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Expert: Abbott did not have baton skills to stop Wallace

16 September 2005

Only seven police officers in the country had the baton skills capable of stopping Steven Wallace the night he was fatally shot, the New Plymouth Coroner's Court heard yesterday.

Police Association witness John Moran, New Zealand's most experienced baton instructor, said Senior Constable Keith Abbott had no other option but to shoot Mr Wallace as he advanced on him with a baseball bat because he was not competent enough with his baton.

"It would have been the wrong option in that situation," he said.

Mr Moran's evidence came on day four of the inquest into Mr Wallace's death in April 2000.

The hearing, before Hamilton-based coroner Gordon Matenga, is limited to two police policy issues: Procedure applying to general staff dealing with violent offenders, and first aid care.

The inquest was adjourned in 2001 when the Wallace family brought a private murder prosecution against Mr Abbott.

Mr Abbott was acquitted by a jury.

The court heard that Mr Moran had used the same model of baton to defend himself in an experiment with someone wielding a baseball bat. The baton had broken.

Under cross-examination by the Wallace family lawyer, Ron Mansfield, Mr Moran said the only option for Mr Abbott at the distance Mr Wallace was advancing on him was to use his firearm.

In written evidence given to the court, Mr Moran said he also did not consider pepper spray to have been an option.

"I would consider that my life and those in the vicinity would be at risk if I did not take this action. With a side-handle baton I would have a single opportunity to defend myself and if that failed, then I would certainly be subject to serious injury and access to the other weapons I was carrying would be compromised. I would not be prepared to take that risk."

Most of the morning session was taken up by the continued cross-examination of police firearms instructor Sergeant Kevin Gatfield by Mr Mansfield, who claimed Mr Abbott had fired a warning shot, which was against police procedure.

Mr Mansfield said there was no need for the warning shot when Mr Wallace was still an estimated 20 metres away.

Mr Gatfield disagreed, saying the only time a warning shot could be fired was when Mr Abbott's life was not in imminent danger with Mr Wallace advancing.

He also disagreed when questioned as to whether or not he thought the police action leading up to the shooting was a shambles.

The inquest is expected to finish today, with Mr Matenga likely to reserve his decision.

Glenn McLean

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