FAQs: Interviews, statements and documentation

I have been told that the Police Ombudsman's Office has the power to view all material held by the police. Some of the material we hold is very sensitive. Must we disclose all material?

The first point to make in response to your question is that Police Ombudsman investigators have security clearance: the level of clearance they have will cover the nature of the information asked for. There are special procedures in place for different types of information. In general terms, if the information we ask you for is 'routine' such as notebooks or custody records that should be supplied through your Police Ombudsman Liaison Officer. That person also deals with requests for copies of local crime files. (There are special arrangements for departments such as Traffic, the TSGs etc). If the material asked for is Sensitive or Protectively Marked, then requests will be channelled through the Detective Superintendent, Force Intelligence Bureau. If the request relates to covert human intelligence or confidential sources, the Chief Constable or Deputy Chief Constable will handle it.

If someone makes a complaint to your Office and after you have investigated it you do not find any evidence to support the allegation, what recourse does the officer have against that person who made the complaint?

A police officer has every right to seek legal advice to pursue civil legal proceedings in a private capacity or supported by his/her Staff Association if the officer chooses to do so.

Can I be compelled to remain for a misconduct interview?

You can be instructed by a senior officer of the PSNI to attend a misconduct interview, in which case failure to attend would be a disciplinary offence. The Police Ombudsman cannot compel you to remain, however, you should be aware that if you terminate an interview, an inference may be drawn from your action, or you may be acting in breach of the Code of Ethics.

What happens if I refuse to attend an interview in relation to a complaint?

We will endeavour and take all reasonable steps to secure the officer's attendance voluntarily. If he or she still refuses and there is a power of arrest, and arrest is deemed necessary, then we may be forced to exercise that power. If the issue is in relation to purely a misconduct matter, the officer can be ordered by a senior officer to attend for interview and the PONI Investigator will request this is done. Failure to attend then is potentially a breach of discipline.

When can a solicitor or "friend" accompany me at an interview?

In an interview concerning criminal allegations your solicitor is entitled to be present subject to the normal rules. It is at the discretion of the Investigation Officer as to whether or not your "friend" may be present.

In an interview concerning misconduct allegations your "friend" is entitled to be present. It is at the discretion of the Investigation Officer as to whether or not your solicitor may be present.

Your solicitor cannot act as your "friend". A "friend" must be a serving member of a police service who is not an interested party.

If there has been a traumatic incident, such as a death in custody, surely it is reasonable to ensure a Police Federation member is present before your officers conduct interviews?

We would accept that there are situations where an officer has been traumatised and it would be best that he or she see a FMO before being interviewed. An officer is entitled to seek Federation advice at any stage and it is something we would encourage. It is important that both the officer and his or her representative are fully aware of the process and of their rights. Our officers liaise with the Federation representative in such instances if they are present.

What material may be disclosed at my interview?

There is no statutory requirement for any disclosure to be made, but it is the practice of the Office of the Police Ombudsman to make disclosure of appropriate material prior to and at various stages of the interview. The decision whether to make such a disclosure and the extent of it is entirely a matter for the Investigating Officer.

How will my interviews be recorded?

Interviews concerning allegations of a criminal nature will normally be recorded on audiotape in accordance with PACE Codes of Practice. Interviews concerning only misconduct issues will also normally be tape-recorded.

Can I be compelled to provide a duty statement to the Office of the Police Ombudsman?

You can be instructed by a line manager of the PSNI to do so and in appropriate circumstances the Police Ombudsman's Investigation Officer will ask that such instructions be given. Failure to comply may constitute a breach of the Code of Ethics, which would then be the subject of a separate report to SID.

Can I be compelled to make a witness statement when requested to do so by the Office of the Police Ombudsman?

As a police officer you will be expected to make a witness statement if asked. This is consistent with your obligations under the Code of Ethics. In such circumstances you can be assured that you are not under investigation, and you will not be asked to make such a statement if you are under investigation. Further information can be found in Weekly Order 26/03 - Interview of Police Witnesses.

If I am asked for my notebook or other documentation or material, do I have to hand these over to the Office of the Police Ombudsman?

Yes. Police officers are required, under the Code of Ethics, to ensure that accurate records are kept. Section 66 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and Regulation 8 of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (Complaints etc.) Regulations 2000 make it clear that the Police Ombudsman can demand such items required in connection with an investigation. It is for the Police Ombudsman to decide whether the items are so required. These will normally be requested through the Liaison Officer at the Criminal Justice Units.

If the Police Ombudsmans Office had an investigative report which would support an officer's civil claim, would you make it available to him or her?

We cannot make the material automatically available to the officer or their legal team as we are not allowed to do so under law - Section 63 of the Police Northern Ireland Act 1998 is quite specific about the restrictions on the disclosure of information.

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