Published Date: Sep 2016
A police investigation into a traffic incident which left a woman needing a skin graft was “completely compromised” by an officer’s failure to take a statement from the injured party, and instead to base his report almost entirely on the driver’s account.
That is the finding of a Police Ombudsman investigation into a complaint from the woman, a foreign national, who spent 10 days in hospital after being struck by a car in east Belfast in January last year.
She later lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office stating that she had not been offered an interpreter and had difficulty understanding the officer when he came to obtain her account after her release from hospital.
She alleged that the officer’s subsequent report on the incident was based almost entirely on the driver’s account - that he had been travelling within the speed limit when the woman stepped off the footpath “out of nowhere”.
By contrast, the woman claimed the officer had not even taken a formal statement from her.
When interviewed, the officer said he had given the woman “a fair opportunity” to provide her account of the incident.
He said he had no difficulty communicating with her in English, but she had only a vague recollection of what had happened and had not indicated that the driver had committed any offences.
He added that there had been no witnesses at the scene, and no further enquiries were conducted because of the lack of evidence.
He accepted, when it was put to him, that he should have carried out house-to-house enquiries. But he maintained there had been no need for further enquiries when the woman’s solicitor raised concerns about the investigation.
The solicitor wrote to the officer several times in the months following the incident explaining the communication difficulties and that the woman had since provided an account which contradicted the driver’s.
The officer said he did not reopen the case or take a statement from the woman because he did not believe the driver had committed an offence, or that the woman’s account would be enough to secure a prosecution.
However, the Police Ombudsman investigator noted that the officer’s role should have been to “gather evidence, regardless of how strong he believes it to be, and let the Public Prosecution Service make decisions about prosecution.”
He concluded: “It appears the officer decided at the scene that the driver had not committed any offences and then ignored the woman’s evidence, provided via her solicitor, which opposed his view. “
“In doing so he failed to fully investigate this incident.”
He recommended that the officer be disciplined, and the PSNI has since implemented the recommendation.
The investigator also pointed out that he and the woman’s solicitor had found it helpful to use an interpreter when communicating with the woman, and said the officer should have done likewise.