Investigation finds failings in police handling of alleged fraud case

Published Date: 12.05.2014

Three police officers who failed to deal promptly or properly with a case of alleged fraud have been disciplined by the PSNI.

The case was brought to the attention of the police by a woman who believed that she was the victim of fraudulent actions by her ex-husband. Nine months after reporting it, following increasing frustration with the way the case had been handled by the police the woman contacted the Police Ombudsman’s Office to make a complaint. As well as accusing the police of an inadequate investigation she also alleged that they had not kept her sufficiently updated on its progress.

Complaints were made against a total of five police officers.

Investigators from the Office spoke to all five officers, and reviewed all police documentation relating to the case. This included correspondence between the woman and the police, as well as police notebooks and internal correspondence between the officers.

The documentation showed that the woman had contacted the police a number of times during the investigation. Many of these calls or emails were to try and establish if any progress was being made on the case. The Ombudsman discovered that all five officers had at some point been responsible for the investigation. In her contact with the police the woman expressed anger that the frequent change of case ownership was causing unnecessary delay.

During interview the officers involved stated that any delays were for a number of legitimate reasons, including a need to refer the investigation to another district, as well as officers’ holiday and sick leave, excessive workload, and the need to prioritise other cases ahead of this one.

After reviewing all of the evidence the Ombudsman concluded that there were failings in the police investigation. At various points officers failed either to carry out their duties in a timely manner, did not update the woman on aspects of the investigation when they said they would, or failed to keep proper records of their work.

The Office recommended that three officers be disciplined. The first officer in charge of the investigation did not take any substantive investigative steps during the time they were the investigating officer. The actions of the second officer in charge of the case were examined and they also failed to take sufficient steps to investigate the case, as well as failed to keep the woman updated.

The complaint about the third officer was investigated, but evidence showed that they had only limited involvement in the case. This complaint was not upheld.

Although the fourth officer who dealt with the investigation stated that they updated the woman on its progress no records could be found to support this. The complaint against this officer was upheld.

Police records showed that the fifth officer who led the investigation discussed the case with his supervisor. They agreed that because of a lack of evidence to support the allegation of fraud the case should be closed and no action taken against the accused. This officer was found to have carried out their work in a timely and accurate manner.

In total three police officers were disciplined as a result of the Ombudsman’s investigation.

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