Man shot dead by officers after firing air pistol, inquest told

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A man was shot dead by firearms officers after firing an air pistol at one of them, an inquest heard.

Spencer Ashworth, 29, was fatally wounded by Avon and Somerset Police officers on the A369 Portbury Hundred on September 27 in 2017.

He had been driving south on the M5 that morning when police forces received reports of a man shooting what appeared to be a gun out of his car window.

Firearms officers stopped Mr Ashworth, who was driving alone in his red Suzuki Swift, and surrounded his car with their police vehicles at 9.32am.

Maria Voisin, senior coroner for Avon, said in a summary to jurors at Avon Coroner’s Court that Mr Ashworth “did not comply” with instructions from the officers.

“Officers shouted instructions for Spencer Ashworth to leave the vehicle and place his hands where they could be seen,” Ms Voisin said.

“He could be seen to raise a gun in his right hand and fired what is now known to have been an air pistol at one of the attending officers.

“Four of the five officers returned fire, discharging 15 rounds at Mr Ashworth, who was fatally injured.”

The inquest heard Mr Ashworth, originally from Southampton, received medical treatment at the scene.

Ms Voisin said jurors would be played recordings of the calls made to police forces as Mr Ashworth travelled down the M5, as well as body-worn video footage from officers.

A number of authorised firearms officers from Avon and Somerset Police are being referred to by ciphers during the inquest, which is expected to last up to three weeks.

This is for their safety and the “operational effectiveness” of the force, Ms Voisin said.

Mr Ashworth’s family are not attending the inquest but a statement from his mother, Yvonne Maunder, was read to the court on Monday.

Mrs Maunder described how her son had been a keen skate-boarder who was talented at drawing but became “insular” in his late teens and would play computer games in his bedroom alone.

She said she had repeatedly gone to the family’s GP to seek help for her son, who she believed was experiencing depression, but as he was over 18 she was told he would have to attend himself.

“Spencer would shy away from groups of people,” she said.

“He thought everyone hated him. His behaviour was different from standard teenage surliness.

“He showed all the signs of depression.”

Mr Ashworth, who moved out of his family home aged 22 to live in Plymouth, Bristol and then Portishead, played computer games such as Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil.

His only communication with his mother was through email and occasion phone calls in the three years before his death, Mrs Maunder said.

In one email sent to his mother in August 2017, Mr Ashworth referred to “my new James Bond air pistol” and said he had wanted to go to California “before I have to shoot it out with the police”.

Mr Ashworth moved into a house-share in Portishead in early 2016 and moved out in September that year.

His house-mate Justin Baber described him as a “kind, friendly guy who was generous and eager to please” but who was also “child-like” and difficult to have a “grown-up conversation” with.

“His hobbies were skate-boarding and playing games on his Xbox,” Mr Baber said.

“He would play shooting games like Call Of Duty.”

Mr Baber said their landlord Chris Jones had to tell Mr Ashworth to use his Xbox in his room as he was spending “days or weeks playing on it” in the communal lounge.

The inquest heard that Mr Ashworth, who worked part-time as a courier, lived in his car after leaving the house-share.

Janice Hawley, a probation manager, met with Mr Ashworth in 2016 as part of a sentence he received for assault in August 2015.

She told the inquest she suspected there was “something else going on” with Mr Ashworth and had suspicions he may have been on the autistic spectrum.

“He was quite adamant there was nothing wrong,” she said.

Inspector Adam Crockford, of Avon and Somerset Police, said Mr Ashworth’s record on the Police National Computer (PNC) had warning markers for “violence, mental health and suicidal”.

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