Published Date: 10.06.2015
A police officer who shot a man as he fled after abandoning a stolen car has been disciplined for using excessive force.
It follows a Police Ombudsman investigation into the use of live fire during the incident, which happened in Gilford, Co. Down, on 18 July 2009.
The officer claimed he fired as the man was turning round to face him with what looked like a gun in his hand.
However, forensic evidence suggested the man was climbing a fence when he was shot - with his feet off the ground and his back towards the officer.
Based on the Police Ombudsman’s findings, the Public Prosecution Service directed that the officer should be prosecuted for causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
When the case was heard in February 2013, the charges against the officer were withdrawn by the prosecution as a result of the conduct of the injured party in court.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, then recommended formal disciplinary action against the officer, and this was imposed by the PSNI. However, the officer subsequently lodged an appeal, which resulted in the severity of the sanctions imposed on him being reduced.
The events leading up to the shooting began when a man called police to report that his car had been stolen by a man who had called at his house in Craigavon and threatened to light a petrol bomb if the keys were not handed over.
Details of the vehicle were circulated on police radio, and two officers gave chase after seeing it in Gilford. After a short pursuit, the driver collided with a kerb in a cul-de-sac and ran off towards the rear of nearby houses.
Two officers drew their firearms as they gave chase, taking different directions after they temporarily lost sight of the man.
One of the officers caught sight of him again and ordered him to stop. The officer said the man pointed what looked like a firearm at him, and he reacted by firing a single shot from his police issue pistol. The shot, fired from a range of about nine metres, struck the man on the left flank.
Forensic examination showed that the bullet entered the man’s rear lower waist and exited his front abdomen. The trajectory of the bullet – indicated by a hole in the fence and a strike mark on a wall - suggested his feet had been off the ground at the time.
Two other officers who had seen the man as he ran off were interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, but neither recalled that the man had anything in his hands.
The man himself said he had a black handled screwdriver and a chisel in the back pocket of his jeans, but his hands had been on top of the fence when he was shot.
No weapon was found, despite an extensive search of the scene.
Dr Maguire concluded that there was no evidence, other than the statement of the officer who fired the shot, that the man had anything in his hand which could be mistaken for a firearm.
He noted, however, that the officer may have perceived the incident to have been linked to paramilitaries given the circumstances in which the car was stolen, and the fact that officers had been briefed about high threat levels from dissident activity in the area.
After the collapse of the prosecution case against the officer, the PSNI accepted a Police Ombudsman recommendation that the officer be brought before a misconduct hearing. The hearing resulted in the officer being found guilty of two breaches regarding the use of force, while a third alleged breach was dismissed.
The level of the disciplinary sanctions imposed following the hearing were subsequently reduced when the Chief Constable reviewed an appeal by the officer. The Chief Constable also ordered the officer to undertake a Judgemental Firearm Training Course.