Officer formally disciplined for “alarming failures” in assault investigation

Published Date: 24.02.2015

A police officer has been formally disciplined for “alarming failures” in his investigation of an assault, and for misleading senior police officers and Police Ombudsman investigators.

The officer had been assigned to investigate an assault on a woman at her home in north Belfast.

She was attacked by a group of women, apparently in retaliation for an alleged attack on one of their daughters the previous  evening.

The victim said she was dragged into her garden, kicked and punched to the body and head, and struck with a golf umbrella, during an attack which only stopped when a man intervened.

The incident was investigated by police and went to court 11 months later, but the case was dismissed.

The victim then lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office, alleging that failings in the police investigation had led to the collapse of the case.

She also claimed a prosecuting officer from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) had told her that there were gaps in the police investigation.

Police Ombudsman investigators obtained police documentation relating to the attack and the incident the previous evening which had apparently given rise to it.

Prosecuting PPS officer expressed concerns about the case file submitted by the police officer.

The investigating police officer, his sergeant and two inspectors were interviewed. The PPS prosecuting officer provided a written account in which she outlined concerns about the case file submitted by the investigating officer.

Enquiries revealed “an alarming number of missed investigative opportunities” in the case.

No witnesses had been interviewed, there had been no house-to-house or CCTV enquiries, and no searches of the scene or of the suspects’ houses. No consideration had been given to forensic opportunities, no photographs were taken of the victim’s injuries, and there had been no formal process to identify those responsible.

There had also been a delay in interviewing suspects, and when the interviews did take place they were of poor quality, with no follow up interviews.

In addition, the investigating officer did not communicate with a colleague investigating the earlier incident and failed to refer to that incident in the file sent to the PPS.

He also ignored printouts of relevant messages posted on Facebook, which had been given to him by the victim, and failed to properly update her about the progress of the case.

Officer ignored instructions from senior officers.

It was also found that he had ignored directions from supervising officers, and misled them about steps taken to progress the investigation.

When interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, the investigating officer’s account was found to be misleading and lack credibility.

The Police Ombudsman recommended that the officer should be required to attend a formal disciplinary hearing. The PSNI accepted the recommendation and the officer was found guilty of misconduct and disciplined.

The investigation, however, found that there had been no misconduct by the inspectors involved in the case, as the investigating officer had misled them about the progress of his investigation.

The sergeant who oversaw the case was also misled, but the Police Ombudsman found that he should have given the case closer scrutiny. The PSNI has since implemented a recommendation that the sergeant be disciplined.

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