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Police handbook updated following death of toddler

14:03 15/02/2021

Comité P, the watchdog agency for the federal police, have updated the section in the policing handbook regarding shooting at the tyres of moving vehicles in response to the death of Mawda Shawri and the resulting trial.

Previously, the handbook, which dates from 2015, included information on the risks of such a move but also stated that “the only method to bring a moving vehicle to a complete stop is to try to flatten one or more tyres”. The statement is accompanied by an illustration that show how to shoot out a tyre correctly.

That statement is at odds with the police policy document from the same year, which states that shooting a tyre “very rarely leads to the immediate interception of a fleeing vehicle”. It goes on to say that shooting at a moving vehicle is potentially incompatible with laws regarding excessive measures in a given situation.

Use of force ‘not proportional’

That is what a court in Mons found on Friday when it handed down a conviction of involuntary manslaughter to Victor JG, the police officer who shot at the speeding van in May of 2018. The officer received a one-year suspended sentence and a fine of €400.

“Agents are allowed to use force on the condition that it is proportional to the situation,” said the judge. “It appears that in this can the use of force was not proportional to the circumstances.”

Comité P has since updated the police handbook. “We removed the illustration and put an emphasis on the risks involved and why it is discouraged to fire at a moving vehicle,” said a Comité P spokesperson. “We also added more guidelines on safely intervening to stop a fleeing vehicle.”

The two-year-old Mawda, an Iraqi national, was killed when she was hit by a stray police bullet while riding in the back of a van with her brother and parents. The van was carrying transmigrants through Belgium on their way to the UK and was being chased by police across Namur and Hainaut provinces.

The man driving the van, also from Iraq, was given a sentence of four years, including time served, for human trafficking, reckless endangerment and fleeing the scene. He has already served more than half that time as he has been in custody since his arrest.

Photo ©Bruno Fahy/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw