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Lessons to be learned following investigation by police watchdog into Highland firearms incident

By Val Sweeney

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The incident at Polvanie View in March 2022.
The incident at Polvanie View in March 2022.

A police watchdog has highlighted lessons to be learned following an investigation into a firearms incident in the Highland capital.

The incident happened in March 2022 when a man was shot by a firearms officer to be brought under control after he launched a petrol bomb attack, setting a block of flats at Polvanie View on fire and attempting to murder five police officers.

The incident, involving Krzystof Andrusczak, happened the day after concerns about the 40-year-old's deteriorating mental health, his possession of weapons and his threats of violence were reported to Police Scotland.

He received a serious injury to his left leg and superficial injuries to his torso from a Taser.

He was later acquitted of a number of charges on the grounds he was suffering from a mental disorder.

The court imposed a compulsion order without limit of time for him to remain in the state hospital for treatment.

Police Scotland referred the incident to the Police Investigation and Review Commissioner (PIRC) which has highlighted the case in its annual report.

While its investigation found that the use of force engaged by the police was proportionate and necessary to mitigate the threat posed by the man, it criticised the initial decision-making which failed to take account of the threat, risk and harm posed.

Its report stated that the day before the incident, concerns about the man were reported to Police Scotland and checks revealed the existence of an arrest warrant for him.

The area control room staff discussed the report with the divisional sergeant and duty inspector and contacted hospital staff who confirmed that the man was known to them.

The duty inspector considered that police had no powers to deal with him and it was the responsibility of mental health services to respond.

The report stated: "This failed to take account of the threat, risk and harm posed or mitigate the potential dangers and wider public safety issues."

The following day, March 31, a mental health officer obtained a warrant to enter the man’s home and detain him for a mental health assessment.

For public safety reasons, it was agreed that mental health staff would approach the man at his flat supported by unarmed divisional officers.

"On forcing entry to the flat, the officers immediately saw the man within the hallway dressed in camouflage clothing and wearing a gas mask," the report stated.

"He was crouched over a number of, what appeared to be, petrol bombs. He then threw one which dispersed and ignited causing a fire.

"Officers and mental health staff retreated and left the building. A further petrol bomb was thrown from a window towards officers.

"The man then exited the first floor flat from a window and rappeled to the ground using a rope.

"Officers standing outside saw that he was in possession a chain approximately three feet in length and two large knives.

"He took up a position at a corner of the building and brandished the weapons at the police officers in a threatening manner, refusing to drop them."

It was videoed by members of the public using mobile telephones and widely circulated live on social media.

A stand-off followed with the man being contained.

After the initial tactical firearms commander declared a firearms incident, three authorised firearms officers in armed response vehicles attended and attempted to negotiate with him.

The petrol bomb thrown by the man set fire to his flat which spread rapidly to the rest of the building, posing a significant risk to other occupants.

The fire service was hampered in gaining access because of the stand-off with the man who then ran towards two armed firearms officers swinging the chain and brandishing the knives.

An officer discharged two Taser cartridges striking the man on the neck and torso which had little effect.

When he was about one metre way, the man struck one of the officers on the face with the chain and made as if to stab the officer.

Another officer discharged one round from their firearm, striking the man on the upper left leg.

He fell to the ground and was disarmed. He was given emergency medical attention and taken to Raigmore Hospital.

Divisional unarmed officers were close by and directly in the line of trajectory, behind the man when the shot was fired.

In aiming downwards, the officer who shot the man averted any potentially tragic unintentional consequences.

After he fell to the ground, unarmed divisional officers immediately approached, entering the firearms cordon without being authorised.

The armed officers were equipped with body worn video which provided PIRC investigators with high

quality audio and video footage and to highlight wider potential areas of learning.

PIRC recommended Police Scotland review the decisions made by the duty inspector to ensure that the response was isolated to individual decision making

It also said divisional officers and appropriate managers should be reminded of scene management protocols to ensure unarmed officers and the public are not placed close to situations of extreme danger

Briefings should be provided to divisional officers and managers on the command protocols during a declared firearms incident particularly with regards to entry in the firearms cordon by unarmed officers.

It also said force-wide briefings should be considered to raise the awareness of all officers and staff on post incident procedures.

Police Scotland has implemented all of the recommendations.

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