Crucial intelligence was wiped from a computer and police officers were uncooperative during an investigation into the first fatal shooting carried out by the PSNI, the Ombudsman said today.
A report by Police Ombudsman in the North Nuala O’Loan had no criticism to make of the police officer who fired the fatal shots which killed 21-year-old Neil McConville in April 2003 outside Lisburn because another officer’s life was in danger.
However her report accused the PSNI of adopting a high risk strategy in the operation which led to Mr McConville’s death.
The PSNI had been monitoring the movements in Belfast of a red Vauxhall Cavalier Mr McConville was driving during an operation designed to stop a gun attack on another individual.
When the car left the city and headed southwards towards the Co Antrim village of Stoneyford, two police vehicles were ordered to stop it from behind and managed to bring it to a standstill.
When a PSNI officer smashed the driver’s window and tried to pull Mr McConville out of the car, it suddenly reversed, striking the officer on the hand and knocking another officer to the ground.
With the car revving loudly and threatening to drive over the injured officer, Mr McConville was shot three times by a PSNI officer who intended to only fire one shot but had inadvertently set his gun to ’three shot burst’ mode.
The passenger, David Somers, was also wounded by a bullet which had already struck Mr McConville.
Mrs O’Loan’s report said the tactic of pursuing the vehicle and stopping it from behind was inherently dangerous, placing both officers and suspects at risk.
However she was also concerned that three officers in the control room at the time of the investigation were uncooperative with her investigation – with an inspector and sergeant refusing to be interviewed and an Acting Inspector refusing to write a witness statement when ordered to do so.
“The lack of cooperation and the attitudes displayed by these officers is totally unacceptable and will undermine public confidence in the PSNI, particularly as they are employed in such a sensitive department of the organisation,” the Police Ombudsman warned.
“Their attitude was in stark contrast to the officers involved at the incident scene, who were fully cooperative.”