Published Date: 17.11.2014
An investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office has found that a man ended up in court charged with assault after police failed to speak to three witnesses who could provide him with an alibi.
The police officer who investigated the incident has since been disciplined for failing to conduct a full investigation.
The suspect was arrested after a female reported that he had assaulted her, and two witnesses provided statements that they had seen the assault.
However, the accused gave the investigating officer the names of three other witnesses who could testify he was elsewhere at the time. The officer failed to contact these witnesses.
He also failed to show the accused CCTV footage which showed where he had been prior to the alleged assault, and potentially weakened the case against him.
The man was subsequently prosecuted, but was acquitted of the charge.
He later complained to the Police Ombudsman’s Office that if police had spoken to the three witnesses whose names he provided he would never have been arrested or prosecuted. He also alleged that, in the circumstances, his arrest had been unlawful.
During his investigation of the incident, a Police Ombudsman investigator examined all associated police paperwork, and obtained statements from the three witnesses whose names the complainant had provided.
He also examined the CCTV footage of the incident and concluded that the failure to show it to the accused had deprived him of an opportunity to verify his account of his movements prior to the alleged assault.
He concluded that the officer had failed to complete some “basic investigative steps” which could have had a bearing on whether the case ended up in court. He recommended that the officer should be disciplined for these failings, and the PSNI has since implemented the recommendation.
However, the investigator also found that the officer had acted properly in arresting the accused given that a statement of complaint, supported by two witness statements, had been made against him.
“Had the officer not acted on this information, this Office would have been highly critical of this failure,” the investigator noted.