Published Date: 13.03.2014
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, has found that police were justified in using Tasers during five incidents involving people armed with knives.
Four involved people who were threatening to harm or kill themselves, the other involved a person who was using a knife to threaten his mother and sister. In each instance the use of Taser allowed police to disarm the individuals involved.
In April 2010 police in East Belfast used Taser against a man suspected of having been involved in a spate of early morning armed robberies in the Woodstock Road and Albertbridge Road areas.
Having captured one suspect, police believed another was upstairs in a house and may have had a gun.
Officers tried to persuade him to hand himself in, and a short time later he came down the stairs with a kitchen knife. His wrists had been cut in several places and his forearms were smeared with blood.
Two officers said the man was shouting aggressively and had the knife pointed towards them as he approached. They trained their Tasers on him and warned him to drop the weapon.
When he then appeared to reach for the waistband of his trousers, the officers feared he might be reaching for a gun, and both fired their Tasers. Both missed and the man ran upstairs.
After more than four hours of negotiations, during which the man threatened to shoot officers and hang himself, he eventually surrendered to police. A large kitchen knife and imitation firearm were subsequently found at the scene.
In January 2013, police went to a house in Dungannon in response to a call that a man was threatening his mother and sister. Police arrived to find the man, who had a knife, and the two women in a room. The women were in a distressed state.
The man ignored police appeals for him to drop the knife, and when he then turned towards the women, an officer discharged his Taser. The man then dropped the knife, allowing officers to restrain him.
During another incident in Lisburn in October 2011, police used Taser against a man who had a knife and was threatening to kill himself. He was also reported to have been trying to push a dog onto the road into the path of oncoming traffic. Officers said Taser was used as the man had rushed towards them with the knife in his hand, having previously asked if police would shoot him if he ran at them with the knife.
Taser was used again in Newtownabbey in December 2011 when police received a report that a man had a knife and a rope and was threatening to kill himself. An officer discharged his Taser when the man placed the knife at his throat. A relative of the man later told Police Ombudsman investigators that he was satisfied with the actions taken by police.
At Belleek in County Fermanagh in June 2013, Taser was again used after police responded to a 999 call that a man was outside a house with a knife and was threatening the homeowner.
Police arrived to find that the suspect had by that stage gone to a nearby house. When police entered the property, the man held up a pizza cutter to his throat and threatened to kill himself. An officer then fired a Taser, which allowed police to disarm and restrain him.
All incidents involving the use by police of firearms are automatically referred by police to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation.
Having considered a range of evidence relating to the incidents - including witness statements, police documents and radio transmissions, as well as medical evidence and information retrieved from the electronic memory of the Tasers - Dr Maguire found that the use of the weapon had on each occasion been justified, necessary and proportionate.
“I am satisfied that the police were presented with situations in which there was a clear risk of injury to members of the public and police officers, and that the use of Taser was appropriate in helping to quickly remove such threats.”
Dr Maguire found that the officers who used the Tasers had been appropriately trained and authorised to do so, and when practicable had given warnings before using the weapon.
The PSNI has also confirmed that it has since taken measures to synchronise the clocks built into Tasers, after Police Ombudsman enquiries found a discrepancy of 14 seconds in the times recorded by the two weapons used virtually simultaneously during the East Belfast incident in April 2010.
Dr Maguire noted that “had the circumstances of these discharges been more contentious, the discrepancies in timings between the two discharges could have raised significant issues.”