A police officer fired an accidental shot after his gun struck the driver’s side window of a car believed to contain armed UVF men, an investigation has found.
The incident happened in south Belfast on 6 November 2013.
No one was hurt and no firearms were recovered, but four men were arrested and two knuckle dusters and a wooden baton were recovered from the vehicle.
As with all firearms discharges by police in Northern Ireland, the incident was referred by the Chief Constable to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation.
In a statement today, Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said forensic examination of the car showed that the shot had been fired in an upward direction from very close range.
This tallied with the account of the officer who fired the shot. He said he had readied his gun for firing, in accordance with his training for such scenarios, but stumbled as he approached the car.
This caused the rifle to slide up the window and a shot to be fired upwards into the door frame.
The officer was a member of one of two police armed response units which had been tasked to intercept the vehicle in connection with an earlier reported incident.
Police had been advised shortly before 9pm that six men had called at a house, identified themselves as members of the UVF, and asked to speak to one of the occupants.
They failed to gain entry to the house and were reported to have made off in two cars.
Examination of police records, including the initial phone call to police, showed that police circulated a description of the vehicles and advised that they contained firearms.
When one of the cars was spotted being driven in the south Belfast area, the armed response units were authorised to force it to stop.
The four men who were in the vehicle were interviewed and said the officer had fired a shot at them after their vehicle was rammed as it was pulling over to stop.
Officers in the police cars said they forced the car to stop as it had failed to pull over.
The training records of the officer who discharged the firearm were examined and showed that he was properly trained in the use of the weapon at the time of the incident.
Having reviewed the evidence, the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said the decision to forcibly stop the vehicle was lawful, in accordance with training and in proportion to the threat posed to members of the public.
He also recommended that the officer be disciplined in relation to his handling of the weapon during the incident, and this has since been acted upon by the PSNI.