Page last updated 19th September 2013 at 20.10
It was a midweek summer’s evening in July 2005 and 32 year old Nicholas Gaubert (pictured above centre) had been looking forward to an after-work drink with friends in the Leeds suburb of Headingley, close to where he lived. The smartly dressed call-centre sales executive had caught the number 96 Skyline bus from Leeds city centre but, as it inched northwards out of the city in the rush hour traffic, Nicholas didn’t notice his body descending into a state of severe hypoglycaemia.
Such was the suddenness of the collapse into unconsciousness there wasn’t even time to ask fellow top-deck passengers for help, or press the emergency bell. Instead, he slumped back in his seat in a diabetic coma, critically ill, and with his head lolling uncontrollably from side to side with the movement of the bus.
With remarkable foresight, Nicholas’s parents – who were both retired GP’s – had encouraged their son to wear a special tag and chain around his neck ever since he had started having to take insulin, 20 years earlier. The tag was to let people know about his diabetic condition in the event of an emergency.
The Skyliner service completed its commuter journey some 40 minutes later at Holt Park terminus, near Cookridge, and the driver routinely checked his bus. He was used to clearing drunks off the decks at weekends on his later shifts, but it was early evening on a Wednesday and the man, apparently fast asleep on the upper tier, didn’t look like a down and out.
In another time window, the driver may have reacted differently, but just six days earlier the London tube and bus bombings had shook the entire country and there was a state of high alert , especially on public transport. Leeds had been placed on condition red after the discovery that three of the four 7/7 bombers came from the city. Nicholas, fatefully, was clutching a black rucksack to him.
Fearing the worst, the bus driver remained a safe distance and shouted at Nicholas to wake up and leave. When he failed to stir, the driver climbed off the vehicle and told his supervisors, who sensibly cleared the depot and called the police.
The nearby Asda supermarket, at Holt Park Centre, was also evacuated and a specialist armed unit was activated by West Yorkshire Police. Eight firearms officers were despatched to the scene and three of them entered the bus. Two went upstairs to find Nicholas, a white male, who wouldn’t have immediately struck the police as a terrorist and, relevantly, the bus was empty and far from the city centre.
But he was sweating profusely, and unable to respond to their shouted orders and they couldn’t see his hands. So, one of the armed officers drew his newly-issued Taser stun gun from its pouch, pointed it at Nicholas, shouted a warning and then shot him. It was the first time any West Yorkshire Police officer had ever deployed a Taser on duty.
After the 50,000 volt Taser discharge Nicholas ‘s body went into uncontrollable muscle spasms. He was dislodged from the bus seat and landed face down on the floor with one hand still obscured under his body. The police shouted again for him to show his hands but he still didn’t move and the Taser gun was discharged, for a second time, by the same officer.
Following the second Taser shot and with a loaded handgun pointed at Nicholas’s head, he was handcuffed and placed in a waiting police van. Fortunately, he regained consciousness soon after and, after first thinking he had been kidnapped, was able to shout that he needed urgent medical attention. He was taken straight to hospital where the police insisted that he should remain in handcuffs during his treatment.
Nicholas Gaubert says: ‘I shudder to think what could have happened if I hadn’t come round. They would have put me in a cell and I would probably have died. I was in a diabetic coma, and all they were bothered about was whether I was going to blow up an empty, stationary bus’. He added: ‘I showed no aggression – I was unconscious and unable to respond to their demands. I think they just saw it as an opportunity to try out their toys.’ Nicholas learned after the life threatening incident that police believed he looked ‘Eygyptian’
He became the first person in the UK to obtain compensation, for being shot with a Taser, when he was awarded a substantial six figure sum by West Yorkshire Police in 2009 as a result of suffering severe post-traumatic stress following the shooting. He also received an apology from the disgraced Chief Constable, Sir Norman Bettison.
Ifti Manzoor of Sheffield-based solicitors Irwin Mitchell, said the shooting had clear parallels with the gunning down of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station in London, one week after the Gaubert incident, and showed there was evidence of a breakdown in communication between the police on the ground and their tactical firearms commanders.
Mr Manzoor added: “The evidence is there was an operational order issued to the effect that officers be deployed and contain the scene. This direct order seems to have been ignored. I really appreciate that, under the circumstances and at that particular time, the police had an enormously difficult job but Mr Gaubert was alone in a bus depot. He is completely traumatised by this and living with it every day.”
A statement from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said: “The IPCC managed an investigation into an incident on 13 July 2005 in which West Yorkshire Police discharged a Taser at a man while he sat on a bus in Leeds. The man was mistakenly treated as a potential security threat when he was, in fact, in a hypoglycaemic state. The investigation report was submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in November 2006.
The CPS returned its initial decision in February 2007 stating that no officers should be charged with any criminal offences. Consideration was then given by the CPS as to whether any offences had been committed under health and safety law. A decision was then reached that no charges would be brought under this legislation, either”.
No West Yorkshire Police officer was appropriately disciplined as a result of the Nicholas Gaubert incident, including the constable who fired the Taser twice or one of the other officers who was shouting “Hit him, hit him again” between the two discharges of the weapon. The two senior officers who were initially facing action were, in best West Yorkshire Police tradition, promoted with one transferring to South Yorkshire Police to take up his elevated role.
Nicholas Gaubert sums this up well: “I feel disgusted at the way my complaint has been handled. It seems as though the IPCC are more concerned with protecting the police than dealing with the concerns of the public“.