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PSNI officer's "flawed judgements and actions" criticised in report on Steven Colwell killing

The Police Ombudsman has released his report on the shooting of the 23-year-old man outside a police station in Co Down in 2006.

A forensic police officer at the scene of the Ballynahinch shooting, April 2006.
A forensic police officer at the scene of the Ballynahinch shooting, April 2006.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive

A POLICE OMBUDSMAN’S report into the fatal shooting of a stolen car driver in 2006 says that the actions of the PSNI officer involved in the incident were “critically flawed”.

Steven Colwell, 23, was shot and fatally injured by a PSNI officer as he drove a stolen silver BMW outside Ballynahinch police station in Co Down on 16 April 2006.

The Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland’s (PONI) investigation into the incident has found that Colwell had behaved recklessly, but that the “the critically flawed judgements and actions” of PSNI ‘Police Officer One’ played the greater part in the death.

The officer had “escalated the situation” at an early stage in the incident by drawing his weapon which he attempted to use as a tactical option in stopping the car, the PONI report published today says.

Contradictions

Three officers were on duty in Ballynahinch that morning. They had been notified of the car theft and were tracing its movements, prompting them to set up a roadblock outside the station in preparation for intercepting the vehicle.

After the car was spotting in the roadblock queue, two of the officers approached the vehicle, with Police Officer One at the front of the car.

This officer claimed that Colwell ignored his calls to stop and began driving towards him. He said he fired two shots, one of which went through the windscreen and the other through the driver’s window.

The first shot struck Colwell in the chest, while the second just grazed the front of his t-shirt. Colwell stumbled out of the car and, despite receiving medical treatment, died at the scene.

However, the Ombudsman’s report says that forensic evidence contradicts the officer’s statement in that the wheel’s tyres were facing away from the officer, indicating Colwell was driving away and not towards the PSNI officer.

Although the officer claimed he fired both shots without altering his position, forensic evidence shows that the second shot was fired after the officer moved to his left before firing through the driver’s window.

The report also says that no evidence was found to suggest that the lives of the two other officers or by-standers were in danger from Colwell.

No prosecution

The Ombudsman sent a file to the Public Prosecution Service for its consideration of possible prosecution.

The PONI report says that considering the case, the PPS decided that there was ”no reasonable prospect of a prosecution being able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Police Officer One did not honestly believe that his life was in danger and that he did not act in self-defence.”

The PPS subsequently directed no prosecution should be brought and notified Colwell’s family of its decision and the reasons behind it.

Hutchinson’s report says that his office had “identified concerns with the deployment of this particular officer”, but that it is “for the PSNI to determine this officer’s suitability for frontline operational policing duties”.

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