Police properly investigated Army suicide case: Police Ombudsman

Published Date: 25.07.2007

The Police Ombudsman has concluded that police correctly handled the investigation into the death of an 18-year-old Royal Irish Regiment soldier whose suicide in 2001 was alleged to have followed bullying in the Army.

Paul Cochrane died on 30 July 2001 when he shot himself at Drumadd Barracks in Armagh. He had previously alleged that he had been singled out for bullying by two Army officers.

Paul's death happened amid wider public concern about an alleged culture of bullying at the Army's Deepcut Barracks in England, where a series of suicides were being investigated by Surrey police.

His father William subsequently made a complaint to the Police Ombudsman's Office. He alleged that police had failed to mount a proper investigation into his son's death, expressing concern that the incident scene had not been properly preserved, that evidential opportunities had been missed and that the investigation had been compromised as a result.

In addition, the Cochrane family expressed concern that the police and the Army's Special Investigation Branch, which also investigated aspects of the death, had been confused about the parameters of their respective investigations.

And they queried why, if the RUC carried out a proper investigation of the death in July 2001, Chief Constable Hugh Orde ordered a full reinvestigation two years later (the PSNI succeeded the RUC in November 2001) .

Police Ombudsman investigators carried out an extensive investigation of these and other issues raised by the Cochrane family. They interviewed officers involved in both police investigations, as well as the Senior Investigation Officer who led the enquiries by the Army's Special Investigations Branch.

They also reviewed police investigation papers and the Coroner's file on the case, and interviewed the Coroner himself, Mr John Leckey. After reviewing the evidence, the Police Ombudsman Mrs Nuala O'Loan concluded that there was nothing to suggest that police had failed to properly investigate the case.

She said evidence at the scene of Paul's death would have made it clear to the Sergeant who attended the scene that he was dealing with a suicide. Given this assessment, she explained, the only two possible crimes which could be investigated by police in relation to the death were whether it had occurred as part of a suicide pact, or whether another person had aided, abetted or encouraged him to kill himself.

"As neither offence applied in this case, the sole duty of the police was to provide information to the Coroner for the subsequent inquest. This they did and when interviewed, the Coroner expressed no dissatisfaction with the police investigation or the standard of the documentation which had been provided to him."

Mrs O'Loan also concluded that police had carried out an appropriate scene and forensic examination of the scene of death. Referring to the family's concern that the bullet itself had not been recovered, Mrs O'Loan said that it would have added very little if anything to the investigation.

"The bullet lodged itself in a sheet of asbestos, and a decision was taken not to retrieve it. This decision had no detrimental or adverse effect on the investigation. The bullet case was recovered and subsequently matched to Paul's Army issue rifle. It was clear that the bullet was fired from Paul's rifle. The bullet itself would not have progressed this evidence.

"There was nothing to suggest or indicate that anyone else was involved in Paul's tragic death. The only evidence was that he fired the gun himself."

In addition, Mrs O'Loan said the investigation had established that there was no confusion between the police and the Army's Special Investigation Branch as to the remits of their respective investigations.

"The investigative responsibilities attributed to the police and Army were clear," said Mrs O'Loan. "After the initial assessment, the police had no criminal offences to substantiate, but had a duty to supply the Coroner with material for the inquest. The Army's Special Investigation Branch had a duty to investigate whether the allegations of ill-treatment of Paul could be substantiated."

Mrs O'Loan also responded to concerns that the PSNI decision to reinvestigate the case in 2003 represented a tacit admission that the first investigation two years earlier had been flawed or incomplete.

The decision to review was taken in light of the family's concerns about the case, and in the context of the Deepcut enquiries. "In actual fact the original investigation was not flawed, it provided the information required of it, and its findings were corroborated by the reinvestigation," added Mrs O'Loan.

She concluded that there was no evidence of criminal or disciplinary misconduct by any police officer involved in Paul's case.

"I am sure the loss of a much-loved son, brother and friend has been extremely traumatic for all of Paul's relatives and friends, and they have my heartfelt sympathies," she said. "However, there is no evidence that police were anything other than thorough and correct in their handling of the investigation of his case."


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