A police officer who fired a stun gun at a serial armed robber sitting on a seat outside a bar in the centre of Belfast was justified, the Police Ombudsman has found.
The incident, which happened at 7pm on 18 February 2015 outside Wetherspoon’s Bar on Bedford Street, was referred to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation.
The man in question was Derek Brockwell, who had been handed 22 life sentences in the UK for armed robbery and had the previous day escaped from prison in the Republic, stabbing two prison officers as he did so.
Police records show they had received information earlier that morning that a man who had escaped from prison in Dublin was now believed to be in Belfast.
Brockwell, who once appeared as a wanted man on BBC’s Crimewatch show, had been serving a prison sentence for armed robbery, but had escaped.
Police tried to find the man and issued a photograph of the Scot to the media.
But Brockwell had bought a knife in a camping shop and tried to rob the Spar on Howard Street.
At 5.45pm that evening, police received a report of the attempted robbery.
Staff said a man with a knife had demanded money from them before running off. The description they gave matched that of the man police were looking for.
At 6pm police received a report that a man with a knife had escaped with £60 from a shop on the Dublin Road.
It was reported at the time that he had put a young member of Urban Pharmacy’s staff in an arm lock and thrust the blade against his back.
He told a female member of staff: “It’s me again.”
Staff handed over a small sum of cash and were uninjured during the incident.
Earlier in the day he had entered the same pharmacy with a cut to his hand. Staff cleaned and dressed his wound before he left without incident.
When officers arrived at the scene after the robbery and looked at the CCTV, they established that the person’s description also matched that of the man who had escaped from prison.
Within minutes they then received a report from a member of the public that a man fitting Brockwell’s description had been seen near a bar on the Dublin Road.
Police then began checking premises in the area. When they went into Wetherspoon’s Bar in Bedford Street, they saw the man sitting on a seat outside, writing postcards.
Brockwell would later tell a jury: “I got a drink to steady my nerves. There were TV screens everywhere. The Newsline TV programme came on and I was the first item on it.”
They decided to leave the bar in such a way that the man would think he had not been recognised.
Having left, the officers then radioed for assistance from a special Armed Response Unit which was in the area.
When the Unit arrived, one of its officers approached the man to ask him for identification. This officer said the man pulled up his shirt to expose a knife in his waistband.
He said the man was warned that police were armed and ordered to drop the knife, but instead took the knife from his waistband and pushed it into his own stomach.
He said his colleague pulled the knife out of the man’s stomach and another officer then shouted “Taser” before discharging the weapon.
The officer who fired said the initial discharge was ineffective, and he then used the weapon in “drive stun mode” by pressing it against the man’s skin.
The man was then incapacitated, which allowed officers to restrain him.
Police Ombudsman Dr Maguire said the actions of the police officers were justified: “The man had a knife and had stabbed two people as he escaped from prison.
“He was believed to be dangerous and police officers did well to spot him sitting outside a bar along one of the main roads in the city.
“The fact that this man was in a tussle with two officers, had a knife and was already believed to be dangerous, gave the police officer who fired the Taser no other option if he was to protect the lives of his colleagues and prevent the man himself from further self harm.
“The officer made the right decision,” he said.
Brockwell had escaped from Tallaght Hospital where he had been for a scheduled hospital appointment from Portlaoise Prison.
He escaped from custody by stabbing two prison officers before being picked up by an accomplice on a motorbike which then sped from the scene.
The serial criminal was two years into a seven-year sentence for armed robbery after he admitted holding up the Bank of Ireland in Blackrock, south Dublin, in October 2012.
He was also convicted of robbing a post office and a bookmakers as well as for firearms offences in the Irish capital.
Brockwell landed in Ireland after failing to return to Kirkham Prison in England, where he had been allowed out on day release for a work scheme. He carried out armed robberies on betting shops in London’s Marylebone and Paddington areas during September and October 1999.