Published Date: 11.07.2017
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, has said the actions of a police officer were justified when he discharged a TASER stun gun at a man sitting on a seat outside a bar in the centre of Belfast.
The man in question had the previous day escaped from prison in the Republic, stabbing two prison officers as he did so. He had been serving a sentence for armed robbery.
The incident, which happened at 7pm on 18th February 2015 outside Wetherspoon’s Bar on Bedford Street, was referred to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation.
Its investigators recovered CCTV footage of what happened and examined both a TASER which had been used and relevant police documentation. They listened to police radio transmissions during the incident and spoke to the police officers involved.
Police records show they had received information earlier that morning that a man who had escaped from prison in Dublin was now believed to be in Belfast. He had been serving a prison sentence for armed robbery, but had escaped.
Police tried to find the man and issued a photograph of him to the media.
At 5:45 that evening, they received a report of the attempted robbery of a shop in Howard Street. Staff there said a man with a knife had demanded money from them before running off. The description they gave matched that of the man police were looking for.
At 6pm police received a report that a man with a knife had escaped with £60 from a shop on the Dublin Road. When officers arrived at the scene and looked at the CCTV, they established that the person’s description also matched that of the man who had escaped from prison.
Man was sitting outside bar writing postcards after robbing nearby shop.
Within minutes they then received a report from a member of the public that a man fitting this description had been seen near a bar on the Dublin Road.
Police then began checking premises in the area. When they went into Wetherspoon’s Bar in Bedford Street, they saw the man sitting on a seat outside, writing postcards.
They decided to leave the bar in such a way that the man would think he had not been recognised.
Having left, the officers then radioed for assistance from a special Armed Response Unit which was in the area.
When the Unit arrived, one of its officers approached the man to ask him for identification. This officer said the man pulled up his shirt to expose a knife in his waistband.
He said the man was warned that police were armed and ordered to drop the knife, but instead took the knife from his waistband and pushed it into his own stomach.
He said his colleague pulled the knife out of the man’s stomach and another officer then shouted ‘TASER’ before discharging the weapon.
The officer who fired the TASER said the initial discharge was ineffective, and he then used the weapon in “drive stun mode”, by pressing it against the man’s skin.
The man was then incapacitated, which allowed officers to restrain him.
Dr Maguire has said the actions of the police officers were justified:
“The man had a knife and had stabbed two people as he escaped from prison. He was believed to be dangerous and police officers did well to spot him sitting outside a bar along one of the main roads in the city.
“The fact that this man was in a tussle with two officers, had a knife and was already believed to be dangerous, gave the police officer who fired the TASER no other option if he was to protect the lives of his colleagues and prevent the man himself from further self harm. The officer made the right decision,” he said.