Published Date: May 2018
A police officer has been disciplined for inappropriately accessing police information, after a Police Ombudsman investigation found that she had allowed a personal friendship to compromise her impartiality.
The investigation found that the officer had accessed police records about a friend’s estranged husband and his brother.
Police Ombudsman investigators found it was likely that her friendship with the man’s wife had been a motivating factor in her actions.
The Chief Constable asked the Police Ombudsman to conduct an independent investigation into the officer’s actions.
The man whose wife was friendly with the officer said she had made a number of comments which led him to suspect she had been checking police records about him and his family.
When interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, the officer admitted accessing police records about an arrest, but said she had done so as she hoped to gain intelligence.
She said she had previously submitted similar intelligence to police, but checks by Police Ombudsman investigators found no evidence that she had ever done so.
The officer also admitted having accessed a number of other records, but said this had been as part of a police operation.
However, Police Ombudsman investigators found that she had also accessed information after the completion of that investigation. The officer said she had no memory of doing so.
She was also asked about why she had been present when her friend’s husband had been arrested, given that she had no role in that police operation. She said her friend had asked her to be there to help with her children, and she did so in a personal capacity during her lunch break.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, found that the officer’s attendance at the arrest had been inappropriate.
“She should have recognised that her attendance at the arrest of her friend’s estranged husband was a conflict of interest,” said Dr Maguire. “In effect, she allowed her personal friendship to compromise her impartiality.”
He also concluded that the officer had accessed police information without good reason.
A file was submitted to the Public Prosecution Service to consider whether the officer should be prosecuted for potential breaches of the Data Protection Act and Misconduct in Public Office. The PPS directed no prosecution.
However, the Police Ombudsman considered that the officer’s actions did reach the lower evidential threshold for misconduct and recommended that she be disciplined for breaching police guidelines.
The PSNI has since implemented the recommended disciplinary sanction.