The Police Ombudsman has found that a PSNI officer did all that could be expected of him while trying to secure the return of a car taken to Lithuania after being stolen in Northern Ireland.
Dr Michael Maguire also praised action taken by the PSNI to highlight problems with European processes for tackling international vehicle crime.
It follows an investigation into a complaint from the owner of a car stolen here in 2013, who alleged that a mistake by a police officer had led to the courts in Lithuania ruling that the car should not be returned to Northern Ireland. Instead, it was given back to the person it had been seized from.
The car’s owner alleged that the investigating police officer had amended an international database to show that the car was no longer stolen – leading the Lithuanian court to decide that as it was not stolen there was no need for it to be returned.
However, enquiries by a Police Ombudsman investigator found that the vehicle’s status had been changed by police in Lithuania after they recovered the vehicle – in line with European processes for dealing with such cases.
The measure is designed to prevent legitimate owners being unnecessarily stopped by police or customs if their vehicle had previously been reported stolen.
However, courts in some countries – including Lithuania – rely on the system when deciding issues of ownership.
A senior PSNI officer spoken to by a Police Ombudsman investigator said he could not understand why the Lithuanian police had not challenged the court’s decision, and said he would be raising the issue through international policing protocols.
He added that the weaknesses in the European system for dealing with such cases had been raised with the Home Office.
The Police Ombudsman’s investigation also found that, far from having removed the car’s stolen status from the European database, the investigating PSNI officer had ensured that it was reinstated in a bid to help secure the vehicle’s return.
He was also found to have conducted a thorough investigation of the theft, and made determined efforts to help the owner retrieve his vehicle.
Police records showed that he queried a number of different systems to establish that the car had been taken on a ferry from the Republic to Wales in July 2013.
The officer traced the credit card used to book the ferry to an address in Dublin, and enquiries with police in the Republic confirmed that two people had been arrested and later convicted for related offences.
The officer also consulted with senior colleagues and made efforts to put the owner in contact with relevant authorities in order to retrieve the vehicle.
Dr Maguire concluded that the investigating officer had done all that could reasonably be expected of him, and welcomed the fact that the PSNI had taken steps to address the weaknesses it had identified in European protocols for dealing with vehicle theft.