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Officer 'wrong to shoot suspect'

Published 10/06/2015

A PSNI officer has been disciplined for using excessive force after shooting a man he said he believed had a gun
A PSNI officer has been disciplined for using excessive force after shooting a man he said he believed had a gun

A police officer used excessive force when he shot a man fleeing a stolen car, an investigation has found.

The officer, who has been formally disciplined, said he believed the suspect had a gun but forensic evidence found by the Police Ombudsman suggested he was climbing a fence when hit.

The incident happened at Gilford in Co Down almost six years ago.

Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said: "Great care must be taken by officers when deciding to use lethal or potentially lethal force."

The suspect suffered non-life threatening injuries to his abdomen.

He admitted having a black-handled screwdriver and a chisel in the back pocket of his jeans, but claimed his hands were on top of the fence when he was shot.

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, the Ombudsman's office said.

Dr Maguire added: "It (lethal force) should only be used when an officer believes there is a real and immediate threat to life.

"In this case there was no such threat, which is why I deemed it appropriate that action should be taken against the officer involved."

The officer was in a patrol car which came across the stolen Range Rover.

It had been taken from a property in Craigavon, Co Armagh by a man who threatened to ignite a petrol bomb.

While being pursued by police, the car hit a kerb in a cul-de-sac and the driver attempted to escape on foot.

The officer insisted the suspect, when ordered to stop, had pointed what looked like a firearm and his reaction was to deploy a single shot from his police issue pistol from about nine metres away.

The incident happened on July 18 2009, several months after the PSNI constable Stephen Carroll was gunned down responding to a burglary in Craigavon.

The Ombudsman said the officer would have be en briefed on the high level of threat from dissident republicans in the area and may have believed paramilitaries were involved because of the circumstances of the theft.

The Public Prosecution Service directed that the officer be charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent but, when the case came to court in February 2013, the charges were withdrawn as a result of the conduct of the injured party in court, the Ombudsman said.

An internal PSNI misconduct hearing found the officer guilty of two breaches regarding the use of force but the severity of the disciplinary sanctions was reduced following a review by the Chief Constable.

The officer was also ordered to undertake a judgmental firearms training course.

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