Published Date: 18.09.2014
An investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office has found that a police officer was captured on CCTV punching a prisoner on the head inside Ballymena police station after his arrest on 12 July 2011.
The man had been arrested for being disorderly while protesting against a Loyalist parade in the town.
He was taken into custody at the local police station, but as he was being led to a cell a struggle broke out, during which he was punched by an officer. The incident was subsequently referred by the Chief Constable to the Police ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation.
The custody suite at Ballymena police station is covered by CCTV cameras, and footage of the incident was retrieved and examined by Police Ombudsman investigators.
It showed the man being verbally aggressive, and at one point pushing the arresting officer. Another officer then grabbed the man by the neck before raising his right arm and appearing to punch the man, who can then be heard shouting out: “my nose, my nose.” This officer sustained an injury to his arm during the struggle.
Accounts of what happened were obtained from all available witnesses, including the man who had been arrested.
The officer who struck the man was interviewed under criminal caution. He said the man had posed an immediate threat to himself and his colleagues and in order to restrain him, he had struck him once on the side of the head.
On viewing the CCTV footage of the incident, the officer conceded that the blow had been delivered with a clenched fist. He contended that his actions had been justified and proportionate, given the threat posed by the man.
A file of evidence was prepared by the Police Ombudsman’s Office and submitted to the Public Prosecution Service, which subsequently directed that the officer should be prosecuted for common assault.
The case was heard at Ballymena Magistrates Court on 28 June 2012. Having listened to the facts and having viewed the CCTV footage, the Judge directed that the charges against the officer be dismissed.
Following the court case, the officer was interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators under misconduct caution in relation to the level of force used during the incident. He contended that the force used had not been excessive, but had been necessary and proportionate in the circumstances.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, did not agree and sent a file to the PSNI’s Service Improvement Branch, recommending that the officer should receive a disciplinary sanction.
The matter was considered by the PSNI, which ultimately elected not to accept the Police Ombudsman’s recommendation.