Officer 'accidentally fired gun'
A police officer stumbled and accidentally fired his weapon after stopping a car believed to contain armed paramilitaries, a watchdog investigation has found.
Although no one was injured, Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire recommended that the armed response officer be disciplined for his handling of the gun during the i ncident in south Belfast in November 2013.
However, Dr Maguire said the decision to forcibly stop the vehicle was lawful and in proportion to the threat posed to members of the public.
No firearms were recovered, but four men were arrested and two knuckle dusters and a wooden baton were seized.
A forensic examination of the car carried out as part of the Ombudsman's investigation showed that the shot had been fired in an upward direction from very close range.
Investigators said the officer had claimed to have readied his gun for firing, in accordance with his training for such scenarios, but stumbled as he approached the car causing the rifle to slide up the window and for the shot to be discharged into the door frame.
The officer was a member of one of two police armed response units tasked to intercept the vehicle after reports were received that six men, who identified themselves as paramilitaries, had unsuccessfully tried to enter a house and fled in two cars.
Examination of official records, including the initial phone call to police, showed that a description of the vehicles and a warning that they contained firearms had been circulated to patrols.
When one of the cars was identified in the south Belfast area, the armed response units were authorised to force it to stop.
The four men who were in the vehicle were interviewed and said the officer had fired a shot at them after their vehicle was rammed as it was pulling over to stop.
Officers in the police cars said they forced the car to stop as it had failed to pull over.
The Ombudsman said training records for the officer who discharged the firearm showed that he was properly trained in the use of the weapon at the time of the incident.
Northern Ireland's chief constable referred the matter to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation as standard procedure.
Disciplinary action has already been taken by the PSNI, the Ombudsman's office said.