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No charges for officer who used taser on a man who douse himself in petrol who then burst into flames

October 16, 2014, 12:37 pm

Following the death of Andrew Pimlott in Plymouth in April 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has determined that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute a police constable for gross negligence manslaughter or misconduct in public office.

A report submitted to the CPS by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) indicated that on 18 April 2013, police were called after reports Mr Pimlott had breached a restraining order in attending a specific address in Plymouth and had a jerry can of petrol. Two police constables attended and went to the rear garden where Mr Pimlott was seen to douse himself in petrol before appearing to strike a match. In response, one of the officers deployed his Taser and Mr Pimlott caught fire. Mr Pimlott was taken to hospital and died from the complications of severe burns on 23 April 2013.

In July 2014 the IPCC submitted a file to the CPS requesting a charging decision.

In order to prosecute gross negligence manslaughter it must be shown that a duty of care was owed to the deceased, that that duty was breached, that the breach caused the death of the victim and that any breach was so bad that it should be categorised as gross negligence and therefore criminal. It is necessary to show that any acts were so serious and showed such an indifference to an obviously serious risk to life, that it amounts to a crime in law. An offence of misconduct in public office is committed by a public officer who wilfully neglects to perform his duty or wilfully misconducts himself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the publics trust in the office-holder, without reasonable excuse or justification.

Sally Walsh, a senior lawyer in the CPS Special Crime Division, said: “We carefully and thoroughly examined the evidence in this case in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The evidence suggests that this was a fast-moving incident with events unfolding suddenly and in near darkness; from the police approach to the garden to the petrol igniting the entire incident took less than 41 seconds.

“Having considered the evidence, we determined that although it could be shown that the officer owed Mr Pimlott a duty of care, there is insufficient evidence that the duty was breached. In the circumstances, we took the view that a jury would be more likely than not to accept that the officer held a reasonable and genuine fear for both Mr Pimlotts safety and his own. Whilst we cannot know whether Mr Pimlott intended to set himself alight, seeing him douse himself in petrol and holding what appeared to be a lighted match, it was reasonable for the officer to conclude that he intended to. It appears from the evidence that the officer did the best he could in what were clearly very difficult circumstances and that he was faced with a choice of either standing back to allow Mr. Pimlott to set himself alight or taking the somewhat lesser risk of applying the Taser in an effort to stop him doing so.

“With regards to misconduct in public office, the evidence suggests that the use of a Taser in these circumstances was not prohibited by police guidelines and that he acted in a genuine attempt to save Mr Pimlotts life and keep others safe. There is therefore insufficient evidence to show that he wilfully misconducted himself or abused the publics trust in him.

“Since there is insufficient evidence to give rise to a realistic prospect of convicting the officer of any criminal offence arising from the circumstances of Mr Pimlotts death, we have advised the IPCC that no further criminal action should be taken.

“Any decision by the CPS does not imply any finding concerning guilt or criminal conduct; the CPS makes decisions only according to the test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors and it is applied in all decisions on whether or not to prosecute. In addition this CPS decision applies only to possible criminal proceedings and not to any possible misconduct proceedings under police regulations.

“Our thoughts remain with Mr Pimlotts family at this difficult time and we have written to them to explain our decision in detail. We met with them in September to update them on the progress of our review and we have offered to meet with them again should they so wish.”

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