Northern Ireland

Police officer fired gun during safety check at Hydebank

Hydebank Young Offenders Centre
Image caption The incident happened outside Hydebank Young Offenders Centre

The NI Police Ombudsman has said it was fortunate no-one was killed or injured when an officer accidentally fired a shot through the floor of a police car at Hydebank Young Offenders Centre.

The incident happened in a public car park on 7 June 2011 as the officer performed a safety check on the weapon.

The ombudsman also criticised the officer and a colleague for leaving their guns in the car's glovebox.

He expressed concern at the length of time it took for him to be informed.

The officer (Officer 1) who fired the gun had just returned to his vehicle after he and a colleague had been on police business in the centre which is on the outskirts of south Belfast.

When later interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, the officer admitted that the shot had been fired as a result of his own negligence as he had failed to properly follow safety procedures when checking the gun.

He said there had been no defect with his weapon.

When asked about the decision taken by himself and his colleague to leave their guns in the glove compartment of their car, the officer said he had done so after receiving an email from a colleague who was familiar with procedures at Hydebank.

He said the email suggested that weapon storage facilities at the centre were not completely secure.

However, enquiries by Police Ombudsman investigators with Hydebank established that it had a policy for securing police firearms during visits, involving weapons being checked in and out, and being locked in an armoury box.

Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire expressed concern about the way the incident had been handled by police.

"While it remains necessary for police officers in Northern Ireland to be armed, there comes with that a responsibility to ensure that weapons are handled in a safe and secure manner to minimise any risk to officers, their colleagues and members of the public," he said.

A total of three police officers were disciplined as a result of failings identified by the Police Ombudsman's investigation.

Officer 1 was disciplined for the negligent discharge of his firearm, he and his colleague were disciplined for leaving their guns in the police car, and a more senior officer was disciplined for failing to follow proper procedures to facilitate the Police Ombudsman investigation of the incident.