Police should have acted sooner over harassment claims

Published Date: 29.05.2014

Two police officers who failed to deal properly with an allegation of harassment have been disciplined by the PSNI.

The allegation was made by a woman who suspected that somebody was using her name to contact a number of online companies, resulting in her receiving a large amount of unwanted promotional material. She took her concerns to the police, alleging fraud. She also claimed that as the actions were vindictive and were causing her considerable distress, she was the victim of harassment.

Four months after making these allegations the woman made a call to the Police Ombudsman’s Office to complain about what she saw as the police’s failure to progress the case, and the lack of updates she was receiving during the investigation.

Once the complaint had been assessed it was passed on for full investigation. 

Investigators from the Office obtained all available evidence relating to the case, including police logs, emails and notebooks. The logs showed that there was an eleven week gap between the first entry, detailing the woman’s allegations, and the second. 

Eleven week gap in investgation file. 

The police officers involved were identified and interviewed. The investigating officer stated that she had identified the person alleged to have been involved and decided after consultation with a colleague to rule out fraud. She agreed that after this, nothing further was done on the case for another eleven weeks, explaining this was because she was unsure what to do next. She also admitted that she was unaware of the PSNI Policy on Stalking and Harassment.

When she did make further enquiries with her supervisor, the officer decided that the matter should be dealt with as a case of harassment. Only then was a harassment warning served, with the accused man receiving a Police Information Notice (or PIN). 

Because of the lengthy period of inactivity, Ombudsman investigators thought it necessary also to interview the officer’s supervisor. Even though he looked at the work of the officer and provided advice to her, he stated he had not noticed there had been an eleven week time lapse on the case. He acknowledged that this was an error on his part.

Ombudsman investigators also looked at the woman’s allegation that more could have been done to update her about the police investigation. Police logs were analysed and the investigating officer asked what she had done to keep the woman informed. The records show the initial contact between the woman and the officer, but nothing to reflect any updates having being given. The officer stated during interview that she could have done more in this area.

Officer underestimated seriousness of harassment allegation. 

After assessing of all of the evidence in the case, the Ombudsman concluded that the police had failed to perform to the standards expected of them during this investigation and should have acted much sooner in response to the claims of harassment. The investigating officer underestimated the seriousness of the harassment accusations, and showed a lack of awareness of how to deal with such a case, unaware that PSNI policy on the subject would have assisted her.

In addition, the supervising officer neglected to monitor the case properly and should have done more to ensure it was progressed more quickly.

“It is clear from the facts of this case that the police did not take the initial accusation of harassment seriously enough and failed to conduct a proper investigation,” said a Police Ombudsman spokesman. “The decision to serve the PIN was taken far too slowly, and caused the complainant unnecessary distress.”

The Ombudsman made recommendations to the PSNI, who acted upon the information and disciplined the officers concerned.

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