Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigators are considering whether Nottinghamshire Police tried to cover up a negligent discharge that resulted in a 7-year-old girl being hit by a negligently fired bullet while touring the force’s HQ.
The incident happened in November last year when a round was fired during a school visit to the Sherwood Lodge premises, north of Arnold. The Nottinghamshire Post reported at the time: “It is thought a cartridge [sic] ricocheted off the ground and hit the girl in the face, causing a minor injury to her lip.”
According to the Post, the girl was part of a school tour visiting the force’s dog and traffic sections. They came across an armed response detail, who were evidently not part of the pre-arranged tour, and the children were shown their equipment. At this point a police constable made a negligent discharge (ND) of his weapon.
While the Notts force does not carry “machine guns”, as the Post incorrectly states, its armed response teams are equipped with Heckler & Koch G36 rifles capable of semi-automatic fire.
The Post then reported that Nottinghamshire Police kept quiet about the incident following an argument between Chief Constable Chris Eyre and the county’s elected Police and Crime Commissioner, Paddy Tipping, over when the incident should be made public. Worryingly, the force appears to have tried to hide the incident from the county’s Police and Crime Panel, which is responsible for scrutinising the force and holding its actions to public account.
The force’s chief constable, Chris Eyre, later confessed that he had “made a mistake” by not going public immediately – while attempting to defend his decision not to acknowledge the ND for a week by saying: “It was my decision when made public, but the reason is we had young families. They have lives as well.”
Notts Police insisted they are in “regular contact” with the girl who was struck by their bullet.
Today the IPCC announced the details of its investigation into the shooting, which will include determining “whether an attempt was made to cover-up the incident”. In addition, it will examine “whether the use of live firearms at a public demonstration was authorised, and if so by whom” and “whether firearms officers placed members of the public and other officers at risk in their handing of the firearms that they had responsibility for”, amongst other things.
Three Notts Police employees – two firearms-trained constables and a sergeant dog handler – have been served gross misconduct notices by the IPCC. These merely inform them that they are under investigation.
Handling a loaded weapon – and, yes, in police hands these firearms are definitely weapons intended to be used to kill and injure human beings – in such a way as to fire a shot and injure a seven year old child creates an unacceptable risk. If the IPCC finds otherwise then clearly the IPCC is unfit for purpose.
On the facts reported by the Nottingham Post and summarised above, there is little room for doubt that a constable fired his weapon and that by doing so he injured an innocent child. The question then becomes, what on earth was the constable doing carrying a weapon in a made ready state while bimbling around the force HQ? Or, if he made the weapon ready while showing it off to a group of schoolkids, why did he decide to do so? Finally, what possessed him to put his finger near the trigger of a made ready weapon and then to pull it?
One hopes the constable is relieved of firearms duties immediately and remains so until the IPCC delivers its verdict, at least. There should be no place for such rank amateurism amongst lawful users of firearms.
One can also speculate that had a normal member of the public shot and injured a child, they would be facing criminal prosecution and extrajudicial punishments such as confiscation and destruction of their firearms. Policemen rarely uphold the law amongst themselves and it is, sadly, unlikely that the constable will ever answer to a proper court.