14/12/2018

Police Disciplined Over Coleraine Pub Fight

PSNI failings compromised an investigation into off-duty police officers involved in a fight with members of the public, the Police Ombudsman has found.

Three off-duty officers involved in the fight on 11 April 2015 and another, who provided a statement about what happened, were not properly challenged about inconsistencies in their accounts, Dr Michael Maguire found.

A delay in submitting a file to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) also meant the officers couldn't be considered for prosecution.

The PPS asked the Police Ombudsman to independently investigate the police handling of the incident.

The fight began in the toilets of a pub and continued into an alley behind it after those involved were asked to leave the premises.

Police arrived at the scene after a number of 999 calls were made by the officers. Four members of the public were arrested at the scene, and another two in subsequent weeks. They were later charged with public order offences and a file recommending their prosecution was submitted to the PPS.

The off-duty police officers were treated as witnesses in the initial stages of the investigation, but were later interviewed as potential suspects after counter-allegations were made against them.

The Police Ombudsman found that the investigating officer failed to make full use of the CCTV and mobile phone footage available to challenge inconsistencies in their accounts.
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In addition, he was a month late in submitting a file to the PPS, which meant the officers could not be considered for prosecution.

The officer attributed the failings to the complexity of the case and denied showing any favouritism towards the officers. He explained he had mistakenly believed that the PPS, and not himself, was responsible for completing a form to allow the late submission of a file.

One of the officers involved in the fight was also asked why he had accessed police computer records about the incident without authorisation. He replied that he had been checking times for his statement.

After completing their enquiries, Police Ombudsman investigators submitted files to the PPS. It recommended that the four off-duty officers should not be prosecuted for attempting to pervert the course of justice, and that neither they nor the investigating officer should not be prosecuted for misconduct in public office.

It also suggested that while the test for prosecution had been met in relation to the officer who improperly accessed police records, a disciplinary sanction would be more appropriate.

Dr Maguire recommended that the PSNI should discipline the officers, as well as disciplinary action against the investigating officer for failings which compromised the fairness and impartiality of his enquiries. The PSNI implemented both recommendations.

His suggestion that the four off-duty officers should be disciplined over inconsistencies in their accounts of the fight was not implemented by the PSNI.

However, the police did discipline the four officers for inappropriate off-duty conduct.



(JG/MH)

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