Published Date: 01.02.2013
The Police Ombudsman has said it was fortunate no one was killed or seriously injured when a police officer accidentally fired a shot through the floor of a police car outside the Hydebank Young Offenders Centre.
The incident happened in a public car park on 7 June 2011 as the officer performed a safety check on the weapon.
The officer (Officer 1) had just returned to the vehicle after he and a colleague had attended to police business in the Centre, which is located on the outskirts of south Belfast.
Both officers, after travelling to Hydebank from Fermanagh, had left their guns locked in the vehicle’s glove compartment while they were in the facility.
When later interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, Officer 1 admitted that the shot had been fired as a result of his own negligence as he had failed to properly follow safety procedures when checking the gun. He said there had been no defect with his weapon.
When asked about the decision taken by himself and his colleague to leave their guns in the glove compartment of their car, the officer said he had done so after receiving an email from a colleague who was familiar with procedures at Hydebank. He said the email suggested that weapon storage facilities at the centre were not completely secure.
However, enquiries by Police Ombudsman investigators with Hydebank established that the Centre had a clear policy for securing police firearms during visits, involving weapons being checked in and out, and being locked in an armoury box.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, expressed concern about the way the incident had been handled by police.
“While it remains necessary for police officers in Northern Ireland to be armed, there comes with that a responsibility to ensure that weapons are handled in a safe and secure manner to minimise any risk to officers, their colleagues and members of the public,” said Dr Maguire.
Concerns that guns were left in police car, and at delay in Police Ombudsman being notified about shot being fired.
He also criticised the officers’ decision to leave their weapons in their car and expressed concern at a delay in his Office being informed by police that a shot had been fired.
“Proper procedures were not followed,” he said. “The scene, car and weapon were not secured, and the officers involved were allowed to leave the scene, contravening procedures to ensure that all discharges of police firearms in Northern Ireland are subject to full independent investigation by my Office.”
By the time the Office’s Duty Senior Investigator had been informed about the incident, about an hour and a half after it happened, Officer 1 and his colleague were on their way back to Fermanagh, their car having been passed as fit to drive by a qualified police vehicle examiner.
Later that day, a Police Ombudsman investigator travelled to Fermanagh and seized Officer 1’s firearm. The police car was examined and photographed, and statements were obtained from all officers involved in the incident, as well as a civilian witness.
Relevant police documentation was also examined, and enquiries established that there was no CCTV coverage of the scene of the discharge.
Three officers disciplined.
A total of three police officers were disciplined as a result of failings identified by the Police Ombudsman’s investigation. Officer 1 was disciplined for the negligent discharge of his firearm, he and his colleague were disciplined for leaving their guns in the police car, and a more senior officer was disciplined for failing to follow proper procedures to facilitate the Police Ombudsman investigation of the incident.