Published Date: Jan 2016
An investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office has found that police had properly searched a man believed to have a blade, a short time before he slashed a doctor who required stitches for his injuries.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, found that officers had conducted a thorough search within the powers available to them, and had found one blade but had not discovered another used in the attack.
The incident happened at Craigavon Hospital in June 2014 as the man was being detained under the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986.
Police had initially been called as the man had locked himself in a bedroom and was reported to have had a Stanley knife, a machete, petrol and firelighters.
He was handcuffed by armed officers who then escorted him to the living room, where he was described as being calm and compliant.
The man’s GP was in attendance and said he had never known him to have been violent. The handcuffs were then removed so that he could go and get changed while accompanied by two relatives.
He was searched in an ambulance, after one of the relatives warned police that he may have picked up a blade while getting changed.
When interviewed by a Police Ombudsman investigator, the officer described how he removed the man’s outer clothing and passed it to a colleague who searched the garments. He was found to be wearing tracksuit bottoms under his jeans, which were also removed and searched.
The officer said he searched the hems of the man’s T-shirt, and described how the man lifted his T-shirt to show him his back and chest.
His tracksuit bottoms were also checked, along with his socks, including the toes and balls of the feet, and a bag of his belongings.
A blade was found in the side pocket of the man’s jeans, and this was removed and placed in a sharps box in the ambulance.
The other officer provided a consistent account of the search, and a paramedic also described it as having been thorough.
The paramedic believed that if the man had the blade hidden it may have been taped to the groin area, but the man himself later said he had hidden it in a sock.
The officer who conducted the search said it had been done to the extent of his powers. He said that there was no necessity in the circumstances for a strip search.
Police records confirmed that the man had no previous record of violent behaviour, and hospital staff confirmed that they had been informed by police that the man had been searched and a blade removed.
CCTV footage of the attack on the doctor was retrieved from the hospital, but was of poor quality and did not show the blade or where the man had hidden it.
Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that the search conducted by police had been appropriate in the circumstances, and noted that it would not have been “practicable or necessary to bring the man to a police station in order to strip search him.”