Last night, 24 hours after the incident, both Greater Manchester Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which looks into fatal police operations, refused to say if evidence suggested that the men in the car had weapons themselves.
Both GMP and the IPCC said investigative officers had not passed on the information and that they may be prevented from releasing it while enquiries were still ongoing.
It was the first fatal police shooting since the death of Mark Duggan last summer, which sparked riots and looting in Tottenham that spread across England.
Following mistakes in the handling of that case, police were at pains to make clear they had been in touch with the victim of the weekend’s shooting.
Deputy Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said: “I understand there will be a lot of anxious people both in the Cheshire community where this happened, and across Greater Manchester itself. I also understand there will inevitably be speculation about what happened and the events leading up to this man’s death.
“Because there is an IPCC independent investigation, I cannot go into the specific details of the operation but equally I do want to provide some reassurance to people.
“Firstly, our thoughts are with the man’s family during what will clearly be a very difficult and emotional time, and specially trained family liaison officers have been in contact with the family. I want to assure them that ourselves, Cheshire Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission will carry out a thorough investigation which will establish all the facts.”
It is thought that officers were carrying out surveillance of a gang after a spate of armed robberies nearby, and residents claimed there had been a heightened police presence in the area for several days.
A Co-Op supermarket in the village of Culcheth, near Warrington, had been held up by a machete-wielding gang just last month.
At about 7.20pm on Saturday night, as children played nearby and families visited pubs and restaurants, officers wearing gas masks approached a red Audi estate that was parked in a pay and display car park in the centre of the village.
It is suspected that the driver was either about to speed off when challenged by police, or that the occupants either threatened the officers or refused arrest, prompting the police to let off tear gas canisters and open fire.
One bullet went through the windscreen of the car, which was still visible the following day as forensic teams searched for evidence, and although the injured man, Mr Grainger, was given first aid he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The 35 year-old, who was from Salford but lived in Bury, was jailed last year for 20 months after pleading guilty to handling stolen goods. According to a police report he had “processed three cars worth up to £71,000 at an industrial estate”.
Mr Grainger had also been involved in a long-running and costly trial involving a police officer’s links with a drugs gang, but was acquitted of possessing Class A drugs.
Tributes were paid to him on his Facebook page, where he was described as a “good solid lad”.
One message, signed Gail, read: “I love you Anthony, you are the one who will be in my heart forever , my fella, my best friend , my soul mate... always have and always will, you'll be with me forever........ Hope you sleep well xxxx all my love.”
The other two men in the car remain in custody in Manchester.
The incident is believed to have been part of a wider move against organised crime across the north west, called Operation Titan.
A teenage eyewitness to the shooting, Jessica Brown, described how the normally quiet village centre turned into “the set of a horror movie”.
The 15 year-old paper girl was in the Village Pizza takeaway with friends when she heard a commotion outside.
“A couple ran in and said there was something going on. They told us to stand back against the wall. The people in the shop got down on the floor to make sure they could not be seen.
“There were loads of bangs from guns and people were running around outside screaming.
“I saw three men in gas masks with guns running along the road past the pizza shop being followed by two other men. The men with gas masks were dressed all in black.
“As soon as I stepped outside I got the smell of gas up my nose and in the back of my throat. I could taste gas. Loads of police vans were parked across the road in the car park.
“There were undercover police with guns walking around.
“It all looked like something off a film. It did not feel real at all. It was horrible.”
Her father Anthony Brown, 38, a software architect, said his daughter was “crying her eyes out” when she returned home.
“I was very shocked - and I still am. This is just a quiet and pleasant village - it’s not the kind of place to see policemen running around with guns.”
The IPCC said: “The IPCC has been informed by Cheshire Constabulary of an incident near Jackson Avenue, Culcheth, Cheshire at approximately 7.20pm on Saturday 3 March where a man was fatally shot by armed officers from Greater Manchester Police.
“The incident has been referred to the IPCC who will independently investigate. IPCC investigators are at the scene and working with officers from both Greater Manchester Police and Cheshire Constabulary.
“The IPCC investigation is at a very early stage. We will issue a fuller statement in due course.”