The Police Ombudsman has found that an incomplete police investigation almost resulted in an elderly man being prosecuted, despite having previously been reassured by police that he would not face charges.
The police investigation arose out of an allegation that the pensioner had assaulted a female during a disagreement about parking in Co. Antrim last year.
The man said that after he had been interviewed about the incident, a police officer reassured him that “everything would be alright” – only for him to subsequently receive a letter informing him that he was to be prosecuted.
When interviewed, the investigating police officer said he had been concerned for the man’s welfare and had tried to put his mind at ease by telling him he would be recommending no prosecution.
When he later learned that the PPS had decided to prosecute, he said he contacted them to advise that he thought it was the wrong decision. He explained that he did not think the pensioner would have been capable of the offence he was accused of.
After learning that the decision to prosecute had been made on the balance of evidence – the word of two people against one – the officer undertook to take a statement from the man’s wife.
When this was submitted to the PPS, a decision was taken not to proceed with the prosecution.
The officer explained that he had considered taking a statement from the man’s wife at the outset, but after interviewing her husband had not considered it necessary.
However, the Police Ombudsman investigator noted that if the statement had been submitted in the initial file to the PPS, there was every likelihood the elderly man would have been spared the distress of being informed he was to be prosecuted.
He said the statement was “evidentially important” and the officer’s failure to record it meant that he had failed to conduct “all reasonable lines of enquiry.”
The Police Ombudsman investigator recommended that the officer should be disciplined over his handling of the case, and the PSNI has since implemented the recommendation.