Published Date: 11.09.2015
A police officer has been disciplined for failing to provide the Public Prosecution Service with CCTV evidence following a street disturbance in Omagh in December 2012.
However, he has since successfully appealed against a Police Ombudsman finding that he used excessive force during the same incident.
The PSNI had initially accepted a recommendation that the officer should be disciplined, after the Police Ombudsman found that he appeared to have “lost control” during an altercation with a member of the public.
But a senior PSNI officer who reviewed the case after the officer’s appeal, found that his use of force had been in compliance with PSNI training and “justifiable in the circumstances”.
The incident happened in John Street, Omagh, in the early hours of 10 December 2012. The PSNI asked the Police Ombudsman to independently investigate police actions after video footage was posted on the internet.
This footage was examined by Police Ombudsman investigators, as well as material obtained from the Omagh Town Centre CCTV system and a CCTV camera at a nearby nightclub.
Video was posted online and incident was also captured on town centre and nightclub CCTV.
The footage showed police dealing with a disturbance when a man struck an officer, who then hit him back.
The man and another person were arrested and reported to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for a number of charges including assault. The case went to court, but the charges against the men were subsequently withdrawn.
The Town Centre footage showed a group of men dancing in the street and obstructing traffic, and a police officer trying to push them back onto the pavement.
At one point, a man is standing with his arms outstretched as the officer pushed him back into a parked car. The man then hit the officer on the neck and chin area. The officer stumbled before punching the man, who was forced back among the crowd, where he fell.
People in the crowd attempted to come between the police officer and the man, but the officer pushed his way through, lifted the man to his feet and began to lead him to a police vehicle
As he did so, the officer swung the man by his arm, causing him to fall to the ground.
Police Ombudsman investigators contacted the man in question, but he did not provide them with his account of what happened.
They interviewed the police officer, who denied assault. He said the man hit him a heavy blow on the nose and, fearing another blow, struck out to defend himself. The police officer said his actions were necessary to prevent him from being hit again.
Police Ombudsman investigators also spoke to officials at the PPS to get an understanding of why they had withdrawn charges against the two men who had been involved in the disturbance.
Investigators were told that issues had been raised about the police officer’s failure to forward a copy of the town centre CCTV footage. They were also told that the evidence recorded by the police officer in his notebook was considered to be at odds with what could be seen on video footage.
Police Ombudsman investigators spoke to this police officer again. He confirmed he had not seized the town centre video footage, saying he had received multiple statements for police officers who were present. The officer agreed the footage should have been seized.
They also spoke to his supervising officer, who accepted that the town centre footage should have been submitted to the PPS.
Officer's supervisor accepted that town centre CCTV footage should have been submitted to the PPS.
Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that the police officer had used excessive force and was critical of his failure to provide CCTV to the PPS:
“Had this footage been provided, the decision on whether to prosecute the two men may have been different,” he said.
Dr Maguire recommended that the officer should be disciplined, and the recommended sanctions were initially accepted by police.
However, a senior PSNI officer who reviewed the case after the officer appealed, concluded that the force used by the officer had been justifiable, and directed that the sanction for excessive force should be rescinded.
The senior officer also directed that the disciplinary sanction imposed for the officer’s failure to make CCTV footage available to the PPS should be downgraded from the level recommended by the Police Ombudsman.
The officer’s supervisor was disciplined in relation to the failure to ensure CCTV footage was provided to the PPS.