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Co Down gun club safety officer thinks `a thousand times a day' of killing friend in horrendous shooting accident

Terry Fitzsimons died in a clay pigeon shooting accident in Co Down

THE safety officer of a Co Down gun club has had to live with "rumour and speculation" since accidentally shooting his friend in the head more than a year ago.

Despite being the one to ask that police be called after Edward James Fitzsimons (60), from Ringsallin Gardens, Ballykinler, died during a clay pigeon shoot on July 24 2016, Bill Palin had to wait until yesterday for a coroner to state publicly it had been a "horrendous accident".

Patrick McGurgan said he had wanted the inquest to be heard because "I have to deal with rumour and speculation that surrounded the death of Mr Fitzsimons, compounded by Mr Palin being interviewed formally for the offence of manslaughter".

"I am satisfied that this was nothing other than a horrendous accident, something that could not have been envisioned or anticipated," he said.

"I am satisfied that Mr Palin could not have done anything at the time to prevent this tragedy from happening."

Mr Palin was twisting to try and shoot a clay pigeon, which had released at an unexpected angle, when his shoulder crashed into the safety cage, causing him to fall backwards as he fired his gun.

Mr Fitzsimons, known to family and friends as `Terry', who had been standing behind him, was struck by the cartridge at a range of less than a metre, causing catastrophic brain damage and death was "very rapid", according to former state pathologist Professor Jack Crane.

His friend said he relives what happens "a thousand times a day" and the court heard that Loughview Gun Club has not met together to run a shoot since the tragedy.

Mr Palin, who had 40 years shooting experience, told how he had attended a gun safety course run by Ulster Clay Pigeon Shooting Association safety course and built the safety cages to its specifications.

On the day of the clay pigeon shoot at Lough Money, near Downpatrick, he had arrived early in the morning at the site below the Griddle mountain near Ballyalton, with fellow club safety officer Jimmy Keenan, to set up for the shoot.

The pair had "walked the ground to satisfy themselves that it was safe" and had locked the gates and placed red flags to ensure members of the public could not access the site and put up safety notices to remind members what precautions to take.

Mr Palin became emotional as he recounted what had happened to the court, saying he thinks about it "a thousand times a day" and does not know if he will "ever go back" to shooting.

"I twisted too much and started falling and I went down and took the cage with me. I remember lying with the cage on top of me and as I was lying on the ground I heard someone shouting `Are you all right, Terry?'.

"I pushed the cage off me and went to see Terry and I shouted to Jimmy to `call an ambulance and call the police, for God's sake'."

Police quickly determined that it was an accident and prosecutors agreed.

Mr Fitzsimons's son Ryan told the court that his father, a former soldier, had loved the sport and become devoted to it following the death of his wife.

"If he wasn't at my house, he was at work or else shooting," he said.

"(His death) left a big hole, but it was a tragic accident."

After the inquest, Ryan Fitzsimons shook hands with Mr Palin.

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