16 April 2006

Checkpoint death: Police suspected car was stolen


**Don't hold your breath waiting for any investigation results

16/04/2006 - 18:06:55

A man was shot dead by police attempting to stop a suspected stolen car in Northern Ireland today.

An officer opened fire as the silver BMW reached a vehicle checkpoint in Ballynahinch, Co Down.

Another three men and two women in the car were arrested and taken for questioning.

The Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, has launched a probe to establish whether the shooting was necessary to protect lives.

Amid unconfirmed reports that the dead man was trying to run from the scene when he was hit, his body lay just feet from the car.

A priest from a nearby Catholic Church was called to his side after the shooting, at around 11.30am.

By that stage the man, who was the driver, was already dead.

The body was later removed after forensic experts had trawled the area for clues.

The BMW is believed to have travelled from Ballykinlar, about 12 miles away, and may have been heading for Belfast.

Officers were alerted and set up a check point in Church Street, right outside the town’s police station.

Several shots were fired at the car, although it was unclear if it tried to drive through the roadblock.

Jim Wells, a Democratic Unionist MLA for the area, insisted that the officers involved had little time to weigh up their options.

He said: “Police obviously had to make a split second decision based on the information they had.

“As a result of that, shots were fired and a man has died. We must wait now until the investigation is completed.”

But the SDLP’s Alex Attwood demanded answers from the police, and tough disciplinary measures if required.

“The use of lethal fire in the circumstances of this case is highly questionable and, on the facts known at present, it is very hard to determine what level of threat existed against the police and other people, who it is reported were at the scene,” the West Belfast MLA claimed.

“This requires the police to say up front what has happened, for any officer on the ground or at command level to be suspended where appropriate, and for the police to work with the Police Ombudsman and Policing Board to further consider any use of live fire, including the use of live fire in the circumstances of this case.

“This is an enormous tragedy for the family, and it requires an enormous response from the policing institutions. Any wrongdoing must be prosecuted and any other failure must be faced up to and corrected.”

The Ombudsman’s chief of investigations, Justin Felice, urged anyone who saw what happened to get in touch.

He said: “My investigators are up at the scene, they have taken control of the scene and they are going to conduct an independent investigation in respect of the circumstances leading up to this incident.

“I would like to make a witness appeal to anybody who may have seen this incident to contact the Police Ombudsman’s Office.”

One of the last fatal shootings the Police Ombudsman investigated also involved officers opening fire on a car.

Neil McConville, 21, from Craigavon, Co Armagh was shot after a surveillance operation near Lisburn Co Antrim in April 2003. The car he was in failed to stop at a checkpoint.

The outcome of that investigation has yet to be made public.

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