Family of shot man demands answers from police

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The Independent Online

The family of a schizophrenic man who was shot dead by a police marksman have demanded that an investigation into the incident should examine why six officers let him loose onto the street brandishing a samurai sword.

Andrew Kernan, 37, who was wearing his pyjamas, was hit twice in the chest after a stand-off with officers in Wavertree area of Liverpool on Thursday night. He later died in hospital.

The dead man's family claimed yesterday that six police officers had earlier been with Mr Kernan in his flat but had allowed him onto the streets with the sword.

The shooting, which followed a failed attempt to subdue Mr Kernan with CS gas, will intensify calls for police to be issued with non-lethal alternatives to firearms, capable of incapacitating dangerous people from long range without putting officers' lives at risk.

Merseyside Police has referred the fatal shooting, the 12th by police in England and Wales since 1995, to the independent Police Complaints Authority, which has asked Greater Manchester Police to investigate the incident.

Mr Kernan's relatives and a psychiatric nurse called for police assistance at 9.30pm on Thursday night after he became "agitated and distressed".

Mr Kernan's uncle, Ted Devlin, said: "I got a call from his mum saying he was having a bad time and could I come round. We were trying to keep him calm and a nurse came round but, in the end, I had to telephone the police."

Mr Devlin said there were at least six officers in the flat so he left them with his nephew.

After Mr Devlin left, Mr Kernan went out on the streets wielding a samurai sword.

Mr Devlin said : "When I was there I didn't see a sword. I didn't even know he had one. All I know is he was in the flat with half a dozen officers and they should have kept him there."

Before he was shot, Mr Kernan attempted to gain access to a nearby public house, The Wellington. Brian Williams, whose daughter Julie Carter is licensee at the pub, said: "At about 10pm our son-in-law Jimmy, who lives with us, came down the stairs saying he had seen a chap waving a sword around. Jimmy was shouting to bolt all the doors and we managed to get them shut. I think he basically shut the door in the guy's face and stopped him from getting in.

"A few minutes later, we heard two shots ring out. I don't know if there were any warnings given because it was difficult to hear exactly what was going on outside."

A resident who witnessed the shooting said: "I heard smashing glass and thought the police car window had been put through. I saw the man on one side of the police car and officers on the other side. They were telling him to put the sword down. I heard the two shots and saw him stumble and fall to the floor."

Mr Devlin said: "It was out of order shooting him. There was no need for them to open fire. There were a good six or seven officers in the flat. Andrew was a strong lad but surely there was enough of them to overpower him. If they had kept him in that flat he would have been alive today."

Mr Kernan, described by relatives as a "lovely lad", had been doing a computer course at a day centre.

"He was a schizophrenic but he had never been in trouble before," said his aunt Pauline yesterday. "He started having problems when he was about 22. His mum is distraught. She is struggling to take it in."

Mr Kernan, who had no partner or children, lived with his mother in Wavertree. His father died several years ago.

Merseyside assistant chief constable Mike Tonge yesterday told a news conference that his officers had tried to "build up a rapport" with Mr Kernan at the flat where he lived with his mother.

Mr Tonge said: "Efforts to do this failed and he left the premises armed with a sword. Further attempts were made to defuse the situation, with the use of CS incapacitant spray, which proved unsuccessful.

"Mr Kernan continued to cause serious risk to the public and police officer safety, which ultimately led to the discharge of a firearm to ensure public safety."

The Association of Chief Police Officers is researching alternatives to firearms, including an electrical stun gun which propels two needles attached to wires. The needles puncture the skin and the device then delivers a high-voltage shock to incapacitate suspects.

Other possibilities being considered include low-powered guns, known as "kinetic energy weapons", which fire rubber bullets or bean bags and can stun, or disorient the target.

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said: "Everybody – police officers and public – would welcome anything which comes between the use of firearms and other forms of restraint. It would be in everyone's interest, providing we can find something that will work effectively."