Derry/Londonderry bus stop incident: two officers disciplined over lack of care for vulnerable woman

Two police officers who left a woman lying on a bus stop beside a busy road in Derry/Londonderry have been disciplined following an investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office.

The investigation found that the officers had failed in their duty of care by leaving a vulnerable person, who had taken alcohol and had reportedly been assaulted, lying at the side of John Street between two parked cars.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, launched an investigation after viewing video footage posted on YouTube following the incident, which happened on 17 March 2014. The footage showed the woman being carried to the side of the road by officers, who then got into a police car which drove off.

Traffic continued to flow past, several feet away from the woman, until she was assisted by two members of staff from a nearby drop-in centre. 

The footage, which had been recorded on a mobile phone by a member of the public, attracted considerable media coverage and public comment.

During their investigation of the incident, Police Ombudsman investigators recorded statements from 13 witnesses and obtained relevant police records, including copies of police radio transmissions.

Evidence from 13 witnesses, police radio transmission, and CCTV footage from local businesses was considered during the investigation.

CCTV footage was obtained from a number of businesses in John Street and from two Translink

buses which had travelled past the incident. The person who recorded the YouTube video was traced and provided access to the original footage.

A copy of the initial telephone call to police, reporting that a woman had been assaulted in an off licence, was also secured.

The officers who went to the shop in response to the call, said the woman made no complaint against her alleged attacker.

When interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, the officers said the woman’s only visible injuries were small cuts to her hands. She declined medical assistance.

After making enquiries in the area the officers arrested a male suspect. As they took him to their police car, the female followed and attempted to get into the car beside him. Video evidence shows the woman trying to hold the door of the police car open.

When the officers managed to close the door, the woman lay down on the ground towards the rear of the police car. After two female officers had tried unsuccessfully to lift the woman, a male officer, assisted by a female colleague, lifted her towards the side of the road.

The woman resisted, but was carried off the main carriageway and left lying in the bus stop. She kicked out a number of times as the officers walked away, and then lay motionless as a number of vehicles drove past before being assisted into the nearby drop-in centre.

The three officers involved in the incident were all interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators. The male officer who lifted the woman said he had been unable to carry her as far as the footpath as she had been struggling and was “a dead weight.”

Officers said the woman was struggling and they were unable to carry her as far as the footpath.

The female officer who assisted him expressed regret that the woman had not been taken a few steps further and left on the footpath, but said she didn’t know how her colleague had managed to carry her so far.

She said the woman was coherent and was quite capable of getting herself off the road, and added that her behaviour had become increasingly aggressive and was agitating the male in the police car.

The other officer, the driver of the police car, said her priority had been to get the arrested male to the police station. She said she had no knowledge of where the female had been left by her colleagues.

Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said: “The mobile phone video footage posted on YouTube and shown widely in the media would give the impression that the female was physically incapacitated when she was carried to the side of the road and left lying there by police. The CCTV footage obtained from the area confirms that this was not the case.

“However, she should not have been left lying on the road, and the incident, as portrayed in the media, brought discredit on the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The female was a vulnerable person who had consumed alcohol and had reportedly been assaulted. Police had a duty of care to her and they failed in this by leaving her on the road between two parked cars.”

Two officers disciplined for failing in their duty of care by leaving woman lying on the road between parked cars.

Dr Maguire recommended that the two officers who had carried the woman to the side of the road should be disciplined. The officers appealed against the recommended sanctions, but their appeals were dismissed by the PSNI, which implemented the disciplinary action recommended by the Police Ombudsman.

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