Two officers who shot dead a man carrying a table leg they mistook for a sawn-off shotgun will not be charged.

Inspector Neil Sharman and PC Kevin Fagan were arrested in June for shooting father-of-three Harry Stanley, 46, as he walked home from a Hackney pub in 1999.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there was not enough evidence to rebut their claim of self-defence.

Family 'devastated'

Mr Stanley's family, originally from Scotland, were outraged at the news.

His wife Irene, who has fought for six years to see the officers stand trial, said: "What happened today was an injustice.

"I am devastated by it, though I half expected it. I am going to keep fighting but can't say more until I receive legal advice."

On the night of his death the Scot fetched a coffee table leg repaired by his brother, wrapped in a blue plastic bag.

On his way home he had lemonade at the Alexandra pub in east London, where someone thought his Scottish accent was Irish and the piece of wood a sawn-off shotgun.

Armed police responded to the person's call about an "Irish terrorist".

Outside the pub, just 100 yards from the Stanley home, Insp Sharman shot the painter and decorator in the head. PC Fagan also opened fire.

Six-year fight

A first inquest returned an open verdict, but the Stanleys had it overturned in the High Court.

When a second inquest found the killing was unlawful, the two officers were suspended last October.

This led to a security crisis in London, with armed police refusing to work in support of their colleagues.

In May the High Court quashed the second inquest.

Still, new forensic evidence prompted an investigation by Surrey Police.

Two bullet holes in the shoulder of the jacket Mr Stanley was wearing suggested he had begun to turn when he was shot contrary to the officers' statements.

On this basis the officers were arrested on suspicion of murder, gross negligence manslaughter, perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

However, independent forensic evidence showed the fatal shot could have been consistent with the officers' claims after all, the CPS said.

A statement read: "The prosecution evidence is insufficient to rebut the officers' assertion that they were acting in self defence."

Although the CPS will not prosecute the officers in court, they could still face disciplinary action by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

'Life and death decision'

The Met welcomed the CPS announcement.

"These officers were asked to make an instant life and death decision whilst carrying out the armed policing duties for which they had volunteered," said Assistant Commissioner Steve House.

He called for legal reform of procedures that dragged out the case over more than six years. "The current system has not served the best interests of anyone."

But Inquest, the pressure group whose lawyers represent the Stanleys, said the decision undermined public confidence, as it seems to put police officers above the law.

Two inquests rejected the officers' accounts, said Inquest co-director Deborah Coles.

"The fact that police can shoot dead an unarmed man and not be held accountable is abhorrent."