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Police had no choice but to shoot Steven Colwell, witness tells inquest

By Angela Rainey

The shooting dead of a man by police after he drove a stolen car through a checkpoint 11 years ago was "justified", an eyewitness has said.

Giving evidence at the inquest of Steven Colwell (23) at Laganside Courts yesterday, Joy Hall told how she had been driving to church at around 11.30am on April 16, 2006 to attend an Easter Sunday service when she got caught up in the incident.

She recalled how the stolen silver BMW had tried to avoid the checkpoint on Church Road in Ballynahinch.

Judge Neil Rafferty, presiding as coroner, heard Mrs Hall describe two armed officers shouting at the car to stop.

She said that a black BMW was in front of her, with a baby in it, as the silver car reversed into a driveway in an attempt to change direction.

Mrs Hall said she feared that the driver - who "looked mad, like he was possessed by something" - would ram his car into her own, or the one in front, to evade capture.

She said: "I could see a sea of faces in the car - they were angry, they were shouting and swearing the F-word.

"I was terrified.

"He looked like he would stop at nothing.

"I got out of my car then I realised that I had nowhere to go, he would probably hit me.

"He showed absolutely no regard for the lives of anyone, not the baby's, or anyone else's.

"He was just trying to get away."

Mrs Hall said she heard the officers shout "stop" multiple times, but Colwell refused.

"He did not heed any of the warnings to stop," she added.

"It was mad. I feared for my life and for the lives of the other people there.

"He was not going to stop.

"I did not see the officer shoot, but I heard the shots.

"It was all over in a flash."

Asked by Karen Quinlivan QC, representing the Colwell family, whether she felt the officers' actions were justified, Mrs Hall replied "yes".

Moments after Colwell was fatally wounded, Mrs Hall ran to perform first aid on him.

Witness Mark Paul also gave evidence. He had been a passenger in the front of the stolen car.

In a statement made to the Police Ombudsman the day after the shooting, he said that he "had banged about 30 'Es'" (ecstasy tablets) the night before and his memory was vague.

His statement also recorded that over the course of that weekend he had downed up to 13 litre bottles of the vodka-based drink WKD, but this was disputed by Paul, who did not remember saying that.

Paul said he suffered mental health problems and that his recollection of events was poor but that he "could remember some parts" of the incident.

He said that moments before the incident he had had an "emotional argument with Steven" which he believed may have affected his friend's mood.

"I thought that Steven had wanted to make an example of himself," he said.

"It was as if he was on a suicide mission, as a figure of speech."

A decision to preserve the anonymity of two officers who were at the scene will be made later today by the coroner.

Belfast Telegraph

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