14 May 2010

IPCA condemns police handling of Singh shooting

11:58 pm on 14 May 2010

Police say they accept that delays in getting help to the victim of a shooting at a South Auckland liquor store are unacceptable, but deny they may have breached their duty of care.

Navtej Singh was shot in the stomach during an armed robbery at his Manurewa store on 7 June 2008, with 31 minutes passing before police entered the store and a further six minutes before an ambulance arrived. Mr Singh, 30, died in hospital the following day.

An Independent Police Conduct Authority report released on Friday condemns police for a string of failures, saying the delays were unjustified and are arguably a breach of the police duty of care to preserve life.

Mr Singh's family have asked whether the delay cost him his life, but the report gives no conclusive answer. However, IPCA chair Justice Lowell Goddard says while Mr Singh's injuries may not have been survivable, he did suffer significant pain and distress.

The report paints a chaotic picture of the police response to the shooting - with officers getting lost on the way to the scene and putting ballistic body armour on backwards.

Failures to communicate meant it was not clear how badly hurt Mr Singh was, where the armed robbers were, or whether it was safe for ambulance staff to go to his aid.

After the initial 111 call, 31 minutes passed before police entered Mr Singh's shop. The IPCA report says an ambulance arrived at a police safe foward point eight minutes after being dispatched. It was then moved to another safe foward point before being cleared to go to the store.

Deputy Commissioner Rob Pope on Friday said he accepts that a series of incidents happened that created a delay, which is unacceptable.

He says an apology has been offered to the family, who have been "extremely gracious and very forgiving in terms of their understanding of what was a very difficult and dangerous situation".

However, Mr Pope rejects the suggestion that police breached their duty of care. He says mistakes occurred in the receipt and transmission of information, but no-one is suggesting that police staff were not trying to get into the scene as quickly as they possibly could.

"Police are human, mistakes do occur. At the time of this particular event, there were 12 other high-priority events being managed through the communications centres. That is not an excuse, that is just the reality of the environment police are required to respond to."

The report, one of the most detailed the police watchdog has ever carried out, makes 16 recommendations to police to attempt to address the problems.

Ambulance 'had to wait till it was safe'

Northern regional operations manager for St John Ambulance, Gary Salmon, says they all wish they could have got to Mr Singh quicker than they did.

"He's obviously lost a considerable amount of blood. He was in a state of deep shock and our paramedics are able to do a certain amount of invasive treatment that helps to sustain that condition.

"And indeed we were able to get him to hospital in a reasonable state of emergency, given his circumstances."

Mr Salmon says they could not enter the scene until they had some surety that it was safe - but that was not something they had any control over .

Complete disaster, say family

Navtej Singh's family says the IPCA report shows what happened on the night was a complete disaster caused by a total failure of procedures.

A family spokesperson, Daljit Singh, says the police handling of the situation can only be described as disastrous. The family is not ruling out legal action.

Mr Singh says Counties-Manukau district commander Superintendent Mike Bush visited them on Friday morning to apologise, with assurances that such mistakes would never happen again.

The crime was one of three violent killings in South Auckland within a fortnight and sparked an anti-crime rally through the streets.

Earlier in May, Anitilea Chan Kee, 22, was found guilty of the murder of Mr Singh following a jury trial. He must serve at least 17 years in jail.