Published Date: 09.05.2006
A two-year investigation by the Police Ombudsman's Office into the death of a young Portadown woman, who died from a bullet from an off-duty police officer's gun, has concluded that there is no evidence that her death "was anything other than a tragic accident."
No evidence Alice's death was anything other than a tragic accident.
PDF: Full Public Statement
The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, rejected an allegation that the officer was responsible for the death of 16-year-old Alice McLoughlin, that he lied about knowing her and that police conspired to cover-up the relationship.
Failings in forensic aspects of police investigation.
She did, however, partially uphold a complaint that there were significant failings in the RUC investigation of Alice's death, particularly in forensic aspects of the investigation:
"I suspect that if the forensic strategy had been more thorough it may have dealt with many of the issues which were to cause Alice's family concern over the years and have answered many of the allegations which the police officer had to face," she said.
At 1am on July 6 1991, an off-duty police officer (Officer A) brought 16-year-old Alice McLoughlin to Craigavon area hospital. She had a gunshot wound to the head, caused by a bullet from his gun and was pronounced dead within minutes.
The police officer said he had met Alice less than an hour earlier, when he found her walking along a darkened road between Markethill and Portadown. He said she had appeared agitated and drunk and because of this he agreed to give her a lift. The officer said he was running out of fuel and went to an ATM to get money to buy petrol. He said that on returning to the car he drove a short distance when Alice shot herself with his gun, which had been lying in the car. (see paragraphs 5.1-5.3 in full public report. Numbers in parentheses below refer to paragraphs within the full public report).
Family did not accept inquest finding that Alice's death was "as a result of a bullet wound to her head consistent with self infliction."
The RUC launched a murder investigation. The DPP subsequently directed no prosecution of the officer, but he was later disciplined for failing to "secure" his gun properly. An inquest found that Alice's death was "as a result of a bullet wound to her head consistent with self infliction."
Alice's family have never accepted that she took her own life and launched their own investigation. A "Justice for Alice" group was formed. On December 19, 2003 they made a complaint to the Police Ombudsman's Office. That complaint included more than 30 allegations about the officer and the investigation into Alice's death.
Police Ombudsman Investigation.
The Police Ombudsman's Office established a Major Incident Room. Extensive inquiries were made to retrieve all relevant material from the police (both RUC and PSNI files), the Forensic Service, the DPP, and the McLoughlin family. Original witnesses were re-interviewed and new witnesses uncovered. A new forensic analysis was undertaken of remaining evidence.
Officer was not responsible for Alice's death, nor had he been in a relationship wth her.
The Police Ombudsman's Office rejected an allegation that the officer was responsible for Alice's death, either by gross neglect or by conspiring with an unknown third party to kill her.
It also rejected an allegation that the officer had been having a relationship with Alice and had lied that he did not know her.
(6.3) The McLoughlin family based this allegation on a number of issues. The most significant of those was that a woman, her brother and her boyfriend saw Alice with Officer A at the Coach Inn, Banbridge. The woman said she had told police and Alice's mother about this identification. The evidence shows that the woman did not mention this to anyone until 2003.
The woman's brother said he recognised Officer A as the person who had arrested him previously and taken him to Portadown Police Station, where there had been a death that night. Evidence shows that this man was arrested twice but on each occasion Officer A had not been involved and on neither occasion had there been a death at the station.
The woman's boyfriend in his original statement to police did not mention that her brother was present nor that the man seen with Alice was identified as a police officer.
(6.4) Police Ombudsman investigators established that a woman who said she saw Alice with Officer A at the Normandy Inn, Richhill has since died. Investigators spoke to other people identified as witnesses to this sighting but none corroborated the claim.
(6.5) Alice's father said he answered his door one Sunday night to Officer A who asked to see Alice. Police Ombudsman investigators noted that there is no record of Mr McLoughlin giving this information to the police. Alice's sister told Police Ombudsman investigators it was her who answered the door to a man who Alice identified as the police officer. The Police Ombudsman has concluded there is no evidence to indicate that this man was Officer A.
(6.6) An allegation by Alice's sister that Alice was seen with the officer at a bonfire in Portadown on July 1 1991 was not raised until the Police Ombudsman investigation. The story was denied by Alice's brother, who was present at the bonfire.
(6.8) The family believe there was no reason for Alice to have been on that darkened road that night unless she had a prearranged meeting with someone. Police Ombudsman investigators have spoken to many witnesses and managed to piece together a detailed picture of Alice's movements through her final day. Alice was seen at one stage going into a phone box but there are no BT or RUC phone records to establish if she was phoning for a taxi, as one witness alleged, or phoning the officer, as the family believe. Several witnesses say they saw Alice walking along the road. One woman said Alice had asked her for directions. The Police Ombudsman has concluded that the reasons for Alice deciding to walk along the road will never be known
However, the Police Ombudsman believes there was limited time for contact between Alice and the officer that night. Alice was last seen by witnesses between 00:15 and 00:30, cash was withdrawn from the ATM at 00:47 and the officer's car arrived at the hospital at 00:50. The journey from where Alice was last seen to the ATM has been timed as 16 minutes and from there to the hospital at 4 minutes.
Police Ombudsman investigators interviewed some of Alice's friends who claimed she had been having a relationship with either a married man or a policeman. The detailed descriptions they gave of the man, his home and lifestyle do not fit Officer A.
Investigators were also given access to Alice's diary, which had not been available to the RUC investigation. It does not contain any reference to the officer nor to a relationship with a policeman.
Police did not suppress information or conspire to cover up an ongoing relationship between the officer and Alice
(7.0) The Police Ombudsman's Office also rejected an allegation that police suppressed information and conspired to cover up an ongoing relationship between the officer and Alice.
The McLoughlin family alleged that witness statements were not presented to the Inquest and have been destroyed. Police Ombudsman investigators have established that the statements are still in existence and have fully viewed them. They also established that the Coroner saw all this material and choose not to call those witnesses.
The family also said that several people they had spoken to in the Portadown area said police had approached a senior paramilitary figure and asked him to warn others from helping the investigation into Alice's murder. Police Ombudsman investigators interviewed several of these people but none alleged paramilitary intervention.
The Police Ombudsman's Office also rejected the allegation that independent forensic evidence cast doubt on the RUC investigation into the murder
(8.1) The original forensic analysis said there was no evidence the officer fired his gun and said it was possible Alice shot herself. It said the blood pattern in the car was consistent with Alice having been in the passenger seat and the officer in the driver's seat, and said there was no evidence that there was a third party in the car.
An independent forensic expert hired by the family took the view that it was most unlikely Alice shot herself, particularly given the fact she was left-handed.
However Police Ombudsman investigators established that the expert had never been given an opportunity to examine the car and had been working from poor quality copied photographs. When presented with the original inquest photos he reversed his earlier conclusions.
Forensic expert found no evidence that the officer had fired the shot.
A separate forensic expert tasked by the Police Ombudsman reviewed all the material and also took the view there was no evidence that the officer fired the shot and no bar to Alice having fired a gun of the type used.
(8.2) The McLoughlin family have noted that Alice's fingerprints were not on the gun and believe this casts doubt on whether she handled the weapon. Police Ombudsman investigators have established that the gun surface was not conducive to retaining fingerprints: although the officer no doubt handled the gun on a regular basis, his fingerprints were not present either.
(9.0) The Police Ombudsman's Office partly upheld a complaint that there were significant forensic failings in the RUC investigation.
These failings included the fact that the car was never examined to establish the cause of damage to its interior: the family later believed this damage may have indicated a struggle took place. The car was never examined to establish if there had been a third person in it and police "released" the vehicle without consulting the McLoughlin family or the Coroner.
The Police Ombudsman concluded that the RUC forensic investigation was focused simply on proving or disproving the officer's account of events.
Police made limited forensic enquiries to determine whether there had been contact between Alice and the officer.
"A swab was taken from Alice's body during the post mortem, which did not show the presence of semen. This was the only examination conducted to determine whether there had been contact between Alice and the officer. There appears to have been little consideration during the early stages of the investigation to their having been close physical contact between Alice and the officer. Fibre and hair transfer could have assisted in proving or disproving this allegation. (9.3) "
Police Ombudsman investigators have established that despite the suspicions of the McLoughlin family, her best friend was not in the car when Alice was shot. This female was seen by a number of witnesses in Markethill at the time it is believed Alice was shot. (9.6)
(10.0) The Police Ombudsman's Office has said there were very clear failures in the RUC investigation into Alice's death, but said there is no evidence to support the family's contention that officers attempted to pervert the course of justice.
Among the issues the Police Ombudsman investigators looked at was the allegation that the timings on the hospital admission were changed to protect either the officer of the hospital staff. Investigators discovered that the alteration was made by the hospital doctor who initially treated Alice.
"The doctor said that in dire emergencies, patients are treated without waiting for forms to be completed. These forms are created retrospectively and details are amended by hand."
The senior officer handling the investigation into Alice's death has now retired and refused to cooperate with the Police Ombudsman investigation.
A full report on the Police Ombudsman investigation has been sent to the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and to the Policing Board.