Published Date: Feb 2020
A police officer has been disciplined for failing to properly investigate an alleged homophobic attack at a bar in Co Fermanagh in December 2018.
It follows a Police Ombudsman investigation which found that the officer did not treat the incident with the seriousness it deserved.
The victim, who was working in the bar, said he was subjected to homophobic abuse and suffered a split lip and chipped teeth when he was punched in the face by an angry customer at the end of the night.
He complained that police had let the attacker off with a caution as he was well-known in the local community.
Enquiries by a Police Ombudsman investigator found that the investigating police officer had initially recommended that the attacker should receive a Community Resolution Notice (CRN) – a means of dealing with low level offending – rather than being considered for prosecution.
Officer treated incident as low level offending without looking at pictures of victim's injuries.
When interviewed by a Police Ombudsman investigator, the officer admitted that he made the recommendation without first looking at photographs of the victim’s injuries – which showed wounds to the interior and exterior of his lip.
The officer claimed not to have known there were any photos, but the investigator found an entry in the police case file which should have alerted him to their existence.
The officer also stated that there was a lack of medical evidence, as the victim’s injuries had not been examined by a doctor.
“However, in my view, the photographs alone were grounds for investigating the potential offence of Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (AOABH),” said the Police Ombudsman investigator.
"Gave no reasonable rationale for disregarding alleged hate crime element."
“It was also concerning that the officer recorded no reasonable rationale for his decision to disregard the alleged hate crime element, nor for treating the incident as common assault rather than AOABH.”
The investigator also noted that an internal police quality assurance exercise had found the officer’s decision to offer a CRN to have been “a significant failing.”
The Police Ombudsman recommended that the PSNI should discipline the officer for failing to properly investigate the incident, and the police have since implemented the recommendation.
No action was taken against the officer’s line manager, who approved the initial decision to issue the attacker with a CRN. The manager explained that she made the decision based on information provided by the investigating officer.
By the time the victim’s complaint was investigated by the Police Ombudsman’s Office, the line manager had already ordered the officer to obtain the photos of the victim’s injuries, to complete a more thorough investigation, and to submit a file to the Public Prosecution Service.