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Thursday 29 June 2017

Force used by armed garda in foiled post office robbery proportionate

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

THE FORCE used by an armed garda who shot dead two raiders in a foiled post office robbery was proportionate, lawful and necessary, an inquiry ruled.

The Garda Ombudsman found the elite member of the emergency response unit honestly believed there was an immediate and real risk to life when he fired at Eric Hopkins and Colm Griffin.



The pair were shot at the Post Office in Lusk, Co Dublin, on May 26 2005, minutes after €48,500 had been delivered.



Mr Griffin was armed with a handgun and a third man, Gavin Farrelly, was smashing the glass screen with a sledge hammer when a plain clothes garda - known only as Garda A - began shooting.



Mr Hopkins' sister Belinda lodged a complaint with the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) when no garda was prosecuted for her brother's death.



The inquiry team concluded Garda A acted in the honestly held belief there was an immediate and real risk to life and that the use of lethal force was justified in the circumstances.



He discharged two rounds from his official semi-automatic pistol at Mr Griffin and one round at Mr Hopkins, whom he believed had armed himself with Mr Griffin's gun after he was shot.



"The investigation concluded that the level of force used by Garda A in the shooting of Colm Griffin and Eric Hopkins was proportionate, lawful and no more than absolutely necessary," it added.



"Notwithstanding the complexity of the operation mounted by the gardai and the inherent unpredictability of what they had to deal with, the commission is of the view that there were certain systemic inadequacies."



GSOC found there were a number of weaknesses in the planning of the operation, affecting the command and control of it.



This led to Garda A being put in a position where he was required to make a split-second life and death decision, it added.



No disciplinary file will be forwarded to the Garda Commissioner and no criminal file will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.



Ms Hopkins had maintained the Garda operational plan and its execution were flawed in that the incident should never have been allowed to develop to the stage that it did, placing lives in danger.



She believed gardai, who was been lying in wait for the raiders, should have intervened much sooner than they did.



Following a week-long and often fraught inquest into the deaths of Mr Griffin, 33, of Canon Lillis Avenue, and Mr Hopkins, 24, of Lower Rutland Street, both Dublin, a jury found the pair were repeatedly warned to disarm before being shot and that Garda A's actions were justified.



Mr Farrelly, of Lower Sheriff Street, Dublin, was jailed for ten years after surrendering at the scene.



GSOC said it also reviewed all of the physical and forensic evidence taken from the scene at Lusk Village Store, including ballistic tests on Garda A's official firearm, CCTV, post-mortem results and briefing orders issued to the gardai.



The Commission said An Garda Siochana was already reviewing its recommendations on the use of force policies, procedures and training.



And it rejected Ms Hopkins complaint the use of lethal force against her brother was unlawful, instead acknowledging the courage and professionalism of gardai on the scene, particularly Garda A.



"The Commission would like to extend its sympathies to the families of the late Eric Hopkins and Colm Griffin," GSOC added.



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