Published Date: 14.10.2015
Poor record keeping by a police officer led to the collapse of a prosecution case against a motorist suspected of driving while disqualified, an investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office has concluded.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) decided to drop charges after notes of an interview during which the driver had allegedly admitted the offence went missing, and his lawyer insisted that his client had admitted to nothing.
In an attempt to clarify the situation, the PPS twice wrote to the investigating police officer - who was inexperienced and still in his probationary period.
When the officer failed to respond before reporting sick, his supervisor looked into the matter. He discovered discrepancies in the officer’s notebooks which he believed “called into question the authenticity” of the interview.
There was no entry about the interview on the date the officer said it had taken place. It was instead recorded at the back of his next notebook – which had not been issued until five days later.
The issue was referred by police to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation.
After returning from sick leave, the officer was interviewed by a Police Ombudsman investigator about a potential offence of having perverted the course of justice. He denied any dishonesty, maintaining that he had conducted the interview and had accurately reported its contents in his file to the PPS.
He accepted, however, that he had made mistakes in how he recorded it and put these down to a lack of knowledge and experience – this having been the first notebook interview he had ever done.
He explained that at the time of the interview his first notebook was full, but he had not yet obtained a replacement. He decided instead to record the interview on a separate piece of paper, and said this had been submitted to the police team responsible for collating a file for the PPS. Searches have failed to locate this piece of paper.
He also explained that he had intended to copy his notes into the second notebook but only remembered after he had written other entries into it. He then decided to copy them into the back of the book.
The officer claimed to have informed his supervisor of this, and had been told it was “OK” to do so. His supervisor, however, said no such conversation had taken place.
The motorist who had been interviewed was contacted via his solicitor on a number of occasions but did not co-operate with the Police Ombudsman’s investigation.
At the completion of the investigation, a file was submitted to the Public Prosecution Service which directed that the officer should not be prosecuted.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, then considered the case for potential misconduct issues.
He concluded that there was insufficient evidence to justify disciplinary action for dishonesty.
However, he also noted that it had not been a complex police investigation, yet the investigating officer had made a number of serious procedural mistakes. These had resulted in the collapse of the case against the motorist as the PPS had no evidence to offer against him.
Dr Maguire took account of the that the officer was at an early stage in his police career at the time, and recommended that he be disciplined for failures in record keeping. This has since been implemented by the PSNI.