Belfast Telegraph

Police officer who shot driver dead criticised by ombudsman

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

The judgment of a PSNI officer who shot dead a joyrider was “critically flawed”, a report by the Police Ombudsman has found.

Steven Colwell (23), a father-of-one from the Shankill area of Belfast was killed on Easter Sunday, April 2006. He had been high on drugs driving a car that was stolen during a ‘creeper’ style burglary and was trying to escape a checkpoint mounted outside Ballynahinch PSNI station when the policeman opened fire.

The officer, known only as Police Officer One, said he had no option but shoot, believing his life and the lives of others including a baby were in danger.

However, the watchdog’s report has found that forensic evidence contradicts the officer’s account and claims there was no evidence that the lives of another two police officers or any pedestrian were at risk.

Instead, the report found that the officer’s decision to draw his gun so early had “escalated” the situation, and notes that by discharging two shots, he had created “significant risk” of more casualties.

“While Steven Colwell’s actions were reckless, the critically flawed judgments and actions of Police Officer One played a greater part in Mr Colwell’s death,” said Mr Hutchinson.

Yesterday, it emerged that the policeman, who was never prosecuted over the killing, has been reinstated without any disciplinary action being taken.

However, Mr Hutch- inson’s report has raised “grave concerns” about his competence. “As a result of the information we gathered during our investigation, I had grave concerns about the appropriateness of this officer’s deployment as a front line response officer that day,” he said.

Last night the Police Federation rejected the report, claiming the officer had been completely exonerated.

“The Ombudsman's report is unhelpful and is totally dependent upon lengthy analysis and opinion on actions taken in split seconds and under genuine fear of lethal threat to the lives of police and public,” said chairman Terry Spence.

B ackground

Ombudsman’s investigators, which included traffic collision and ballistics experts, conducted a forensic examination of the shooting scene in 2006. The decision to set up a vehicle checkpoint at that time and place was branded “high risk and ill-considered”. The PSNI has expressed regret over the incident and said the service will “study closely” the Ombudsman’s findings. Since the incident, the police have introduced new procedures on determining what officers gain access to firearms.

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