Four officers disciplined over unlawful search of cars

Published Date: Mar 2016

Four police officers have been disciplined after a Police Ombudsman investigation concluded that two cars had been unlawfully searched.

The searches took place in Co. Antrim in December 2014, and were connected to a search of premises for contraband cigarettes and tobacco.

A Police Ombudsman investigator established that the warrant for the search covered only buildings, not vehicles.

The men said they had arrived while the search was ongoing and officers recorded their details when they entered the building. They were later told that their cars were to be searched.

The men challenged this, stating that their vehicles were not parked on the grounds of the premises. They also asked to see the search warrant, but said this was refused.

The men complained that the searches had been conducted in full public view, and also alleged that they had been unlawfully detained, stating that they had been told not to leave while the searches were undertaken.

The police sergeant who oversaw the operation accepted that the cars should not have been searched, but said it was a mistake on the part of the officers involved. He said his briefing had made it clear that the warrant covered only buildings.

The two officers who searched the vehicles said they had been asked to do so by the police Log Keeper and believed they were authorised by the warrant.

Another officer accepted that he had made a genuine mistake, which he put down to a breakdown in communication.

The Police Ombudsman investigator submitted a file to the PSNI recommending that all four officers be disciplined in connection with the searches.  The PSNI has since implemented the recommendations.

However, the Police Ombudsman made no recommendation over the allegations of unlawful imprisonment, as officers said the men had not been detained and could have left at any stage.

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