Police officer disciplined for providing character reference in fatal collision case

Published Date: Nov 2015

A police officer has been disciplined for breaching police policy when he provided a character reference for a woman convicted of causing death by dangerous driving which was at odds with evidence uncovered by the police investigation of the case.

The officer submitted the reference to a court in June 2013 without seeking the permission of the relevant senior investigating officer.

He also failed to adequately identify that the views expressed were personal, rather than his professional view as a police officer.

The Police Ombudsman’s investigation found that the reference contradicted evidence from the police investigation of the case.

It was referred to by the trial judge during his sentencing remarks, when he noted that it and other references attested to the accused’s good character.

The sentence imposed by the judge was later appealed by the Public Prosecution Service for being unduly lenient, which resulted in the prison term being more than doubled.

The officer, who was attached to a roads and armed support unit, submitted the reference on headed PSNI paper, signed it with his title, the station he was attached to, and his force number.

All of this was at odds with PSNI guidelines which state that before a character reference is given by an officer, permission should be sought from the senior investigating officer and PSNI headed paper should not be used. They also state that if it is disclosed that the views expressed are those of an officer, the officer must stress that the views are personal and are not in any way those of the PSNI.

The relevant District Commander or Head of Branch must also be notified and the reference must not draw upon any information gleaned as a result of working as a police officer.

The Chief Constable referred the matter to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation.

When interviewed by a Police Ombudsman investigator, the officer accepted he had made a mistake but said there had been no deliberate intent to circumvent procedures.

Further enquiries revealed no evidence that the officer had improperly accessed records relating to the police investigation into the fatal collision.

The PSNI has since implemented the disciplinary recommendation made by the Police Ombudsman.

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