Published Date: 28.10.2015
The Police Ombudsman has concluded that a police officer was justified in firing a baton round at a 17-year-old armed with a knife during an incident in west Belfast on 9 March 2014.
All use of live fire by police in Northern Ireland is subject to independent investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office.
Officers told Police Ombudsman investigators that the AEP (Attenuating Energy Projectile) round was fired as the youth was approaching officers with the knife raised in his hand, and after he had attacked a police car.
The youth’s mother had earlier called police to report that he had a baseball bat and was trying to smash his way into her home. She said she feared for the safety of her other young children in the house.
When police arrived, the woman told them her son had left and may have taken a knife with him. A police Armed Response Unit (ARU) was then also tasked.
Uniformed police found him after a passing motorist advised that a youth with a knife was heading towards the rear of a leisure centre. They said he was ordered to put the knife down, but instead approached their car and began hitting the boot area of the vehicle with either his hand or the handle of the knife.
The officer who fired the AEP was a member of the ARU in a second vehicle which arrived shortly after. He said he had remained in the police car to provide flanking cover, and decided to fire when he saw the youth approaching other officers with the knife raised.
He said he gave a warning and fired the AEP as it was “the most appropriate less than lethal means of force” given his distance from the youth.
The officer estimated that the youth was about 15 feet away when he fired, but was closer to and approaching another officer. He said he feared that if the youth got any closer, police would have been left with no option other than to use live fire.
He added that the youth had been beyond the effective range of Taser when he fired the AEP.
His account was corroborated by other officers, including the officer who had been approached by the youth. He said he had readied his Taser when the AEP was fired.
Police Ombudsman investigators were tasked to the scene which was photographed and examined by a crime scene investigator. An eight inch serrated kitchen knife was recovered.
Statements were recorded from the youth and two of his friends, who all alleged that the AEP had been fired with no warning. This was in contrast to the police witnesses who each stated that the officer had shouted: “Armed police, drop the knife” before firing.
The youth who was struck with the AEP complained that it amounted to an assault. At the conclusion of the Police Ombudsman’s investigation a file was sent to the PPS, who directed that no officer should be prosecuted in relation to the allegation.
Training records showed that the officer who used the AEP had been properly trained in its use.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that the use of the weapon had been lawful, proportionate and necessary.
However, he also commented on a lack of clarity within police guidelines about when the use of AEPs is justified, and recommended that these be reviewed “to ensure the test for the use of an AEP is correct, clear and unambiguous.”