Published Date: Sep 2014
A police officer has been disciplined after presenting evidence which caused the collapse of a court case, and led to him being accused of perjury.
The officer, who was still in his probationary period, was giving evidence during a contest hearing in September 2012. The hearing concerned allegations of disorderly behaviour and assault on police by a married couple during an incident in Dungannon earlier that year.
The officer told the court that during the altercation with the couple, the husband had been positioned face down on the street so that handcuffs could be applied. However, CCTV evidence presented to the court showed that the man had not been face down at the time.
The footage had been obtained from a public house by one of the defendants in the case, who had previously supplied it to the Police Ombudsman’s Office as part of a complaint that he and his wife had been assaulted during their arrest.
The officer had seen the footage when interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators about the couple’s complaint.
Officer was aware that his statement was inconsistent with CCTV footage, but thought he could not change it.
When questioned by the Judge about the discrepancy between the footage and his statement, the officer admitted that he had seen the CCTV footage prior to the court hearing and was aware that his statement was inconsistent with the footage. However, he said he believed that he could not alter his original statement.
The Judge said he found it “incredible” that the officer had tendered evidence that he knew to be wrong, and said he had therefore perjured himself. He then dismissed all charges against the couple, and referred his concerns about the officer’s evidence to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). The PPS then referred the case to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation.
When interviewed, the officer said he did not know that he could change his statement and thought he could explain any discrepancies between the statement and the CCTV footage during the hearing, but had not had an opportunity to do so.
Officer denied lying and said he had learned from the experience.
He denied that he had lied to the court or that he had tried to mislead anyone. He said he had learned from the experience and was now aware that he could have submitted a “further to” statement if he wished to clarify his previously tendered evidence.
A senior police officer who had spoken to the probationary officer after the court hearing, told Police Ombudsman investigators that he was content that the officer had not intended to be untruthful under oath or to mislead anyone. He said he had given the officer advice on how to deal with any similar situation if it should arise in future.
At the completion of the Police Ombudsman’s investigation, a file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). The PPS subsequently directed that the officer should not be prosecuted for perjury.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, then considered the evidence in relation to misconduct matters.
Dr Maguire found that officer had not deliberately misled the court, and suggested his inexperience played a part in the error.
He concluded that there was insufficient evidence that the officer had deliberately misled the court, and suggested that the officer’s inexperience at the time was likely to have been a contributory factor.
However, he also stated that the officer should have sought assistance when he realised that his statement and the CCTV evidence were inconsistent.
“He did not inform the PPS that his previously tendered evidence was inaccurate, nor did he make any attempts to ensure that this important issue was addressed prior to attending court,” said Dr Maguire.
“This, combined with the officer’s inability to properly present his evidence to the court, resulted in a serious allegation of perjury being levelled against him and ultimately led to the [court] case being dismissed.”
Dr Maguire recommended that the officer should be disciplined in relation to the failing, and should also receive retraining in the disclosure and presentation of evidence to the court.