Two police officers who were heavily intoxicated when one fired the others gun through the ceiling at a party had their suspended jail sentences replaced with fines totalling £3,060 on Wednesday.
At Craigavon County Appeal Court, Judge Patrick Lynch QC said the actions of Constables Samuel David Beattie (23) and Paul Coulter (24) were “inexplicable” given the fact that as part of their jobs, “both must’ve had some form of basic training in how to handle and secure firearms, that being a rather fundamental matter.”
“In any event, common sense would dictate that a person with alcohol taken should not have a firearm in their possession, let alone pointing it in any direction,” said the judge.
Fining each of them £1,500, Judge Lynch also ordered them to pay £30 offender levies and allowed them three months to pay.
At an earlier hearing in Lisburn Magistrates Court Coulter and Beattie, both with address given as c/o PSNI Headquarters, entered guilty pleas to having a loaded firearm while drunk “or under the influence of drugs” on June 7 last year.
While Coulter also admitted supplying a loaded gun to a person he “knew or had reasonable cause to believe was drunk or under the influence of drugs,” Beattie confessed to the further charge of causing criminal damage to a roof belonging to a female.
Initially, they were handed six month prison sentences, suspended for two years, by District Judge Rosie Watters who described their offences as a “grossly stupid thing to have done.”
Conceding that “I know that’s a terrible thing,” the judge continued that “the reality is that this offence has brought the police into disrepute.”
“We expect officers to be squeaky clean and the type of people we can rely on in times of trouble and I just don’t think that these particular young men have demonstrated that they come up to the mark,” said the judge.
Those sentences were appealed however and prosecuting lawyer Joseph Murphy rehearsed the facts again, describing how the defendants called their colleagues at around 6.30am that morning to report a shot being fired through the kitchen ceiling from Coulter’s legally-held weapon.
Day light was visible through the hole as the bullet had passed through the ceiling and exterior roof tiles and the spent casing was recovered from under the cooker.
It was also noted the lawyer said, that both Coulter and Beattie were “heavily intoxicated” and were slurring their words having been drinking from 8.30pm the previous evening.
Interviewed separately, Coulter said that having drunk ten beers and three whiskeys, he had taken his gun from a locked box inside a hold-all, handing it to Beattie while he went to the toilet and it was while he was in the adjacent bathroom that he heard a shot being fired.
He said he thought Beattie would be fine with it as “he knew how to handle a gun,” although he did not tell him it was loaded.
Coulter said that when he went back into the kitchen, Beattie was standing “in a state of shock.”
Beattie, the court heard, told cops he had drunk a large bottle of Buckfast and three whiskeys and that he had “pointed the gun at the ceiling of the property, believing that was the safest direction” and that he pulled the trigger believing the firearm was not loaded.
Both were remorseful and both accepted they had been drunk at the time.
Ian Turkington, defence counsel on behalf of Coulter, revealed that his “life ambition for many years” was to be a police officer and that immaterial of the outcome of a full powers disciplinary hearing, “he will carry the stigma” of his criminal convictions.
“Put simply his career hangs in the balance,” declared the lawyer, a sentiment echoed by Eoghan Devlin on behalf of Beattie.
Mr Devlin argued that while “one can understand the sentence of the lower,” the offences had to be seen in the context of “a few moments of stupidity,” submitting that the outcome of the disciplinary hearing may depend on the judges sentences.
Rescinding the jail sentence and replacing them with fines, Judge Lynch conceded that while the careers of Beattie and Coulter “are in jeopardy” which was “a tragedy for their point of view,” the outcome of the full powers hearing “is not for me to determine.”
Taking everything into account, the judge said “I have determined that the offences, grave as they are, can properly be met by a fine.”