Sheehan was right to open fire, defence insists

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Paul Sheehan, the former police officer and driver to minister Manuel Mallia, was within his rights when he opened fire at a vehicle involved in a collision with the minister’s car, according to his lawyer.

Magistrate Rachel Montebello was hearing closing arguments when lawyer Edward Gatt made the assertion today.

The incident dates back to November 2014, when a vehicle driven by Scotsman Stephen Morrison Smith collided with the ministerial vehicle while it was parked in Gżira. Sheehan have fired at least two shots in the direction of Smith’s vehicle.

The fallout from the incident had led to the resignation of Mallia, and Sheehan, a former police officer, was charged with attempted murder, causing Smith to fear that violence would be used against him, causing wilful damage to his vehicle, the possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, using it in a public place without authorisation and committing a crime he was duty-bound to prevent. However, the attempted murder charge was eventually dropped on the advice of the Attorney General.

Sheehan targeted ‘because he was Mallia’s driver’

Gatt insisted that Sheehan was only being prosecuted because of who he was – Mallia’s driver.

He noted that a court expert had testified that Smith was found to have a blood alcohol level of 109mg/dl five hours after the incident, when the legal limit is 30mg/dl. Given the rate at which alcohol is metabolised, he argued, the blood alcohol level would have exceeded 500mg at the time of the incident, adding that such levels could even prove fatal in some cases.

Gatt said that the constitution justified Sheehan’s use of a firearm, citing two cases in which police officers were not prosecuted after using lethal force. In one case, he said, the police were chasing someone who was trying to evade capture by running across rooftops, while in another, they had shot at a man who was brandishing a knife.

The lawyer also referred to the testimony of a ballistics expert, who confirmed that Sheehan was aiming at the tyres of Smith’s vehicle, only to miss and hit the bumper and the pillar near the roof of a car as he was in a state of panic.

The case continues in April.