Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Vindicated: off-duty PSNI officer right to open fire

A court verdict that an off-duty PSNI officer was justified in shooting an armed robber has been hailed as a victory for common sense and law and order.

Serial offender Marc Alexander Ringland was armed with a knife when he was shot dead by a police officer who interrupted the robbery of a filling station when he called in to buy petrol.

A jury at an inquest into 29-year-old Ringland’s death found yesterday that the officer had reasonable grounds to open fire.

Chairman of the Northern Ireland Police Federation Terry Spence said that the jury’s findings clearly demonstrate that the officer “acted with utmost professionalism and courage in dealing with this situation”.

“A police officer is always on duty. We are police officers 24/7. As police officers we are expected to protect the public whether we are on or off duty,” he said.

“This officer acted in a courageous way. He was protecting the public and I am glad to see that common sense has prevailed in this case.”

Following the jury’s verdict exonerating the police officer, Ringland’s family said that they hoped his death would serve as a deterrent to other criminals.

Ringland, from Calvin Street in Belfast, had 133 previous convictions. CCTV footage showed him entering the east Belfast filling station, threatening a shop assistant with the knife and grabbing handfuls of cash from the till. The policeman who shot him had called at the garage to buy fuel on his way to start a nightshift.

The officer, identified only as Officer A, told the inquest: “I felt he was going to stab me. He was only two metres from me. He knew what was going to happen. I felt my only option was to shoot.”

The jury agreed that the policeman had properly identified himself and issued a clear, loud and assertive warning before he shot Ringland once in the chest with his personal protection weapon during the robbery at the petrol station on the Albertbridge Road in February 2011.

A separate investigation by the Police Ombudsman found the officer had not breached any guidelines and the Public Prosecution Service also concluded the officer had no criminal case to answer.

Fateful night a policeman crossed paths with petrol station robber

When an off-duty police officer ran into violent career criminal Marc Alexander Ringland on a cold February evening in 2011 it was a case of two worlds colliding.

Mr Ringland, who had over 100 criminal convictions, including for making threats and assault, entered the filling station close to his east Belfast home. Short of money he armed himself with a knife and set off to rob the store. This was the life he was used to.

Around the same time, a hard-working police officer on his way to begin a long night-shift, stopped at the same filling station on the Albertbridge Road to purchase fuel.

A coincidental meeting of two strangers inside that busy BP garage resulted in Ringland's death and turned the officer's life upside down.

The officer was off-duty but was carrying his personal protection weapon when Ringland violently threatened a member of staff with his knife.

At the time an eyewitness claimed that Ringland had held the knife to a sales assistant's throat before grabbing handfuls of cash from the till.

Without hesitation, wanting to protect the public from the knifeman, the officer took control of the situation and ordered Ringland to drop his weapon.

He warned Ringland that if he did not put down the knife he would be forced to shoot.

When the 29-year-old ignored the warnings the officer, who had been serving in the PSNI for four years at the time, opened fire, shooting him once in the chest.

An inquest into the father-of-one's death heard that officers across the UK are not trained to aim for limbs when they shoot.

A lawyer acting for the PSNI said the use of lethal force was to incapacitate an offender as quickly as possible by targeting the central body mass such as the torso or head.

Opening fire would not have been an easy decision for the officer to make.

He told the inquest he had no other choice but to shoot.

Ringland's mother died just days after her son was shot.

Although devastated by the tragic deaths, Ringland's family said they can only hope the incident will act as a deterrent to other criminals.

Ringland had an extensive criminal record and was on licence for numerous offences, including assault, criminal damage, driving while disqualified, making a threat to kill, burglary and theft, at the time he was shot.

His descent into violent crime was under way as far back as 1999 when he was in his late teens.

He appeared in court four times between June 2000 and May 2001, and during that period was convicted of three robberies.

In 2001 he pleaded guilty to burglary after being caught raiding a dental surgery on the Castlereagh Road and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in a young offenders' centre.

But by 2005 he was back in jail again, sentenced to six years for taking part in another robbery.

On that occasion, he and another male entered a veterinary clinic in Bangor and fled with almost £400 after holding a terrified female receptionist at knife point.

The court heard the pair were high on a cocktail of drink and drugs at the time.

Later, Ringland absconded while on pre-release from prison. He never learnt from the punishments and interventions handed down by the courts.

His refusal to leave his life of crime behind ultimately resulted in his death.

As for the PSNI officer, he is back at work having been exonerated by the Police Ombudsman, Public Prosecution Service and now an inquest.

But, the incident will likely always haunt him, another PSNI officer said.

“This has been a difficult time for him. I am sure what happened will always be in the back of his mind,” his colleague said. “Even though he knew he had acted properly he will have played the situation over and over again in his mind.

“At least now he will be able to try and put all this behind him.”

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