Former minister’s driver was justified in shooting at fleeing drunk driver, defence lawyer argues

Defence says Paul Sheehan, the former police officer who was Manuel Mallia’s driver, acted correctly when he shot at drunk driver’s fleeing vehicle

Paul Sheehan (front) leaving court in a previous sitting. The shooting incident happened in 2014 after a drunk-driver clipped a ministerial vehicle that Sheehan was responsible for.
Paul Sheehan (front) leaving court in a previous sitting. The shooting incident happened in 2014 after a drunk-driver clipped a ministerial vehicle that Sheehan was responsible for.

Former police officer Paul Sheehan had acted correctly when he shot at a drunk driver’s fleeing vehicle which had clipped a minister’s car, his lawyer told a court this morning.

Magistrate Rachel Montebello heard closing arguments by lawyer Edward Gatt, who is defending the former police constable.

Sheehan is thought to have fired at least two shots at the moving vehicle of Scotsman Stephen Smith in November 2014, after Smith collided with the ministerial vehicle when it was parked on Nicholas Cottoner Street, Gzira, while driving under the influence of alcohol.

Sheehan was the security driver of then-police minister Manuel Mallia. The incident led to Mallia’s resignation.

Sheehan had originally been charged with attempted homicide, intimidation using a weapon, voluntary damage, being in possession of a firearm without good reason during the commission of an offence, discharging a firearm in a public place, causing a disturbance at night, breaching the peace, exceeding the limits of his authority and committing a crime that he was duty bound to prevent.  The homicide charge was later dropped by the police on the advice of the Attorney General.

Gatt laid the blame for the incident squarely at the feet of Stephen Smith, who he said was driving dangerously whilst drunk.

“Two experts appointed by the court came here in October 2017 and brought to naught all the charges. I am angry because even during the inquiry…what blood tests were taken from Smith? Nothing. What action because of the foreign licence plate? Nothing.”

In his blistering closing arguments, Gatt said, “I must say this: in other cases, one of a man who was killed by police whilst jumping from rooftop to rooftop and that of another man killed by police after he pulled out a pencil sharpening knife on police, there were no prosecutions. Looking at this case it is clear [that Sheehan was prosecuted] because this man is who he is. He shot the car justifiably. The accused gives a detailed description of what happened. What happened is that this man who had permission to carry a firearm was taken to task in Maltese by the Englishman who said he didn’t speak Maltese. The Englishman was drunk. He drove off when he heard Sheehan calling for reinforcements.”

Court expert Dr Mario Scerri had testified that Smith had a blood alcohol level of 109mg/dl at 2am on the day of the shooting when the legal maximum for driving is 30mg/dl. If the incident happened at 9pm, at the time, given the rate at which alcohol is metabolised, he must have had a blood alcohol level of over 500mg/dl the lawyer argued.

The court-appointed ballistics expert had said the first shot was fired “20 to 25m away” and was aimed at the tyre, Gatt told the court. “This brings to nothing the attempt at grievous injury. The second shot hit the pillar near the roof of the car due to the downwards slope of the road. It was from 40m,” he said. Gatt read from the testimony of the ballistics expert: “This was a panicked shot at a moving vehicle,” the expert, a brigadier, had testified.  “There were people who murdered and nothing was done to them, yet Sheehan was picked on because of who he was – Minister Manuel Mallia’s driver,” said the lawyer.

The case will continue in April.

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