A Nottinghamshire Police employee has been removed from firearms duties after negligently discharging a H&K G36 rifle during a display to local schoolchildren in October last year, hitting a seven-year-old girl in the face with a spent case.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission further investigated allegations that the police force had tried to cover up the incident by refusing to disclose anything about the negligent discharge (ND) to the Notts Police and Crime Panel, which, according to local paper the Nottingham Post, is responsible for scrutinising the force.
Chief Constable Chris Eyre later confessed that he “may have made a mistake” in refusing to allow an immediate statement to be made by the force. The newspaper reported that the failure to be open and honest with the public led to rows between Nottinghamshire’s elected police and crime commissioner and the chief constable.
In the IPCC report published today, investigators found that the constable NDd his weapon while leaning on a fence during a “show and tell” type session involving an armed response vehicle (ARV), a dog unit and other police specialists. While the session had been planned to involve a demonstration of Taser electrical weapons, the firearms were not intended to be brought out.
The two-man ARV crew decided to show the children their G36 rifles anyway, having secured their pistols – which were carried in a made ready state (i.e. loaded and with a round in the chamber) – in the force armoury. Their rifles were carried in a made safe state (fitted with a charged magazine but no round in the chamber) with safety catches applied. The rifles were not seen on CCTV in the unloading bay when the two handed their Walther P990 pistols in.
CCTV showed one of the ARV crew removing the magazine of his rifle. However, the other crewman was seen behind a marked police car “[drawing] back the bolt and view[ing] the chamber.” The report’s author wrote: “The action [on CCTV] which appears to be Subject 1 ‘racking’ the weapon is either him drawing back the bolt or, more likely than not, him releasing it forward again.”
“At approximately 11.59am Subject 1 fired his assault rifle; it was aimed away from the members of the public,” stated the report. The ejected cartridge case hit a little girl standing nearby on the lip, leaving a mark which the report described as a “circular red mark with a circular white line on the child’s lower lip, which appears to be a burn.”
A police occupational health nurse, after being spoken to by the PC who organised the children’s visit, later insisted to the girl’s mother that her child must have been hit by grit thrown up when the rifle was fired.
The force’s head of PR advised that a statement should be released to the public immediately but was overruled by a police inspector. However, the IPCC concluded that no deliberate attempt had been made to cover the ND up because it had been reported to them promptly – despite the chief constable asking parents present to keep details of what had happened to themselves and ignoring media enquiries about the incident for a week.
Disciplinary hearing and outcomes
The ARV crewman who made the negligent discharge was removed to non-firearms and non-Taser duties last week by a gross misconduct panel, according to the IPCC, while his co-crewman has voluntarily surrendered his firearms authority and moved away from firearms duties. The PC who organised the event will be re-trained on aspects of event planning.
IPCC Commissioner Derrick Campbell said: “The seriousness of this matter cannot be underestimated. It is through good fortune that no one was more seriously injured. The officer’s actions, while not deliberate, posed a genuine risk to those present.”
“A number of sensible, logical recommendations have been made which the force has accepted, including replacing live firearms with training weapons at future public events.”
UK Shooting News has asked the IPCC what a ‘training weapon’ is, in the police context, as from the report it appears that training weapons are merely live firearms stored separately from ammunition rather than being inert dummies or similar.
The full report can be downloaded from the IPCC website.
Allegations of a cover-up aside – and it is clear from the report that a police employee told parents the round fired was a blank, immediately after the ND, even though it was a live round – the most worrying lines from the report are at paragraph 197:
The responses in relation to training from the officers combined with the facts of the incidents indicate that once an officer becomes operational, that the drills and standard operating procedures slip and rather than strict adherence officers try to stick to the spirit of them rather than the actual process.
In plain English, Nottinghamshire Police’s firearms officers were not carrying out proper unloading drills as per the manual. No wonder that one of them managed to ND after cocking his weapon in a car park while showing it off to a group of seven-year-olds.
UK Shooting News hopes and prays armed police constables deployed to major railway stations, as seen on the news from time to time, are not carrying their weapons in a made ready state. The consequences of an ND with a 5.56mm rifle in a crowded space do not bear thinking about.