PSNI officer dismissed after taking home bike belonging to vulnerable man
Published Date: 29.06.2023
A PSNI officer has been dismissed for “gross misconduct” after a bicycle worth about £500 was found at his house after being lost by its vulnerable owner.
Police Ombudsman Mrs Marie Anderson said the officer “had taken advantage of the man’s vulnerabilities and seized an opportunity to take the bike for his personal use”.
Enquiries by her office found that the officer had been working a night shift when he took the bike from storage at the local police station, placed it in his car and took it home.
Several months earlier, the same officer had spoken to the bike’s owner after receiving a report of concern for his safety. The officer had already retrieved the bike from a local park, where it was reported to have been abandoned.
The man said he had fallen off the bike and thrown it away in anger. He was intoxicated at the time and was known by police to be vulnerable, but was able to provide the make, model and colour of the bike.
Despite this, the officer refused to return the bike unless the man came to the police station when sober with proof of purchase.
The man never called back and there was no record that the officer made any further attempts to contact him or to establish the bike’s ownership.
The bike was eventually returned to its owner after being found at the officer’s home during a police search organised after a sergeant raised concerns in March 2021.
Unfortunately, the owner died a few weeks later, but not before having made a complaint about the officer who had taken it.
When subsequently interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, the officer said that as the man had been unable to describe the bike’s suspension or brakes he had not been satisfied that it belonged to him.
He also claimed to be unaware of police procedures for lost and found property, and said he had been told by a sergeant to leave the bike in the police station for a few months, and then either dispose of it or take it. He said there had been two sergeants in the room when one stated: “if you don’t take it, I’ll take it home”.
However, the Police Ombudsman found the officer’s account to be neither reliable nor credible. She noted that he made no record in his notebook or on police systems of having taken it home, and that there was no other evidence that either sergeant had advised that he could do that.
Mrs Anderson also said the officer was likely to have known the man would be unable to provide proof of ownership, and noted that the officer already owned a bike of the same make and would have known its value.
A file was submitted to the PPS, which determined that there was no reasonable prospect of proving the case to the criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” and directed that the officer should not be prosecuted.
The Police Ombudsman then considered whether, on the lower civil standard of “balance of probabilities”, the officer had committed a misconduct offence. A misconduct file was submitted to the PSNI’s Professional Standards Department recommending that a misconduct hearing be held.
The recommendation was accepted by the PSNI, and the officer was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.
The PPS also directed that neither sergeant should be prosecuted for aiding and abetting theft.
However, the PSNI accepted a Police Ombudsman recommendation that steps should be taken to improve the performance of one of the sergeants who had failed to provide clear instructions about what should be done with the bike.
It also accepted a recommendation that all police officers in the relevant district should be reminded of their obligations in relation to lost and found property, in particular bicycles.