Police 'justified' in firing at stolen car

Dr Michael Maguire made no recommendation for disciplinary action against the police officers Dr Michael Maguire made no recommendation for disciplinary action against the police officers

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A police officer was justified in firing two shots at a stolen car being driven directly towards him seven years ago, NI's Police Ombudsman has said.

One of the shots struck the car's front seat passenger, who was blinded in his right eye as a result.

The incident happened at Rockmount, Dundonald, on 28 January 2007.

Following an investigation, the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, made no recommendation for disciplinary action against the police officers.

Investigators established that two officers had been on mobile patrol at Comber Road, Dundonald, shortly after 01:30 BST when they noticed a Vauxhall Monaro car that had been reported stolen earlier that evening.

It was being closely followed by a Volkswagen Golf.

The officers followed the vehicles, which turned into Rockmount. The officers used their car to try to block the Monaro's exit from the cul-de-sac.

Having initially stopped at the end of the street, about five metres away, facing the police car, the Monaro then accelerated and struck the front of the police car, before reversing.

The officers got out of their car and moved towards its passenger side where they believed they would be safer and an officer then drew his personal protection handgun, shouting "armed police", but the car drove at speed towards him.

At this stage, he was between the car, the footpath and a garden wall.

Forensic examination

The officer said he feared for his life and was aware that his colleague had been moving to join him and was also likely to be at risk.

He stepped onto the footpath to his left but, by this stage, he said the car was "on top" of him.

Fearing that he and his colleague would be killed, the officer said he discharged two shots in quick succession at the driver of the car.

One of the shots struck the passenger in the head. The car then mounted the footpath and drove through the gap between the police car and the wall, narrowly missing the officer, before turning onto the Comber Road and stopping.

The occupant(s) of the Volkswagen Golf made off on foot and have never been identified.

The officers provided first aid for the injured man, before their colleagues drove him to hospital.

A subsequent forensic examination of the scene established that one of the shots had lodged in the pillar between the driver's door and the windscreen of the Monaro.

The shot which struck the front seat passenger passed through his right forearm, struck him on the right side of his head, before lodging in the front passenger seat door. The bullet damaged an optic nerve, blinding the man in his right eye.

Reconstruction

The driver was uninjured.

Forensic experts were commissioned by the Police Ombudsman's office to reconstruct the sequence of events.

They were unable to conclusively determine the officer's position when the shots were fired, they estimated he had been between 2.4m and 4.9m from the car.

The evidence suggested that the bullet which struck the passenger had been fired through the driver's door window.

Statements were obtained from the two men who had been in the stolen car, who both accepted that they had been drinking alcohol on the night of the incident.

Eye witness

The passenger recalled that after the car had been driven forward he had felt a pain on the left side of his head and realised he had been shot.

The driver, however, said the car had been stationary and claimed it was only when the shots had been fired, shattering the window to his right, that he had then driven through the gap between the police car and the wall.

A resident said the shots were fired as the car appeared to be about to hit an officer, while another heard car engines, followed by the sound of a collision and two shots being fired.

Dr Maguire said the forensic evidence suggested the first shot was fired when the car was only a few metres from the officer, and the second when it was even closer.

He said the officer would have had little or no time to react between the two shots.

He added that while officers were discouraged from firing shots at moving vehicles, legislation and guidelines did provide for rare occasions on which there was an imminent and seemingly inescapable risk of death or serious injury.

Dr Maguire concluded that the use of live fire had been justified in the circumstances.

The Public Prosecution Service has said that the officer should not be prosecuted.

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