A former police officer who was involved in a shooting incident while serving as driver to then-minister Manuel Mallia in November 2014, has had his punishment reduced on appeal.

Paul Sheehan had been found guilty of attempting to grievously injure Stephen Smith, a Scottish man whose car had collided with the ministerial vehicle, prompting a car chase which ultimately ended with Sheehan firing  two shots from his Glock pistol at Smith’s Vauxhall Insignia.

No one was injured but one of the bullets was later found embedded within the metalwork of the victim’s car, lodged between one of the doors and the roof of the vehicle.

Sheehan had originally been charged with attempted murder but that charge was later dropped by the Attorney General.

The incident had led to the resignation of the minister.

In June, Sheehan was convicted by a Magistrates’ Court, which declared that the accused’s actions indicated a clear degree of recklessness reflecting a positive, indirect intention to grievously injure the victim.

He was condemned to a 22-month jail term suspended for three years. His pistol and ammunition were confiscated.

Paul Sheenan at the time of the incident.Paul Sheenan at the time of the incident.

Sheehan filed an appeal.

On Wednesday, the Court of Criminal Appeal, presided over by Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera concluding that although Sheehan should not have fired at Smith’s car, the prosecution had not sufficiently proved his intention to seriously harm the alleged victim.

The court observed that the shots fired in the direction of Smith’s car, as it drove away from the scene of the incident, had not been warning shots.

The moving car had not been such a long way off, the court noted further.

Moreover, the shots fired from that type of weapon could have been fatal and the evidence showed that the pistol’s trigger had been “ready to fire,” observed the court.

The evidence put forward clearly proved that Sheehan had intended to fire his weapon, but that did not mean that he had a positive, indirect intention to physically harm his alleged victim, said the court, pointing out certain factors in this regard.

The appellant had not fired when the other driver was standing outside his vehicle but only as Smith drove away, taking aim, not at the windscreen but at the rear end of the Vauxhall.

Throughout the whole episode Sheehan had been on the phone, calling for assistance by the Rapid Intervention Unit, telling the police control room that the other driver had “got away.”

Even when later calling the Police Commissioner, Sheehan had explained his actions saying, “I took out my weapon and fired two shots, not aimed at him, of course.”

Whilst not in any way justifying the appellant’s actions, the court declared that his intention to harm Smith, had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

As for the accusation of unlawfully carrying a weapon while committing an offence against the person, the court observed that at the time of the shooting incident, Sheehan had been on tour of duty, since he was about to call for the minister who had been attending an event.

Moreover, it was proved beyond doubt, that Sheehan was fully licensed to carry a weapon.

Therefore, the court partially upheld the appeal, revoking conviction on the basis of those two accusations and reducing the punishment to 15-months suspended for three years.

The court also revoked the confiscation of the weapon and ammunition, but confirmed the order binding the appellant not to molest his victim against a €1000 personal guarantee valid for 12-months and payment of court expert expenses amounting to €7534.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo assisted the appellant

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