Tuesday 20 November 2018

Garda search at siege site uncovers over 250 rounds

Brian McDonald

TWO garda investigations were under way into the Gort siege last night as the man at the centre of the stand-off remained in a critical condition.

Gardai have recovered over 250 rounds of ammunition from the scene of the siege which ended in Anthony Burke (40) being shot in the chest.

Mr Burke, the father of a baby girl, was last night said to be in a 'stable' but critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit of University College Hospital in Galway following emergency surgery.

Gardai have maintained a presence at the hospital since he was taken there after being shot on Monday.

The normally quiet construction worker had peppered Garda patrol cars and shot out street lights throughout the 21 hours that he had remained holed up in his home following a row with his partner.

He had used his two legally-held shotguns to fire off more than 40 shots and had resisted all attempts by a Garda negotiator to talk about his situation.

The stand-off had appeared to be heading towards a peaceful conclusion when he finally broke his silence and spoke to the negotiator by phone close to 6pm. He surrendered one of his shotguns at 7.30pm but events took a sinister turn when he emerged from his home after 8pm and began shooting at security arc lights near where gardai had taken up positions.

He was hit by a non-lethal 'beanbag' round after refusing to put down his weapon and a sniper attached to the Garda Emergency Response Unit fired a shot from a .308 rifle which struck him in the chest/shoulder area.

Garda spokesman, Supt Kevin Donohoe defended the level of the response. "The outcome is unfortunate. Our objective was to resolve it without injury and without loss of life and we would be happy to be still there this morning doing this. But once he took certain action at 8.20pm that kind of thing is out of our control," he said.

Yesterday two garda investigations were under way.

Forensic experts attached to the Garda Technical Bureau were beginning the criminal investigation by sifting through the scene in and around the semi-detached house where the stand-off occurred.

Meanwhile, Chief Superintendent Kieran Kenny, from the Sligo-Leitrim Division arrived in Gort to begin the task of carrying out an internal inquiry into the Garda handling of the incident.

Last night Justice Minister Michael McDowell mounted a strong defence of the garda handling of the siege.

He said that anybody who used guns to endanger the lives of others must not be regarded, except in the most extreme circumstances, as the victim.

He was satisfied that gardai were conscious of the need to use proportionate force to deal with the incident, which had resulted in a very serious threat to the lives of innocent people and to gardai.

Commenting on Mr Burke's possession of two legally-held firearms, the minister said the new Firearms Act provided for medical assessment of people and for safeguards for psychological or psychiatric conditions.

But Green Party Justice Spokesman Ciaran Cuffe said the Justice Department should launch a third party investigation on top of the two inquiries launched by gardai.

"I think it's very important to have an independent investigation - perhaps by the new Garda Ombudsman," he told the Irish Independent last night.

Fine Gael Justice spokesman Jim O'Keefe said the apparent failure of the beanbag rounds to disable Mr Burke points to the need for a wholesale review of the use of non-lethal weapons in stand-off conditions.

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