing through a scope or binoc­u­lars for hours upon hours to study move­ment and pat­terns of tar­gets.

“I’ve looked down sniper’s scopes for years and you come to recog­nise fear and anx­i­ety on peo­ple’s faces,” Fin­gers said. “More so, you come to recog­nise when you see their hopes are fail­ing, you can see it and you also see: ‘When are you go­ing to help me?’ on their faces, as if they know some­one is watch­ing.

“Look­ing at close range through the scope at their faces and they are qui­etly call­ing out for help, I con­tem­plate my own headspace … ‘the time is not right, time not right’, but I

can’t tell them that even.

“You have got to keep con­trol un­til that line in the sand is drawn, un­til it is jus­ti­fied.”

THE FATE­FUL MO­MENT

That Bur­wood day on Au­gust 26, 1993 was not like a nor­mal siege or high-risk ar­rest with three al­ready dead and po­ten­tially more to come un­less the madman was stopped.

Fin­gers had to look at his “two catches”. First catch is the tar­get and a clean hit, sec­ond catch is the back­ground, and you can’t en­gage un­less he is in a fir­ing line be­cause the sec­ond catch could be one of those in­no­cent by­standers at West­field.

The armed man ran into the fir­ing line and Fin­gers thought quickly about his jus­ti­fi­ca­tion be­fore squeez­ing his trig­ger.

“You have to have that jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, that jus­ti­fi­ca­tion was ly­ing in the gut­ters next to me, those cops be­ing shot at and three dead peo­ple, no dra­mas that’s my jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, I crack a round. Wait­ing, his hand goes down his leg but he keeps walk­ing till he gets to a post looks at his hand and there’s blood.”

The head­shot missed but the bul­let hit his body and he dropped.

“I never took my work home, my then wife knew where I worked, she had a lit­tle bit of an un­der­stand­ing of what I did and where I worked,” he said.

“Look­ing back I re­gret a bit, not be­cause of be­ing in the cops or an en­vi­ron­ment where you work among tragedy or bad­ness, but be­cause you don’t get many mo­ments where you go home and talk to your part­ners.

“To go home and say, ‘I did this and that today’ in terms of snip­ing, you know some­thing would go over their heads and is best left at work, and I did that.

“In terms of so­cial life around snip­ing … Au­gust 26 was my brother’s birthday.

“That night I was plan­ning on a din­ner to­gether, but I had just shot some­one and I had to go home that night and play it all out.

“I had to think, ‘That’s be­hind me … that’s com­part­men­talised now go out and en­joy my brother’s birthday with the rest of my fam­ily’.

“It’s a big leap to go from one to the other.

“I could sit there and en­joy my­self, but at the back of my headspace is: ‘This is what I did, it was jus­ti­fied. I know I have to go and be in­ter­viewed to­mor­row about this, about why I did things, I know that is go­ing to hap­pen and I’m happy’.

“Could I have done it another way be­cause ul­ti­mately the ques­tion was, ‘Could there have been an al­ter­na­tive to lethal force?’

“In this case, there was no al­ter­na­tive, con­tain­ment ne­go­ti­a­tion was not go­ing to work with this bloke.”

You have got to keep con­trol un­til that line in the sand is dra wn, un­til it is jus­tif ied

PO­LICE SNIPER ‘FINGER S’

Po­lice snipers in full cam­ou­flage gear head into the bush.

Fin­gers and mem­bers of his squad in train­ing and (right) Fin­gers today, an ex­pert sniper who kept an eye on the Bill Clin­ton visit in 1996. Main pic­ture: Sam Ruttyn

Bill Clin­ton in Syd­ney.

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