Police officer accepts warning over driving incident
The driver of a police Land Rover has received an informed warning following an incident at an Orange Order parade in north Belfast, during which a Sinn Fein politician was carried for a short distance on the front bonnet of his vehicle.
The incident - which happened on 21 June 2013 as Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly attempted to stop the vehicle to protest about the arrest of a youth - was referred by police to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation.
Another member of Sinn Fein suffered minor injuries after being struck by same the police vehicle.
Police Ombudsman investigators considered whether the officer had committed the offence of Careless and Inconsiderate Driving, and in September 2013 submitted a file of evidence to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).
After considering the evidence, the PPS offered the officer an informed warning, but stated that the Police Ombudsman’s file should be resubmitted if the warning was declined.
The officer subsequently accepted an informed warning, as did Mr Kelly for his role in the incident.
Mr Kelly told Police Ombudsman investigators that he had been forced to lift his feet off the ground and hold onto the front of the police vehicle to avoid serious injury. He estimated that he had been carried along for about 20 yards.
As well as lodging a complaint about the manner in which the Land Rover had been driven, he alleged that police had reneged on an agreement with residents’ groups that there would be no arrests during the event to avoid inflaming tensions.
He also alleged that an officer in another Land Rover, who he spoke to after the arrest, had promised to stop his vehicle nearby, but failed to do so.
When interviewed, the driver of the police vehicle on which Mr Kelly had been carried said that his had been in the fourth vehicle in a convoy of five Land Rovers which had been ordered to immediately leave the area after the arrest of the youth. He said he had to stop the vehicle when Mr Kelly stepped into his path.
He stated that he and his Sergeant, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, were shouting and gesturing to Mr Kelly to get out of the way, and that his Sergeant activated the vehicle’s flashing lights and sirens.
He added that the three officers in the back of his vehicle were shouting that members of a crowd were trying to force their way in, and were urging him to leave the area.
Those officers told Police Ombudsman investigators that the rear doors of the Land Rover had been forced partially open by the crowd, and said they were seriously concerned for their safety.
The driver added that he was aware of other incidents in which the security of police vehicles had been compromised, and stated that he was concerned for the safety of himself and the other nine officers in his vehicle and the one behind.
Video evidence from police cameras and recorded by Sinn Fein television showed that the situation did escalate into serious public disorder.
When Mr Kelly did not move, he said he moved the Land Rover forward at “walking pace” before slightly increasing its speed. He said Mr Kelly had been in full view at all times, and had been given the option of moving out of the way, but had failed to do so.
He added that he had been confident that Mr Kelly had had a firm hold of the Land Rover’s security grille during the incident. He said he had no other option but to take the action he did while acting upon an order to leave the area.
When asked about PSNI video footage which showed only a small number of people near the back of his vehicle, the officer replied that he did not have a clear view of this area, and had been relying on what his colleagues in the back of the vehicle were telling him.
Police Ombudsman investigators also investigated the actions of the officer accused by Mr Kelly of having failed to act on a promise to “pull up around the corner” after the arrest.
The officer accepted having given that undertaking, and said he instructed his driver to stop at the corner of Carrick Hill and Carlisle Circus. However, given the hostile nature of the crowd, he said he then directed him to move on.
CCTV confirmed that the vehicle did stop momentarily. This aspect of the complaint was not upheld.
Investigators also interviewed the senior officer who ordered the arrest of the youth for provocative conduct. He confirmed that he had met political representatives before the parade, but denied having given any commitment to postpone arrests for minor matters if they were likely to create further disorder.
The officer was challenged about why an immediate arrest was necessary, given that the parade was still ongoing, that public order was deteriorating, and that police had video footage of the youth which would have allowed for a later arrest.
The officer responded that the arrest had been pre-emptive, to prevent the youth engaging in further disorderly behaviour.
However, the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, found that it had served to heighten tensions and had not been absolutely necessary at that time.
Dr Maguire recommended that the senior officer who ordered the arrest, as well as the driver who had accepted an informed warning, should be disciplined by the PSNI.
The driver has since been disciplined, but the PSNI decided not to act upon the recommendation relating to the senior officer.