The Police Ombudsman has concluded that a police officer was justified in firing two warning shots into the ground near a man who aimed a crossbow at officers.
The incident happened in the Ballygore Road area of Antrim in May 2015 while police were responding to a 999 call about a man acting aggressively with a hatchet.
As with all incidents in which live fire is used by police officers in Northern Ireland, the incident was referred by the Chief Constable to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation.
Enquiries revealed that local uniform police officers were the first to be tasked to the scene, with orders to contain the area and negotiate with, rather than challenging, the suspect.
However, when the officers discovered that the man had a crossbow and hatchet, and was high on drink and drugs, a decision was taken to task an armed police unit.
When the armed officers arrived, the man was inside a caravan. They ordered him to come out and he did so, but was armed with a crossbow and hatchet.
An officer told Police Ombudsman investigators that he then drew his personal protection weapon and ordered the man to drop the weapons. He also stated that another officer had an AEP baton gun to provide a less lethal option if required.
But Instead of dropping the weapons, the man raised the crossbow and took aim towards police.
The officer who fired the shots said that he initially aimed his gun at the man’s chest, before assessing that there was an opportunity to use less lethal force by firing at the grass bank behind him.
He then fired two shots into the ground, which resulted in the man dropping the crossbow and running off into a nearby caravan, where he was then apprehended.
The officer said he fired the shots in order to neutralise the threat, and described his actions as the least lethal option he could have taken in the circumstances.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, noted that police guidelines require officers using live fire in such circumstances to take care to avoid causing unintentional harm to others.
He noted that the officer had done so by ensuring the area behind the man was clear, and said his actions had helped resolve a volatile and dangerous situation.
He concluded that the use of live fire in the circumstances had “lawful, proportionate and justified.”