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Male shot twice by police after brandishing imitation assault rifle

Runcorn Firearm

The 51-year-old wants to apologise to police officer who shot him

A former Army medic from Runcornwas shot twice by police after brandishing an imitation assault rifle in an attempt to end his life. 

Kevin Walsh, 51, of The Knoll, Runcorn, appeared at Chester Crown Court after pleading to possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence during the incident.

The court heard from Paulinus Barnes, prosecuting, who told how police received a call from Daniel Sutcliffe, a friend of Walsh, at 1.20pm on August 12, 2020, to warn that Walsh was planning to provoke firearms officers to shoot him dead.

He began to walk up a grassy mound but “lost his footing and fell to the ground”.

Mr Barnes said witnesses described seeing Walsh looking down the sights and “pointing it towards the children’s playground”.

Firearms units arrived and “repeatedly” told him to drop the weapon - to “drop the gun”, which unbeknown to the officers was a BB rifle.

Walsh put down the weapon but reached for it and was shot, and was then shot a second time when he reached for it again.

A clip shown in court filmed on someone’s phone from a flat window overlooking the scene showed Walsh pick it up and appear as though he aims the imitation rifle towards two approaching firearms officers, followed by the sounds of gunshot, dogs barking, more warnings not to pick it up again, then a second gunshot.

He was treated by police and paramedics and taken to Aintree University Hospital.

At The Knoll, armed officers checked the weapon, which resembled an SA80 British armed forces assault rifle but was made of plastic and fitted to fire BB pellets, with an empty magazine.

A delivery note was found in his flat.

Witnesses described feeling “scared” and they worried “children or a passer-by could have been hurt”.

Walsh underwent emergency surgery to treat two gunshots to his abdomen including an injury to his intestine, with another operation the next day to remove a bullet, and he was also treated for sepsis and alcohol withdrawal.

When interviewed by the police on October 8, 2020, Walsh said he could remember officers “shouting at him not to pick up the weapon” but he “wanted them to shoot him; he wanted to die”.

He said he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time in the Royal Medical Corps from 1989 to 1993, including service in the first Gulf War, had “mental health problems” and had tried to kill himself three times before.

At the time of The Knoll incident, he was feeling “very low” and had drunk wine and beer “to excess”.

He said the imitation rifle was bought online and he “hadn’t been deliberately aiming at children”.

Discussions took place in Court over whether any real gun would be “bright blue” like Walsh’s imitation. 

Judge Patrick Thompson said this wasn’t a criticism of the police, and said officers “weren’t very close”, adding the weapon had been reported as a “real gun”.

He said: “I’m not criticising the officers or anyone else.

“They obviously thought it was a real gun and in fact, a BB gun can cause significant damage to people if discharged."

He added: The report they’ve had is he’s got a real gun.

“Don’t take that as any criticism of the officers’ behaviour, quite the opposite, the officers behaved quite properly and in fairness to the defendant he accepts it must have been extremely upsetting for the officer who had to discharge his weapon.”

Mr Barnes said Walsh and the weapon were in the “shade” and the video showed “you just see something that’s dark”.

Walsh had two convictions for three offences from 2014: driving with excess alcohol, failing to provide a specimen and failing to surrender.

Gary Lawrenson, defending, said his client wanted to meet the officer who shot him to apologise.

Mr Lawrenson said: “He would like, if he could, he would certainly apologise through me to that officer.

“We can all see why, and if he could in person he really would like to.”

In response to concerns raised by Judge Thompson that someone else could have been “hurt or killed”, Mr Lawrenson said: “He wasn’t well, he was so unwell that he couldn’t think straight, he wasn’t himself that day.”

Mr Lawrenson said Walsh had joined the Army at 17 and took part in peacekeeping missions and the first Gulf War, and left after four years of service, with his long-term partner believing that’s when his mental health issues began.

The defence counsel said Walsh’s mental health had “significantly diminished”, citing a psychiatric report documenting issues including depression, alcohol use and a “diagnosis of PTSD”.

He said Walsh had been “at the lowest point”, but since then he had been engaging with health services.

Mr Lawrenson quoted references from friend Danie Sutcliffe, fellow 1989 Army recruit James Keenan who said Walsh’s contribution to other veterans before and after the shooting “can’t be quantified”, Captain Ian Moorhouse who called Walsh a “loyal and trusted friend” and a “genuinely good bloke”, and Michael Riley MBE who said Walsh was a “caring, intelligent and remarkable man” whom he was “proud to count” as a friend.

The court heard Walsh had founded the Halton Veterans Legion support group and presented a “low risk of reoffending”.

Mr Lawrenson urged the judge to suspend any prison sentence.

Judge Thompson sentenced Walsh to two years in prison, suspended for two years, with a 20-day rehabilitation activity requirement and an alcohol treatment requirement for three months.

He ordered for the imitation firearm to be destroyed.

During his summing-up, Judge Thompson warned that even though Walsh aimed to injure himself, someone else could have been “seriously injured or killed”.

He said: “Your intention apparently was to get yourself shot but what you hadn’t thought through was the risk you posed to other people.”

Judge Thompson added: “And the position of the officers who had to attend - you know yourself from the time you served in the Army and the many veterans you’ve counselled, it’s not just as simple as shooting someone.

“It has a long-term effect on the person who has to discharge that weapon.

“Your actions were incredibly selfish, thinking of your own needs and nobody else’s.”

The judge balanced that against the psychiatric reports and character references.

He said: “It’s quite clear you’ve served your country and served your country well, and placed your own safety at risk as well as UN peacekeeping.

“You served in the first Gulf War.

“It’s been some time since the commission of this offence, you’ve used the time constructively and used mental health services and you’ve been seeing a psychiatric nurse.

“You’ve used your time constructively with the Halton Veterans (Legion) and it seems to me that’s your best way out of your mental health problems - to help others, that’s the best medicine there can be.”

Speaking after the hearing, Walsh told the ECHO he was now looking into working with the police to look at ways of helping to “de-escalate” situations involving veterans, and that he would like to meet the officer who shot him so both can find “closure”.

He also wants to give talks to firearms units to provide insights into his experience.

Recalling the moment he was hit, he said: “When the first round hit me, I remember looking at the sky and I thought ‘I’m still here’ and I leaned towards the rifle to pick it up again, I just wanted shut of life.”

IOPC says police acted "in line with legislation, policy and procedure"

Following the incident in 2020, Cheshire Police referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), although the force shares a joint firearms unit with North Wales, which is known as Cheshire and North Wales Armed Policing Alliance.

A statement issued by the IOPC said the officers had acted properly.

Amanda Rowe, IOPC regional director, said: “We carried out an independent investigation into the police shooting of a man at The Knoll, in Runcorn, on 12 August 2020.

"Our final report was completed in July (2021) and our findings have been shared with Cheshire Constabulary and the man who was injured.

“IOPC investigators attended the scene and conducted a detailed examination. 

"Witness statements were taken from police officers, the man who was injured, and members of the public.

"Mobile phone and body-worn video footage of the incident was analysed, along with radio and telephone communications. 

“We found the actions of the officers were in line with legislation, policy and procedure.

"The evidence did not indicate the use of potentially lethal force was unlawful or disproportionate.

“During the investigation, there was no indication any police officer had behaved in a manner that would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings or had committed a criminal offence.”

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Thursday, 19 May 2022

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