Published Date: Nov 2021
A police officer has been disciplined for failing to take appropriate action after discovering suspected drugs while responding to a call to assist a suicidal woman in Belfast in January 2019.
The officer found what appeared to be cannabis while searching in a kitchen drawer for a tea towel to stem bleeding to the woman’s mouth.
She had sustained an injury when she fell against a doorframe after officers used Tasers to prevent her self-harming with a knife.
The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Marie Anderson, found that the use of Tasers had been necessary and proportionate given that there had been an immediate threat to life. She also noted that officers had treated the woman with courtesy and compassion.
However, while Police Ombudsman investigators were reviewing police body-worn video footage of the incident, they noticed that an officer had opened a kitchen drawer to find two clear plastic sandwich bags containing what appeared to be cannabis.
The footage showed the officer handling the bags before setting them back and closing the drawer.
Officer did not record suspected drugs find in his notebook.
Police Ombudsman investigators examined police records about the incident and found no reference to the suspected drugs, including in the notebook entry made by the officer who found them.
Post-incident paperwork also showed that in response to a question about whether he had taken possession of items or evidence, the officer circled “no”. The sergeant who oversaw the post-incident debrief also stated that the officer had not mentioned any suspected drugs.
A subsequent police search of the woman’s home found cannabis leaves in a kitchen drawer, as well as a heat lamp in an upstairs bedroom. She was interviewed on suspicion of possessing and cultivating cannabis and admitted the offence.
When interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, the officer said he had meant to report the discovery but had forgotten. He said his main concern at the time had been to provide first aid and keep the woman calm.
Mrs Anderson acknowledged that the officer had been “involved in a highly stressful firearms incident”. She also noted that he had an unblemished record and had received recognition certificates for good police work.
“However, he had several opportunities after the incident to record the suspected drugs find and report it – particularly when completing his police issue notebook entry, which is intended as an aide memoire. The evidence is that he failed to do so,” said Mrs Anderson.
As required, Police Ombudsman investigators submitted a file to the PPS in relation to potential offences of Perverting the Course of Public Justice and Misconduct in Public Office. The PPS directed “no prosecution”.
Mrs Anderson recommended that police should take disciplinary action against the officer, and this was accepted and acted upon by the PSNI.