17/06/2014

UK Police Warned Over Van Cells

UK police forces are to be warned of potential problems with cells fitted into police vans, following a Police Ombudsman investigation into the death of a 21-year-old man in County L'Derry in 2012.

Paul Somerville died four days after sustaining serious head injuries when he fell from the rear of a moving police van at Church Street in Maghera on 27 January. He had been arrested at his home and was being taken to Maghaberry Prison when the incident happened. He was treated at the scene and taken to Antrim Area Hospital, where he later died.

The incident was referred by police to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation.

A forensic examination found the van’s cell door was misaligned with its frame and its latches did not always fully engage. It also found that a deadlock did not engage unless the key was turned anticlockwise through a full 90 degrees, even though a locking bolt could be seen moving as the key was turned.

Both officers told the investigation they had seen the dead lock in the cell door engaging after the door was closed. One officer said she had pulled on the cell door twice to check it was locked.

But Dr Maguire said the forensic examination had shown the door opened easily when pulled if it had not been properly secured. Tests also showed that even when the door’s latches did not engage, the door would not open if the deadlock had been fully locked.

The officers were subsequently disciplined by PSNI, but a later appeal resulted in sanctions being withdrawn.

Dr Maguire has recommended that cells and other modifications made to police vehicles should form part of normal service routine. Other recommendations have resulted in a number of modifications to PSNI cell vans.

Notices have been attached to van cell doors warning officers to check locks are fully engaged and 'blanking plates' have been fitted to prevent cell doors being opened from the inside. Larger viewing panels have been fitted to improve the ability of officers to monitor prisoners from the front of cell vans while they are moving.

(IT/CD)

Related Northern Ireland News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

09 January 2020
Man Due In Court As Police Cars Rammed
A man is due to appear in court after two PSNI vehicles were rammed during an incident in Forkhill, Co Armagh. The 38 year-old is facing a number of motor-related offences after he failed to stop for police at around 11.40pm on the Newry Road in North Bridge. Two PSNI vehicles were also rammed by the offending car.
04 December 2019
Grenade Thrown At Police In West Belfast
An overnight grenade attack on a PSNI vehicle in west Belfast was a clear attempt to kill or injure officers, detectives have said. A police Land Rover was driving in the Falls Road shortly after 2am this morning, Wednesday 04 December, when it was struck by an object on Milltown Row.
02 December 2019
Police Officers Set Upon In Lisburn
A man has been arrested following an incident in Lisburn that left two police officers covered in paint. The suspect was detained on suspicion of damaging his ankle tag by trying to cut it off and breaching his bail. He also allegedly threw a tin of white paint over the two officers and assaulted them, gouging one of their eyes in the process.
29 November 2019
Police Step Up Roadside Breath Testing
Police have warned anyone who takes the "unacceptable risk" of driving while impaired by drink or drugs to expect to be detected by police. It comes as the annual winter Anti-Drink and Drug Drive operation is launched, with officers to step up their efforts to catch those who chose to break the law while driving.
28 November 2019
Arrests As Car Rams Police Vehicle In Co Armagh
Three people have been arrested after a car rammed a police vehicle in Newry. The incident involving a black Audi car occurred on Wednesday, 27 November. A PSNI spokesperson said the car matched the description of a vehicle spotted leaving the scene of a burglary earlier that morning in Belleeks.