Two police officers have been disciplined after a Police Ombudsman investigation found that they failed to alert colleagues and a police doctor that a woman had suffered a head injury.
The woman died from bleeding to the brain on 24 February 2014, the day after she suffered this injury.
The previous day, police had been called to an address in Omagh. The call was made by the woman’s partner, who asked that they remove her and another man from a house.
One of the officers who went to the scene said the woman reported that her partner had grabbed her by the hair, struck her head against a wall and then thrown her outside, into the garden. Another officer was present when she reported this assault. The woman later said her head was sore.
Her partner was arrested and taken into custody at Enniskillen police station, while arrangements were made for the woman to be seen by a police doctor at Omagh police station.
The police doctor who carried out the examination said he had not been made aware that the woman, who had been drinking, had suffered a head injury.
After the woman had been seen by the doctor and had her injuries photographed, two police officers set off in a police car with the intention of taking her to a friend’s house.
One of them was the officer the woman had initially spoken to about the head injury later. She told Police Ombudsman investigators that by that stage the woman had become more unsteady on her feet and was “less chatty”.
The other officer, who was unaware of the head injury, said the woman appeared very intoxicated and recalled saying he was surprised the doctor had allowed her to leave the police station in that condition.
A short time later the woman was sick in the back of the police car and the officers called an ambulance. She was taken to hospital, but died the following afternoon.
The Chief Constable referred the police handling of the incident to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation.
The police officer who made the appointment for the woman to be medically examined accepted that she did not tell the police officer she spoke to at Omagh, nor the police doctor, that the woman had reported having her head hit off a wall.
This officer also accepted that, although she was aware the woman had had previous dealings with the Domestic Violence Unit, she did not make this information known to her colleagues, believing this could have been examined and progressed at a later stage.
The other officer who was present when the woman reported the assault said he could not recall if he advised the doctor or colleagues about the reported head injury.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, has said the evidence would indicate that this officer did not relay this information.
Dr Maguire said it was clear both the officers who knew the woman had sustained a head injury should have informed the police doctor and colleagues.
“It was inappropriate that the officers put the onus on the woman to pass on the details of her injuries in an unfamiliar setting to an unfamiliar doctor, especially in light of the fact she was apparently intoxicated.
Head injuries can cause symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication, and as the woman had been drinking, it was particularly important that the doctor was informed about the head injury.
It is also clear that one of those officers, when she noticed changes in the woman’s communication and demeanour, should have reassessed whether further medical care was required before driving her to her friend’s house with the intention of leaving her there.”
As well as recommending disciplinary action against two police officers, Dr Maguire also recommended that the PSNI should review the practice of people with injuries being taken to see a police doctor rather than to hospital. Officers reported that they did this to prevent delays in obtaining medical reports. Dr Maguire recommended that police consider providing guidance to officers on what to do in such situations.
The PSNI has since disciplined both officers.