Checkpoint victim’s family wants legal action (UTV)
The family of a young man shot dead in a stolen car, as he tried to escape a police checkpoint in Co Down nearly five years ago, say they are considering taking legal action against the PSNI.
It has emerged that the officer who opened fire on 23-year-old Steven Colwell, in April 2006, had a history of mental health problems and had previously pulled his gun in a domestic incident.
But the officer wasn’t disciplined over the Easter Sunday shooting and instead returned to work.
A new damning report by Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson has now found that the officer’s judgements in relation to the incident were “critically flawed”.
Mr Hutchinson concluded that, having drawn his gun at an early stage to confront the driver, the officer had left “little or no room” for an alternative outcome.
“I’m very angry,” the victim’s brother Neil told UTV.
I will never deny that what Steven was doing that day was wrong – but he did not deserve to be shot dead.
Neil Colwell, victim’s brother
“My family do not have the monopoly on grief, but we have had our fair share of it – Steven lost both his parents, I lost a young sister in a road traffic accident …
“I’m very angry about the violent way in which we lost Steven.”
The checkpoint had been set up outside Ballynahinch police station to stop a stolen BMW believed to be heading in the direction of the town.
As the car pulled up in a queue of traffic at the checkpoint, the officer in question approached – he said his plan was to pull the keys from the ignition while engaging the driver in conversation.
He ran towards the car, shouting at the driver to stop – at which point, the driver tried to reverse away and crashed into another vehicle.
By that stage, the officer was standing in front of the BMW and aiming his gun at the driver.
“The police officer chose to stand his ground, aim his pistol directly at Steven Colwell and shout for him to stop the car,” the Police Ombudsman said.
“His decision to remain in that position allowed little or no room for an alternative outcome in the event that Mr Colwell failed to comply with these instructions.”
The officer shouted for the driver to get out, but the engine revved and the car lurched forward with its tyres screeching, before the officer fired two shots – the first through the windscreen and the second through the driver’s window.
Steven Colwell got out of the car and collapsed, having been hit in the chest by one of the bullets. Despite the efforts of medical personnel, he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The officer claimed he could not get out of the way in time and that he believed his only option was to shoot to save his life and the lives of members of the public.
While Steven Colwell’s actions were reckless, the critically flawed judgements and actions of Police Officer One played a greater part in Mr Colwell’s death.
Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson
Lead investigator Paul Holmes told UTV: “He told us he perceived the vehicle to be coming directly at him – we know from our forensic findings that the vehicle abruptly turned left away from the officer.
“That evidence was considered by the Public Prosecution Service and they reached the conclusion that they could not, in effect, disprove that he held the honest belief in that moment that his life and the lives of other people were in danger.”
The Ombudsman also raised concerns over the officer’s suitability for deployment to front line duties, after examining his personnel records.
But the officer mounted a successful legal challenge, which prevented the Chief Constable from releasing further information to the Ombudsman.
The investigation was unable to establish to what extent, if any, the officer’s medical history or previous conduct impacted on events that day.
“As a result of the information we gathered during our investigation, I had grave concerns about the appropriateness of this officer’s deployment as a front line response officer that day,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“I provided that information to the Chief Constable, to allow him to review the officer’s suitability to be armed and engaged in direct contact with the public.”
The PSNI said it “deeply regrets the tragic death of Mr Colwell” and that officers are “frequently called upon to make split second decisions, often in extremely challenging circumstances”.
It will study the report in detail, although the Police Federation has defended the officer concerned.
The Police Ombudsman’s Office also submitted a file to the Public Prosecution Service, but it directed there should be ‘no prosecution’ – on the grounds of insufficient evidence.



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