Published Date: 22.05.2007
A Police Ombudsman investigation into an incident in which a 31-year-old man sustained serious head injuries when he fell as police cleared a crowd from an illegal rave, has found no evidence of police misconduct.
The 31-year-old sustained a fractured skull and life-threatening brain injuries after falling from a 14 foot high wall as police dispersed a crowd of around 250 people attending an illegal rave party at Brooke Park, Derry/Londonderry, in April 2003.
The young man's family subsequently made a complaint that he may have been pushed off the wall by a police officer. After investigating the case, the Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, said the evidence strongly indicated that the man had fallen, rather than having been pushed off the wall. "Three people said they had seen the man simply falling from the wall," said Mrs O'Loan "My staff also spoke to a further 13 people who had been at the rave. None said they themselves had been pushed from the wall, nor did they see anyone else being pushed."One person said he had seen the young man being pushed from the wall, but this is inconsistent with other available evidence."
The incident happened after 3.50am when police units arrived at the park in response to complaints about loud music. Most of the crowd dispersed peacefully, but a small section attacked officers with stones and other missiles. The police, who were in public order uniform, formed a loose shield line with a view to dispersing the crowd.
They advanced through the park towards the boundary wall located close to the junction of the Creggan and Marlborough roads. Members of the crowd left the park by a number of exit points, some passing through the police line as it advanced. Some people moved to the Creggan Road end of the park where the boundary wall is approximately six feet tall on the park side, but leads to a drop of 14 feet onto the street on the other side.
Some jumped or lowered themselves down this drop. It was at this stage that the 31-year-old man fell from the wall and sustained serious head injuries. He remained in a critical condition for some time after the incident. Another man who also fell lost two teeth and sustained a broken arm. Police provided first aid before the men were taken to hospital.
Mrs O'Loan said her investigation of the incident had considered a broad range of evidence. This included police radio transmissions and command logs, medical reports and photographs, and statements provided by civilian witnesses, ambulance personnel and 21 police officers. Investigators conducted house-to-house enquiries, issued a media witness appeal and sought CCTV footage.
The witness who said the young man had been pushed off the wall said an officer had used a public order shield to do so. His evidence, however, was inconsistent with that provided by other witnesses. Three other people, two of whom were also at the rave, as well as a local resident, said the man had simply fallen from the wall as he and others attempted to leave the park.
Investigators took statements from a total of 13 people who had been at the rave, most of whom had left the park by jumping or lowering themselves from the wall. None of these witnesses claimed to have been pushed over the wall by the police. One did recall being "bumped" as he prepared to lower himself down, but said he did not believe police were responsible as they were about four metres away when this happened.
The young man who sustained serious head injuries said his recollection was hazy and he could not recall how he came to fall. Some witnesses said the police had forced the crowd towards this dangerous drop, while other said they had been able to walk through the police lines and exit via different routes.
Mrs O'Loan said the evidence also suggested that it was not unusual for young people to exit the park at this section of the boundary wall. "Witnesses said that amongst local young people this part of the boundary wall was a recognised route into and out of the park," said Mrs O'Loan. "A number of witnesses stated that they used this exit as it provided the shortest route home."
Mrs O'Loan said the evidence of the case suggested two things: "First that police did not create a situation in which people had no option but to negotiate a dangerous drop to exit the park. Secondly, the evidence also indicates that the young man who was so seriously injured was not pushed off the wall by police," said Mrs O'Loan. "I am satisfied, therefore, that there was no police misconduct in this case." "My thoughts at this time are with the family of the young man who was so seriously injured during what can only be described as a very tragic and distressing accident," added Mrs O'Loan.