Officer disciplined for error which allowed man to avoid drug sanction

Published Date: Jun 2018

A man has had an adult caution for the possession of Class B drugs overturned as a result of an irregularity in the police search of his home.

A Police Ombudsman investigation found that an officer had changed the address on a search warrant signed by a Lay Magistrate.

The issue led the Public Prosecution Service to rescind an adult caution imposed on the householder after a small quantity of herbal cannabis was found during the search, which took place in Belfast in January 2016.

The Chief Constable referred the matter to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation.

Enquiries established that the officer had been responsible for preparing the necessary paperwork for the search, which included a warrant application and the warrant itself.

When interviewed, he said the correct address had been on the application, but the address on the actual warrant was incorrect. Both documents were signed by the Lay Magistrate.

He said the error was only drawn to his attention when the search was about to begin.

In the circumstances, he said that as the Lay Magistrate had authorised the correct address on the warrant application, he did not believe that it would be necessary to have a new warrant prepared.

He then decided to strike out the wrong address and write in the correct one – a step he described as an “administrative error” perhaps due to a lack of concentration or distraction.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, noted that the officer’s actions had resulted in the PPS rescinding the adult caution imposed on the householder, and removing it from his record.

He concluded that the officer had “made a conscious decision to correct the warrant without proper consideration of the possible consequences.”

He recommended that the officer should be disciplined, and the PSNI has since implemented the recommendation.

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