27/05/2015

Two Police Officers Disciplined Over Report Of Indecent Approach To Children

Two police officers have been disciplined following a complaint about a police response to reports that a man had approached three young girls and asked them to touch him in east Belfast last year.

The Police Ombudsman Office received a complaint from the father of one of the young girls, which questioned how police had responded to the reports and also alleged they had failed to secure CCTV footage from the Beersbridge Road area.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, found that police subsequently went to great lengths to find this man, without success, but the efforts had been undermined by a number of failures in the early part of the investigation.

Police Ombudsman investigators examined all police documentation, listened to phone calls and police radio transmissions, visited the scene of the reported incident and spoke to a number of people, including the mother of one of the young girls.

They established that police received a 999 telephone call at 16:26 hrs on 4 August last year telling them a man had just approached and exposed himself to the girls, who were each aged about seven years old, asking them to touch him. The caller advised that the man had ran off towards the river.

However, police received a second call 32 minutes later telling them he was still in the area.

Police correctly entered the details of the initial call on the computer systems and circulated the alleged offender’s description within two minutes of receiving the report.
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However, they gave the computer entry a grading which indicated that while the issue had a degree of importance, it did not require an emergency response.

Following the second call, the police officer's supervisor directed that the matter be dealt with as an emergency and a police vehicle be sent to the scene.

"The police dispatch officer failed to assign police officers to the call and failed to consider the young age of the girls and the fact the alleged perpetrator had left the scene.

"This report required police to attend immediately; regrettably this did not happen. Police lost 32 minutes in responding to the call and with this an opportunity to apprehend the man," said Dr Maguire.

Police Ombudsman investigators established that the officer who was tasked with investigating this incident had technical difficulties getting CCTV footage from a nearby petrol station.

They found that she failed to ask for the necessary technical help from colleagues or to explain the urgency of the task, all of which contributed to a delay, during which time the footage was automatically wiped clean.

Investigators also identified CCTV footage from a nearby shop which had been overlooked. They alerted police officers to this material, which was then seized.

The Police Ombudsman said that despite a thorough investigation from this point onwards, no one was apprehended in relation to the reports of the indecent approach to the children.

The police dispatch officer and the Investigating Officer have both been disciplined.

(CD)

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