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Independence of witness queried

15 September 2005

The independence of a Police Association expert witness was questioned on the third day of the Steven Wallace inquest in the New Plymouth Coroner's Court yesterday.

Sergeant Kevin Gatfield was called to the inquest by lawyer Susan Hughes, acting for the association, as an expert on police firearms training and procedures.

Under questioning from Wallace family lawyer Ron Mansfield, Mr Gatfield admitted knowing Senior Constable Keith Abbott, the officer who fatally shot Steven Wallace in April, 2000, for a number of years.

Mr Gatfield said his relationship with Mr Abbott was strictly professional, although he also admitted criticising former officers involved in testifying against Mr Abbott during the private murder prosecution brought against him by Mr Wallace's father, James, in 2001.

Mr Abbott was acquitted by a jury.

Hamilton-based coroner Gordon Matenga has set aside a week for the hearing, limited to two police policy issues: Procedure applying to general staff dealing with violent offenders, and first aid care.

When questioned by Mr Mansfield on police firearms training, Sergeant Gatfield said it was adequate.

Mr Gatfield said he believed that there should be more training given to officers on firearms training because it would give them, and the public, more confidence.

He disputed a claim from Mr Mansfield that the officer in charge that evening, Sergeant Fiona Prestidge, had abdicated her role and had given no guidance or taken control of either Mr Abbott or Constable Jason Dombroski, who had both armed themselves as Mr Wallace rampaged through Waitara smashing windows and attacking cars.

In Mr Gatfield's opinion, there should always be room for officers at the scene to make the judgment, although he believed it was not good policing that it appeared no one assumed control.

Michael Ardagh, a professor of emergency medicine at the Christchurch School of Medicine, told the court he believed the officers at the scene had done the right thing by not moving Mr Wallace after he was shot.

In his opinion, if Mr Wallace had been moved into a police car and transported to an oncoming ambulance he would have died from cardiac arrest.

"The only aspect of first aid they could have done was put him in the recovery position," Prof Ardagh said.

The first rule of providing first aid to violent offenders was safety, then call for help, before trying to assess the patient, he said.

"While it would have been desirable that some attention should have been given to Mr Wallace, it would not have made a difference in survival, but it would have shown compassion."

Prof Ardagh said if he had been in the same position as the officers he would have taken the same action.

The inquest continues today.

Glenn McLean

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