PERHAPS to no-one's great surprise, certainly not mine, the police marksman who shot dead an unarmed man in Culcheth will face no criminal charges.

An officer from the self-same firearms unit shot dead a colleague at point-blank range on a training exercise more than four years ago and never faced a jury.

He cost the Greater Manchester force £250,000 in fines and court costs and put two of his training instructors through the wringer, but his reputation, and identity, were not infringed.

Once again another lengthy legal battle is underway after the shooting of Anthony Grainger behind some Warrngton Road shops, a man who police falsely suspected of stealing a much-coveted memory stick.

Quite understandably his family are outraged that it's only the police force itself that will be in the dock.

The Crown Prosecution Service, in its infinite wisdom, has ruled that lawyers, and not a jury, should decide on whether the marksman in question was right to fire the fatal shot, apparently reversing centuries of accepted notions of British justice.

Due legal process will now kick in and I've no doubt the family's concerns will be punted into the long grass until m'learned friends have earned their corn and the case is resolved.

But this should not deflect from the serious issues this case throws up regarding armed officers patrolling our streets.

I'm not disputing the very fact that they should be tooled up, given the advanced armouries of some of our criminal classes.

However how they operate and where they roam should surely be placed under scrutiny, when the dust settles.

Here's an example - the same firearms unit, detailed above, has an operation which takes them over the border from Greater Manchester to a small Lancashire town.

An arrest is made, amid much drama and screeching of police tyres, all's well and good.

Being a curious soul, and with e-mails, photos and calls from interested neighbours, I try to establish what brought the armed response boys into this little corner of Lancashire.

The press people at GMP headquarters are at a loss, as their team left their jurisdiction and there is no log of their activities off Mancunian soil.

And when a similar call is made to their counterparts at Lancashire's mission control, they have no clue either, as their bobbies are not involved.

Like I said, no blood was shed on this occasion but it would have made for a fascinating post-mortem if it had, given the air of mystery and intrigue surrounding that little episode.

I've nothing but respect for any firearms officer - it's probably the toughest job on any force and they are required to make split-second decisions most of us would baulk at.

The sooner there's a north-west wide unit though, which is co-ordinated, accountable and all our constabularies are plugged into, the better in my book, and the safer we can all feel.