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Tuesday, November 24, 1998 Published at 16:38 GMT


UK

Inquest told of gun collection

Armed police: The officer who shot Michael Fitzgerald is not being named

An inquest has heard that an unemployed railway worker shot dead by a police marksman was a depressed John Wayne fan who had a collection of replica guns.

Heavy drinking Michael Fitzgerald, 32, died at his home in Bedford in February after police were called to reports of a burglary.

Members of Mr Fitzgerald's family said that police were too quick to shoot and failed to explore alternative ways of ending the siege.

The nine members of the jury were shown a replica handgun which Mr Fitzgerald is understood to have been brandishing when he was shot dead.

The jury of five men and four women was told that Mr Fitzgerald was shot by a marksman who would be identified only by a letter.

The marksman was crouching behind a car when Mr Fitzgerald appeared at an open window, brandishing a gun.

Family unhappy with police

In a statement read to the court, the officer said he thought Mr Fitzgerald was about to shoot at him. He shouted a warning but Mr Fitzgerald continued aiming the gun at him.

The weapon later turned out to be a replica handgun.

Mr Fitzgerald's sister told the jury that the family were unhappy with the behaviour of the police during the 90-minute siege.

"The family feel that the operation went ahead far too quickly," she said. "At no time were we contacted by anyone."

Mr Fitzgerald's brother John said he telephoned his brother at his home and spoke to him.

Michael was crying when he answered the phone. John Fitzgerald told the inquest: "He (Michael) said 'I think I have done something really stupid'. He (Michael) said 'I am under siege. I have got all the police outside. I am surrounded'."

"I thought that it was a joke. I thought he was messing about. If I thought it was serious I would have gone right there."

'Binge' drinker

John Fitzgerald said he learnt of his brother's death the following morning.

He told the jury that his brother Michael had worked on railway track gangs for most of his adult life.

His brother's only brush with the law had been when he was convicted of drink-driving in 1997, placed on probation and banned from driving.

John Fitzgerald said Michael regularly went out socialising and was a "binge" drinker.

He said Michael also had a collection of three or four imitation guns.

"He was a huge fan of John Wayne. He even had a pair of cowboy boots."

Probation officer Paula Church said she had been involved with Michael Fitzgerald since his drink-driving conviction.

He was a gentle man who was depressed about the death from cancer of his mother Phyllis in 1993.

"He acknowledged that he had a chronic alcohol problem which was on-going. On a couple of occasions he indicated that he would not care if he was to die.

Ms Church said she had noticed Mr Fitzgerald's collection of guns and been surprised because he seemed such a gentle person. He had assured her that they were all inactive and that he was simply a collector.

The inquest continues.



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