25 March 2009 - The Police officer who shot Stephen Jon Bellingham in Christchurch on 26 September 2007 was acting in self defence at the moment he fired, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found.
The officer, referred to in the Authority’s report as Officer A, armed himself after the Police received 111 calls giving them reason to believe that Mr Bellingham was armed and violent.
When Officer A confronted Mr Bellingham on Stanmore Road, Christchurch, Mr Bellingham initially appeared to comply, but then rushed at the officer with a raised hammer. Witnesses believed he was about to strike the officer, who fired when he was about 1.5 metres away.
“The evidence supports the conclusion that Officer A was lawfully justified in using lethal force to defend himself, in the circumstances as he perceived them to be,” Authority Chair Justice Lowell Goddard said.
The Authority’s report noted that others in the area feared for their safety and that Officer A genuinely feared for his life at the time he fired.
However, the Authority also found that Officer A’s actions before arriving at Stanmore Road had limited the tactical options available to him and to the Police to safely contain Mr Bellingham.
Officer A had not informed the Southern Communications Centre (SouthComms) that he was arming himself, nor that he was going to Stanmore Road to confront Mr Bellingham. Nor did he give directions to two other officers who were also responding to the 111 call.
The Authority also found that a Police dog handler on its way to the scene diverted to another call when it should have continued to the more serious incident.
“Officer A made a decision that placed him in a confrontational position with a man who was on a violent rampage and had damaged property with a weapon,” said Justice Goddard. “In doing so he reduced the options available to him and found himself in a position of having to immediately protect himself and possibly members of the public.”
The Authority did not find that Officer A’s actions amounted to misconduct or neglect of duty, but did support the Police view that he would benefit from further training before any return to front line duties.
The Authority’s report contains four recommendations. Of those, two – relating to the Police Trauma Policy and the Police policy on drug and alcohol testing of officers involved in critical incidents – are identical to recommendations made in last week’s report on the shooting of Steven Wallace.
The two others relate to storage of guns in Police cars and the obligation of Police officers to inform the communications centre when they arm themselves.