The Police Ombudsman has found that delays in a police investigation meant that the Public Prosecution Service was unable to consider prosecuting a prisoner after an alleged assault on a prison officer in Maghaberry Prison last year.
An investigation found that failures by a police officer led to police missing a deadline for submitting evidence to the PPS following the February 2016 incident.
Police had launched an investigation after the prison officer reported that the prisoner had been abusive and tried to punch him, but failed to connect, before spitting in his face.
Police did not submit a file on the incident – nor apply for more time – before the case became statute barred after six months.
Enquiries by a Police Ombudsman investigator found that the officer initially assigned to investigate the incident went on a period of planned sick leave four months after it happened.
Before then he had sent an email to his supervisor outlining the cases he was involved in, and the actions needed to progress them in his absence.
The email incorrectly stated that the case would not become statute barred until a date in September, more than a month later than the actual date.
The investigator also found that the officer failed to make appropriate CCTV enquiries, and did not make adequate efforts to interview the suspect.
It took him two months to obtain CCTV footage, and he waited a further two and a half months before submitting it to the relevant police department.
He also failed to examine the footage before submitting it and did not realise that it did not show the incident in question. He was then asked to request the correct footage.
Enquiries also showed that despite being prompted by his supervisor to interview the suspect, the officer failed to do so.
When questioned, he said an interview had been arranged but had been cancelled by the suspect’s solicitor, and he had then had difficulty re-arranging it.
He accepted that he had not acted on advice from his supervisor to compel the suspect to attend for interview.
When the officer appointed to follow up on the case went to complete the investigation, he found that the case was already statute barred.
The prison officer complained that not only did this mean there would be no prosecution, but the lapse in time also meant that the prison authorities could not investigate.
The Police Ombudsman investigator recommended that a misconduct meeting should be held and that the officer should receive a disciplinary sanction. The PSNI held a misconduct meeting and found that the issue was one of performance, rather than a disciplinary matter.
The officer was directed to apologise to the prison officer and a performance support plan was put in place.
No disciplinary recommendations were made against the officer’s supervisor, as there was evidence that she had made repeated requests for him to progress the case.