‘Necessary’ tasering of man with knife at Londonderry hostel

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The Police Ombudsman has found that an officer was right to use a taser stun gun when confronted by a man with a knife at a hostel for the homeless in Londonderry.

It happened in August 2015 after staff at the hostel reported that a resident had a knife and was setting items from his room alight.

Four police crews – including local response and Tactical Support Group units - were tasked to the scene, as well as members of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service.

Officers reported that the man had set several items on fire, including a pillow case and duvet, which he had then dropped in the corridor outside his room. The items were extinguished, but not before the corridor became filled with thick smoke.

An armed response police unit was also tasked, and its officers were briefed by colleagues that the man had said he wanted police to shoot him. When the man briefly came out of his room, an officer spotted that he had a knife three to four inches in length. The officer persuaded the man to open the door, and when he and two other officers entered the room, they found the man sitting on a window sill with the knife held to his wrist.

After some persuasion, the man set the knife on a table. However, the officers reported that he then moved towards them, tried to slam the door shut, before grabbing the knife and turning to face them. At this point an officer discharged his taser, which resulted in the man falling onto his bed. The officers then restrained and arrested him and applied handcuffs.

As with all discharges of firearms by police in Northern Ireland, the incident was referred by the Chief Constable to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation. Statements were obtained from the officers involved and relevant police documentation seized. This confirmed that the officer who fired the taser was properly trained and authorised to carry the weapon.

Attempts were made to obtain an account from the man who was arrested, but he was unfit to be interviewed at the time and later failed to co-operate with the Police Ombudsman’s investigation. No other witnesses expressed concerns about police actions during the incident.

CCTV footage was obtained and examined, but the area in which the taser was used was not covered by any cameras.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that in the circumstances the use of taser had been lawful, proportionate and necessary.