Police officer involved in fatal shooting should be named says family

THE brother of a man shot dead by police ten years ago has called for the officer responsible for his death to be identified at an inquest to be heard later this year.

On April 16, 2006, 23-year-old Steven Colwell was shot dead by a policeman as he attempted to reverse a stolen car away from a PSNI checkpoint at Ballynahinch, Co Down.

A 2011 Police Ombudsman’s report said Mr Colwell had been “reckless” but found the police officer who fired the shots played “the greater part” in the tragedy claiming the officer’s actions were “critically flawed”.

On the tenth anniversary of his death Steven’s brother Neil says his family remains grief-stricken.

“I still cry for Steven. My family have been devastated by this. My tears are still as strong, the pain in my heart is still as strong today as what it was back in April 2006.”

The policeman involved in the shooting, known only as Officer O, was granted anonymity during previous legal proceedings, but Neil Colwell believes there now needs to be “full transparency” of the circumstances surrounding his brother’s death.

He told The Detail his family needed answers.

“My family is no threat to the police officer. I think it’s ludicrous to be pushing for anonymity. If the officer is given anonymity then in my opinion it won’t be a fully transparent inquest.

“All the cards need to be laid on the table to give everyone the opportunity to see all the facts in full. It’s going to affect my whole family if we don’t have an open inquest to find out why Steven died. We need it all out in the open.”

At a preliminary inquest hearing into Steven Colwell’s death last week the Coroner, Joseph McCrisken, outlined his intention to have a month long inquest in October 2016.

During the hearing the coroner’s legal counsel advised that Mr McCrisken would have to make a decision on whether or not Officer O’s anonymity would be maintained during the inquest proceedings.

Mr McCrisken said he would make a decision on this before the end of May 2016.


On the day that Steven Colwell was killed, police in Ballynahinch had been made aware that a stolen car was headed their way.

Steven Colwell attempted to reverse away from the checkpoint but was shot twice in the chest by a police officer standing directly outside the vehicle.

Mr Colwell tried to get out of the car but collapsed and died at the scene.

It was initially thought that Steven, a Protestant from Belfast’s Shankill Road, was a Catholic as he was wearing a Celtic top that day. He was given the last rites by a priest from a local church. The officer concerned – known only as “O” – went off on sick leave shortly after the killing.

The events that led up to the death were investigated by the Police Ombudsman.

The Detail previously reported on delays surrounding the Police Ombudsman’s report as well as its findings.

The report, published in December 2011, questioned whether Officer O was suitable for frontline policing.

It found that the front wheels of Mr Colwell’s car were turned towards the opposite side of the road and the car turned left, away from the police officer. It also showed the officer moved to his left before discharging the second shot through the driver’s side window, as the car passed close to him.

The report stated that the officer’s decision to draw his gun at an early stage had escalated the situation and concluded that there was “no evidence that the lives of any pedestrian or of the other two police officers were at risk.”

A post mortem examination subsequently found that Ecstasy and a tranquiliser in Steven Colwell’s blood “could have affected his ability to control” the car.

In the ombudsman’s report the PSNI said it deeply regretted the tragic death of Mr Colwell but said that officers were frequently called upon to make split second decisions often in extremely challenging circumstances.

The report was published five years ago, but Neil Colwell said many questions remain unanswered.

“The Ombudsman’s report was over 70 pages and when we got home and started to read through it there were things that we as a family weren’t happy with.

“We made contact with the Ombudsman’s office and had asked for meetings to discuss this and left messages. However there has never been a meeting, it almost seemed as if the Ombudsman closed the door on us once the report was published.

“That was five years ago and now we’re waiting on the inquest in the hope that some of those remaining questions will be answered. “

A spokesperson for the Police Ombudsman said: “The office tried to answer as many questions as we could for the family.”

At the latest preliminary hearing last Thursday the Coroner Joseph McCrisken heard that the majority of the documentation in the case had been considered by lawyers for the police and the family.

Alleged inaccuracies in relation to medical report concerning Officer O were also raised with the issue to be discussed again by interested parties before the commencement of the full inquest in October.

Neil Colwell said: “We’ve had quite a few preliminary hearings over the years which has been disappointing. However the new coroner seems to be keen to get Steven’s inquest underway so I feel a bit more positive about it now. The coroner said himself at the preliminary hearing last week- ten years is too long.”

In a statement to The Detail the Police Service of Northern Ireland said it was “working closely with the Coronial Service to try to progress this matter as speedily as we can.”