Published Date: May 2017
A police officer has been disciplined after conducting what the Police Ombudsman’s Office has described as an “appalling” investigation into an alleged assault on a teenage girl.
The girl reported that a man, whose daughter she had been fighting with, had struck her in the face with a golf club during an incident in north Down in late 2014.
However, over a year and a half later, by which stage the officer had still not submitted medical records or statements from all witnesses, the Public Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute the suspect.
The Police Ombudsman investigator said: “We will never know what decision the PPS might have reached if the investigating officer had conducted a full and prompt investigation.”
The girl’s mother, who lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office about the officer’s handling of the case, said the incident had had a profound and ongoing impact on her daughter.
Despite this, she said the officer had failed to obtain all relevant evidence and had not responded to her calls or her pleas for him to progress the case.
At one stage she said she had arranged for a witness to be at her house so that the officer could take a statement when he was due to call to take a DNA sample from her daughter. The officer failed to turn up and she said she had never heard from him since.
Officer did not properly progress enquiries relating to witnesses, and forensic and medical evidence, leading to a "protracted investigation"
A Police Ombudsman investigator who examined police records and interviewed the officer identified a range of issues with his handling of the case.
She found that he had not applied for the girl’s medical records until 11 months after the incident, and when there was a delay in obtaining them, he had to be reminded by supervisors on three occasions over the next seven months to chase up the query.
Although he had tried to submit the golf club for forensic examination within two weeks of the incident, he was asked to provide further information and resubmit the exhibit. He did not do this until more than a year later.
He also failed to take a statement from the witness identified by the girl’s mother.
The investigator pointed out that forensic tests on the golf club and the independent witness evidence were both vital in the case, given conflicting witness evidence as to whether the golf club had been used during the incident.
She also pointed out that the PPS had remarked upon the poor quality of the file submitted by the officer and his slow response to their requests for additional information.
“The lack of progress in the investigation speaks for itself,” said the investigator. “The officer failed to speak to witnesses and to follow up on evidential opportunities and generally failed to take action until directed to do so by his supervisors. Even then his response was usually tardy.”
The investigator recommended that the officer should be disciplined by the PSNI for failing to properly progress enquiries relating to witnesses and forensic and medical evidence, and for the “unnecessarily protracted” nature of the investigation.
The PSNI has since disciplined the officer for these failings.