Officer justified in punching man who assaulted defenceless woman with “metal bar” in Portrush

Published Date: 31.03.2015

The Police Ombudsman has concluded that a police officer was justified in punching a man who had subjected a “defenceless” woman to a beating with what appeared to be a metal bar, during an incident in Portrush in the early hours of Sunday 26 June 2011.

The incident was captured on CCTV, which showed “a vicious attack” during which the man (Man A) hit the woman a number of times with the bar. Another female also appeared to join in the assault.

The footage shows a police car containing two officers stopping in the middle of the road close to the assault. An officer (Officer 1) gets out of the car and approaches Man A, who drops the bar and is then punched three times to the head by the officer before being arrested.

Police referred the incident to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation after another officer became concerned at the level of force used by Officer 1.

During their investigation, Police Ombudsman investigators viewed the CCTV footage and obtained all relevant police documentation.

They also interviewed Officer 1, who said his immediate aim was to stop the assault on the female. He said Man A punched him in the face and he reacted by punching him twice to the head. This was contrary to the video evidence which showed three punches being thrown by the officer. 

The footage, however, is not clear as to who threw the first punch. The incident happened some distance from the camera, and during the initial confrontation the officer was facing away from the camera and obscuring the view of Man A.

Officer 1 maintained that his actions were reasonable and proportionate and the least lethal option available to him at that time.

A report written by a police doctor was also examined, and this showed that Officer 1 reported that he had been punched and had tenderness to his face and mouth.

Investigators also noted that the officer who was with Officer 1 made no mention in his duty statement that his colleague had punched Man A. However, CCTV footage showed that he was delayed in exiting the car to assist.

Several attempts were made to contact Man A, but he failed to assist the Police Ombudsman’s enquiries.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, noted that the CCTV footage was inconclusive as to whether Man A did strike out first, as claimed by the officer.

However, he said the footage did clearly show that Man A was involved in previous fighting and had committed a serious assault on a female, and pointed out that as Man A did not provide a statement, there was no evidence to refute the officer’s account.

“Man A was subjecting a defenceless female to a serious assault. She was in considerable danger and there is no doubt immediate action was required to prevent her sustaining further injuries or worse,” said Dr Maguire.

He therefore concluded that the force used by Officer 1 was proportionate in the circumstances, and made no disciplinary recommendations against the officer.

In line with normal procedure, a file was also submitted to the Public Prosecution Service, which directed that the officer should not be prosecuted in relation to the incident.

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