A police officer who tampered with a search warrant meaning a case of drug possession could not be prosecuted, has been disciplined after an investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office.
The police officer, who changed a house number on a warrant after it was validated by a Lay Magistrate, had been responsible for preparing the details for the order to search a house in Limavady in October 2014.
The subsequent search, carried out on the day the warrant was issued, uncovered a quantity of Class C drugs which were seized by the officer. The officer interviewed the householder under criminal caution, who admitted to being in possession of the drugs. The officer then submitted a file of evidence to his supervising sergeant recommending prosecution for possession.
However when the officer’s sergeant reviewed the file in preparation for submission to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) she uncovered a number of irregularities which led to a referral to the Police Ombudsman.
After obtaining the officer’s notebook and the file of evidence submitted to the PPS, Police Ombudsman investigators took witness statements from the householder, the magistrate and the officer’s supervisors. Statements were also taken from officers who attended the house search and another police officer regarding training.
Investigators confirmed that not only had the officer altered the warrant, he had also changed the address on police records and had made no mention of the alteration in his submission to the PPS.
Ombudsman staff also found he had failed to maintain his police notebook and had been leaving space between entries so he could add further details. He also failed to obtain the signature of the suspect in his notebook entry to confirm the accuracy of the criminal interview in which the man admitted to possessing drugs.
When being interviewed under criminal caution by Police Ombudsman investigators for the offences of misconduct in a public office, perverting the course of justice, and forgery, the police officer admitted amending the address adding he hadn’t thought it was wrong to do so. A file was submitted to the PPS who made a recommendation of no prosecution.
The officer then adopted the answers given in his criminal interview for the purpose of the Police Ombudsman’s subsequent misconduct investigation.
The Ombudsman concluded that the officer should have known not to change the address on the warrant and should have been aware of the need to keep accurate records. Further, despite the suspect admitting possession of drugs, no prosecution could be made due to the police officer’s actions.
The Police Ombudsman’s Office recommended that the officer be subject to disciplinary action. The PSNI has since acted on this recommendation.