Police officers did not see fatal attack: Police Ombudsman

Published Date: 21.11.2012

Police officers on duty inside Woodbourne Police Station in west Belfast did not see a member of the public being beaten to death approximately 10 metres from its perimeter fence.

Seamus Fox was beaten to death within 10 metres of the perimeter wall of Woodbourne police station in west belfast in April 2010.Seamus Fox was beaten to death within 10 metres of the perimeter wall of Woodbourne police station in west belfast in April 2010.

Although the scene was overlooked by a sangar and the attack, which lasted 26 seconds, was captured on two of the station’s security cameras, no one inside was aware of what was happening.

This is one of the findings of a Police Ombudsman investigation into circumstances surrounding the death of 58 year old Seamus Fox, who was attacked on waste ground outside the station in the early hours of 22 April 2010 and died from his injuries at the scene.

PDF: Full public statement

On 5 October, 2011, at Belfast Crown Court, Gerard Connors pleaded guilty to the murder of Mr Fox. During the hearing, the Court was told Connors had been present at a fire reported to police a short-time earlier

Mr Fox's family told Police Ombudsman investigators they were concerned the attack was seen from inside the police station and officers failed to respond. They also feared that had police attended the fire, there was a strong likelihood the subsequent attack would never have happened.

Investigators viewed all available video footage and relevant police documentation.  

During their investigation, Police Ombudsman staff spoke to those on duty that night in the station, to members of the public who had reported finding Mr Fox and to those who reported the fire to police. They viewed all the available video footage and examined all the relevant police documentation.

No police officer saw or was aware that attack was happening.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, has concluded that no police officer saw or was aware of the attack taking place:

"There were two security cameras relaying pictures of the attack on Mr Fox as it happened onto two of more than a dozen screens in a security sangar. No one had the sole task of monitoring those screens.

Woodbourne police station in west BelfastWoodbourne police station in west Belfast

We have established that given the position of the dozen plus monitors in the security sangar and the poor picture quality, it would not have been clear what was happening outside.

We have also established that there was no one on duty in the sangar which overlooked the scene of the attack. It was normal practice in 2010 for that sangar not to be staffed," he said.

The Police Ombudsman had established that an 'out of bounds' order - an order whereby police restrict the movement of their officers in a given area - was in place that night near the fire and this was one of the factors which influenced the police decision not to attend the scene.

However, Dr Maguire is of the view that even if police had gone to the fire, this may have reduced but would not have eliminated the opportunity for Connors to attack Mr Fox:

"Had police attended the scene and arrested Gerard Connors or engaged with him for sufficient time to allow Mr Fox to reach home safely, events may have unfolded differently. Alternatively, however, on the approach of the police, Connors may have fled the scene, in which case he may still have encountered Mr Fox. These and other possibilities remain imponderable.

The police decision not to attend the fire but to use CCTV to monitor it in case matters deteriorated was an understandable course of action. They could not have foreseen that one of those people at the fire would viciously attack someone a short time later.

The responsibility for Mr Fox’s death rests with Gerard Connors, who beat him in a vicious attack. There is no evidence any police officer on duty that morning should share this responsibility," he said.


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