09/05/2006

Policeman cleared of 1991 shooting death

A police officer has today been cleared of having any involvement in the death of a teenage girl 15-years ago.

Alice McLoughlin, 16, from Portadown, County Armagh, died after being shot in the head by a bullet fired while she travelled in an off-duty policeman's car in July 1991.

The teenager's family were hoping that a new report, published today, would recommend that an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death would be handed over to an independent group, due to suspicions that the original investigation was not properly conducted.

In December 2003, the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan launched an inquiry into the death, following a complaint from the family.

Mrs O'Loan partially upheld a complaint of "significant failings" in the RUC investigation of the death and added that these were particularly in forensic aspects of the investigation.

She said: "I suspect that if the forensic strategy had been more thorough it may have dealt with many of the issues which were to cause Alice's family concern over the years and have answered many of the allegations which the police officer had to face."

However, today's report by the Police Ombudsman said there was no evidence that the death of Alice was "anything other than a tragic accident."

Mrs O'Loan rejected an allegation that the officer was responsible for the death, and also that he had lied about knowing the victim.

She also dismissed the allegations that police had conspired to cover-up the relationship.

It is understood that the police officer who Alice was with at the time of her death, said that he had met her less than an hour earlier when he found her walking along a road. He said he gave her a lift as she appeared "agitated and drunk."

The officer said that as his car was running out of petrol, he went to a cash machine to get money for fuel. When he returned to the car, he driven only a short distance when Alice shot herself with his gun, which had been left in the vehicle.

At the time, the RUC launched a murder inquiry and the DPP subsequently directed no prosecution of the officer, but he was later disciplined for failing to secure his gun properly.

The teenager's family have always disputed the fact that she shot herself.

The full report by the police ombudsman's office will be submitted to the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and to the Policing Board.

(EF/SP)

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