Police Ombudsman Northern Ireland’s (PONI) First Report

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The Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland(PONI) came into existence under the Police Act of 1998.  It came about because it was felt that the public had lost all faith in allowing the Police to investigate complaints of its own members. The first Ombudsman was Nuala O’Loan who served from 1999 until 2007 so she was in charge of the initial investigation of my complaint submitted on 23rd January 2005 some fourteen months after the crash.I received the completed Report on 9th August 2005.

Perhaps I should record here that Ms O’Loan retired from the post in November 2007 and was replaced by Al Hutchinson who subsequently left the job in January 2011 before completing his contract following a series of critical independent Reports. As someone once remarked to me after he left “We had hoped to have Elliot Ness as a boss but we got an Al Capone” I don’t have any substantial evidence that my case was one of many mishandled whilst he was in charge, only that my dealings with PONI went on for at least 8 years before there was a resolution and I could at least stop banging my head against a solid brick wall. The transition happened when Hutchinson resigned and was replaced by Dr Michael Maguire early in 2012.

“This Office provides an independent impartial system for the handling of complaints about the conduct of Police police officers. We will deal with those complaints in a manner which is free from any Police, Governmental or sectoral community interest and which is of the highest standard.”      Michael Maguire – Police Ombudsman

Sadly my firm conclusion is that in reality the Ombudsman’s office is a paper tiger and the Police pays little or no attention to its findings. It receives some 3000 complaints a year ( how many complaints are not submitted !) but only a few recommended for further action and fewer still are followed up. I suppose that if proper action was taken against officers who failed seriously in their duty as officers were disciplined or dismissed or taken before the courts, we would end up with only a few Police left. The present Police Constable has recently suggested that some of his officers should consider their position in the PSNI for several reasons. It’s a pity that he doesn’t feel the need to be responsive to the many findings of the Police Ombudsman or insist that fulsome cooperation with that Office are given by his officers.

 

Complaints against Police must, in nearly all cases, be submitted to the Ombudsman within one year of the event complained of. I submitted my complaint nearly 14 months after the event. Fortunately, I had phoned PONI asking for advice and suggesting that I may wish to lodge a formal complaint some 9 months after the crash. A record of this call had been logged and so my late submission was accepted.

Mr Frank Meehan was appointed as the Investigating Officer in my case. I knew nothing of his background, experience or qualifications for such a task. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that it was his first case and that explained in part why his investigation and subsequent behavior was so deplorable. It occured to me that he was probably given my complaint to cut his teeth on but told not to create any waves. Perhaps he was simply out of his depth.

I reproduce the Report in full. It was written by Mr Meehan. To help, I have included some comments of my own in italics. My submission included all my concerns detailed in previous posts.

Re: Allegation of Failure of Duty

Complaint:

Part 1-Errors in the Police Report

It is clear that there are a number of minor errors within the collision report, such as ticks being placed in the wrong boxes and the engine capacity of one of the vehicles not being included. These errors are administrative and the Sergeant fully accepts responsibility for them. This did not impact upon the investigation or the officers’ conclusions. Whilst it is not considered that this amounts to misconduct, the officer’s supervisor has been made aware of the errors in order that they can be properly addressed.

Nothing was addressed and nothing was changed in the Police Report

Pages 3, 11 and 12-Description of the Scene

In relation to the queries you raised about the description of the scene and the distances involved on the Crosskeenan Road, we found, as already discussed, that Sergeant McBride attempted to obtain the services of a Forensic Scientist at the scene, but owing to a service level agreement between the PSNI and the FSNI, the scientist would not attend. The Sergeant has complied with the PSNI Force policy in this regard.

The scene was later examined by a Forensic Scientist at the request of the Police. There is no evidence that the description of the scene as provided by Sergeant McBride adversely affected the conclusion of the investigation.

Such nonsense. The scene was improperly described in almost every respect in order to support his false conclusion.

Page13 Paragraph 5.4- Line of Sight

At our request this was queried by your legal representative by means of a letter to the police. The line of sight and cause of the collision are matters for expert opinion. Sgt McBride had a duty to consider this area, and related your concerns to the Forensic Scientist. There is no evidence that the officer failed to properly consider this area.

He created a false map and a false description. He didn’t refer this matter to the Forensic Officer. I did.

Page 13 Paragraph 6.1 Injuries to Mr Carson

Again, this is a matter for expert opinion. Sgt McBride sought the advice of the Forensic Scientist regarding the positions of the vehicles at the point of impact, complying with his requirements.

If he did, then it was only when I made the formal complaint to PONI. The Forensic officer never detailed his investigation of this in his Report.

Part 2 Omissions from the Report.

(Speed)

The allegations made by witnesses regarding the speed of the Subaru prior to the collision, were put to Mr Carson during a Police interview. In the absence of factual evidence proving the speed of the car, the police had no means of proving the speed  before or at the point of impact. The allegation that the car was speeding was non-expert witness opinion rather than evidence.

It is the duty of the investigating officer to seek expert help as to the speed of the two vehicles post crash. This can easily be done given accurate post crash examination measurements and computer reconstructions. My several experts did the calculations and found the Subaru was well over the speed limit. Three reliable witnesses gave a speed estimation of around 80 to 90 miles per hour around the time of the crash. McBride’s only speed calculation was the Forensic Officer’s assertion that “the heavier vechicle is often travelling slower than the lighter vevicle”

(Tyres)

Police sought advice from a Bridgestone representative regarding the effect of incorrectly fitting the rotational tyres. This area is a matter for expert opinion, and is not evidence in itself of police misconduct. The police have pursued this line of enquiry in accordance with their investigative requirements.

No they didn’t. As is made clear in my previous post, they received a very questionable letter from Bridgestone about a tyres which were different to those fitted to the Subaru.

(Telephone Call)

Police checked the mobile phone account of Mr Carson and established that no call was made by him at the relevant time.

The Police had a responsibility to investigate this allegation and pursued it as a line of enquiry. In the absence of factual evidence proving Mr Carson was using his phone unlawfully at the time of the collision,  it is considered that appropriate police action was taken.

During our investigation, you stated that you had obtained further evidence regarding a call between Mr Carson and his wife. As stated during our meeting, this should be referred to the police if you wish it to be further investigated.

The Police lied to Meehan. McBride had a written statement from Carson that his phone record showed that he had phoned his wife at 1448, two minutes before the recorded time in the Collision Report of 1450. The actual crash time was probably closer to 1449 established from evidence from impeccable sources. These source will de detailed in full in  later post together with the Police cover up.

Supplemental

We have confirmed that a breath test was carried out on Mr Carson at Antrim Hospital which proved negative.

The veracity of this assertion will be subject to a post much later.

Having concluded the investigation and reviewed all relevant evidence, I have recommended to the Police Service of Northern Ireland that there is insufficient evidence to warrant disciplinary proceedings.

My recommendation has been based on the following:-

The role of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, which is totally independent of the Police Service, is to consider whether on the balance of probabilities, an officer’s actions fell below the standard set out in the Police Code of Conduct.

  • The Sergeant stated that the evidence at the scene indicated that the car driven by your brother had crossed onto the wrong carriageway. There was no evidence at the time that Mr Carson caused your brother’s death by careless or dangerous driving. It is clear that the Sergeant fully investigated all relevant lines of enquiry, such as allegations of Mr Carson having been speeding or using his mobile telephone prior to the accident. The vehicles were properly examined and the accident report is factually based. The scene was photographed, mapped and video recorded and investigated in accordance with the force policy of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
  • The errors within the collision report are administrative and the sergeant fully accepts responsibility for them. This did not impact upon the collision investigation or the officer’s conclusions.
  • There is insufficient evidence to prove any misconduct regarding the investigation.

Having concluded the investigation and reviewed all relevant evidence, I have recommended to the Police Service of Northern Ireland that there is insufficient evidence to warrant disciplinary proceedings.

This complaint is now considered to be closed although allegations of police misconduct can be further investigated if further evidence comes to light. If this proves to be the case in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Although the outcome of your complaint may not be to your satisfaction, I can assure you that the matter has been looked into and that an objective assessment has been made of the evidence available.

I would like to take this opportunity to bring to your attention that the Police Ombudsman will retain a record of your complaint on file.

Yours sincerely

F Meehan

 

The Ombudsman had made the sergeant’s supervisor aware of the errors “in order to have them addressed.”

They were never changed.

 It seemed to me that the sergeant had relied greatly on the Forensic conclusions which had in turn been based in part on his own faulty Report, but the Ombudsman didn’t find anything wrong with that. Neither did he realize that the Sergeant had completed his Report  long before the Forensic Report was available to him.

The Ombudsman relied heavily on the Police assertion that they had received an authoritative Report from a Bridgestone representative about the irrelevance of the tyres, but he never saw such a report and he never did, even after several subsequent requests to the Police to produce it. I later received and showed and analysed that letter from Bridgestone in my previous post.

This Report and findings by the Ombudsman’s investigator was not as a result of any investigation. There was no investigation. Meehan simply interviewed Sgt McBride, accepted what he said, queried nothing, followed up nothing, and disputed nothing. It was a non investigation but would be used later by the Police and others to vindicate the actions of McBride, support and protect Carson, and continue to corrupt the criminal justice system.

I would not let it happen but, as will be seen, the Police and Ombudsman would continue to dig an even bigger hole for themselves until at last Hutchinson was replaced and Mr Meehan removed from the investigation. 

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