Police shot 15 bullets at Spencer Ashworth after he fired an air pistol at an officer, an inquest has heard.
Mr Ashworth, 29, was fatally shot by firearms officers on the A369 Portbury Hundred in North Somerset on September 27, 2017.
The inquest started at Avon Coroner’s Court this morning (March 2), almost two and a half years after the Southampton-born courier’s death.
Senior Coroner Maria Voisin said: “It seemed in 2016 he had been living in a rented house-share in Portishead, but by the time of his death he was living in his car.”
She added Mr Ashworth had been driving his red Suzuki Swift south on the M5 on the morning of his death, reaching Evesham by 8.30am.
“At around that time, police received an emergency call from a witness,” Ms Voisin said.
“The witness said Mr Ashworth was shooting what they believed was a gun.”
By 9.20am, he was in the Avon and Somerset police area, and the force received a report he had pointed a gun at a driver, the inquest heard.
‘Officers shouted instructions’
Police found Mr Ashworth’s car and their vehicles surrounded his Suzuki Swift.
“Officers shouted instructions for Spencer Ashworth to leave the vehicle and place his hands where they could be seen,” Ms Voisin said.
“It seems the deceased, who could be seen to be alone in the car, did not comply.
“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.”
He was declared dead at 9.52am.
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The inquest also heard Mr Ashworth had attacked a climbing instructor in 2015 because he felt “inferior”.
Probation officer Janice Hawley said: “Mr Ashworth had got into a female’s car after she asked him for directions to a climbing centre.
“He got into the car as he was going that way anyway. He went into the centre with her and paid for her to go in. He was thinking they were developing some kind of bond.
“My interpretation was it was friendliness being misinterpreted by him. She told the climbing instructor she was becoming uncomfortable with rude comments Spencer had made.
“When the instructor told him to back off, he assaulted the instructor.”
‘Inferior and belittled’
Ms Hawley believes Mr Ashworth wanted to make himself “feel like a man” when he assaulted the instructor.
He thought the instructor and the woman had been “taking the mickey out of him”, she said.
She added: “I would say Mr Ashworth felt quite inferior and belittled by the instructor, who was very athletic and had taken his shirt off.”
He admitted the assault and was sentenced to a 12-month community order, with 40 hours of unpaid work and a 20-hour rehab activity requirement.
Ms Hawley, who supported him during his probation, said: “I found Mr Ashworth really engaging and OK at speaking and talking to me.
“He was quite child-like. He made reference to feeling more comfortable with people older than him, because he felt he wasn’t being judged.
“He said he would prefer a partner from another country, who would not realise he was not as intelligent as he felt he should be.”
On one hot summer day, Mr Ashworth turned up to an appointment with no shirt on and just a hi-vis vest covering his torso, the inquest heard.
Ms Hawley recalls him smiling at her and asking: “Haven’t I got a nice body?”
She added: “I made it clear to him it wasn’t appropriate and I was his probation officer.
“I felt there was something else going on with Mr Ashworth. I was of the impression he was of a lower IQ and had learning difficulties.
“I tried to explore that with him but he was quite adamant that there was nothing wrong with him. He didn’t see himself as having a mental health difficulty.”
‘Defended his actions’
Alison Hewitt, counsel to the inquest, asked Ms Hawley about her concerns over his mental health, which the probation officer said did not pass the threshold to involve adult social care services.
Ms Hewitt said: “If you had known he was living in his car, would that have passed the threshold?”
Ms Hawley replied: “Not by itself, no, but it would have increased our concern.”
She added: “When we talked about his original offence, he talked about his own perspective and defended his actions.
“Victim perspective was something he clearly hadn’t grasped.”
The community order finished in October 2016.
The court heard a statement from Mr Ashworth’s former housemate in Portishead, Justin Baber, a member of staff with Avon and Somerset police.
Mr Baber revealed he had called police after the shooting to enquire whether it was Mr Ashworth who had died.
He said: “I knew Spencer for around a year. He moved into the address in 2016. The other residents were Chris Jones, the landlord, and another resident.
“Spencer was a kind, friendly guy who was generous and eager to please. The first time I met him, he gave me a pair of socks that matched my t-shirt.
“Although he was 28, he seemed much younger, because he was child-like. He liked playing video games and he was forgetful.
“Once I told him I had children and next week he asked whether I had children. It was hard to have a grown-up conversation because of his attention span.”
(Image: Press Association)
Mr Baber wondered whether Mr Ashworth had autism, noting he did not have any friends or a partner.
“He could spend weeks on end playing on his Xbox,” Mr Baber added.
“I’m shocked Spencer was shot by police as he did not seem the type of person that would happen to. I cannot imagine him shooting a gun at someone.
“I can imagine him pulling a fake gun on someone as a joke and thinking it was funny. He was a child-like person.”
After Mr Ashworth moved out in September 2016, Mr Baber lost touch with him.
The inquest also heard a statement from the landlord, Mr Jones.
He described one occasion on which Mr Ashworth had asked him if he wanted to go shooting, which he thought referred to clay-pigeon shooting.
Mr Jones said Mr Ashworth’s mum paid half his rent and he had struggled to adjust to independent living.
He added: “At one time he was offered a full-time job as a forklift driver, but he turned this down.
“He was always talking about going to America to work, where he had previous experience teaching skateboarding.
“While he was living with me, Spencer told me he was estranged from his father who lived abroad.
“I got the impression Spencer had a few issues with his family and was adjusting to living independently.”
‘Shouting and banging’
Towards the end of his time in the property, he upset one of the other men living there, Mr Jones said.
“He was shouting and banging on the door while the man was in the bathroom,” he continued.
Mr Jones said this, along with Mr Ashworth’s difficulty paying rent, meant he told him to leave soon after, but he said they parted on good terms and stayed in touch.
“He told me he was living in the Fishponds area of Bristol, but he was asked to move on by police, which I took to mean he was living in his car again,” Mr Jones said.
“Police came round to my house, the first time because he had committed a driving offence, and the second time when he had driven off without paying £25 for petrol.
“Spencer emailed me on September 24 [three days before the shooting]. He told me he had bought a red Suzuki to replace the blue one.
“He was living in the Midlands and was going to ask his mum for help with a rental property.”
The inquest continues.