Officer who shot colleague avoids action by retiring

By Lauren Turner,Press Association
Monday 02 November 2009 15:35

A police officer who shot a man during a training exercise has avoided facing any disciplinary action by retiring, it was revealed today.

Keith Tilbury, who worked in a control room at Thames Valley Police, was taking part in firearms awareness training when Pc David Micklethwaite shot him in the stomach, causing devastating injuries.

Micklethwaite, who believed he had loaded a "dummy" round, was convicted under health and safety legislation in September, and ordered to pay an £8,000 fine and £8,000 costs.

Thames Valley Police said they had "reluctantly" decided, on the advice of the Health and Safety Executive, not to bring misconduct proceedings over the incident, in May 2007, until after the court case.

But because the case took more than two years to reach court, by the time legal matters were concluded Micklethwaite had reached 30 years' service with the police.

He gave notice of his intention to retire after his conviction, and officially left the force yesterday, a Thames Valley Police spokesman said.

An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) concluded in October 2007 that Micklethwaite should face disciplinary proceedings.

They have now agreed to close the case in the light of his retirement, however.

Releasing its report into the incident today, the police watchdog said it was "astonishing" that procedures were not in place to prevent such an accident happening in the classroom.

Civilian worker Mr Tilbury was "lucky to be alive" after the shooting, they added.

Micklethwaite loaded live ammunition into a .44 Magnum revolver, failing to check whether it was a dummy round after taking it from a Quality Street tin used for storage.

He told the IPCC he believed all ammunition in there was inert, adding that he "wouldn't expect to find them (live ammunition) in a flipping Quality Street tin, just chucked in there loosely with all the other bits and pieces." He added: "It's just a no no."

It was on the final pull of the trigger that the revolver fired a bullet into Mr Tilbury. Micklethwaite rushed to his aid before an ambulance was called to take him to an Oxford hospital.

IPCC deputy chairman Deborah Glass said there were "clear lessons" that needed to be learned by Thames Valley Police.

She said: "We found it astonishing that systems and procedures were not in place to prevent such a set of circumstances occurring that led to this life-changing incident.

"Our investigation was also very clear that there was a case to answer by a police officer who should have known, at the very least, that it was foolish to point a loaded weapon in a classroom.

"Mr Tilbury is lucky to be alive but I hope he is at least reassured that those responsible have been held accountable for their actions in a criminal court and changes have been made to ensure that the same thing should never happen again."

In December 2007, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring criminal charges against Micklethwaite, and instead, a prosecution was brought by the HSE.

Explaining their inability to discipline Micklethwaite, the Thames Valley Police spokesman said: "Both the IPCC and Thames Valley Police were in agreement that misconduct proceedings should commence as soon as practicable.

"The HSE were concerned that any misconduct hearing would prejudice their prosecution and made strong representation to this effect.

"Pc Micklethwaite's lawyers also made similar representations.

"On 8 October 2008, TVP reluctantly took the decision not to bring any misconduct proceedings until after the court case.

"Unfortunately the trial did not come to fruition until September 2009, at which time Pc Micklethwaite had served 30 years' service."

They said he "was entitled" to retire, and added: "Given that there is a legal requirement to comply with a notice period of an intention to hold a misconduct hearing, it will not be possible to hold the proceedings prior to his retirement."

Micklethwaite will receive a full police pension, Thames Valley Police confirmed.

Mr Tilbury, a police inquiry control room operator, is still employed by the force but has not returned to work since the accident at Thames Valley Police headquarters in Kidlington, Oxfordshire.

Thames Valley Police, which admitted charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act, was fined £40,000 at Southwark Crown Court, London, where Micklethwaite was sentenced. The force was also ordered to pay costs of £25,000.

The IPCC said it appears to have been "accepted practice" within the force that both live and inert rounds were used for demonstration purposes in the classroom.

It has recommended that Thames Valley Police should now register all ammunition and audit its use until it is disposed of, and keep ammunition used for demonstrations in viewing cases.

The seven recommendations also include changes to firearms awareness courses, which should now be conducted by at least two authorised firearms officers.