Circumstances of woman's fall remain unclear says Ombudsman

Published Date: 28.08.2018

The exact circumstances of PSNI involvement in a fall in which a woman sustained 12 broken ribs, a broken back and a broken elbow remain unclear, the Police Ombudsman has said.

The woman, who also suffered respiratory failure, underwent surgery and required treatment in intensive care during a hospital stay of almost a month, suffered the injuries at her home in Strabane in December 2016.

The woman claimed that a police officer had pushed her down stairs after coming to the house to arrest her son. However, the officer denied the claim, saying he had tried to get past the woman on the stairs as her son fled from police and any contact was accidental.

The incident was investigated after the Police Ombudsman ‘called himself in’ to the case when details were referred to the Office by the PSNI in January 2017. A public complaint was also received.

Investigators established that PSNI officers had called to the house looking for her son in relation to an assault and were told by the woman he was not there. However, after entering the property the two officers found the man hiding in a wardrobe upstairs.

The police officers told investigators the woman was intoxicated and verbally abusive and had accompanied them upstairs during the search.

As the four made their way downstairs her son walked in front, followed immediately by one police officer with the woman and the officer she accused of pushing her, following behind.

The man then made a run for the open front door with the first officer in pursuit. The woman said it was then the second officer pushed her right shoulder causing her to fall.

However the police officer disputed this account telling investigators that on seeing the man flee the house he shouted ‘move’ whilst attempting to manoeuvre past her. He claimed the woman leaned forward at which stage it was obvious she was going to fall and he attempted to catch her.

In witness statements to Ombudsman investigators, three paramedics who had been called to the scene said the woman was lying at the bottom of the stairs when they arrived. One said she had claimed then that the officer had pushed her. All three described her as intoxicated and uncooperative.

Body worn video footage showed only the aftermath of the fall, with the woman lying at the bottom of the stairs accusing the officer of pushing her.

Police radio transmissions and a statement from the accompanying officer corroborated the officer’s account that he had tried to get past the woman when her son had fled and any contact was accidental.

The woman’s son confirmed that he had run out of the house when he seen the front door open.

Further investigations by Ombudsman staff including a scene visit and house to house enquiries failed to turn up any evidence to determine the exact circumstances of the fall.

With no evidential grounds to confirm either account the case was closed with no recommendation for disciplinary action.

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