Published Date: Jan 2016
A police officer has been given an adult caution after a Police Ombudsman investigation found that he assaulted a man at a bar while off-duty and unlawfully accessed information on police computer systems.
The officer was found to have punched a man in the face during an argument at a bar in Belfast city centre in August 2014.
The man later lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office, stating that the officer told him he was in the police before punching him on the nose.
He said the officer was drunk and aggressive and had been escorted from the premises by door staff, but was trying to get back in to get his coat.
The complainant said he intervened to try to diffuse the situation, but the officer refused to calm down and came towards him with a car key in his hand, told him he was a police officer and then punched him.
The complainant said the officer was then restrained on the ground by bar staff, while the bar manager reported the incident to police. He added that the officer threatened him, saying, “You’re in a world of hurt” and “you think you’re safe, wait until later.”
In the wake of the incident, the PSNI’s Discipline Branch contacted the Police Ombudsman’s Office to advise of concerns that the officer may have unlawfully accessed information on a police computer.
A Police Ombudsman investigator obtained statements from the complainant and members of the bar staff, and examined police records relating to the incident.
CCTV footage from within the bar was also obtained. It showed that the officer had left the bar of his own accord, but did not show the confrontation with the complainant.
The officer was interviewed under caution and denied assault. He said he was annoyed at having been manhandled by bar staff, and felt staff were unreasonable in not allowing him to retrieve his coat.
He said he was stopped from going back into the bar to get his jacket and put his hands up to stop staff grabbing him. He had his key in his hand and said it was possible that it had flipped out and struck the complainant, but if it had it was accidental.
He accepted, however, that he had unlawfully accessed information on a police computer system.
After completing her investigation, the Police Ombudsman investigator sent a file to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). The PPS found that the evidence supported the complainant’s allegations of assault, and that the officer had made inappropriate use of police systems.
After consultation with the complainant, the PPS offered the officer an adult caution for the offences, which he accepted.
The PPS found insufficient evidence to support the complainant’s allegations that the officer had threatened him.
The Police Ombudsman also concluded that the officer had breached the police Code of Ethics and recommended that he be disciplined. The PSNI has since implemented the recommendation.