A GUNMAN who was shot by police after he crossed himself and raised his weapon towards them, spat at officers as they performed first aid on him, a court has heard.

Samuel Houlihan, 24, quickly drank three-quarters of a bottle of whisky
as he sat in a taxi surrounded by armed officers who suspected he had
carried out an armed robbery.

His terrified taxi driver had to flee from his minibus, convinced he was
about to be shot by his passenger or be caught in the crossfire during
the incident in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, in May, Durham Crown Court heard.

Houlihan was shot through the taxi window and was extremely lucky to
only receive a flesh wound to the shoulder, the court heard.

Houlihan was due to be sentenced after admitting possessing a firearm
with intent to cause fear of violence and possessing a firearm when

But his serious mental health problems meant he must now be assessed in hospital and the hearing was adjourned.

Richard Bennett, prosecuting, said that on the morning he was shot,
Houlihan had bought an air pistol after lying to the assistant that he
was not banned from owning a firearm.

He was warned in the shop to keep it out of sight or he could be caught
in a police firearms incident.

Houlihan was seen by people in town centre shops and a local working
men's club to be carrying the weapon, although he made no threats to

As a taxi was taking him home armed police, who had been alerted by
people in Bishop Auckland, surrounded the vehicle when it stopped at
temporary traffic lights.

The terrified taxi driver complied with the commands to put his hands on
his head but Houlihan refused, opened his bottle of whisky and picked up
his air gun.

The driver heard a click as Houlihan appeared to cock the gun - although
he had not bought any ammunition - and the cabbie decided to flee to

Officers had seen the driver was petrified, the court heard, but his
passenger remained calm despite the number of armed police pointing
their weapons at him.

Mr Bennett said: "He then picked up his whisky bottle and promptly drank three-quarters of it in front of the officers.

"The officers were concerned he was drinking in order to prepare himself
for doing something serious or life-threatening."

He was shot with a pistol round after he was seen to pull the cocking
lever on his air gun and cross himself before appearing to raise the
weapon towards the officers.

Had he been shot by an adjacent officer with a carbine, Houlihan was
unlikely to have survived.

He was dragged out of the taxi and officers attempted to carry out first

Mr Bennett said: "The defendant was bleeding heavily from his right
upper arm but after being pulled out he became violent with officers
attempting to administer first aid.

"At times he was apologising for his conduct but then he would lash out
and spit at the officers.

"He spat directly at two officers who were attempting to give him first

Before the shooting Houlihan's relationship had broken down and he had
voluntarily admitted himself to a local hospital because he was mentally

But two days before the incident, he was released from the hospital
despite a family member telling nurses he remained unwell.

Judge Christopher Prince heard victim statements from the traumatised
taxi driver who said he can no longer pick up strangers, and two armed
officers, named only as C2 and C4.

C2, who fired the shot, said he was upset by Houlihan's reaction,
saying: "Here I was effectively trying to save his life and he chose
this moment to spit at me."

C4 said he and his colleagues were not wearing any protection when they
answered the call-out and they genuinely believed they were about to be

Judge Prince said: "In due course they should be commended for having
demonstrated exemplary professionalism, bravery and humanity in this
difficult and dangerous situation."

Houlihan, whose previous offences include dressing up as a PCSO, will be
sentenced next year.