Inaccurate police records resulted in wrong person being arrested over serious crime

Published Date: 13.08.2013

The Police Ombudsman has made a policy recommendation to the PSNI that it should take steps to ensure information recorded on its systems is properly maintained and checked for accuracy.

It follows an investigation of a complaint by a man (Man A) who was arrested in 2012 on suspicion of involvement in serious crime more than 35 years previously.

Man A was taken for questioning to Antrim Serious Crime Suite, but it was realised during questioning that he was not the suspect, although he did have the same name.

Man said arrest and questioning breached his rights and affected his health.

Man A subsequently lodged a complaint that police should have taken greater care to ensure that they arrested the right person. He stated that the experience of being arrested and questioned had breached his human rights and caused a deterioration in his health.

Police Ombudsman investigators examined all relevant police documentation. The police officer who arrested Man A, and the officer who had directed the arrest, were also interviewed.

The arresting officer explained that significant enquiries had been made to ensure that the right person had been identified. She explained that information she had received in relation to Man A matched electronic police records.

When these records were examined by Police Ombudsman investigators, they revealed that there was a crossover in information held about Man A and the suspect of the same name.

These were deemed to have given police reasonable suspicion that Man A was the correct person at the time of his arrest.

Police records have since been corrected.

It was also clear that the records had been updated since Man A’s arrest to correct the inaccuracies they had contained.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, upheld Man A’s complaint that he had been unnecessarily arrested, but made no recommendation for disciplinary action as the officers involved had been acting on the basis of the information available to them.

However, he recommended that the PSNI should remind officers of the importance of updating and maintaining accurate records to help prevent similar situations arising in future.

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