14 Dec 2009

Policeman breaks down during inquest

7:53 pm on 14 December 2009

The police officer who shot and killed a Christchurch man during a 2007 standoff broke down while giving evidence to a coroner's court inquest on Monday.

Radio New Zealand reports the emotional hangover from the fatal shooting clearly remains with the officer and Mr Bellingham's family.

Coroner Brant Shortland twice offered to pause proceedings on Monday to allow those involved to regain their composure.

The officer, who can only be identifed as Officer A, has already been cleared of any wrongdoing by an independent police review. The inquiry found he was justified in using lethal force and he remains an active police officer.

Officer A broke down in tears as he described shooting Stephen Bellingham, who was 37 when he died, in Christchurch's Stanmore Road.

He said Mr Bellingham was advancing on him with a claw hammer raised in the air. He fired several shots and saw the man slump to the ground.

At that point Officer A could no longer speak, and wiped away tears as his lawyer continued reading his evidence.

Behaviour had been strange

Earlier the inquest was told that Mr Bellingham was acting out of character in the days leading up to the shooting by not sleeping, drinking excessively and playing with knives.

He telephoned a friend just hours before he was shot and spoke about fighting for the cause of "Ngati Kiwi Iwi", of seeing aliens and of going to the Middle East to fight Muslims.

Mr Bellingham left his house before 8pm on the night he was shot and began damaging cars and a van in the street.

Police were called and Officer A was first to arrive.

The Crown says the officer fired his weapon four times, killing Mr Bellingham.

Other witnesses also told the inquest that Mr Bellingham's mental state had been deteriorating at the time he died.

They said in the days before he was shot he believed he was seeing aliens and thought the authorities had implanted a device in his head dead.

The court heard from a woman who shared Mr Bellingham's flat.

She told the coroner she was aware of Mr Bellingham's deteriorating frame of mind in the days before he was shot.

The woman, who has name suppression, said he showed her scabs on his head where he believed implants had been inserted so the authorities could spy on him.

She also said she heard him singing in the shower about killing Muslims.

The inquest is expected to take a week.