Inquest Into Rock Place Shooting

A wanted man who was shot dead in the street by police was lawfully killed, an inquest has ruled.

Jurors at the inquest into the death of Michael Fitzpatrick spent more than three hours deliberating the evidence before coming to their verdict.

Fitzpatrick, 49, received gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen in Rock Place, Kemp Town, Brighton, on February 10 last year.

He was pronounced dead short afterwards at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

The inquest, at Brighton Magistrates' Court, heard that Fitzpatrick was wanted in connection with a string of armed robberies in the Mid Sussex and Brighton and Hove areas.

DNA evidence placed him at the scene of a robbery at the Santander bank in Church Walk, Burgess Hill, on January 21 2011, the jury heard.

As part of their findings, the jurors ruled that the cause of Fitzpatrick's death was from gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen.

The jury foreman said the police had immediately identified themselves to Fitzpatrick after getting out of their vehicle in Rock Place, and the firearms commander had been forced to make a split-second decision with regard to his own life and those of his colleagues and members of the public.

He added that the officers' planning and the actions they took had been exemplary and that Fitzpatrick had died within two minutes of being shot.

Brighton and Hove Coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley offered her sympathy to the family and friends of Fitzpatrick and the police officers who were involved in the incident.

Following the inquest, Assistant Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, from Surrey and Sussex Police, said the officers had made the right decision.

She said: ``Clearly my thoughts are very much with Michael Fitzpatrick's family.

``In the split-second moment the police officers had, they took absolutely the right decision.

``That rests heavily with them. The use of lethal force is never an easy decision.''

She said the inquest had shown unequivocally that the tactics and approach used and the plans the officers made were the right ones, although they had tragic consequences.

Describing it as a ``really tragic set of circumstances'', she added that Brighton and Hove is a safe city and that incidents like this are rare.

She said the investigation into the armed robberies in Burgess Hill was now closed.

Ms Pinkney added: ``What we have heard this week is that the police operation was thoughtful, well-planned and proportionate to seek to arrest him. That was always our intention and the objective of the day.''

Ms Pinkney added: ``The decision made by officers that day is one of the most profoundly difficult decisions an officer may face in their career.

``As heard during the inquest, the officers had just three seconds to take action to protect themselves and members of the public against the visible threat of a firearm.

``Firearms officers are highly trained and the use of lethal force is seen as a last resort to protect the public or themselves. Any decision to use that high level of force will weigh heavily on those officers' minds.

``We have fully supported the coroner's inquest and an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into Michael Fitzpatrick's death, providing documents and witnesses to help determine the cause of death and the circumstances in which he died.

``The IPCC didn't find any failings by officers in respect of Michael Fitzpatrick's death, concluding that excellent decision making had taken place and that the officers' actions were both appropriate and proportionate. The police operation was described as having been impeccably planned and officers had taken the right action to deal proactively with the threat posed by a dangerous individual.

``After completing what the coroner described as a robust and independent investigation, the IPCC concluded that the recommendations made to Sussex Police would not have prevented the death of Mr Fitzpatrick.

``Officers had acted within moments to tend to Mr Fitzpatrick, but tragically neither they nor paramedics were able to save his life.''

The IPCC made recommendations reminding officers to consider the use of the two-way airwave radio system when appropriate to brief those involved in armed policing deployments.

It also said Sussex Police should remind officers from the tactical firearms and strategic firearms teams to include the suspect of the operation in the working strategy in all relevant stages of the operation.

It added that all details and any changes should be recorded for clarity to leave a clear audit trail.

An IPCC spokeswoman said a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Fitzpatrick's death, the actions of the officer firing the shots and the planning, decision-making and implementation of Sussex Police's pre-planned operation found no evidence of any criminal or misconduct offences.

Mike Franklin, IPCC commissioner for South East, said: ``This is an extremely sad case and nothing can compensate Mr Fitzpatrick's family for their loss.

``At the outset of our independent investigation I sought to ensure we looked at every aspect of Sussex Police's contact with Mr Fitzpatrick on that day.

``It was crucial we explored the planning, decision-making and implementation of Sussex Police's pre-planned operation with particular attention to threat assessments, as well as applying scrutiny to the actions of the firearms officer.

``Firearms officers often find themselves in incredibly challenging situations where they are required to make split-second life and death decisions. A position most of us will never find ourselves in.

``Clearly, the outcome of this tragic incident is not the conclusion anyone wanted.

``However, I am confident we have thoroughly and independently investigated the full circumstances of this fatal shooting and have concluded the action taken by the firearms officer could not have been avoided.''

During the inquest the jury was told that the police had been looking for Fitzpatrick for some time to talk to him about the armed robberies which had taken place at post offices and banks.

They received information on the morning of February 10 last year that he was a regular drinker at the Sidewinder pub in Upper St James's Street, Brighton, and a decision was made to arrest him that day, the court heard.

Two armed response vehicles, one marked and one unmarked, were sent to the area, the jury was told.

But the three officers in the unmarked police car spotted Fitzpatrick in Marine Parade and decided they had to arrest him there and then, the court heard.

Fitzpatrick knew that the police were looking for him and there was concern he may go to ground.

But as the officers drew up behind Fitzpatrick in Rock Place they realised it was highly likely he knew they were police officers so they stopped in front of him to make their arrest, the court heard.

Within seconds of the officers getting out of the car, CCTV belonging to a security firm in Rock Place captured Fitzpatrick pulling a gun from his waistband and pointing it at the officers before he was fatally shot, the court was told.

Stockings but no money was found in his pockets and police believed he may have been in the ``preparatory stages'' of another armed robbery, the court heard.

Subsequent examination of Fitzpatrick's gun determined that it was an airgun which had been made to look like a real handgun.

The court heard there was no way the officers could have known the gun was not real, or loaded.

The jury was also told that although a licence is not needed to own such a gun, Fitzpatrick was prohibited from owning any firearm because he had previous convictions for armed robbery and conspiracy to murder, for which he had spent seven years in prison.

Fitzpatrick had been out on licence when the armed robberies were committed and his arrest was likely to have resulted in his immediate return to prison, the court heard.

His friend, Dustin Sussex, told the court that Fitzpatrick had told him he would rather die than go back to prison.

Mr Sussex said that Mr Fitzpatrick knew police were looking for him.

He told the court that Fitzpatrick was staying in a bed and breakfast in Brighton and had said he was keeping a low profile.

Mr Sussex said he had last seen his friend the weekend before he died. He told the court he had given him money to pay for his bed and breakfast and Fitzpatrick had said he was going to disappear to try to sort himself out.

He said: ``I gave him a solicitor's telephone number and told him to ring him on Monday.

``He said that he would never end up back in prison. He said 'they are going to find me and they are going to kill me'.''

Mr Sussex said his friend seemed fine in himself when he last saw him.

He added: ``He thought he was going to go back to prison because the police were looking for him.

``He said in conversations when we spoke about prison that he would rather be dead than go back there.''