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November 3, 2009

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Convicted police instructor had failed safety training

The police officer who was fined last month in relation to the

accidental shooting of a man during a training session had failed the

necessary instructors course, it has emerged.

PC David Micklethwaite, a firearms instructor for Thames Valley Police, was conducting a basic firearms-awareness training session for new civilian police control-room staff, in May 2007.

He had taken ammunition, which had been kept in an unmarked Quality Street tin in a storeroom, into the classroom and had not checked it was inert. He had loaded it into a Magnum revolver and pulled the trigger several times, believing that he had loaded a dummy round. On the final pull, the weapon fired, shooting Mr Tilbury in the stomach.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) carried out an investigation into the incident and passed its file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service and the HSE. The latter decided to bring health and safety charges against both PC Micklethwaite and Thames Valley Police, and they were fined £8000 and £40,000, respectively, at a court hearing last month.

The IPCC, which was unable to publish its report until the court proceedings had concluded, discovered that in 2005 PC Micklethwaite had failed the National Firearms Instructors Course, which the force deems compulsory for trainers. Although he had passed in the areas of professional standards, exercise skills, and instructional techniques, he had failed to achieve the necessary level of competence in safety and range skills.

The Metropolitan Police recommended that the chief firearms instructor of Thames Valley Police should “undertake a documented development programme for this officer in the areas of weapons safety and handling drills to the TVP template”.

The programme was never carried out but PC Micklethwaite later passed an assessment by his line manager as to his competency on these issues.

The IPCC also discovered that it was accepted practice within the force that demonstration ammunition for awareness courses comprised both live and inert rounds. PC Micklethwaite was the only experienced instructor who seemed unaware of this practice. During interview, he stated that he “wouldn’t expect to find them [live ammunition] in a flipping Quality Street tin, just chucked in there loosely with all the other bits and pieces. It’s just a no-no.”

The officer also checked the weapons he was using for demonstrations on two occasions to make sure they were safe, yet failed to take the same precaution for the ammunition.

The IPCC concluded that there was “no justification” for having unsecured live ammunition in a classroom situation along with working and operational firearms. The watchdog’s deputy chair, Deborah Glass, said: “We found it astonishing that systems and procedures were not in place to prevent such a set of circumstances occurring that led to this life-changing incident.”
Among a number of recommendations made to Thames Valley Police, the IPCC suggested that:

  • all non-operationally issued ammunition that is kept for demonstration purposes should be housed in appropriately constructed viewing cases, which should be fully itemised and clearly labelled;
  • all firearms used for firearms-awareness courses should be rendered inoperable;
  • the force’s firearms health and safety risk assessment should be amended to incorporate specific references to classroom-based firearms-awareness courses; and
  • development plans for officers should be formally recorded, along with evidence of the results, so that an audit trail can be created.

Internal disciplinary proceedings were put on hold until the conclusion of the trial but will not now take place, as PC Micklethwaite gave notice of his intention to retire after the hearing.

To see our original story of the HSE prosecution and comments from readers, click here.

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