Harbour police gun club closes after ombudsman's investigation

Police ombudsman An investigation was carried out by the Police Ombudsman which highlighted issues over the monitoring of weapons and ammunition

A gun club run by officers of the Belfast Harbour Police (BHP) has been wound up after its licence was revoked.

It follows a Police Ombudsman inquiry that found "inadequate processes" for monitoring weapons and ammunition.

The ombudsman was called in by the BHP, after a routine weapons check uncovered ammunition unaccounted for, in an officer's locker.

The investigation found gun club weapons and bullets were stored in the same armoury as police weapons.

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said: "This created an obvious potential for official police armaments to become mixed up with guns and ammunition privately owned by gun club members.

"Clearly this was inappropriate. It is vital that there are stringent accounting mechanisms to keep track of police weaponry and ammunition, as these will inevitably form part of any investigation into the use of a firearm by the Harbour Police.

"Any inaccuracies have the potential to frustrate and compromise investigations and due legal process."

The investigation also found that, on a number of occasions until at least 2007, but not after 2009, practice shoots by the Belfast Harbour Police gun club had taken place at the same time as the force's official firearms training.

The Police Ombudsman investigation began in 2012, after an officer was found to have been in possession of unauthorised ammunition on police premises.

Dr Michael Maguire Dr Michael Maguire said there had to be stringent mechanisms to keep track of police weapons

On 12 April that year, a routine check by the Harbour Police of its weapons and ammunition established that a police firearm and associated ammunition were missing.

Further enquiries showed that a Harbour Police officer had signed out the weapon and ammunition, but had failed to properly check them back in on the firearms accounting register.

In an effort to find the missing items, Belfast Harbour Police opened the officer's locker and found a quantity of ammunition.

It was later established that the officer was authorised to have been in possession of all the ammunition, except six rounds.

The missing police firearm was later found in the police armoury and all official ammunition was accounted for.

When interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, the officer said the unauthorised rounds were likely to be from gun club stocks and he believed that the firearms certificate for the Harbour Police gun club entitled him to be in possession of them.

Ammunition

He believed he had obtained the rounds in 2007 during a joint gun club practice session and official Harbour Police firearms training, but denied having ever been in possession of the ammunition while on police duty.

He accepted, however, that the rounds should not have been stored in his police locker.

A file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) at the completion of the Police Ombudsman's investigation, and the PPS subsequently directed that the officer should not be prosecuted.

The Police Ombudsman subsequently recommended that the officer should be disciplined.

The recommendations were accepted and implemented by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, who oversee the Harbour Police.

The Police Ombudsman also recommended that the chief constable of the PSNI should review whether there was a continuing need for a Harbour Police gun club sanctioned to store privately owned weapons on police premises.

In addition, the chief officer of Belfast Harbour Police requested the PSNI chief constable to revoke the gun club's firearms licence.

The PSNI subsequently recovered the club's weapons and ammunition and arrangements were made for their disposal.

The Harbour Police officer who was investigated for unauthorised possession of ammunition also voluntarily surrendered the firearms licence for the gun club, which was then wound up.

In a statement, a BHP spokesperson said: "Belfast Harbour Police has strict monitoring processes in place and proactively approached the Police Ombudsman when an issue was identified.

"BHP cooperated fully with the Police Ombudsman throughout the investigation and has implemented the recommendations in their totality."

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